140 Years of Harvell Family History
Here are the remarks I shared at our Harvell Family Reunion Banquet August 5, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The origins of the Harvell Family began with the marriage of Hamilton Harvell, and Caroline Henderson on January 25, 1877. On that day, they stood before the Justice of the Peace in Long Creek Township, Mecklenburg, Co., North Carolina and pledged themselves to each other as man and wife. Because of that pledge we are all here.
Hamilton Harvell was affectionately known throughout his life as “Pleasant Ham” for his pleasant demeanor. According to family history he was believed to be from the West Indies, Tobago to be exact. However, census records throughout his lifetime consistently list his birthplace as North Carolina. Hamilton was born into slavery around 1856. According to family history he was owned by a man named Williams. He first appears in the census in 1870, age 14, living in Long Creek Township with parents William and Elisa, and siblings Amanda, Isaiah and Ann. He is listed simply under the name “Pleasant”. As an adult Pleasant Ham became a farmer known for his watermelons and cantaloupes. He grew some of the largest watermelons in Long Creek. He owned one of the only horse and buggies in the black community of Long Creek which he would use to haul his produce during the week and take people to and from church on Sundays. According to the 1900 census, by age 44, he had learned to both read and write.
Census records list his parents, William B and Elisa Harvell, as both being born in North Carolina. The Harvell Family Bible lists their names as William Graham and Lizzia Blythe, offering evidence that their names may have changed over the course of their lifetime. Their use of the last name Blythe may offer a clue into who may have enslaved them. Census records list multiple slave owners in Western Division Mecklenburg County with the last name Blythe. Additionally a man named RF Blythe served as Justice of the Peace for the wedding of Ham and Caroline.
The ancestry of Caroline Henderson has long been a family mystery. Based on a family photo she appears white. Some family members have said she was born white and lived as black, others said she was near white but black, while others even said she was Lumbee Indian. Based on research, she was likely a quarter black, a product of successive generations of offspring between white men who raped enslaved women. Caroline was born into slavery around 1861, first appearing on the census for Long Creek, Mecklenburg County, NC in 1870 at age 9 listed as a mulatto who could read and write in a post-emancipation mixed marriage household.
Her marriage license to Pleasant Ham identifies her mother as a woman named Isabella Henderson and leaves her father unnamed. Her mother Isabella was likely born enslaved in 1835 to a white man named Henderson and an enslaved woman. DNA clues connect our family with the white Hendersons of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, the patriarch of which was William Henderson (1774–1857)and his wife Elizabeth Abernathy (1779–1839). Isabella’s father was most likely one of William and Elizabeth’s six sons. Through this bloodline, Caroline’s Henderson ancestry (and ours) can be traced back to the Henryson’s (Hendersons) of Scotland.
Ham and Caroline were married for 51 years until the death of Ham in 1928 at age 72. Caroline lived to age 80. From their union, eleven children were born: Gettie in 1879, Wade Hampton on December 23, 1880, Mollie on February 7, 1884, Ernest Linwood born in August 1885, Henry born in March 1888, Freddie Graham born on October 22, 1890, Anna Lee, known as “Girlie” born in March 1893, Isabella, known as “Bell” born in April 3, 1896, Harry born in December 1898, Mazella, known as “Maze”, born on Jun 27, 1901 and Sloan born on February 23, 1906. We all descend from these eleven offspring.
Although our clan started in Mecklenburg County, where most of Ham and Caroline’s children resided as adults, members have spread all over the United States, from Washington DC to California, making their distinctive marks in all of their communities.
Faith and education have been foundational values for this family since its beginning at that wedding in Long Creek Township. Ham and Caroline were both staunch members of Miranda Presbyterian Church. The Harvells were considered “dyed in the wool” Presbyterians. In fact, Ham’s father William founded Miranda Presbyterian Church under a Carolina pine in 1869. Ham and Caroline’s offspring remain active in the Presbyterian Church and maintain leadership positions within the church. Offspring have also become active members and leaders within the United House of Prayer for All People and other denominations.
Within a few generations from breaking the bonds of slavery, the Harvell clan produced family members with college degrees. Educational achievement has only grown stronger with successive generations. Today, the Harvell clan includes ministers, church officials, educators, government workers, engineers, business executives, musicians, artists, professionals and workers across a wide range of career areas; all are successful in their chosen fields and contribute effectively to their communities and society according to their talents and abilities.
As Ham and Caroline look down on their descendants today, surely they are thankful for the accomplishment, prosperity and strength of faith exhibited by the family they created, born from their union 140 years ago, a mere 12 years from the end of the savage institution which we call slavery, into which there were both tragically born. God has truly blessed this family and continues to do so today.