GaspeeVirtual Archives
Captain Joseph Harris (1752-1823)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Captain Harris:

From: Williams, Catherine, Biography of Revolutionary Heroes: Containing the Life of Brigadier Gen. William Barton and also of Captain Stephen Olney. Providence, Published by the author, 1839, p21.
The names of those brave and resolute citizens, as far as they have come to our knowledge, are as follows:
Captain Benjamin Dunn,       John Brown,
Captain Benjamin Page,        Com. Abraham Whipple,
Captain Turpin Smith,           Colonel Ephraim Bowen,
Captain John B. Hopkins,     Dr. John Mawney,
Joseph Bucklin,                      Captain Harris,
Captain Shepard,                    Joseph Jenckes,
As Edward Field pointed out in State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century (1902) we can only guess were she got this information. Catherine Williams was referring to people she knew had taken part in the attack on the Gaspee many years before.  Her term of Captain may have been given to Harris either before or after the attack. The fact that she did not give the first names of either Captain Harris or of Captain Shepard probably indicates that Williams did not know their first names; note that she did give the first names of others that were Captains. Note also that in Williams' list she perpetuates the misidentification of Captain Samuel Dunn as Benjamin Dunn.

In August 2004, noted Warwick historian Henry A. L. Brown, happened upon the following entry in Transactions of The Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry in the Year 1864.  Providence: Knowles, Anthony & Co. 1865, in which early members of the Society are given short biographies. Page 108--William Harris: 

The subject of this notice was born on the island of Nantucket, December 28th, 1785.  He was the son of Joseph and Hephzibah Harris, and a descendant of the fifth generation from Thomas Harris, one of the early settlers of Providence.

His father, Joseph Harris, was a native of Providence, Rhode Island, and a graduate of Providence College (now Brown University,) in the year 1772.  He was a prominent citizen and a true patriot, having assisted, in 1772, at the capture and subsequent burning of the Gaspee, in the Providence river.  His mother was a daughter of Paul Bunker, Esq., a merchant of Nantucket.

Note that the writer of this bio on William Harris erred in referring to the original name of Brown University as being Providence College; it was actually previously known as Rhode Island College.
Genealogical search notes on Joseph Harris:
No Joseph Harris of the right time period is listed in the RI Historical Cemeteries Database. This would be expected if our Joseph Harris was buried in Nantucket, as we might surmise he was, but it is more likely he lived and died in Providence.. No Harris that was titled Captain and that would be of the appropriate age appears in the RI Historical Cemeteries Database.

The fact that Joseph Harris graduated from Brown University at the tender age of 20 was not at all unusual for the time.  In fact classmate Theodore Foster had graduated Brown, law studies, and had begun practicing law all by the age of 20. His early completion of his education probably stems from the lack of a formalized educational routine in the eighteenth century, so that he was not held back by the necessity of finishing each school grade level that we have today.

There is a Captain Joseph Harris mentioned by genealogical researcher Wayne G. Tillinghast, in The Tillinghasts in America: The First Four Generations (2006), as having served as a master on a vessel owned by Tillinghast, Gorton, & Tillinghast, c1800.  This firm was owned by fellow Gaspee raider Captain Joseph Tillinghast.  In appears likely that, given the known fact that many of the Gaspee raiders were interrelated, that Joseph Harris was related by blood, marriage, or occupation to other Gaspee raiders..

In 1761 a Joseph Harris was elected Assistant (Representative to the State Assembly) from Providence, but this man could not have been our Joseph Harris if our Joseph Harris was indeed born in 1752; perhaps he was an uncle or cousin. From a legal ad placed in the Providence Gazette 30Nov1771, Joseph Harris, Gideon Comstock, and John Burton were assigned creditors of the estate of Elisha Brown, Esq, and were auctioning off his house to recoup debts he owed. Between 1804 and 1814 a Joseph Harris was involved in a Committee of Defense for Cranston. We also see that 5Apr1814 that a Joseph Harris was named a director of the Manufacturers' Bank and in 1822, was named President of the Cranston Bank. We do not find any Revolutionary War service records through HeritageQuest on a Joseph Harris that was specifically from Rhode Island.

According to LDS files, Joseph Harris was born 26 Dec1752 and died on 22-25 FEB 1823.  He married a Hepzebeth Bunker in Nantucket, MA, born in 1752, and she died 26 SEP 1846. No offspring are listed, but we know from the above biography of William Harris that Joseph Harris was William's father.

From, we get the following:
Father: David HARRIS b: 7 JAN 1714 in Providence, RI
Mother: Martha JENCKES b: 22 JAN 1724/1725 in Providence, RI, (daughter of Nathaniel JENCKES b: 1686)

Marriage 1 Hepsibah or Hepsibeth BUNKER b: 1752  Married: 1779
  1. Has No Children David Harris
  2. Has No Children William Harris, b 28 Dec 1785
  3. Has No Children Hannah Harris
  4. Has No Children Sarah Harris
  5. Has No Children William Harris
  6. Has No Children Joseph Harris
  7. Has No Children Daniel Harris
  8. Has No Children Hannah Harris
  9. Has No Children Samuel Harris
  10. Has No Children Daniel Harris

We also see here that Joseph Harris' brother, Stephen Harris, b 1753 ended up marrying Hannah Mawney, the sister of fellow Gaspee raider, Dr. John Mawney.  Joseph's older sister, Sarah, married an Ephraim Potter, and his younger sister, Amey, married  a Caleb Greene.

In August 2008 we received the following e-mail from Margaret Harris that expands on these relationships further:
I am a descendant of David F. Harris, the son of Capt. Joseph and Hepsibah (Bunker) Harris.  David F. Harris was born 17 Aug. 1780 on Nantucket died 13 Oct. 1848 Salem, Columbiana Co. Ohio.  He married (1) 31 Dec. 1800 in Smithfield, RI  Lydia Streeter of Cumberland, daughter of Rufus and Nancy (Ballou) Streeter b. 27 January 1783 d. 11 Feb. 1837 Saybrook Twp., Ashtabula Co. Ohio, buried in Harris/Sexton Cemetery, south side of SR 84 near the Geneva city limit, Ashtabula Co. Ohio [ 9 children ] m. (2) 30 Jan 1839 Salem, Columbiana Co., OH Hannah Warrington, dau. of Abraham and Rachel ( ) Warrington, b. 1 Apr. 1791 d. 4 May 1865 [ no issue ]
Sections 12 and 13 of David F. Harris' will written 24 Aug. 1848 and proved 9 Dec. 1848 New Lisbon, Columbiana Co, OH and a copy recorded in Jefferson, Ashtabula Co., Ohio 8 Jul 1851 state:
My estate at Rhode Island lying in Smithfield consisting of six shares of and in Harris Lime Rock Company with any balances, fixtures, or dividends, belonging thereunto and all real estate attached to or held by deed or otherwise by said Company being one-eighth part of all its property in Lime Rock and stone dug, woodlands, or wood cut, in woods or drawn, the said shares being responsible for its due part of the company debts, also claiming the due proportion of its credits which my Executors can sell or dispose of to the best advantage, at public or private sale.
Also at Rhode Island, Smithfield Township I have a wood lot said to contain ninety acres held by Will and quit claim deeds from my brothers--William, Samuel B. and Daniel G. Harris--, and part from the Will of our father, Joseph Harris.  The which I direct my Executors to have appraised and sell either together or in lots as may suit them best.
David F. Harris was living in Saybrook Twp., Ashtabula Co. Ohio at the time of his father, Joseph's death.  David's eldest son, Edward returned to Rhode Island in 1822 and worked as a clerk in his uncle William's cotton mill.  By the 1831 he started his own mill in Woonsocket and by the 1850,s was producing high quality woolen cashmeres. (see: History of Woonsocket)

A check of the Gaspee Virtual Archives reveals the following individuals with the surname Harris:

  • William Harris was a contemporary of Chad Brown, two of the earliest settlers of Providence
  • Gaspee attack leaders John & Joseph Brown's paternal grandmother was Mary Harris. Brother Moses Brown's mother-in-law may also have been a Mary Harris
  • Known Gaspee raider Captain John B. Hopkins married his first cousin, Sarah Harris, daughter of Hope (Hopkins) Harris and Henry Harris.
  • Of the four possible Joseph Tillinghasts suspected of being a Gaspee raider, one born in 1728 married a Lydia Harris who was another daughter of Hope Hopkins Harris and Henry Harris
The Gaspee Days Committee recognizes Captain Joseph Harris as a Gaspee raider, and therefore, a true American patriot.
Back to Top    |    Back to Gaspee Virtual Archives

Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 04/2009    CaptHarris.htm