Jefferson, Harris & Percy, Oh My.

This post contains a guilty secret and an admission of ancient wrongs, since corrected, but whose shadow still lays across the land. If you are British and of a certain age (and, perhaps, of a certain disposition) then you may recognise the person in the above cover image. If you’re none of the above and you do not, it is Lord Percy Percy (played by Tim McInnerny) from television’s Blackadder and is a large clue as to where I am heading …

Many years ago, during my eager name-gathering phase, I rapaciously devoured all the records I could find of my father’s American family. I found that my 5 x great-grandfather, John Tisdale of Virginia (later South Carolina), had married Jane Haley James. Jane’s maternal grandmother was Mary Jefferson, of Henrico, Virginia (any Americans hearing a distant High School History bell ringing …?). As it turns out, yes, that Jefferson family. Her great-nephew was the 3rd President of the United States (good news if you were a revolutionist, a US trader or Lin-Manuel Miranda; bad news if you were a Barbary pirate, British trader or, you know, one of the 600 people he enslaved throughout his life).

Thomas Jefferson By Rembrandt Peale -, Public Domain,

However, Mary’s husband was Thomas Harris. Thomas’ grandfather – also Thomas – had been granted 750 acres of land in November of 1635 “commonly known as Longfield”, 100 acres of which was due him as “an Ancient planter & adventurer in the time of Sir Thomas Dale”. I won’t dwell on Captain Thomas, but suffice to say I beg you to check out Dan Mouer’s 2017 blog post, A True Story of the Ancient Planter and Adventurer in Virginia, Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent., as Related by his Second Sonne.

It was simple to follow many, many pedigrees of this Harris family to Thomas’ grandfather, Arthur Harris, who had originally been from the area of Essex around Creeksea, near Maldon, and also my 13 x great-grandfather. I was, frankly, amazed. How incredible that I could get back to the late 1400s (Arthur’s son, William, was born in 1505). What’s more, Arthur’s wife was Johanna (occasionally Joan) Percy.

Blackadder reference now doesn’t seem so mad, does it?! (I feel I should point out that in the show, he was known as the Duke of Northumberland, whereas at that point in history the Percy family were the Earls of Northumberland, and would not be enduked (?) enduchified (?) until 1766 – and even then the 1st Duke wasn’t a Percy by birth, he changed his name upon marrying a Percy heiress who was Baroness Percy in her own right.)

Where did this Percy connection come from?

It is to be found, for one, in the Heraldic visitation of Essex undertaken in 1558 by William Harvey.

As you can see, this states that Joane was the daughter of Thomas Percy, Knight, son of Henry Earl of Northumberland, husband of Elianor “Harbottell”.

A similar pedigree for the Percy family shows the same marriage:

Why would you argue with the results of a Heraldic visitation? I mean, these guys were on a mission from the King himself to stop the fraudulent use of arms, and each armigerous family had to prove their right to use the arms they had. Why would someone argue with that? I certainly didn’t. Oh the shame …

Well, some basic maths would imply that something was dreadfully and frightfully amiss …

The pedigrees offer no explanation as to how Joan Percy, b. in or after 1521, had a son William, b. 1505 and a son John, b. 1513. Henry Algernon Percy (Thomas’ father) didn’t marry Catherine Spencer until “bef. 1502”. His son Thomas Percy was a younger son & born after his elder brother Henry was born “circa 1502” [as listed in Burke’s Peerage]. Therefore Thomas was born at the earliest 1503/4.

Therefore it is impossible to think that Thomas was grandfather by Eleanor Harbottle of William, b. 1505 (only a year or two after).

I admit to some shocking mental gymnastics to accept this Percy link, but it cannot, could not and should not be replicated and accepted as correct when basic fact checking is applied (this Harris/Percy link can, however, still be found across the internet).

However, enter stage left, American genealogy researcher, Eileen Suggs. Upon a trip to the Library of Congress in Washington she came across a reference to a Johanna Percy marrying Arthur Harris, but she was the daughter of a John Percy who had married a Margaret Harbottle. As she wasn’t concentrating on this line at the time she apparently failed to write down the source that had eluded researchers for many years (and, indeed, continues to do so …). John was the son of the Honourable Ralph Percy, and it was Ralph who was a son of Henry, 2nd Earl of Northumberland – the previous Thomas was actually the son of Henry, the 5th Earl of Northumberland. Ralph did have a brother called Thomas, who was created1st Baron Egremont, and did have a son called John (also Baron Egremont) who died with no issue (the current line of the Lords Egremont have no connection to this Percy family). So we can, perhaps excuse the Percy/Harbottle/Thomas/John/Henry confusion somewhat.

If we do accept the Johanna > John > Ralph connection then that makes the 2nd Earl of Northumberland my 16 x great-grandfather. His wife, Eleanor, was of the (in)famous Neville family of Raby and the daughter of the 1st Earl of Westmorland. Her mother, Lady Jane Beaufort, was the daughter of John of Gaunt (1st Duke of Lancaster), the son of King Edward III. Jane’s siblings numbered amongst them a Queen of Portugal, a Queen of Castile and a King of England (Henry IV). The Beaufort surname came from Beaufort-en-Champagne which was inherited by Duke John’s first wife, Blanche of Lancaster (Joan’s mother was Katherine Swynnford nee de Roët who had been governess of John’s eldest daughters before becoming his mistress and then later his wife). Needless to say that a connection to the Plantagenet dynasty is a wonderful thing to find. In fact, Ralph Percy had several different connections to the Plantagenets, one via his paternal great-great-grandmother Mary, the youngest daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster who was himself the grandson of King Henry III, he the son of King John of Magna Carta fame, the son of King Henry II.

A 13th-century depiction of Henry II and his legitimate children, with John at the end

But I don’t want you to think that this link defines me, my research or my persona. After all, any amount of Plantagenet blood anybody (any peasant) born in the 20th century (as I was) has must be infinitesimal, and to make that my one claim to fame would be ridiculous in the extreme. I am not 100% convinced that this Eileen Suggs story isn’t entirely apocryphal as I can find no exact details about her or this link online, just a lot of “inherited” hints and pedigrees. Am I happy enough to have this (revised) link in my tree? Of course. But it comes with a caveat, with a note of caution, with a dashed line of assumption. However, this is not because I am blinded by royal connections (I am more likely to tell you about random Holborows than about this line) or that I am happy to accept any link (well, not now that I have grown and … matured a little in my research) that provides this, but because I consider it an act of whimsy in my tree. Do we have room for whimsy in genealogy? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Sensible whimsy (if that’s not a tautology in itself!) maybe.

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