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Thomas Harris Sr.

Thomas Harris

Thomas Harris was Christened 11 Jul 1613 in Northbourne, Kent, England, 3 miles west of Deal.

He married Elizabeth Leatherland b. 1613 in Prescot, Lancashire, England [26] prior to 1637 (estimated birth year of first child).

He died after 3 June and before 22 July, 1686 in Providence.

Thomas Harris was our first Harris ancestor in America and, like many other Pilgrims, likely left England to for an independent religious practice and obtain more land.

There is no surviving ship's record listing the arrival of Thomas Harris, nor his brother William. Thomas arrived at his destination after weeks of tossing on the restless ocean, and like many other emigrants followed a prescribed course planned in advance with other family members or friends. The scenes about him were unlike anything he was accustomed to in his old parish house. He may have compared the plain wooden houses and their mud chimneys with the picturesque stone cottages and their familiar brick chimneys in his native village of Northbourne or the greatness of London where his siblings had spent time prior to sailing. Instead of a gray stone, ivy-covered church with its tower, he saw a plain barn like structures people called a ‘meeting-house'.

If he had come with a group to settle in a town already organized, where former neighbors or friends had already sat down, his program was simple. If not, he usually found welcome at an inn at Boston or Charlestown, where he could obtain plenty of advice about the advantages of settlements already started or learn of projects for beginning new ones on the ever-widening western fringe of outlying villages. There was no limit to his choice of a home in the wilderness, and emigrants made two or three moves before coming to a final halt. Land was free to him for the asking under easy conditions of permanency, and it is not strange that with all this boundless opportunity open to him, he looked on every new settlement where he could enlarge his acreage. 5 He was a free man in a free country where he had the opportunity to become a sovereign in the body politic and have his voice heard and respected.

What is known is that Thomas arrived sometime during the voyages of the emigrant ships from England to America prior to 1637, part of  "the Great Migration", likely with his older brother William who, within a few years, traveled with Roger Williams to beyond the borders of the jurisdiction of any other colonies. They were the first to settle what is now Providence, R.I.  William had married Susannah Hyde in London prior to migrating. [22] His sister Parnel Harris sailed as a single woman on the ship Hercules, early 1635, from Sandwich, Kent, England. Parnel was accompanied by her half brother, James Sayers. [23] Another sister Jane Harris and eventually their mother "Widow Jane Sears (Sayers)" all migrated to New England. [28]. Evidence that Anne Harris also came to Providence may have come and never married is a possibility needing further research. There is an Anne Harris listed on the tax rolls of the town in 1687 and there is no widow or child of the early Harris to satisfy who Anne was.

Not much is known about Thomas until 1638. By toe winter of 1635, he and his brother William likely lived in Salem, Massachusetts becoming friends of Roger Williams and joining in private discussions where "he had drawn above twenty persons to his opinions, and they were intending to erect a plantation about the Narragansett Bay" [25]. Roger Williams was banished from Salem in the winter of 1635, and wrote the following in his diary, "driven from my house, and land and wife and children, in the midst of a New England winter, … at Salem … I steered my course… though in winter snow, which I feel yet, unto these parts. ...It is not true that I employed by any, made covenant with any, or desired any to come with me. ...My soul’s desire was to do the natives good, and to that end to have their language… and therefore desired not to be troubled with English company, yet out of pity I gave leave to William Harris, then poor and destitute, to come along in my company." [6]   William Harris was among six who accompanied Roger Williams into an area beyond jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay government to an area secured by verbal transfer from the Narragansett Indians in the year 1636. [7]

The next year, 1637, Roger Williams obtained a formal deed for this territory, refered to as Providence Plantations, by which the boundaries were established. [9]  William Harris persuaded Roger Williams...that I should admit him and others into fellowship of my purchase. I yielded and agreed that the place should be for such as were destitute (especially for Conscience Sake).’ It was in accordance with this resolution that, in October, 1638, Williams executed to twelve other persons a conveyance of the land received from the sachems, ‘unto my loving friends and neighbors,…and such others as the major part of us shall admit into the same fellowship of vote with us.’ Each of these twelve ‘first-comers’ paid thirty shillings ‘towards a town stock’,...[10]  

Thomas Harris was in a group of  "second comers" to join the original six who came with Williams the year before. Sometime in 1637, these thirteen in number, being younger or treated as lessors, subscribed to a “civil compact.” They signed the following statement: "We, whose names are hereunder, desirous to inhabit the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves in active or passive obedience to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good of the body in an orderly way, by the major assent of the present inhabitants, members of families incorporated together, into a town of fellowship, and such others whom they shall admit unto themselves only in civil things." [11] This new group were considered proprietors. Roger Williams wrote: "Some young men, single persons, of whom there was much need, came to the new plantation, and very naturally their enthusiasm for mission work among the Indians, and for sheltering those ‘distressed of conscience’, speedily became subordinate to the desire to reap where they had sown, to gather into barns, and to own the lands which they had painfully cleared." [8] Thomas Harris was 24 years old, newly married and living by his older brother William.

By 1640, their mother Jane Bagley, Harris, Griggs, Sayers (Sears) had come to Providence and signed an agreement to form a goverment on July 27, 1640.  As one of 39 settlers her name appears as "Widow Sears X her mark". [27] She had been widowed for the 3rd time by March 1640 and took the journey to New England to join her adult children who had previously migrated there.





Providence as it may have looked in 1650 





On Sept. 2, 1650,Thomas Harris was taxed £1. From 1652 to 1663, he was Commissioner; in 1654, Lieutenant; in 1655. Thomas served in many positions in the growing plantation of Providence. Among these were Commissioner, Lieutenant, Juryman, Deputy, Member of Town Council, and Surveyor.’ [14]

From 1664 to 1673, Thomas Harris was Deputy to the General Court. Also from 1664 to 1669, he was a member of the Town Council. On Feb. 19, 1665, he drew lot 7 in division of lands. [24] It fronted on what is now South Main street, Providence, about 122 feet wide and containing nearly five and one-half acres, running back to what is now Hope street. From 1666 to 1675, he was Assistant, and in May, 1667, as surveyor, he laid out the lands, etc. A record dated Aug. 14, 1676, shows him on a committee that recommended certain conditions, under which Indian captives should be disposed of by the town. They were to be in servitude for a term of years. April 27, 1683, he made the statement, that about 1661, being then a surveyor, he laid out "a three score acre lot for my son Thomas, at Paugachauge Hill, [24], and a 25 acre lot on the south side," etc. An unusual excerpt from the early records of the town of Providence Volume XVII reads: Aprill ye 28th: 1684, To ye Town met, Neighbours, whereas there is a Great, & continuall want in this Town, of a pound, to impound Cattell when they are found Trespassing, & this Towne being destitute of a Pound, I desire that the Towne would take some speedy course that a pound may be made that so such Trespassing creatures may be Secured  Tho: Harris Senr:

Thomas was a personal friend of Roger Williams and cooperated in multiple ways to help build up the town and look after the well being of it's people. Letters from Williams written to Thomas indicate this close association.

Original Home Lots in Providence



Providence Plantation, as were other settlements in the area now known as Rhode Island,

was “a colony of heretical refugees, which orthodox colonies were for long loath to recognize and

Massachusetts, in particular, connived to overthrow.” [12]  It was described in Governor Winthrop’s Journal

as an area “under no government that grew very offensive.” [13]


To Thomas and his wife Elizabeth were born three children, Thomas, Mary and Martha. [17]

  1. Thomas was born about 1637 and died 27 Feb 1711. Married Elnathan Tew and had nine children.
  2. Mary was born about 1639 and died 14 Dec 1722. Married Samuel Whipple and had five children.
  3. Martha was born about 1643 and died 1717. Married Thomas Field and had six children.






from documents

at the

Rhode Island






He died after June 3, 1686 (when he signed his will) and the will was proved July 22, 1686. Among those things mentioned in his will are home lots, orchards, 2 horses, 7 cows and calves, 14 pigs, 7 hives of bees and assorted household goods. Executor, son Thomas; overseers, sons-in-law, Thomas Field and Samuel Whipple.[18]

Sept. 1, 1687, his widow, Elizabeth Harris was taxed 1s. There is no known date of death for her (this date in 1687.)

Family descendents of Thomas and William Harris were very much involved in establishing freedom and religious liberty. “For a century beginning in 1648 there was hardly a session of the Colonial assembly at which a Harris was not a member.” [19]

Additional notes on Thomas Harris:

Some histories have incorrectly claimed this Harris was from Harpole, Deak, Wales or other places. Some have failed to  properly separate this Thomas Harris from another Thomas Harris (from Hatherup, Gloucestershire, England) who migrated during the same period 1630 and operated a ferry in Winnissimmett.. Both married an Elizabeth) See The Great Migration Begins by Robert Charles anderson, 1620-1633, G-O (boston: NEHGS, 1995), p864-866.

Some histories [20] show Thomas and Elizabeth (Leatherland) married on 20 Apr 1632 in Providence, Providence, Rhode Island (but Thomas would have been only 19 and Providence was not settled until 1636), and Thomas did not arrive in Providence until 1637 (age 24) and probably as a single man as recorded by Roger Williams. He most likely married 1637-1638), as his children were born approximately 1639-1643. See research by NHGS

Many previous accounts [1] state that Thomas, along with his older brother William, traveled to America with Roger Williams on the ship Lyon in 1630. 2 Governor Winthrop recorded, “The ship Lyon, Mr. William Pearce, master, arrived at Nantasket. She brought Mr. Williams, a Godly man with his wife…” [3] But there is no mention of the Harris brothers.

Some have attempted to reconstruct lists of these emigrants from evidences found in other records including other voyages of the Lyon, [4] but Thomas and his brother Harris are not listed. Mistakenly, some have attempted to match thisThomas with another Thomas Harris, a passenger listed as: "Thomas Harris alias Williams" who migrated in 1630 with the Winthrop fleet to Charlestown, then a ferryman in Winnissimmett, who also married an Elizabeth. [21]

Click here: to read recently published article listing all known sources for Thomas Harris "The Origin of Thomas and William Harris of Providence, RI"


Click here: for most comprehensive study of the migration of Parnell Harris, sister to Thomas Harris, which give further clues about the family and their previous affiliations in England


Providence. Probate Records: dated June 3, 1686 - recorded July 22, 1686. Thomas Harris (II) hath this day (July 22nd, 1686) exibited the last will and testament of his deceased father Thomas harris and also the inventory of his estate. The said will hath this day been by the council examined and proved; and the said inventory examined and allowed. This will was discovered after the town records were printed - Signed when Thomas was too old and feeble to sign his name.  He was a Surveyor and had good penmanship as seen on other documents on record

Thomas Harris of the Towne of Providence in the collony of Roade-Is-land and providence plantations in New-Eng-land in America Being sick and weake of body But in my comon sence and reason and being willing to sett my outward or Temporall estate in order before my death, Doe ordaine this as followeth to be my last will and Testamnet and hereby makeing voyde all other former wills what soever by me made by word or in writing, and this only to stand

my will is that all my Just Debtes be payd

My will is that my Deere and loveing wife have the hole and sole use and proffitts of my two home lotts and the orchards, and my Dwelling house and out houseing with my house hold stuff Dureing her naturall life, to be in possession thereof and take ye whole proffitts thereof, and two cows to be her owne proper to Despose of sayd Cows as shee shall see Cause at her Death, or before

my will is that I give to my Wife, one horse, or mare, to be at her owne Despose as shee shall see Cause, but my wife is not to wast or depose of my sayd household stuff but take ye use of it Dureing her naterall life

my will is that after the Decease of my sayd wife, that the part of my lot, that once was Adom Goodwins(ings), that my shopp now standeth upon, with the Appurtenances soe high as ye cherry Trees or Cherry hedge soe Called, be the right of my son Thomas Harris and his Heirs, and Asignes in ffee simplexs for ever

And my will is that after ye Decease of my sayd wife, that my now Dwelling house and ye house lott that it standeth upon, with the remaineing part of ye other house lott, (not Given to my sayd son Thomas harris) with the Apurtenances there unto belonging, be the Right of my Daughter Martha ffeild, and her heirs and Asigines in ffee simplexs for ever, But if my sayd Daughter martha ffeild have noe sirvieing Child at her Decease, the sayd house and house lot and part of the other lott to be the right of my son Thomas harris his Heirs, and Asignes in ffee simplex for ever,

my will is, and Doe Give and Bequeath, unto my Daughter Mary Whipple, and the Heirs of her Body Borne of my son in the law Samuel Whipple and my sayd Daughter mary Whipple, all that my meadow lieing upon the northern side of Moshasett, River, and lieing at the uper end of the meadow called the Great Meadow, and alsoe Sixty Acres of upland lieing neere and Adjoyneing to the sayd meadow, to be to ye use of my sayd Son in law, and my sayd Daughter Dureing theire naturall lives, After theire Decease to revert, and be the Riht of theire sayd children Borne of aforesayd, or to such of them as they or either of them shall Dispose the same, And to be the them or any of the as Aforesayd, and theire heirs and Signes for ever in ffee simplexs,

Alsoe I Give and bequeath unto my son thomas Harris, and his Heirs and Asignes for ever, in fee simplxs, all my lands, and comons what soe ever not before Disposed of, in the Towne of providence or elce where to be theire owne proper. for ever

I Give and Bequeath unto my aforesayd wife one Cow more, and two Calves to be her owne proper and at her Despose I Give unto my son Samuell and his wife Mary for and to the use of there Children that cow and yearling at his house, and one more cowe,

I Give unto my son thomas ffeild and his wife Martha for and to the use of thier Children two Dowes

I Give unto my son Thomas harris my two oxen: to be his owne proper,

and my will is, and doe make my son Thomas harris my Executor, to se my just Debts payd and to Gather in my sayd Debts, and to see my bodie Decently Bured, as also i give the rest of my horse kind not deposed off unto my son Thomas

And my will is that my two sons in law thomas ffeild, and Samuell, Whipple be my over seeors to see this my will performed,

Jn Wittnes of this my last Will and Testamnet, I Doe here, unto sett my hand and seale this thierd day of June, on thousand, six, hundred, and eighty six, and seccond yeare of his Majestys Reign James the seccond, ectt memorandon,

the marke Thomas x Harris LS of

Signed, and sealed in ye presence of uss,

the word wife was enterligned before signeing and sealeing here of,,

William hawkings jur

John Whipple:

Be it knowne to all persons by these presents, That whereas I Thomas Harris of the Towne of providence in ye Collony of Roade-Js-land, and providence plantations, have made and Dclared in my last will and Testament, in wrteing Beareing Date June the third on thousand six hundred and eighty six, I the sayd Thomas harris by this pesent Codicill, Doe rattifie and Confirme my last will and testament, And haveing omitted some things there in doe here-by Declare them, and ye not mentioning who should have my household stuff after my wifes Decease, doe will and bequeath it to be equally Devided amongst my three Children, Thomas harris, Mary Whipple and Martha ffeild, to and for ye iuse of theire Children, and that my wife have the Corne all of it to her owne use, and that my sayd wife have half the swine, with ye now pigs to her owne use, and that my sayd wife have one calfe more, and two hives of the Bees to her one use, And that the other halfe of the swine, and the rest of the Bees and my moveable estate, to be equally Devided Amongst my aforesayd three Chilldren, Thomas, Mary and Martha, for the use of theire Chilldren, and that my son Thomas Harris have my working coppers Tooles, And my will and meaneing is, that this Codicill or Schedule be, and be Ajudged to be part and percell of my last will and testament, and that all things heerein Contained be faithfully performed as fully as if they had beene soe declared in my sayd last will and Testamnet, In Wittness whereof I have sett to my hand seale, This third day of June in the yeare on Thousand, six hundred, and eighty six; and seccond yeare of his Majestys Reign James the seccond ectt,

The marke Thomas X Harris LS of

Signed, and sealed in the presence of us William hawkings jur  John Whipple:

The will on ye other part of this paper written is by John Whipple & William Hawkins Junr; upon theire Engagement before ye Councill testified to be ye will of Thomas Harris Senr of the towne of Providence in y Colloney of Rhode Island & providence plantations & his last will so farr as they know & that they were wittneses to it as his last will

Taken in Councill July the 22nd: 1686

The will on the other side of this paper/or/other part of this paper written is by the towne Councill mett the 22nd of July 1686: and hath been Examined & is approoved, By the Councills order.

Thomas Olney Towne Clerke./

(This will was discovered after the town records were printed -  Signed when Thomas was too old and feeble to Sign his name. He was Surveyor and good penman)


For generations descendants have searched for the origins of this Thomas Harris. Untold hours have been spent and many false assumptions made. The New England Historic Genealogical Society recently completed an extensive research paper differentiating this Thomas Harris from several other individuals named Thomas Harris who resided in New England during the same time period. Read the New England Historic Genealogical Society research paper

1.           Austin, Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, pg. 310.
2.           Governor Winthrop’s Journal, pg. 23.
3.           Ibid.
4.           Banks, Planters of the Commonwealth, pg. 43.
5.           Ibid, pg. 93.
6.           Roger Williams' Answer to W. Harris before the Court of Commissioners, 7th Nov., 1677
7.           Ibid, pg. 22
8.           Ibid. -
9.           Rhode island 1800 Census, “Rhode Island Boundaries”, pg. 6
10.          Ibid.
11.          Providence in Colonial Times, pg. 22.
12.          Rhode Island Historical_Periodical, “Miantonomo’s Death and New England Politics 1630-1645”, by John A. Sainsbury, pg. 121.
13.          Ibid.
14.          Austin, Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, pg. 310.
15.          Ibid.
16.          Northbourne registers available at Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England.

Parish registers (ref U3/74) start 1586 and have poor legibility

Bishops’ Transcripts (ref Dcb/ BT1/173) start 1603 and have some gaps

Archdeacons’ Transcripts (ref Dca/BT/136) start 1563 and have gaps as follows: 1565/6, 1567/8, 1579/80, 1581/2, 1594/5, 1606/7, 1629/30, 1640/41 to 1660/61 inclusive

Films of Northbourne, Kent, England are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City Utah:

# 1752058, item 5
# 2354573 items 8-14
# 1736929, item 1
# 1544553, item 8

17.          Austin, Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, pg. 312
18.          Ibid., pg. 310, 312.
19.          Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island, vol. III, pg. 736.

20.          Clarence Almon Torrey ; with an introduction by Gary Boyd Roberts ; prepared for publication by Elizabeth P. Bentley, New England Marriages Prior to 1700, CD with Torrey's References (Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Publishing Company, c1985

21.        http://www.winthropsociety.org/settlers/h-data.htm

22.        Frederick J. NicholsonHydes of England: Ancestors of Thomas Olcott of Connecticut, Samuel Hardy of Massachusetts, and Susan Hyde, Wife of William Harris of Rhode Island," , in The Genealogist, Vol. 20 (2006), No. 2, pages 131-83.

23        Sandwich, Kent, England, UK: Emigration to American and Hercules Passenger Lists 1634, http://www.open-sandwich.co.uk/town_history/hercules.htm

24.       Fronts on South Main near the Crawford St. Bridge. The long lot extends back to Hope Street between Benevolent and Charlesfield and includes a large portion of Brown University. See images below.

25.        Rhode Island Historical Society collections, Annals of the Town of Providence, by William R. Staples, v. 5 1843, pg 16,

26. Verification of her origin and ancestry has been accomplished.Her surname is documented; no longer a conjecture made by Torry in his book.She migrated to New England at 17 with her older sister Ellen and brother William. Within 5 years she met and married Thomas Harris probably in Salem, MA.  For years, Elizabeth's origins and surname were not documented. Order research failed to verify as seen at this link: (research prior to 2020). There were various accounts claiming "Leatherland", "Cutter", or "Havens"  as her surname. There was only reference shown in "Torry, Clarence A. New England Marriage prior to 1700. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Purblishing Co., 2004"

27. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_early_settlers_of_Rhode_Island#Original_proprietors_of_Providence.

28 Most accurate pedigree and research for this family can be found at FamilySearch. Thomas Harris LC3H-JYS


Link to Early Records of the Town of Providence are now found online at: One Rhode Island Family


Link to Providence in Colonial Times by G. Selwin: Now digitized and found at Archive.Org






View from South Water Street looking east. 121 S. Main St. Provedence, RI  View from Hope Street (the westernmost boundary) looking west.


Thomas' property, ran through a portion of what is now Brown University just above Charlesfield.


Thomas also obtained possession of the lot directing south of his original lot that had been Adam Goodwin's and used it for his shop as well as the addtional orchards and gardens. This is mentioned in his will.


Providence Plantations Map

1636 - 1700

from the RIHS collections, V. 10


Most of the early Harris lands were located in areas along the Western side of the Moshassuck River in Smithfield, North Smithfield and Lime Rock, RI. The Moshassuck River begins in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and flows ten miles into Providence where it meets the Woonasquatucket River in Providence’s Waterplace Park. At that point the waters of the two rivers combine to form the Providence River, which joins the waters of the Blackstone/Seekonk system, which flow to Narragansett Bay and the sea. Twelve CSOs discharge to the Moshassuck River watershed: 10 to the river directly, and 2 to the West River, a tributary of the Moshassuck.


Paugachauge Hill as mentioned in Thomas' writings can be located on this early map and located at 216 Morgan Ave, Johnston, RI 02919





©2005 Randy Harris