Erastus L. Harris
Last updated 10 Oct 2021 in Spear–Johnson Family.
Born: Bet 1 Jan 1831 and 1 Jun 1831 in Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
Spouse/Partner: Emily A. Smith (1841 – 1919)
Married: Feb 1863
Child: Howard L. Harris (1864 – ?)
Child: Earle W. Harris (1868 – ?)
Child: Alice L. Harris (1871 – ?)
Child: Mary L. Harris (1873 – ?)
Child: Gilbert P. Harris (1875 – 1944)
Moved To Residence: 1854 at , , California, United States
Moved To Residence: Abt Oct 1857 at Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
Moved To Residence: Abt Oct 1858 at , , Iowa, United States
Moved To Residence: Abt Apr 1861 at Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
Military Induction: (Ellsworth Regiment (44th New York Volunteers)) 8 Aug 1861 at Albany, Albany County, New York, United States
Moved To Residence: Aft Apr 1865 at Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
Cemetery: (Collins Center Cemetery) at Collins Center, Erie County, New York, United States
Residence: Bef 1854 at Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
Occupation: (mining) 1854
Occupation: (farmer) Abt Oct 1858 at , , Iowa, United States
Occupation: (lumber manufacturer) 1 Jun 1880
Residence: 1 Jun 1880 at Collins, Erie County, New York, United States
By The Old Mill Stream
[This story was written by Carlotta Wood and Nora Johnson Brown. The authors were two of the three (the other being Alice Stewart) who also wrote under the pen name Alnorca (for Alice, Nora, and Carlotta) in the 1930s. Alnorca wrote numerous, well researched stories about Erie County, New York. [This text was transcribed at least twice and may contain errors.]
"There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet,
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet!"
Quoted Erastus Harris one summer day, as holding the reins over the back of old Bill, he waited for a tardy member of his family to join him in the surrey, preparatory for a trip to town. The vale on which his eyes rested so affectionately was known to the townsfolk as "Harris Hollow" or more often "down by Rast Harris' sawmill." In earlier days they referred to it as "down by the Quaker meeting-house" or "down by Morrison's blacksmith shop," for this small valley west of Collins Center has been a place of varied activities.
The first settlement in the neighborhood was made in 1816 by Truman Payne, a veteran of the war of 1812. His location was west of the home of William Grimm on what is now the Conger farm. He remained four years and then returned to Essex County from whence he came. Ten years later he reappeared in Collins to spend the remainder of his life, this time choosing a home site north of Collins Center on the farm owned for many years by Hiram Brown. The old Payne house, moved east from its original position near an ancient Bartlett pear tree in the orchard, is still standing and serves as a granary and tool house. Of Truman's nine children, his daughter Licina was long a well-known figure in Collins Center.
In 1826 following the footsteps of his brother-in-law, Benjamin Boyce, Barak Smith, who was in the course of time to become Erastus Harris' grandfather-in-law, came to the locality. Both the Boyce and Smith families were dyed-in-the-wool Quakers from Vermont. Barak was a six-footer as was each of his five sons. He came from a stock of resolute men, one of whom, a certain John Rogers, paid for fidelity to his faith by being burned to the stake in old England. Boyce settled on land south of the Hollow and Barak built his log cabin on the highland to the north opposite the black walnut trees, planted by his sons Daniel and Gilbert, which in the autumn of fifteen or more years … [The transcriber indicated that the rest of this paragraph was illegible.]
The schism which rent the Quaker society during the first half of the last century sometimes entered the home. It was thus in the Smith family, Barak remaining orthodox and his wife going over to the Hicksites. On one occasion, runs a family story , thinking to prevent her from attending service, Barak hid her shoes but Mary Palmer was not so easily turned from her purpose and she appeared at the meeting house of her choice in her stocking feet.
In 1853, the Smiths with their in-laws, making a company of eighteen persons, moved to Iowa. They traveled by train to Chicago, where the railroad ended, and thence by wagon to their destination, the Quaker settlement at Springdale. This was close to the Hoover home at West Branch and a boy by the name of Tatum, who was to become Herbert Hoover's guardian and the custodian of his slender patrimony, was a schoolmate of the Smith children. Only two of these transplanted Collins folk returned east to live, Emily and the youngest Smith son, Ebenezer. Barak and his wife are buried in the Quaker cemetery at West Branch. Ebenezer married a Collins girl, Caroline Etsler, and the little family moved back and forth between Iowa and Collins several times. He successively ran a farm in Springdale, preaching on Sabbath days, kept a store in Pontiac, owned a farm near Gowanda and for a short period before his death in 1885 conducted a store in Collins Center.
Barak's son, Addison, did not join the exodus into the west. He was established in business as a merchant at "the Center." The building now owned and used as a feed store by Leo Smith was the Addison Smith store and dwelling. The old structure was in general line the same as today. Living rooms on the east and store with its plastered front on the west opened upon a long porch. On the west side of the building were an outside flight of stairs to the second story and a roomy shed to accommodate horses and rigs, while on the east rioted bleeding hearts and marigolds, flowers-de-luce [iris or lilies] and hollyhocks in Mary Jane Smith's old fashioned garden surrounded by a youngster-proof picket fence.
As in Collins Center, this neighborhood had a literary society. Its minute book reveals that the fifth circle of Philo-Howards was organized at the home of Barak Smith on September 16, 1849. It was named "Mignonette Circle" and had a membership of over fifty persons. While the older members of the society discussed subjects of the day, such as phrenology , the Rochester Rappings, temperance, natural phenomena and the moral effects of novel reading, dancing and horse-racing, the younger wrote essays, gave declamations, read "select pieces", and acted on committees. Active among these were Eunice Palmerton ([married to] Gurnsey), Mary Palmerton (Paxton), Sally King (Matthews), Lucy B. Randall (White), Lucy Wilber (Russell), and Barak's young daughter, Deborah, who when secretary often inserted into the minutes parenthetical comments of her own.
Among the young men Henry Colburn and Emory Payne were most dependable for declamations. James Varney or Edmund Suthwick, representing the Sagoan Circle of Brant, or Isaac or Nathan Smith of the Philo-Howards of Leon sometimes came to address the Mignonettes. A certain June meeting at the home of Edmund Palmer adjourned "to that romantic place called Lapham's Nose," writes the secretary, Lucy B. Randall, and there listened to a declamation by David White, one by Erastus Harris and an interesting lecture by Joseph O'Brian on the subject of geology. The minutes reflect the intense antislavery sentiments of these Quakers. That their neighbors did not always see eye to eye with them in their efforts to aid fugitive slaves is evidenced by a resolution offered by the Hon. Luther Cluff at a meeting held at the home of Joseph Palmerton on May 4, 1850: "Resolved that we most deeply sympathize with the family of Lorenzo Mabbett on account of the atrocious outrage which it has recently suffered for their noble humanity toward a brother of African descent." The last meeting of the Mignonette Circle was held September 25, 1852 in the school house of District No. 14.
After the departure of the Smiths, Sylvanus Griffith came to live in Barak's brown house. His daughter, Kate, married William Morrison, a young blacksmith, and her uncle, Edwin Harris, built for the pair a house and a blacksmith shop. The house is now owned by William Grimm and the shop, which has vanished, stood a short distance to the southeast. Vanished, too, is the great elm which grew near it, a tree worthy in spread and beauty of being named the Nichols elm and the one on the corner by the little red school house.
The wide modern road that sweeps across the little creek to Sudmeyer Hill over a $37,000 bridge has so changed the entrance to the valley from the north, that the old-timer that may be traveling it must pause a moment to reconstruct in his mind the scene of yesterday, the row of honey locust trees on the left, the cheese factory on the right with its picturesque old watering trough near the driveway, dripping with water brought in rude pipes from springs nears Barak's first cabin, the house beyond the factory where William Soule once lived and the road curving to the west between two ponds on its way to the sawmill.
The cheese factory was built in the early 60's by Edwin Harris. His associates in the enterprise were Isaac Turner, Seth Bartlett, Richard Irish and others. The two-story curing house was forty by eighty feet. Cheese from two branch factories, one on Scrabble Hill and one on the Timothy Clark farm were drawn here and the care of these with the product of the home factory gave employment to two or three men. No cap cloths were used in those days but the exposed surfaces of the cheese were greased daily with oil tried from the cream skimmed from the whey tank. The use of this building was discontinued when a large storehouse was erected at Collins by William A. Johnson who had bought out the early stockholders and made the factory a part of the great Marshfield Combination.
About 1883 John Johengen bought the west half of the now vacant storehouse and used the lumber to construct a barn across from the plant of the Wilber Dairy Company between Collins and Collins Center. About seven years later, Samuel Vance removed the remainder to the Ezra Nichols farm, now owned by Cleveland Colvin, where it, too, furnished material for a barn. The factory continued to operate until about 1904, owned successively after the death of Mrs. William Johnson by Clarence Beaver and Clark White.
Among the cheese makers employed in the old factory were Ephraim Chase (1866), Stephen Tarbox, Henry Vance, John Vance, Martin Knowles, Jesse Sweetapple, Joseph Shinover and Lynn Manchester.
The mill, which was never used after the death of Erastus Harris, was built in 1824 by John and David Wilber. Realizing that a sawmill would be a lucrative investment for a carpenter, Barak, with his brother Augustus Smith, as partner, bought it and proceeded to build a grist mill above it over the flume. An old family letter relates how Augustus spent an entire winter shaping the millstones, drilling the hole and adjusting the shaft. The Smiths sold the property to Samuel Warner. James Matthews was operating it when war was declared. He enlisted, turning the mill over to Martin Lewis, a young man who was working with him. Martin promptly married Miss Lovinda Gifford and in 1863 found the two beginning their housekeeping "by the old mill stream." When peace came, Edwin Harris, who at one time or another owned nearly everything in the valley, purchased the mill and took his brother Erastus into partnership.
Born in Zoar [a hamlet in Collins] in 1931, Erastus Harris' boyhood home was the Jacob Becker house now untenanted on the Wyman Phillips farm. Later, the family moved to the Beverly district on Scrabble Hill from where he attended Springville Academy, a daily walk of nearly twenty miles. In winter he sometimes joined Stephen Hudson and Hosea Heath in hiring a room where the trio boarded themselves and many a juicy pipe did Stephen hand over to Erastus in exchange for the writing of an essay. Mining in California, farming in Iowa and teaching school brought him to his twenty- ninth year, the outbreak of the war and his enlistment. The famous 44th New York Volunteers, popularly known as "Ellsworth's Avengers" was his regiment, members of which were chosen for character and ability, one from each town and ward in the state. Erastus Harris was picked to represent the town of Collins. He was mustered into service in 1861 and served until the war's close when as 1st Lieutenant in the 9th U. S. Colored Infantry he was among the first to enter the Confederate Capital when it fell.
He was a prolific letter writer and keeper of diaries. Letters to his sweetheart, later his wife, have been gathered into a thick, typewritten volume by his son Gilbert. From this priceless record of battles, hardships, daily events and comment are lifted a few paragraphs:
"Camp Butterfield, Hall's Hill, Va.,
I am enjoying good health and am usually in pretty good spirits, though I should hate to fare as I do and be engaged in a bad cause. If I do not always get all I want to eat or sleep cold at night, I remember that dreadful winter our Revolutionary Army passed at Valley Forge and don't complain."
A month later, describing a review of 70,000 soldiers by the President his cabinet and the General in Chief of the Army, he writes, "We had put on our new Zouave uniforms for the first time and it is a fine looking rig, let me tell you." The General and his cavalcade rode through in front and rear on horseback. As he passed the 44th, he turned to the President who was a little in the rear and said to him, "That is the regiment." I presume you will think I am a little vain and I am willing to own that a compliment coming from such a high source does set me up a little; but we have yet to be tested in battle.
His first participation in battle was in May, 1862 at Hanover Court House. "Our company had two killed and six wounded. Oliver K. Irish from Collins was one of the men killed.
After Gettysburg, "I have been in another desperate battle and the Good God in his merciful providence has permitted me to come off unscathed again. In our charge we took a rebel flag and had our colors shot down three times. When we retired there were only ten men left of Company A and I was the only officer left to bring the Company off the flag. I am second in command at present."
In the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was slightly wounded. "The bullets chipped out about half of my right forefinger at the last joint and carried away the butt of my musket; I picked up another and went on with the line. It was a terrible battle. Our regiment went in with nearly three hundred and now we haven't a hundred men fit for duty."
"Camp near Sharpsburg, Md.,
October 5, 1862
The only item of interest I have to record, is a visit of President Lincoln to the Army along the Potomac. We were turned out and reviewed. Our regiment numbered only about a hundred men. When they came in front of our regiment General Moreli said to the President, "This is the 44th N. Y. 'Is that all there is left?' said he. Gen. McClellan then rode up alongside of Mr. Lincoln and said, 'Mr. President, do you remember when that regiment came out last fall?' 'Yes sir! Yes sir!' replied the President in a sad tone. When that honest man, that representative of the national head and heart took off his hat to do homage to our faded and bullet tom colors, I felt a thrill such as I never experienced before."
His letters are not without humor. On one occasion, after a visit from Mr. Lincoln, he writes to congratulate his wife on having a handsomer husband that the President's lady.
Accounts of meetings with old friends are often mentioned — Geo. Hodges, Robert Wilber, Joseph Mabett, Kimble Pearsons, Wilber Henry and many others. "It seems so good to see old familiar faces and to talk over old times and then talk of the good times we will have when we return home. What a wealth of anticipation is here! No more tattoo to drive us off to bed at nine o'clock but liberty to sit up until the "wee small hours ayont the twal" with the girls we love and love us. No more shall the reveille summon us to roll-call at daylight in all kinds of weather but when the rain falls upon the roof, we can listen to the music of its patter and think of hardships past and duty well performed. Principal among these friends is Sergeant Arnold Chase whose parents live near to Uncle Gusta Smith's. He is a brave and true soldier and the prince of good fellows." (Arnold Chase was uncle to the late Dr. Harley Atwood of Collins Center and Ward B. Wilber of Gowanda.)
Erastus Harris was discharged at Brownsville, Texas, after serving four and one half years. Here, because of the government's tardiness in paying off the soldiers, he found himself stranded with only a ten-dollar bill with which to reach Collins. This, however, augmented by the sale of an old Army pistol brought him to the welcome home of friends, wife and a year old son whom he had never seen. The time had come when he could "think of hardships past and duty well performed".
General Notes and Anecdotes
Erastus joined the 44th New York Volunteers at the start of the American Civil War. The 44th was also known as the Ellsworth Regiment. In November 1864 they joined the Army of the Potomac under General McClellan, and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He served in essentially all of the conflicts in which the regiment engaged. [book-history-of-concord-1883, marker-erastus-emily-harris-1901-1919]
In November 1863 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the 9th United States Regiment, the United States Colored Infantry, and to First Lieutenant in Spring 1865. During this period he engaged in many more actions and was among the first to walk into Richmond when it surrendered. [book-history-of-concord-1883, marker-erastus-emily-harris-1901-1919]
Research Notes (Conflicts/Spelling/Followup)
Birth Date: This database uses between 1 Jan 1831 and 1 Jun 1831. The History of the Original Town of Concord gives a date of 4 Jan 1871. The year is clearly a misprint since the same text notes that he married in 1863. The day and month might be correct. [book-history-of-concord-1883]
Erastus was the son of Esek and Susanna Harris. [book-history-of-concord-1883]
His father Esek was born in New Hampshire, and his mother was born in New York, according to the "parent birth place" entries on Erastus' line on the census record. [census-us-1880-ps-ny-erie-204-29]
Erastus may have been born 4 Jan 1831.
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