Here’s my latest entry into the Icon series, a 12″ by 12″ canvas piece that is titled Icon: Joe H. He is my 3rd great-grandfather and his name was Joseph Harris and he was born in the Lindley (the town named after our common ancestor, Eleazer Lindsley,who was among the first Icons) area south of Corning in 1833.
He led a fairly typical life for the time and place, serving in the Civil War and raising a family. He worked primarily as a blacksmith and a sawyer ( I have a lot of lumbermen in my family– maybe that’s where my affinity for trees comes from) in his early years, working for a number of years in the then booming timber business that was taking place in northern Pennsylvania and western NY. It was there that his wife, Emeline Whitney, died just a year or so after the end of the Civil War. Later in his life, he returned to the area of his birth, settling in as a farmer just over the border in Pennsylvania where he died in 1922.
That was about the extent of his life for me, at least what I could find of it in records. I did discover that he married his step-sister, Jennie, who was twenty years younger, as his second wife. But it was my research into local newspapers that gave me a better sense of him.
Looking at records gave no indication of anything but the basics but in his 1922 death notice printed in the Wellsboro Agitator ( I love the name of that paper!) the headline lists him as a “Skilled and Noted Musician.” It goes on to say that he had been the one-time Banjo Champion of the United States. He very well may have picked up the banjo from his Civil War experience as it’s popularity in the time after the war is often attributed to many people being exposed to it for the first time during their service. I could never find anything to document a championship which was no big surprise as it most likely occurred somewhere in the 1870’s or 1880’s and whatever group sanctioned the competition is more than likely no longer in existence.
But I was pleased to know that music played a big part in his life and I later found an item that confirmed this. It stated that his son, William Harris, was working as a musician in one of the oilfield boom towns in northern PA in the 1890’s when he tragically took his own life by shooting himself at the hotel where he was living. As is often the case, you find a lot of tragedy when you look backwards so it’s some consolation to know that there was a bit of music and joy mixed in there somewhere.
I did visit Joe’s gravesite a while back. It is a bare-boned and flat plot of land that sits next to a harsh little trailer park visible from the new interstate. Standing at his grave you looked into the backyard of several trailers, the kind of yards scattered with kids toys, spare tires and oil drums.
It made me a little sad but then, I guess a guy who lived through the Civil War, endured the death of his first wife and several of his children before him and lived to see the first World War, this wasn’t all that bad.