Charles Witt’s Wife
Was Charles Witt’s wife the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Harbour? It’s a theory, but a relatively weak one since it isn’t supported by any compelling evidence.
This claim first appeared in a 1927 publication. Under the heading “Contributed by Mrs. Mary L. Norton, Natl. President, Huguenot Society, Founders of Manakin, Va.” is a paragraph ending with the sentence: “Charles [Witt], died 1781 Halifax Co. married Lavinia Harbour.” Subsequent published genealogies have presented this as a fact without supporting evidence, apparently relying on that original article.
I will first make three points relating to genealogical standards:
No proof of any sort was provided. Nor was any proof provided in any
subsequent publication. Mrs. Norton later repeated this claim in The Huguenot but she never offered
evidence or explanation.
This is not “family tradition” despite attempts by some family members
to label it so. A tradition is passed down through the generations, but this
claim is not a tradition within the Witt
family. Not a single descendant of Charles Witt has testified as to his wife’s
identity. Rather, it is a modern theory by a Witt researcher.
3. In that same paragraph it is claimed that William Witt was a Huguenot immigrant who came to Virginia in 1699, was born in France, died in 1741, and had children named Lewis, Abner, William, David, and Charles. All of which we can prove to be errors. Why would we believe the statement about Lavinia Harbour when so much else is untrue?
What do we know of Lavinia Witt?
First of all, we aren’t sure that her name was “Lavinia”. Her name only appears three times in records, all as “Lamina”. Her first appearance in the records is her witness of a deed by Sherwood Walton to Samuel Davis on 19 March 1767 in which her name is recorded as “Lamina”. Charles Witt’s will, written in 1771 calls her “Lamina” as well. One of the daughters is “Lavinia” in the will (and in her husband’s will) so it isn’t clear if she was named for her mother or not. I’d also note that the grandchildren of Charles Witt included both a Lamina and a Lavinia.
Whoever she was, she was the mother of his children. Charles Witt’s will instructs “my son Joseph Witt shall oblige to take care of his mother”. Since Joseph was the oldest son, and born before 1750, that tells us Charles and Lamina married no later than 1748 or 1749, before Charles Witt moved to Lunenburg County.
There is no direct evidence of the identity of Charles Witt's wife - that is, there is no record that explicitly identifies her maiden name. There are no estate records for Thomas Harbor, no marriage records, no relevant deeds or court records, and no preserved statements by any of the parties or their direct descendants. Instead we have to build the case on indirect evidence.
Examining the Evidence:
The indirect evidence basically rests almost entirely on proximity between the two men:
Charles Witt appears to have married in the mid or late 1740s. Between
1739 and 1748 he owned land in western Henrico County and was “of Goochland”
when he sold it in October 1748. During the same period, Thomas Harbor was
located about 35 miles west. That is an unusually long distance for men to
travel seeking wives. Both men lived near the same major road, and Thomas
Harbour lived near William Witt, Charles Witt’s uncle, so they may have know
each other. However, that is a very weak proximity argument.
Note that the theory was originally based on a faulty assumption. It was assumed that Thomas Harbor’s 1728 patent on Deep Creek was near Charles Witt’s 1739 purchase on Deep Run, so that the two were close neighbors. (This is a faulty assumption that the Harbour book repeats.) In fact, these are different creeks located about 35 miles apart. I wonder if the theory would ever have been proposed absent this assumption.
Both Charles Witt and Thomas Harbor migrated to what is now Patrick
County within a few years of one another. Thomas Harbor sold most of his
Goochland land in 1745 and, beginning in 1746, began surveying eight scattered
parcels in present Henry and Patrick Counties, all patented the same day in
1753. Charles Witt sold his Henrico land in 1748 and patented a parcel in
1755 that adjoined one of Harbor’s patents in present Patrick County.
These adjoining parcels were surveyed only one day apart in April 1750.
Some Harbor researchers believe Thomas Harbor was acquiring land for himself and his seven sons and sons-in-law, not including Charles Witt.
Another of Thomas Harbor’s patents in present Henry County (which he
gifted to two sons of David Witt in 1763) was described in a 1768 survey as
near “Char. Witt’s house”. There is no record of Charles Witt owning land
in that area, and by 1768 he was living several miles east, so I do not know
how to interpret this record.
We have reliable evidence that Charles Witt’s brother David married a
daughter of Thomas Harbor. Another daughter probably married his brother
Charles Witt leased land in present Halifax County in 1760, and is known
to be living there at least by 1766. He bought nearby land in 1767 and
sold his land back in Patrick Country the same day. A son of Thomas
Harbor, Talmon Harbor, bought nearly adjacent land the following year.
Charles Witt named one of his eleven children “Sarah”, the same name as
Thomas Harbor’s wife. She may have been the eldest daughter. [He
did not name the other children after known relatives, except for his daughter
Lavinia.] Of course, Sarah was quite a common name.
All this certainly indicates some sort of relationship with the Harbor family, although it could have been friendship rather than kinship. Whatever the reality, it is nowhere near persuasive enough to meet any reasonable genealogical standard.
In fact, we are missing some evidence that might have been useful:
1. Charles Witt is not a witness to or a participant in any Harbor transaction, nor are any Harbors witness to any transactions by Charles Witt. All of Thomas Harbor’s sons and sons-in-law except Charles and Elijah Witt appear in transactions with one another as grantee/grantor or as witnesses. [I will also note that he appears in no transactions with his own family either, except for his brother Elijah Witt.]
Thomas Harbor gifted or sold land to three of his four sons and two of
his sons-in-law. He did not transfer land to either Charles or Elijah
The question is whether we can draw any firm conclusion from the evidence we have. One useful test is to ask if we can construct alternative theories that explain the same facts. In this case it is obvious that several alternatives exist. For example, there were other residents of Goochland who later moved to old Halifax County and who were known to Charles Witt. To name one, Samuel Davis lived very near both Thomas Harbor and William Witt in Goochland, and later lived on land adjoining Charles Witt in Halifax, serving as a witness for some of his transactions there. If proximity were persuasive, we could make a case that Charles Witt’s wife was as likely to be a Davis as a Harbour.
In my view, we can’t eliminate any possibilities with the evidence on hand. However unlikely they may be, the fact that we can’t eliminate them means that we can’t be certain that Lamina was or was not the daughter of Thomas Harbor. Bottom line, I would call the Lavinia Harbor theory a plausible theory, but just a theory and not the proven fact that is so often represented in family genealogies.
 Virginia Soldiers of 1776, Volume II (1927), Lewis A. Burgess, p882.