Rev. William Barnett Harris, retired preacher and farmer, and owner of his, present home in Mackinaw Township, since 1865, was born near Drake’s Creek, Warren County, Ky., August 22, 1813, and on the paternal side is of English-Scotch-Irish ancestry. His maternal grandparents were Thomas and Sally (Morris) Highsmith, of Georgia, and his mother was formerly Nancy Highsmith; born in Burke County, Ga., March 23, 1782, and died Nov. 2, 1862. His paternal grandfather, James Harris, emigrated from England to Western Pennsylvania with his parents and after their death, during the year of their arrival, was adopted into the home of a Mr. McClure. His career was dignified by seven years of service in the Continental Army during the Revolution, in which he attained to the rank of Captain, and his death occurred in Green County, Ky., in 1796, at the age of fifty-seven years.
The son, William H., the father of William B. Harris, removed to Rockbridge County, Va., as a young man, thence to Green County, Ky., and later to Warren County, in the same State. He was ordained a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in 1812, two years after the organization of that denomination, and his example proved far-reaching in its influence, inasmuch as it inspired what was perhaps the largest following in any one family to be continuously associated with the church during all but two years of its entire history.
Mr. Harris preached the Gospel during his entire active life, and was a prominent factor in establishing the church in Pennsylvania. A gifted writer as well as a forceful speaker, he published a volume of hymns in 1824 and otherwise contributed to the religious literature of the day. He had twelve sons and five daughters, and lived to be the grandfather of ninety-three children. Of this unusually large family but two survive—William Barnett and Mrs. Nancy L. Blewett, the latter a resident of Texas. Six of the sons became ministers in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, viz.: David R., Alexander C., William B., Josiah G., Chatham D., and Lewis D. David R. was one of the most gifted of the sons, being a famous Greek and Latin scholar, and for a number of years principal of the Pilot Knob Academy of Kentucky. Chatham D. and Alexander C. preached in Illinois for years and both died in Bloomington, in that State.
William Barnett Harris was educated at Pilot Knob Academy, Simpson County, Ky., from which he was graduated in the class of 1833, afterward teaching in his Alma Mater, and elsewhere in Kentucky, until he entered the ministry. He became a licensed preacher in 1840, and in 1847 was regularly ordained, being then thirty-four years of age. For a number of years he had charge of a church at Dry Fork, Ky., and in 1864 came overland to West Union, Clark County, Ill., where he filled a pulpit for fifteen years. In the meantime, in 1865, he settled on his present farm in Mackinaw Township, which he has converted into a valuable property, and maintained a home noted for its culture and refinement.
On March 1, 1836, Mr. Harris was united in marriage with Harriet B. Paisley, who was born in Logan County, Ky., October 15, 1817, and died April 13, 1888. There were twelve children of this union, nine of whom are living, and Mr. Harris has thirty-four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Harris was a daughter of Samuel arid Nancy (Perry) Paisley, the latter of South Carolina, and whose mother (formerly a McGoffin), came of a Royal Irish family. Of the children born to Mr. and Mrs. Harris, Almarinda Jane, the oldest, is now Mrs. A. J. Perry, of McLean County, Ill.: Chianthus is living at home; Clarinda C. (deceased), wife of I. E. Williams; William Rowland is a nurseryman of Tecumseh, Neb.; Cyllenne M. J. is deceased. David R. lives in Danvers. Ill.; John Quincy is deceased; Waldo Bird is a Cumberland Presbyterian minister of Morton, Ill.; Henry Barnett lives in Mackinaw Township; James Samuel is an attorney of Tecumseh, Neb.; Harriet Ann and Polly Susan live at the paternal homestead. Mr. Harris has given all of his children the advantages of a good education, and, as will be seen, many are occupying positions of trust in their respective communities.
During the Civil War, Mr. Harris espoused the cause of the Union, although surrounded by Rebel neighbors, and at one time was arrested by the Confederates. Since 1849 he has been a stanch Prohibitionist, and in 1851 joined the Masonic Order at Adairville, Ky., in 1859 taking an active part in the convention at Fairview, Ky., which framed the constitution of the I. O. G. T. He is a Republican in politics.
Mr. Harris has passed the ninety-first milepost on life’s journey, but still retains an interest in his farm, his friends, and his numerous progeny. His life has been a serene and useful one, interspersed with struggles and deprivations, and such hardships as characterized the arduous careers of the early preachers Middle West. Living close to his highest ideals, he has been compensated on every hand, and has found life gracious and bright, as well as full of infinite opportunity.
Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County - page 1014
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