John Harris of Harris Ferry

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John Harris, Jr.

Also Known As: "Donated land", "today it's downtown Harrisburg", "PA"
Birthdate: (61)
Birthplace: Harris Ferry, (Near what is now Harrisburg, Dauphin County), Lancaster County, Province of Pennsylvania
Death: July 29, 1791 (61)
Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Burial: Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Harris, founder of Harrisburg, PA and Esther Harris
Husband of Elizabeth Harris and Mary Harris
Father of Margaret Mary Maclay; John Harris; Major David Harris; William Harris; Ann Ewalt and 11 others
Brother of Capt. Samuel Harris; Elizabeth Findley; David Harris; William Augustus Harris and Esther Plunket

Occupation: trader
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Harris of Harris Ferry

SAR # 10329

DAR # A051708,_Jr.

John Harris, Jr. (1716 - July 29, 1791 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), was a storekeeper and frontiersman who operated a ferry along the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg. John Harris, Jr. is the son of John Harris, Sr., who is considered the first settler to establish a trading post along the Susquehanna River at what would later become the state capital of Pennsylvania.


John Harris, Jr. was born in Harrisburg in 1716, and after his father's death in 1748, Harris continued to operate his fathers' trading business and ferry operation. For many years, Harris and his family were considered the principal store keepers on the American frontier; and at his house two notable "council fires" were held with the Indians of the Six Nations and other tribes. At the first, June 8, 1756, Governor Morris, with his council, was present; and at the second, April 1, 1757, the deputy of Sir William Johnson, his majesty's deputy of the affairs of the Six Nations, met the representatives of the Indian Nations and many of their warriors. It was said that John Harris, Jr. had the confidence of the Indians. At a conference of Governor Hamilton with them, August 23, 1762, they asked that "the present store-keepers may be removed and honest men placed in their stead," and selected John Harris. Said the chief, who addressed the governor, "I think John Harris is the most suitable man to keep store, for he lives right in the road where our warriors pass, and he is very well known by us all in our Nation, as his father was before him." Harris's house, built in 1766, along what is now Front Street in downtown Harrisburg, still stands today.

Founder of Harrisburg John Harris continued to operate the Ferry, enlarged and fortified the trading post against Indian raids and danger from the French and continuing in the tradition of his father, became highly trusted and respected by the settlers, soldiers, rangers, traders, as well as government authorities.

When the French and Indian war ended, he turned his attention to development of the family plantation.

One of his early decisions was to build the Mansion......a family home separate from the trading post and on higher ground....using stone quarried from his land. The Mansion was completed in 1766.

The Plantation itself was divided into three farms and John, who had bought from his brothers and sisters the rights to all the land owned by their father, thought of dividing some of the land into lots.

The Revolutions delayed his plans. John Harris strongly supported the cause of freedom. He contributed provisions and money to Washington's army, and two sons of military age entered the patriot's army. One son, Johnny was killed near Quebec, Canada, on December 31, 1775.

When the Revolution ended, there was agitation among newer settlements for creation of new counties. John Harris was instrumental in the establishment in 1785 of Dauphin County and location of a new county seat "near Harris's Ferry." The government accepted his proposal to lay out a new town, to be called "Harrisburg". His son-in-law William Maclay ( later first United States Senator from Pennsylvania) drew the town plan.....207 lots of 1/4 acres each. John Harris reserved 20 lots for himself, and retained the Mansion tract as well. Later, he offered a dozen additional lots and after his death, his executors laid out another 114 lots.

The second John Harris and founder of Harrisburg and builder of the Mansion , died in 1791. The Mansion was willed to his son, David Harris, who lived there only briefly. David's main interests were in Baltimore to which he returned, selling the Mansion to his half-brother Robert. Brought up as a farmer, Robert became responsible for much of the family business on the death of his father, the second John Harris. He bought the Mansion in 1805 and lived there for thirty years. He was paymaster of troops that marched to Baltimore in the war of 1812-14; Registrar of Wills in Dauphin County; Secretary- Treasurer of the Harrisburg Bridge Company, and instrumental in the building of the first bridge across the Susquehannah River; a director of the Harrisburg Bank; one of the organizers of the Harrisburg- Middletown Turnpike; a Congressman from 1823-27. In 1835 Robert sold the Mansion to Thomas Elder, but continued to live in another house on the Mansion tract until his death in 1851.

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John Harris of Harris Ferry's Timeline

October 22, 1729
Lancaster County, Province of Pennsylvania
Age 20
United States
August 20, 1751
Age 21
United States
February 24, 1754
Age 24
United States
Age 25
Westmoreland, PA, USA
January 23, 1756
Age 26
Age 27
November 7, 1765
Age 36
February 15, 1767
Age 37
September 5, 1768
Age 38
Pennsylvania, United States