Emer Harris (1781 - 1869)

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Place of Burial: Provo, Utah, Utah Territory, United States
Birthplace: Cambridge, Washington, New York, United States
Death: Died in Logan, Cache, Utah Territory, United States
Occupation: LDS Patriarch, High Priest. Carpenter, farmer. Member Nauvoo Legion.
Managed by: Denise Unander
Last Updated:

About Emer Harris

Emer Harris (1781-1869)

Born at Cambridge, Washington County, New York. Elder brother of Martin Harris. Five wives; sixteen children. Owner of the first bound copy of the Book of Mormon. Joined the Latter-day Saints and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, 1831. Proselyting in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, with Martin Harris, 1832. Worked on Kirtland and Nauvoo temples. Member of Nauvoo Legion. Migrated to Utah, 1852. Appointed patriarch, 1853. Presided over high priests at Provo, Utah, 1855. Died at Logan, Cache County, Utah.

Marriages and Children

  1. Roxana Peas (5 December 1781 Cambridge, Washington County, New York - 9 February 1814), daughter of Abel Peas of Sodus, Ontario, New York; married 22 July 1802 Palmyra, New York; six known children. Divorced 1818.
    1. Selina Harris (1803 - 1814), died age 10
    2. Elathan Harris (1805 - 1853) married Northrop Sweet
    3. Alvira Harris (1807 - 1891)
    4. Sophronia Harris (1809 - 1880)
    5. Nathan Harris (1811 - 1838)
    6. Ruth Harris (1813 - 1829), died age 15
  2. Deborah Lott (16 November 1799 Mehoophany, Luzerne, Pennsylvania - 18 March 1825 Luzerne, Pennsylvania), daughter of Zephaniah Lott and Rachel Brown; married 16 January 1819 Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; five known children.
    1. Emer Harris Jr. (1819 - 1819, stillborn)
    2. Martin Henderson Harris (1820 - 1889) married Georgianna Maria Aldous and Louisa Sargent
    3. Harriet Fox Harris (1822 - 1910)
    4. Deborah Harris (1825 - 1825, died aged 9 weeks)
    5. Dennison Lott Harris (1825 - 1885) married Margaret Allen Webb, Anna Maria Messerli, and Sarah Wilson Cheney
  3. Parma Chappell (12 November 1792 Sandifield, Berkshire, Massachusetts - 4 June 1857 Ogden, Weber, Utah Territory), daughter of Isaac Chappell and Tamison Willcock; married on 29 March 1826 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; four known children.
    1. Fannie Melvina Harris (1827 - 1841) died age 14
    2. Joseph Mormon Harris (1830 - 1909) married Mary Ann Pons
    3. Alma Harris (1832 - 1900)
    4. Charles Harris (1834 - 1916) married Louisa Maria Hall
  4. Polly Chamberlain (6 February 1812 Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts - June 1849 Winter Quarters, Hancock, Illinois), daughter of Solomon Chamberlain; married 11 January 1846 in Nauvoo, Illinois; one known child.
    1. Rebecca Harris (1845 - 1929)
  5. Martha Allen (15 March 1803 Pompey, Onondaga, New York - 15 April 1860 Provo, Utah, Utah Territory), daughter of Josiah Allen and Olive Negus; married 10 September 1855 Salt Lake City, Utah Territory; no children of this marriage.

Biographical Sketch

Emer Harris was born 29 May 1781 in Cambridge, Washington County, New York, to Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham. His parents had married and moved from North Smithfield, Rhode Island, the previous year. In 1793 twelve-year-old Emer Harris moved with his family from Easton, New York, to Palmyra, Wayne County, New York, where his father purchased 600 acres for $300. The land was located directly north of town and just over the Erie Canal.

A school was opened at about the same time the family arrived in Wayne County. In addition to the opportunity this gave Emer to gain an education, ministers of many faiths preached there over the next few years. Palmyra became a place where a seeker of religion could hear many conflicting views. His brother Martin was known as a seeker.

At twenty-one years of age, Emer married Roxanna Peas, of nearby Sodus, New York, on 22 July 1802. Nathan divided his acreage among his sons as they grew to manhood and needed land for homes and their growing families. Emer purchased 50 acres from his father for 200 dollars on 2 January 1806, and another parcel of land on 17 February 1807. County records show that Nathan and his sons Emer and Martin, bought and sold land to each other several times.

Sometime after 1813, Emer moved his family to Windham Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. By the end of 1818 he and Roxanna obtained a divorce, ending their marriage of sixteen years. Records do not state the reason for this separation nor any information about division of property or custody of the children. Most Likely Roxana moved back to Ontario County, New York, with the children.

On 16 January 1819, Emer married Deborah Lott, the daughter of Zephaniah and Rachel Brown Lott. Zephaniah's father and uncle were among the first settlers in Mehoophany in 1791. They built a sawmill and ran a tavern. In August 1819, Emer purchased shares in a sawmill located at the mouth of Little Mehoopany Creek, Luzerne County. Emer and Deborah Lott Harris' children were born at the family farm in Mehoophany, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The family lived near where the Little Mehoophany Creek empties into the Susquehanna River." Deborah died few weeks after the birth of her fourth child, Dennison Lott Harris. Emer recorded the events in his journal:

22 Dec. 1824 - Dr. E.C. saw wife

17 Jan. 1825 - had a child born

6 Mar. 1825 - wife died

8 Mar. 1825 - wife buryed

3 Apr. 1825 - took the children to Lu Gary's wife

Emer married Parma Chapell on 29 March 1826. Daughter of Isaac and Tamison Wilcox Chapell, Parma was thirty-four years of age and willing to become the stepmother of Emer's three small children. She was the only mother they ever remembered, and they honored her with that title. The following year on 21 January 1827, Parma gave birth to her own little daughter, Fannie Melvina Harris. In March 1827 the family moved seven miles up Mehoophany Creek to a new farm in the area of Jenningsville, Pennsylvania. At about this time Emer's younger brother, Martin Harris, learned of Joseph Smith. From April to June 1828 Martin acted as scribe for Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon from gold plates.

Emer became very concerned when he heard that Martin was so involved in the printing of the Book of Mormon that he had even mortgaged his family land. Family tradition says that Emer walked fifty miles in the early spring of 1830 to warn his younger brother, ‘Martin, the Harrises are practical people. How can you be involved in a venture with rumors of golden plates and angels?’ Martin handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon and said, ‘Read for yourself, Emer’. Emer read for several days until he finished it. Then he returned to Martin, looked him straight in the eye, and said, ‘It is true, Martin’” The Harris family's long-standing quest for truth and freedom in their worship of God prepared siblings Emer, Martin, Preserved and Naomi to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its earliest days.

Emer was ordained a high priest on 25 October 1831 by the Prophet and said on that occasion that "he was determined to be for God & none else & with his assistance to do his will." Two days later he was appointed "scribe for Joseph Smith, while they are employed writing and copying the fullness of the scriptures. This pledge was one that Emer kept throughout his life. His faith and testimony remained firm through several periods of great difficulty and apostasy in the church.

By the next spring the Saints were gathering in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. Emer moved his family to be with them. Martin Henderson Harris, Emer’s son, wrote later that they “traveled 70 miles by land and took steamboat at Ithaca, head of the Cayuga lake...traveled by steamer about 36 miles through Palmyra, Rochester and Lockport by the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then took passage on the Schooner Constitution up Lake Erie intending to land at Fairport, but on account of an unfavorable wind were obliged to pass by and land at Cleveland.” Emer, Parma and family settled for a short time on the Isaac Morley farm. Their next home was sixty miles west in Brownhelm, Ohio.

Emer's son Martin recorded in his journal “Father started on a mission East and was gone a year, wanting eleven days”. By midsummer 1833 Emer had returned from his mission, having preached the gospel and sold his land in Pennsylvania for $550. The money was used to purchase a farm in Florence Township, Ohio. In 1835, when not working on the farm, Emer labored as a carpenter and a joiner on the Kirtland Temple. He created the window sash in the temple and other intricate details within the sacred building. In spring of 1836 they moved to farm three miles from Kirtland.

Emer retured to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1838 to collect the money owed him for the farm he left there in 1831. The members of the church had been instructed to move to upper Missouri where other saints had been living in peace for several years, but Emer probably felt the need to get his business settled in Pennsylvania before he moved still another 900 miles away. When Emer returned to the family in July with a span of horses and light wagon he “bought another horse and two-horse wagon from Uncle Preserved and started for Missouri on the fifth day of September.”

Apparently unaware that life in Missouri was no longer peaceful, Emer, Parma and the children left Ohio on 5 September 1838. They arrived in Far West, Missouri, about 12 October 1838, having journeyed nearly nine hundred miles, only to arrive the same month Governor Lilburn Boggs issued the Extermination Order. They were forced to leave on 17 October 1838, within a week of their arrival. All weapons were to be surrendered and all Mormon scripture found was being burned. Before leaving for Illinois Emer made preparations to carry his cherished Book of Mormon. Taking a wooden chest, he shortened it on one end, packed his book and others in tight1y and added a new lining of fuller’s cloth. The chest was filled with clothing. The keyhole had become off-centered by cutting one end off, but he hoped no one would notice. Along the way Emer walked off the trail carrying his gun so he would not have to surrender this source of food and protection. Parma and the family traveled with the wagons. They were stopped, questioned and searched by troops who were more like a mob in their zeal. Parna, who admitted proudly to being a “Mormon”, told them to search. “You have driven us around so much we have nothing but rags,” she said. Even the interior of the chest came under inspection, but nothing was found and they were allowed to pass on.

The new destination for the saints was in Illinois. Young Martin recorded that they “arrived on the bank of the Mississippi River about the 12th of November, having traveled the whole distance through rain, snow and mud.” The river wasn't frozen solid, so it was the 22nd before they could cross. They found shelter for the winter at a home owned by John Gault near Rock Creek. In the spring they built a house on the farm owned by Cephas Stow and both Emer and young Martin worked on land they rented from him. In 1839, while living in Quincy, Emer was ill, possibly with malaria. He did not “fully recover for a year”. The year 1840 found Emer looking for a new place. He bought 40 acres three miles northeast of Nauvoo and in the fall they built a home there. It was early the next spring when they moved in, “fenced about half the land and broke up and planted about ten acres”. The cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple was laid on 6 April 1841. Emer worked on the construction as a carpenter and he and his boys worked the farm.

While in Nauvoo, Emer decided to accept the principle of polygamy. He married Polly Chamberlain, daughter of Solomon Chamberlain, on 11 January 1846. Emer and Martin served in the Nauvoo Legion and told of guarding the Prophet’s home at night. Dennison and a friend became aware of a plot against the Prophet by some members of the church. They went to Emer, who advised them to see Joseph Smith about it. He asked them to act as his spies, which they did at several meetings. Another time Martin cane upon the Prophet in the woods where he had gone to be safe from those who were seeking to harm him. Joseph requested that Martin keep his location secret and Martin gave his word, telling the Prophet “You will know by what happens that I have kept my word.’ The love and protection rendered the Prophet by many was to no avail and he was killed by his enemies. Again the faith and testimony of the members was tried as a new Prophet took his place as head of the church. Emer and his family followed the new prophet.

Polly Chamberlain Harris died at Carlsville, Iowa in June 1849, leaving Emer once more with a small motherless child. Rebecca was three-and-a-half. Emer and his family immigrated to Utah in 1852. Rebecca’s history says her grandfather Solomon Chamberlain came with them also. He was a trail scout known as “Old Buckskin” who had made the first, and many subsequent, trips west.

When Emer settled in Utah it was in the Provo area. At first they lived in a dugout with no fireplace and no windows, sleeping in the wagon. In the winter they shared a fire with other settlers. Conditions were very hard and through an accident their wagon was burned. Neighbors helped build a small cabin and shared bedding with them. In 1853 Emer was ordained a Patriarch.

On 10 September 1855 Martha Allen was sealed to Emer Harris in Provo by George A. Smith. She was a widow with a family. Parma died in 1857. In October 1862, Emer and his son Charles were called to pioneer in southern Utah in the Virgin and St. George area. Emer was 81, but he responded faithfully and spent five years helping settle the area. In 1867 he returned to northern Utah, making his home again in Provo. In September of 1869 he was taken to Logan by Joseph to visit Alma and Sarah. He died there on 28 November 1869 and was buried in the Logan Cemetery.

At his death he had been a member of the church for 39 years and had been, as he promised in 1831,”for God, and none else”. Enduring the persecutions, the moving about, the diseases and dangers that were the lot of the early members, he served as a missionary and helped build two temples. He crossed the Plains when he was 71, became a Patriarch at 72, went on the Cotton Mission at 81. His five wives all preceded him in death, as did several of his fifteen children. He died in his 89th year.

Descendants of Pioneers Gather at Ogden Reunion

Ogden Standard Examiner, 13 August 1926

Descendants of brothers Emer Harris and Martin Harris met Thursday in reunion at Lorin Farr Park. More than 100 persons were present, representatives of the family coming from Weber County, Salt Lake and Provo, and from different points in Idaho as far north as St Anthony. N.J Harris of Ogden conducted the exercises. An interesting program was prepared, several speakers giving a history of the different branches of the family. Leander S Harris told of the coming of their ancestors in the ship Lyon in 1630. They settled in New England and assisted in the founding of Rhode Island, one member of the family being governor, while numerous others had been members of the legislature and had held other offices in New England besides being prominent in financial and industrial affairs. Nathan Harris moved into the state of New York near where the LDS church was organized and three of the family joined the church.

Martin Harris met the Prophet Joseph Smith, furnished him with means and assisted him in translating the Book of Mormon afterwards becoming of the three witnesses to that book. Later he signed a contract with Egbert Grandin for the publication of the first edition of 5000 copies for the sum of $3000. He sold his farm at Palmyra to obtain money to pay for the publication. He sacrificed all of his property, his wife left him and he gave up everything for the church it was declared. Later he was called with the other two witnesses of the Book of Mormon to select the first quorum of the twelve apostles which they did. Martin Harris remained at Kirtland until 1876 when he was brought a Utah by Edward Stevenson under the direction of President Brigham Young. He preached in the tabernacle at Salt Lake on the first Sunday after his arrival. He died five years later at Clarkston in Cache County. A monument was erected to his memory by the church, and was dedicated under the direction of President Heber J Grant on July 10, 1925, the fiftieth anniversary of his death. His family had preceded him to Utah, where they scattered through Cache County and into southern Idaho. Representatives of the family were present at the reunion...

...Emer Harris, a brother of Martin Harris on hearing of the Book of Mormon went from his home in Pennsylvania to Palmyra where the book was on the press to investigate it. The first bound copy of the book after it came from the press was presented to him. He returned to Pennsylvania and the following February made another trip to Palymyra to make further investigations. He was converted, ordained an elder and started to preach. He passed several years as a missionary one year being passed with this brother Martin as a companion. N.J Harris gave the principal points in the history of his grandfather Emer Harris and read from the original record kept by him and the history of Martin Harris his great uncle. He also exhibited a copy of the first edition of the Book of Mormon which he has in his possession and told of his visit to the Martin Harris farm at Palmyra, the proceeds of which was paid for the publication of the first edition of that book.

Emer Harris and family came to Utah in 1850 his sons going to different parts of the state. Joseph M Harris was one of the early settlers of Ogden. Martin H Harris was the pioneer settler of Harrisville. Alma Harris was a pioneer in Cache County. Dennison L Harris who pioneered in "Dixie" and other parts of the state, finally settled at Monroe, where he acted as bishop until the time of his death. Charles Harris also pioneers in different parts of the state settling at Junction, Piute County where he remained until his death. Martin H Harris went on the Salmon River mission and in his history detailed the trouble with the Indians until they were finally compelled to send to Salt Lake for help. Two men were able to make their way safely back to Salt Lake when help was sent with instructions to abandon the mission. During that trip Bailey Lake of Ogden was killed by the Indians and Charles Harris helped carry him from field of battle. All the members were prominent in the Indian wars and were active in assisting the pioneers across the plains.

Hyrum S Harris, a son of Dennison L Harris, Belle Harris Berry, a son of Charles Harris, Adolph Harris, a son of Joseph M Harris and Russell K Harris, a grandson of Martin Harris also spoke at the gathering...

Sources and Further Information

  • Descendant Randy Harris - A debt of gratitude is owed to Randy for his impeccable research of Emer Harris
  • Biography of Emer Harris
  • Nathan Harris Family
  • Mormonism and the Radical Religious Movement in Early Colonial New England [Articles and Essays] (p. 25) Volume 33, Number 1, Spring 2000
  • EarlyLDS.com
  • Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (S. E. Black)
  • Stella Harris Oaks, talk BYG Educ. Wk., 22 Aug, 1974
  • "Early Ontario Court Records," Lyons, New York, Deed Books B., p. 296 and D., p. 282, 1806, 1807.
  • Franklin S. Harris, Sr., MSS 340, in Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  • "Family Record of Emer Harris," March 19, 1868, (in a family publication, Martin Henderson Harris A Utah Pioneer, July 21, 1952), p. 1; hereafter cited as M.H.H. See Link to pages of M.H.H.
  • Deeds of Luzerne County, vol. 27, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1819, p. 346. Final payment was actually not made until 1827 and then not officially recorded until 1830. See transcription
  • Excerpt from History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches By H. C. Bradsby, 1891 CHAPTER 30. Canton Township & Canton Borough "In 1799, Isaac Chaapel, of Massachusetts, came and settled on the place near where is Chauncey Chaapel's house. Isaac was a prominent man, and was justice of the peace quite a long, time"
  • "Newel Knight's Journal," Classic Experiences and Adventures (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), pp. 46-104. Chapter 5
  • Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel 1852 Company Information - Harmon Cutler Company. Departure 27 June 1852; Arrival 4 October 1852; Number In Company 124; Captain Harmon Cutler. 262 individuals and 63 wagons were in the company when it began its journey from the outfitting post at Kanesville, Iowa (present day Council Bluffs).
    • Harris, Charles; 17; 2 July 1834 - 3 February 1916
    • Harris, Deborah Jane; 4; 21 May 1848 - 30 March 1940
    • Harris, Dennison Lott; 27; 17 January 1825 - 6 June 1885
    • Harris, Emer; 71; 29 May 1781 - 28 November 1869
    • Harris, Sarah Ann; 1; 19 September 1850 - 1861
    • Harris, Sarah Wilson Cheney; 27; 20 September 1824 - 23 February 1874
  • BYU Biographical Registries for the letter "H". Retrived from https://byustudies.byu.edu/Resources/BioAlpha/MBRegisterH.aspx
  • Find A Grave Memorial# 30454729
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Emer Harris's Timeline

1781
May 29, 1781
Cambridge, Washington, New York, United States
1802
July 22, 1802
Age 21
Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois, United States
1803
October 10, 1803
Age 22
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1805
October 7, 1805
Age 24
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1807
August 7, 1807
Age 26
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1809
August 17, 1809
Age 28
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1811
September 26, 1811
Age 30
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1813
September 7, 1813
Age 32
Cambridge, Washington, New York, USA
1819
January 16, 1819
Age 37
Luzerne, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States
November, 1819
Age 38
Windham, Bradford, Pennsylvania, USA