#52Ancestors: Ferdinand Harless On Indian Patrol During the Revolutionary War

My 25th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.


Giles County, Virginia Revolutionary War Monument, on the grounds of the county courthouse.
Photo borrowed from Grandpa’s Footsteps blog.

My 25th ancestor is my husband’s 5th great grandfather Ferdinand HARLESS (1755-1853), who served in the Revolutionary War — in honor of the Fourth of July. 

Ferdinand is the grandson of Anna Margaretha “Margaret” PREISS [Price], the grandfather of Miles (Myles) Washington HARLESS (1826-1891), the great grandfather of Leonard Jackson HARLESS (1858-1946), and the third great grandfather of Jean Alice HARLESS (1912-2011).

Harless was born in Virginia. Different sources give different locations. Some accounts say Frederick County, which was established in 1743 and includes parts of present-day Shenandoah County (established in 1772). Other accounts claim he was born in Shenandoah. It is not clear if that is the county or the town, but since the town was not founded until 1837 and does not reside within Shenandoah County, my hunch is that Harless was born in Frederick County, in an area that is now part of Shenandoah County. I need to dig through records myself to verify this. 

Regardless of birth place, Ferdinand Harless lived the latter years of his life, and died in, Giles County, Virginia (established 1806). It is here, on the grounds of the county courthouse that Harless has been memorialized on a Revolutionary War monument.

The name of Ferdinand Harless is located in the bottom left section of the plaque.
Photo borrowed from Grandpa’s Footsteps blog.

On 7 June 1832, Congress passed an act allowing all Revolutionary War veterans, and their widows, to apply for pension benefits. Prior to this act, only those disabled in service had been eligible for pension benefits. It is through these records that we know about Harless’s Revolutionary War service. The pension files (application number R4612) are available on both Fold3 and Ancestry.com. It appears that Ferdinand’s application was initially rejected, but then eventually awarded. He applied for his pension at 79 years of age, in 1834.

First page of the sworn testimony submitted by Harless in his pension application. Written by the Justice of the Peace, not Harless. Source: Fold3.com.
Page 3 of the application includes Harless’s mark, indicating he could not sign his name. Source: Fold3.com.
Sadly, what looks like a digitized pension certificate is illegible.
Source: Ancestry.com

The handwritten testimony provides an account of Ferdinand’s service in the war. But the handwriting is a bit difficult to read. Fortunately, the Pritchard publication (cited below) on the Harless family history types out the details.

Ferdinand Harless volunteered in spring 1777 for the Virginia Militia in Botetourt County (in an area now part of Montgomery County, according to his brother’s pension application). Apparently residents of that area were having difficulties with the local Indian population. Harless spent his entire war service protecting the garrison (near Smithfield). “That the nature of his services was to remain in the Fort for its defense in case it were attacked by Indians, and to hold himself in readiness to go to the assistance of any other Fort that might be attacked.” He served in the Smithfield area from 1 April to 1 October 1777, and then again from 1 April to 1 October 1778. He provided similar service from 1 April to 1 October 1779 in the garrison at Sinking Creek, Virginia, and finally from 1 April to 1 October 1880 in the garrison at Stony Creek. Ferdinand didn’t just defend the garrisons, he also performed reconnaissance with spying parties to watch for approaching Indians.

Map courtesy of the Botetourt County Historical Society.

It appears that Harless was given this duty assignment because as one of the early settlers of Virginia, he had grown up accustomed to dealing with the hardships of Indian warfare.

In his application, Ferdinand Harless claims that he has no record of his birth, and never received any formal written discharge from service.

For Further Reading

Pritchard, J. L. R. (1962). Harless genealogy, John Philip and Anna Margaretha (Preiss) Harless;pioneers in western Virginia and some of their descendents, ([2d ed.].). Cupertino? Calif.]. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89066181694

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