Was Charles Witt’s wife the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Harbour? The short answer is that we don’t know. It’s one theory, but one that isn’t supported by any compelling evidence.
This claim was first made in a paragraph contributed by Mary L. Norton to a 1927 publication.1 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.
We all want to know his wife’s identity, but there is absolutely no reason to accept this theory as anything more than a relatively weak possibility:
- In that same paragraph Mrs. Norton 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. Every one of those statements is wrong. Why should we believe the statement about Lavinia Harbour when so much else in that paragraph is untrue?
- No proof of any sort was provided. Nor was any proof provided in any subsequent publication. Nor has any proof been provided by anyone as far as I know. Mrs. Norton later repeated this claim in The Huguenot but she never offered either evidence or explanation.
- This is not a “family tradition” despite attempts by some family members to label it so. Not a single descendant of Charles Witt has testified as to his wife’s identity. Rather, it is a relatively modern theory offered up 200 years later by a Witt researcher who is known to have made significant errors.
Let’s explore the question of whether it might be true.
What was her name?
First of all, we aren’t sure that her name was “Lavinia”. Her name only appears three times in records, and they all appear to be “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 own 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.
What else do we know about her?
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 her identity — 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.
Could she have been a Harbour?
The indirect evidence basically rests almost entirely on proximity between Charles Witt and Thomas Harbour:
- Charles Witt appears to have married in the mid or late 1740s. At that time — 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 to the 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. In summary, we have a proximity argument to explain how they might have met. But the distance involved makes it a relatively weak one.
- For quite a few years many Witt researchers who contributed to the Witt Newsletter thought that the two men were actually near neighbors, which lent credibility to the theory that Charles Witt married a neighbor’s daughter. 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 later books also repeat.) In fact, these are entirely different creeks located about 35 miles apart. I wonder if the theory would ever have been proposed if this faulty assumption had never been raised.
- 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 that 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 and that his brother Elijah probably married a daughter of Thomas Harbour.
- 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.
All this certainly indicates some sort of relationship between Charles Witt and the Harbor family, although it could have been friendship rather than immediate 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:
- Charles Witt is not a witness to or a participant in any Harbor deed or will or court appearance, nor are any Harbors witness to any transactions by Charles Witt. All of Thomas Harbor’s sons and sons-in-law except Charles Witt 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 Witt.
- 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. [↩]