Members of a family with deep roots in Wilkes County and a unique history are buried on a knoll at the end of Camp Joe Harris Road in the Broadway community.

There are dozens of graves in the well-tended Harris Cemetery, including many marked with fieldstones with no visible inscriptions.

Most of the gravestones with visible inscriptions bear the Harris surname, but there are also graves of people in related families such as Barber, Grinton and Wade. 

Among the oldest graves are those of Jehu and Clarissy Chavis (or Chavers) Harris, identified on gravestones with small angel statues as the “father” and “mother” of the Harris family in Wilkes.

The Harris and Chavis (Chavers) families settled in Wilkes in the late 1790s and are included in written accounts of “free people of color,” meaning they never were slaves, in Virginia, North Carolina and elsewhere.

Jehu Harris, born in Randolph County in 1787, was the son of John and Molly (Mary) Harris. Clarrisy Harris, born in Wake County, was the daughter of Jordan and Lucy Chavis (Chavers).

John and Molly Harris’ children were living in Wilkes County in 1852 when they applied for a pension for John Harris’ services as a drummer in the Continental Army. Records show he enlisted in the army in Petersburg, Va.

One researcher suggested he also possibly was the same John Harris who signed a petition against an additional tax against free people of color in Granville County in 1771.

The pension application said the family lived in Randolph County for five or six years before moving to Rowan County near Lexington (now Davidson County), where John Harris died.

Molly Harris and her childen first settled in the Fairplains section of Wilkes.

Jordan Chavis (Chavers) owned a large amount of land in Wilkes and sold 85 acres to Molly Harris in 1829.

Her will named her children as Nancy Harris Ferguson, Lucy Harris Chavis, Jehu, Isaac, Polly Bailey, John and Ibby Harris Anderson.

Jehu and Clarissy Harris moved from Fairplains to the south side of the Yadkin River, where they raised a family of 13 children in the area that includes the Harris Cemetery. These 13 children were Jordan, Richard, Jim, Hugh, Andrew, Wesley, Lee, Nancy, Roxanna, Lucy, Dillie, Adeline and Polly.

Jordan Harris, the oldest, became a farmer, mail carrier and shoe cobbler. He married Rachel Grinton, who was half Indian and half white and was known for her long, straight black hair.

Jim Harris was known as an outstanding house and decorative painter. He was the first of several generations of men in the family who were skilled painters.

Members of the family were active in establishment of Lincoln Heights elementary and high schools, which served the black communities of Wilkes and some adjoining counties until it was closed as part of desegregation.

Camp Joe Harris Road is named for a summer camp for young black girls, operated by a member of the family decades ago.

The Harris Family Reunion is held annually in Wilkes. Camie Harris of Wilkesboro is current family president.

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(1) comment


Wonderful article...thank you for covering my family in such a respectful
C. Harris[smile]

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