Harris - Thomas A. - Montgomery InGenWeb Project

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Harris - Thomas A.

Source: Crawfordsville Weekly Review, Feb 19, 1881
Life of T.A. Harris

The grand old County of Montgomery with its 27,000  inhabitants, its schools, its colleges, its churches and its  broad acres of improved and fertile land, presents a different  scene to the aged veteran of today from what it did when he first  settled in its borders 50 or 75 years ago. The magnificent oak,  the stalwart poplar, the wide spreading walnut and the shaggy  beech, have alike shared the woodman's ax and are no more. The  rude hut has given place to the comfortable, cozy dwelling and  gaudy and attractive palaces. But also how few how very few have lived to look upon the beauty and grandeur of the work in  the fulness of its glory, to which their own hands had  contributed so beautifully. The history of the honored few who  are now living within our borders can be studies with profit by  those who are now enjoying the fruits of their early labor. Among  the aged veterans who have contributed to the upbuilding of our  country, both in public and private life, none perhaps stand  higher in the confidence and esteem of those by whom best known  than the subject of this sketch, Thomas A. HARRIS, born in  Buckingham County, Virginia, 76 years ago. His father was of  Portugese and his mother of English desent (sic). His father was  a planter and slave holder, and owned on an average from 18 to 20  slaves, in whom he took great pride. He always treated them with  great consideration and kindness; fed and clothed them well.  While he viewed them as a species of constitutional property, he  never forgot that they had feelings and sympathies which the  master was morally bound to respect. Had he lived in a different  age and different country, he would doubtless have been opposed  to the institution of slavery. While he never belonged to any  visible Church, he was a kind and generous father. He took upon  his honor and regarded his wo? as sacred as his oath.

Thomas, the  second of six children and the subject of these lines, entered  upon life's arena to do for himself at the age of 20, having been  liberated by his father at his own request before his majority. A  single man, with no one to care for but himself, he went forth  with the world to seek his fortune, with the highest confidence  in himself, looking upon the gaudy side of the picture of life.  He went into an adjoining County and took a lease for four years  on the lands of Hon. James McDowell, afterwards Gov. of Virginia;  a man dear to the hearts of that honored old State. His object  was to enter into the cultivation of tobacco to a grand scale. He  employed a number of negro hands and a negro cook and went to  work in earnest. The first year he raised a find crop, but his  expenses were too great and he fell into debt. It was customary  in those days for the person who employed slaves to feed and  clothe them. About this time, he was married to Rebecca POWERS,  an estimable young lady of the vicinity, but who like himself  contributed no capital to the partnership stock, except a stout  heart and willing mind, which are oftimes more valuable  auxiliaries to success than gold and diamonds. The next year  proved more disastrous than ever. His crop failed and he kept  sinking deeper and deeper in debt. He now began to realize that a  fortune was not to be found like a lost bonanza, but only to be  acquired by close applications, active, industry and the  strictest economy. He now discovers that his paved road to  fortune is a failure, that his mode of life must be changed; the  points of his compass altered, his vessel rerigged, the sails  lowered and a new course pursued. He informs his wife, the  companion of his toils (an act worthy imitation of our modern  sires) who readily acquisces in whatever will contribute to their  mutual good. He accordingly dispensed with all his negroes,  except one, and took, in a partner. They raised a fine little  crop of tobacco, which matured in excellent condition and was  looke dupon by the young firm and by Thomas especially with great  pride and satisfaction. His happiest thought was that he would  soon be able to pay his debts. The early principles of honestly  and integrity instilled by the early teaching of his father,  caused him to look upon debt as being as a sacred obligation, the  discharge of which could only be excused on the ground of utter  impossibility. Their little crop was carefully gathered and after  the custom of the day, stored away in a tobacco barn for the  purpose of being cured a process which was perfected by fires,  and required several days. One morning when he arose he found  that his entire crop had been swept away by the cruel flames. His  first thought was of his debts. His only prospect for payment  gone, this he says was the most gloomy time of his life, but he  never thought for a moment of trying to escape the debt. His  creditors came on him. He delivered over to them all his effects,  goods, and chattles, household and kitchen furniture. Everything  that both he and his wife possessed, not even retaining a bed  upon which to rest at night, reserving nothing except their  wearing apparel. This done, he was still indebted. he concluded  to borrow a few of the necessaries of life from his neighbors and  commenced anew. His object now was to lease a small piece of  ground and dig it up with his hoe, and raise a small crop, but  upon his sole responsibility. He goes again to the Hon. James  McDowell, who listens to hi story of his misfortunes with the  deepest interest. He tells McDowell the object of his visit, viz:  to get released from his former obligation and to lease a smaller  amount of ground; that he desires to move on it and take his hoe  and dig it up and cultivate it with his own hands. McDowell  expresses his surprise, tells him it is impossible, such a thing  cannot be done, that he will starve himself and family in the  effort and advises him to pull up stakes and go west, but as to  the lease, he could have it for any period of time and upon any  terms he might ask, if he thought it would be of any benefit. The  lease was made, banding McDowell to everything and Harris to  nothing. He moves on his lease, erects a rude log cabin, borrows  a few articles of bed clothing and furniture, an old skillet and  a pot or two and he again launched his boat and starts out on  life's journey anew. He has no horse, he goes to work with his  hoe and digs up his ground. The hoe used was a large heavy  implement, somewhat like the mattock of the present day.  Bareheaded and without bootsday after day, he plies his hoe until  his crop is in. The first year he raises a small crop which by  the strictest economy and the utmost privation enables him to  live and pay a small amount upon his outstanding indebtedness  which is distributed pro rata among his creditors. The next year  he reports the same thing and further reduces his undebtedness.  He is now solicited to teach a school, he accepts and with the  consent of his leaser, throws up his lease.

He teaches a term of  3 months, collects the money, counts up the interest on each debt  that he owes, and starts on the rounds to hunt up his creditors,  each of whom is paid the full amount of his claim, both principal  and interest. This done, he says, "I have no doubt but that I  felt prouder than General Jackson did, when he had won the noted  battle of New Orleans. I regard it as the crowning act of my life  and never think of it without a feeling of pride. He taught 4  terms in the same district at low wages, but succeeded in saving  a little money, when his thoughts turned westward. He was now the  head of a family and had passed his majority several years, but  never had been permitted to vote, not having possessed the  property qualification requisite in that State. No person was  allowed a vote except he possessed in his own right, some article  of personal property upon which phe payed tax. In the year 1832,  just before the election of Gen. Jackson, he bought a little  mare, the honored beast, that gave him his first vote. He had  voted for every Democratic Pres. since that time, but he says the  hardest pill to take, in the line of Presidential mredicine, was  Horace Greeley. In the fall of 1834, with two small ponies and a  little wagon and $R57, 12 1/2 in his pocket, he started west. He  stopped in Ohio where he remained two years teaching school 15  months of the time. In the fall of 1836, he removed to Indiana  and settled down on the farm where he now lives, one half mile  west of New Ross in Walnut Township. He bought 80- acres and paid  all down except $89 upon which he had two years time. It was then  covered with one dense forest of living green. When he arrived  and paid off his teamsters, he had $14.37 1/2 left. No house, no  supplies, a weakly wife and six helpless children. He went to  work and built him a rude cabin. His family once secure from the  wintry blasts his means of support was ebbing low, and something  must be done. He secures a school at $50 for three months. This  enables him by strict economy to support his family. He teaches  by day, and clears ground by night. He taught one more school,  and then devoted himself exclusively to this farm. He is now the  owner of 381 acres of land, and has tgiven each of his two sons  who are married a fine start. He is now, worth in his own name  about $20,000. He regards the credit system, is being ruious to  both debtor and creditor. He rarely buys anything except land,  without paying the cash for it at the time it is purchased. He  thinks the system of going securing ought to be abolished by law.  He has paid a few hundred dollars as security, but has resolved  of late years, never to ask credit, nor to go on any man's paper.  He is now 76 years old and has lived in Montgomery County 48 (?)  years. He has filled the following positions of public trust:  Justice of the Peace in 1838 and received his commission from  Gov. WALLACE, father of the distinguised Governor of New Mexico,  served five years, was elected Twp. Trustee and served two teMrs.  Was elected Co. Commissioner and served one term. Samuel  GILLILAND and WATSON were the other members of the Board. The  bridge across Sugar Creek at Yountsville was built during his  term of office. A t the end of one term, he refused the  nominationf or the second. In the year 1850, he was selected to  the State Legislature. RB McMAKIN was the other member from this  County and Joseph ALLEN was Senator. Gov. WILLARD was then a  young member of the House. Ex-Senator PRATT was then a member of  the house, and was considered a strong man and a leader. LANE was  Pres. of the Senate. A Dem. Quaker is a rare curiosity but the  Senate contained one of that kind. While he felt it a great honor  to represent his County in that popular body, he had no desire to  return. His dearest interests were with his family at home. He is  a member of the regular Predestinarian Baptist Church with which  body he committed himself in 1833. He was raised in the old  Tobacco State and has used it in some of its forms for 56 years.  He regards it as a useless and expensive habit, and one that  never should be contracted. Truthfulness, honesty and integrity  he regards as absolutely essential to the happiness and well  being of everyone; and peace and tranquility of mind, cannot be  enjoyed unless human conduct is characterized by those virtures.  MRC.
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