Was Thomas Harbor’s wife a Witt?

It’s possible, but not likely.   There is not a shred of evidence in favor of it.   Nor is there any longstanding family tradition.

There is no doubt that the Harbors and Witts were closely aligned.   Two, perhaps three, of Thomas Harbor’s daughters married sons of John Witt III.   There was certainly a close relationship between the children of Thomas Harbor and the children of John Witt III, but it isn’t necessary to assume that the two men were themselves related by marriage in order to explain the marriages of their children.   Indeed, that would mean that all those marriages were between first cousins.   Although certainly not unknown in those days, cousin marriages were rare outside the very wealthy class.

Since we can identify the children of William Witt with some certainty, Harbor’s wife must have been a child of John Witt II if she were a Witt at all.  But as we will see, that is not very likely.

The “Tradition”

There is no tradition in the sense of a tale passed down through the generations.    Rather the idea that Thomas Harbour’s wife may have been a Witt appears to have surfaced for the first time in the latter part of the 20th century some 200 years after the deaths of the people concerned.   Moreover it was not originally labeled as “family knowledge” or “tradition”, but rather was first presented purely as speculation.   The idea was raised in a series of letters among Witt researchers (including yours truly) in the early 1970s.   One of those researchers mentioned the possibility in the first  issue of the Witt Quarterly in 1975. 1   Dorothy Ford Wulfeck repeated (but as a fact) in a newspaper column in 1975 when she named Sarah Witt, daughter of John Witt, as the wife of Thomas Harbour — but she provided no explanation or supporting evidence.   When Louis J. Williams published The Harbours in America in1982 he wrote (again with no supporting evidence) that “it is said” that Thomas Harbour married Sarah Witt.

Somehow what began as a speculation has become accepted as a fact among a significant number of Witt and Harbour genealogists — despite the absence of even a shred of evidence to support it.

The Evidence

There is no direct evidence for this theory.   The original speculation rested entirely on two legs:

  1. Thomas Harbor’s 400-acre patent in 1728 was (incorrectly) believed to have been located within walking distance of John Witt II, thus explaining how and when Thomas Harbor may have met and married a sister or daughter of John Witt.
  2. The belief that the proximity of Thomas Harbour and his children to the Witts in Goochland County and later in Southside Virginia could best be explained if they were closely related to one another.

These legs collapse under close examination.

Thomas Harbor’s Patent Was on a different Deep Creek

The evidence tells us that Thomas Harbour lived nowhere near any Witts at the time he must have married.   The early issues of the Witt Quarterly, in which the Harbor-Witt marriage speculation first appeared, also reflected a misunderstanding of the location of the 1728 patent to Thomas Harbour.  That patent was issued to “Thomas Harbor of Hanover County” for 400 acres on both sides of the lower fork of Deep Creek in Hanover County. 2   Some early researchers mistakenly assumed that the Harbor patent was located on the same Deep Creek that neighbored the Witt land on the Tuckahoe in Henrico County – and therefore that Harbour and the Witts were neighbors.   In fact the Deep Creek on which the Harbour patent lay was a different creek entirely, located in  Hanover County some 25 or so miles northwest of the Witts.

Thomas Harbour’s grant was located in the part of western Hanover County that would shortly become Louisa County.  The grant’s lower boundary line lay no more than half a mile above the Goochland County line.  We can locate the tract precisely because in 1738 the same tract, plus an additional 800 acres, was renewed by Michael Holland. 3   Holland’s patent actually ran along the Goochland-Louisa county line for a distance of more than two miles on a specific compass bearing, thus allowing us to locate it quite precisely.4

What the patent evidence tells us is that Thomas Harbour was a resident of Hanover County who was claiming land in Hanover County in 1728 that was fairly distant from the nearest Witt.   The first indication that Thomas Harbour lived anywhere near a Witt is in 1737, long after he must have married.  Harbour patented land in Goochland (later Albemarle) County on Ballenger’s Creek in 1734 and 1737.5   William Witt witnessed a deed in 1737 for land that adjoined Thomas Harbour. 6   A year later, in 1738, William Witt bought land there.7

If it were not for the misunderstanding of where Harbor’s 1728 patent was located, I doubt that anyone would have proposed that his wife was related to William and John Witt.

What about the proximity of Witts and Harbours subsequent to 1737?

When Thomas Harbour moved from Hanover County to Ballenger’s Creek in Goochland County he was moving even further away from John Witt II, ending up about fifty miles west of the Witts on the Tuckahoe.   For about 16 years, until he apparently moved to Southside Virginia about 1753, he was a neighbor of William Witt.  The fact that both men moved into the same vicinity is in no way an argument that William Witt was his wife’s uncle or brother.   Indeed, that entire part of the county was vacant land in 1735 and saw a considerable influx of settlers over the next ten or so years.  It suffices to explain their proximity merely by noting that the same vacant lands attracted both men, among many others.

In short, while this proximity explains the later interactions between the families, it does not imply any earlier ones.   Indeed, there is not a single record tying Thomas Harbour to John Witt or his children.

Thomas Harbor moved to Southside Virginia where he and his family were close to many of the Witts there.   But that is explained by, and in turn serves to explain, the marriages of Harbor’s children to Witt children.

What can we conclude from the fact that Thomas Harbor’s daughters Jane and Sarah married sons of John Witt III?

We can prove that his daughter Sarah Harbour married David Witt and that his daughter Jane was married to a Witt, probably David’s brother Elisha.   Some believe there may have been a third marriage, but there is no actual evidence that he had a daughter Lavina or that she married Charles Witt.

Whether there were two or three such marriages, they do not imply any Harbor-Witt connection in an earlier generation.   In fact they argue against it.  I f Harbor’s wife were a daughter of John Witt II, each of these marriages would have been between first cousins.   While such marriages were not unknown, two or three in the same family would surely be a record.

Near-cousin marriages in the 18th century were mainly limited to the upper classes and were becoming increasingly rare among rank-and-file Virginians.   The accepted reasons for marriages of close degree were scarcity of potential mates (certainly not the case here) or the preservation of wealth (also not the case), which had virtually disappeared in Virginia by the time Harbour evidently married.

In addition, most demographic studies have established that Virginians chose mates who lived within a three or four mile radius of the parental home, which also argues against a Witt wife for Thomas Harbour.   Thus, the probabilities would overwhelmingly favor the Harbor girls and Witt boys being unrelated.

A Final Question

I can’t resist reminding family genealogists to be careful about their assumptions.   A classic genealogical faux pas is assuming that a man’s widow was his only wife.   In this case, we don’t have a single record of Thomas Harbour’s wife during the time period in which his children were born.   We only know that his wife was named Sarah fifty-odd years later.   Whoever she might have been, we really cannot say with any certainty that she was the mother of his children.

  1. The first issue of the Witt Quarterly in 1975 published a letter in which the possibility was raised.  For the next few years it occasionally appeared as a purely speculative possibility.   I would note that many other speculations filled the pages of the Quarterly in its early years, many of them subsequently proven to be false. []
  2. Virginia Patent Book 13, p313-4. []
  3. Virginia Patent Book 18, p59.  The patent included 400 acres previously granted to Thomas “Harber” and conveyed to Holland.  Holland added another 800 acres, most of it south and east of Harbour’s patent and some of which lay on the Goochland county line. []
  4. The beginning point of that line was located where a branch of Deep Creek intersected the county line. The adjoining patent to the west also ran along the county line but at a different compass bearing.  Thus the point at which the county line changes bearings, and therefore the location of that corner of the tract, is easily and precisely located. []
  5. Virginia Patent Book 15, p248 and Book 17, p356. []
  6. Goochland County Deed Book 3, p60. []
  7. Goochland County Deed Book 3, p125. []