Tuesday, February 12, 2019

James Harberson, b. 1819, Alabama

The Harbison surname is associated with several Y-chromosome haplogroups. The largest is the E-L117 haplogroup; we currently have 18 sets of DNA data for this group. The group seems to be associated with two large clusters, with a common ancestor in medieval Scotland; one group consists of descendants of the (probable) brothers John and James Harbison, who were in Chester Pennsylvania in the 1730s and 1740s, and migrated to Kentucky, dying there in around 1780-1790. Their origin seems to be with the Harbisons -- Adam and Hugh -- who settled on the Ballymena estate in Northern Ireland between 1660 and 1670. The other large cluster is associated with Alexander Harbison, who was born in Ireland in 1747 and migrated to North Carolina; there are a few other E-L117 individuals with more distant genetic connections, but all the American representatives are associated with the Scots-Irish migration from Northern Ireland to the American colonies, mostly between 1717 and 1776.

The other haplogroup is mine, I-M223, associated with the Ballyneill Harbisons and a James Harbison, b. 1745 from nearby Donaghenry, Co. Tyrone. Until last year, we thought all of the members of this cluster were Catholics.

But then a Harbison currently living in Arkansas turned up, with haplogroup I-M223 (and quite close to the other members of the group), whose earliest traceable ancestor was James Harberson, b. 1819 in northern Alabama. I was so surprised by this I rechecked his genealogy myself. There were no Catholics in northern Alabama in 1819, and James' descendant from Arkansas certainly wasn't Catholic. Moreover this part of Alabama had only recently (1816) been ceded but he Chickasaw tribe. So his family came from somewhere else.

Northern Alabama, it turns out, was filling up with Harbisons. A Samuel Harbison, descended from Alexander, had come down from Virginia via Kentucky and Tennessee. So had George Erwin Harbison, another descendant of Alexander. But both would have been E-L117. I was also taken by the spelling of the name, and was inclined to believe that instead James was born of someone who had migrated from South Carolina.

And sure enough, there was a James Harberson on the Pennsylvania Farmer, one of five ships the Reverend William Martin used to bring Ulstermen to Charleston South Carolina in 1772. Martin was an interesting character, a Covenanter clergyman who was recruited as pastor by the various dissident Presbytherian sects in the Carolinas. He was ordained in 1857 in the townland of Vow, on the Antrim side of the River Bann, a little south of Ballymoney, and about 20 miles north of Ballyneill. And he brought 1200 settler families with him, all from the approximate neighborhood of Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, and driven out by high rents and low linen prices. Most of them were Prebyterians and Covenanters, like himself; but some were Established Church, some were Baptists, and a few were Catholics. One was supposed to swear one's protestantism to get off the ship, but who knows?

James Harberson crossed the Atlantic with a wife but no children, and was probably newly married. He settled in the Presbyterian colony near Chester, Chester Co., in the northern part of South Carolina. However, settlers from that county migrated south as soon as Northern Alabama opened up after 1816. I can find plausible census records for him in Chester in 1790 (1 child) and 1810 (10 children). I suspect one of the children was the person who settled in Alabama and begat James, b. 1819.

It is perhaps significant the two earliest Harbisons in Ireland (William Harbison of Lislea, and John Herbertson of Moyknock, both in Londonderry) also lived near the Bann, a few miles upstream from Vow. It seems unlikely they came over with the major Presbyterian migration from Scotland, but may have been in Ireland earlier, perhaps much earlier. Might their descendants have moved south to Ballyneil, Moneymore, and Donaghenry, while James left with Rev. Martin? My father, interestingly, told me the family lore was that our family had originally lived near Ballymoney.

So it's speculative, but this might be the common origin of James Herberson, of Walker Co., Alabama, and the rest of the I-M223 Harbisons.

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