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Biography of John Harris

John Harris, immigrant ancestor, was of Scotch-Irish descent, it is said, but was born in Yorkshire, England. He came to this country as early as 1682 and engaged in trade with the Indians at the suggestion of his friend, Edward Shippen. In January, 1705, he received a license from the colonial government allowing him to locate on the Susquehanna river and erect such buildings as are necessary for his trade and to enclose such quantities of land as he shall think fit. During one of his expeditions as a licensed Indian trader he beheld the beauties and advantages of Paxtang. It was the best fording place on the Susquehanna river. As the land had not been purchased from the Indians at that time neither John Harris or others could locate on the tract lying between Conewago and Lechay hills and Kittatinny mountains, except as in his capacity as licensed trade or by the simple process of “Squatter Sovereignty.” About 1718 a band of drunken Indians set out to burn John Harris at the stake and at last accounts the tree to which he was bound was still standing. He providentially escaped and at his own request was buried at the foot of this tree in Harris Park in 1748. The grave is opposite the Simon Cameron residence in Harrisburg.

By virtue of a warrant from the Proprietors of Pennsylvania, bearing date January 1, 1725-26, five hundred acres of land were granted to John Harris and subsequently, December 17, 1733, a patent granted three hundred acres of allowance land upon which he commenced a settlement on the site of the city of Harrisburg. His son John is known as the founder of Harrisburg.

In Watson’s “Annals of Pennsylvania” it is stated he was one of the first emigrants with William Penn. He first settled in Philadelphia, and according to a writer in “Hazzard’s Register, ” “The nucleus of his future wealth was formed from a profitable contract he obtained from the authorities for removing stumps and opening streets in that city.”

“Mr. Harris was on intimate terms with Edward Shippen, Esq., the first mayor of Philadelphia. It was in this gentleman’s family that he first saw and became acquainted with Esther Say, also a native of Yorkshire, who is recorded to have been a lady of superior intelligence and extraordinary energy.” “Annals of Harrisburg, ” page 7.

Children of John and Esther (Say) Harris: Daughter, married Senator McClay; Daughter, married Dr. William McClay; John Jr., founded the city of Harrisburg, laying it out in lots and selling a large part of the original grant in town lots; Esther, mentioned below.

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