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27 Sep 2015

Lost a Tombstone, gained Death in a Lake: Harris family of Crowan

We have
Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Crowan, son of Francis and Ann
 - living 1841 at home in Wheal Clowance, Crowan with parents age 20
Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Camborne, son of Francis and Honor
- living 1841 at home in Camborne with widowed mother and siblings age 20

One of these is living at Stokeclimsland in 1851 and marries as a blacksmith in Plymouth 1852, producing children at Calstock.

For a long time I thought this was my Crowan man as his brother had married at Stokeclimsland in 1840 and also had Calstock connections.

But the discovery that there were two men named Francis, both sons of Francis, cast severe doubt on this.

Francis Harris, baptised 1818 at Camborne, married in Plymouth 1852 to Jane Trathen, lived for a time at Calstock and returned to Camborne to finish his days as a miner.  This makes sense really. However, this means we lose Francis and Jane's daughter Fanny from the tree whose exploits as Mrs Bowden of Tombstone, Arizona, are worth viewing.

The clinching evidence is that this Francis, who was living with the Pearce family, likely his mother's relations, in 1861, had a daughter Eliza Pearce Harris in 1868. This does suggest he was the Camborne man.

So, what happened to my Francis Harris? Well, he drowned in Lake Nicaragua in about 1852*, victim of greedypants Cornelius Vanderbilt's money-making scheme to save two days' travel-time across central America, for gold miners and others who wished to reach California by sea. (Vanderbilt was great-grandfather of Churchill's unhappy, wealthy, friend Consuela.) An image of the route is available, below.

This certainly explains why none of our chatty, friendly, Harrises in Wales could tell us owt about Da John's brothers and sisters. Francis and John had six siblings that died at birth, and just two others survived (Mrs Scandling, a childless lady across the state border from Wisconsin's Hazel Green, and James Harris husband of Annie Hodge so far untraced.) There is a small chance James remarried in Nova Scotia and came later to Wisconsin.

My rationale for linking Francis to the watery end is that the Francis Harris age 31 in the 1850 census of Grant county, Wisconsin, was almost certainly Cornish. We know this chap's bride, Philippi Rowe, was from Crowan and this ties in very nicely. It is possible but unlikely, that the marriage record of 'Philip Rowe to Frances Harris', 1847, will tell us more. The couple's grandson relates the Nicaragua tale at the end of his own life, in 1957.

*Francis's estate was probated at Grant county, Wisconsin 1854 (images available at, with his address given as Hazel Green (formerly Hard Scrabble!)

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