Angie Harmon – Who Do You Think You Are – “Mutiny”

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are features Angie Harmon, probably best known for her role in the television series, Law and Order.

angie harmon

Angie Harmon, Courtesy TLC

Angie’s adventure begins at her kitchen table in Charlotte, NC, with a package she receives from her father, Larry, that includes a photo of her great-grandparents.  Like many people, up until this time, Angie only knew the names of her grandparents and not much more.

Angie becomes deeply curious (I think the genealogy bug bit her) and she sets out on her adventure to discover her ancestry.

Unlike many of us, Angie started her adventure close to home, meeting professional genealogist, Joseph Schumway at the Genealogy Library at Charlotte Museum of History. Thanks to Joseph’s magic wand, Angie’s tree was able to magically grow to reveal her 5x great grandfather Michael Harmon.  I want one of those magic wands….just saying.

Angie discovers that Michael was the first immigrant ancestor on the Harmon side, and to her surprise, from Germany, arriving on December 23, 1772.  Of course, then Angie needs to visit a different location to continue.

Angie arrives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to meet with Colonial Historian Jim Horn.  Angie pours over the immigration document and finds an entry that details a transaction binding Michael Harmon as an indentured servant! Jim explains that a primary motivator for a poor young man like Michael to agree to servitude would have been the potential opportunity to eventually buy land, which was near impossible in his homeland. Looking through the details of the agreement, Angie sees that Michael was required to assist a tanner for 5 years and 7 months, which was grueling work. Angie then deduces Michael would’ve been released from servitude in 1778, right in the middle of the Revolutionary War! Angie discovers an online record that shows Michael enlisting with the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment on May 10, 1777. Jim suggests she meet with Scott Stephenson, a Revolutionary War Historian, to learn about her ancestor’s time in the war.

I actually found this part very interesting because it delved a bit into how indentured servitude in the US worked.  That is a much-overlooked method of immigration.  Many indentured servants didn’t survive, so we don’t know about them today.  Those that did simply went on with their lives after their indenture and didn’t seem to dwell on that time.  It’s a piece of oral history that hasn’t made its way to current for many lines.  It was simply a means to an end.  One way to end a servitude early was to enlist to serve in the war – although I’m not so sure that wasn’t akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Furthermore, I didn’t realize that there were additional records for indentured servitude in at least some cases.  Angie may simply have been very lucky, but I need to go and check on my own indentured servant ancestors.

At the Free Library of Philadelphia, Scott Stephenson tells Angie that Michael entered the war at an unfortunate time; the British had just captured Philadelphia, America’s capital at the time. After that, things didn’t get better for the Patriots. Scott hands Angie a paystub for her 5x great grandfather that is marked “Camp near Valley Forge, May 7, 1778.” Angie is excited to discover that her ancestor camped at Valley Forge under the command of George Washington! Scott explains that Valley Forge is the site of a winter encampment that was one of the lowest points for the Continental Army during the war. He suggests that they visit Valley Forge for themselves.

I could tell by Angie’s demeanor at this point that she didn’t know what “Valley Forge” meant historically – what those men suffered through. But she would shortly.

At Valley Forge, Angie gets a feel for what her ancestor endured as she and Scott visit the site on which Michael Harmon lived. Inside a hut that replicates where Michael would have stayed through that treacherous winter, Scott explains the brotherhood that formed during those very trying times, with little food and clothing and disease rampant, but that by Spring a remarkable renewal happened. General Washington brought the acclaimed General von Steuben to Valley Forge to develop a unified code and train the men so they would be capable of going toe to toe with the British.

I found George Washington’s commentary to the men enlightening:  “The fate of millions unborn depends on what we do here today.”  I don’t know if Washington was visionary or simply trying to inspire his cold, hungry men, but regardless it worked and it was indeed, prophetic.

It was at Valley Forge that I could tell that Angie truly felt what her ancestor was felling, as best we can across more than 200 years.  She said, “I can step in the same steps he did.”  Yes, Angie, you can.

Angie wants to know what happened to Michael after Valley Forge.  Scott sends her to the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA, which houses many of the soldier’s records for the Revolutionary War.

Angie meets with Historian Major Sean Sculley, where a letter from a General that reveals Michael and his entire Pennsylvania line mutinied! – that was unexpected!  Things are getting juicy now!

Major Sculley explains that the troops were fed up with the lack of food and clothing – and they weren’t receiving promised payment, either. Not to mention, they weren’t being allowed to leave when their enlistment was up AND the new recruits were being paid more, plus an enlistment bounty.  It’s no wonder they were unhappy.  According to a letter from that timeframe, the soldiers “had suffered every kind of misery.”

Angie Harmon 2

Courtesy TLC

Angie’s curious to know how it played out, and Sean hands her another letter. Angie discovers that British spies offered to meet their demands and take Michael’s line over to their side! Angie’s dying to know if Michael changed allegiances and Sean explains that the soldiers were merely fighting for their rights and had no interest in switching sides. Eventually the U.S. army met their terms, and the soldiers were able to leave service if they chose. Reading a compiled regiment list, Angie finds that Michael’s war service ended after the mutiny.

Angie reflects upon not only his military service, but his servitude and coming to the colonies knowing he would be sold into servitude.  She says that she has always wondered where her personal resiliency came from, and now she knows.  And of course, I’m left wondering if there is a resiliency gene.  Are those traits passed from generation to generation genetically, culturally, or are they simply forged in the fire of the moment?

Angie wants to know what her ancestor did after leaving the army, so Sean passes her a tax record.  In it, Angie discovers that in 1795, Michael owned 130 acres of land at Doctors Fork in Mercer County, Kentucky!  Angie wonders how he finally became a land owner?  And of course, Sean suggests she go to Mercer County to find out.

Angie arrives at the Harrodsburg Historical Society in Mercer County, Kentucky to meet with local historian Amalie Preston. To find out about Michael’s life in Kentucky, Angie searches for his will, and of course she finds one and miraculously, the will book is laying right on the table. In it, she discovers that Michael owned multiple plantations, had married and named 7 children in his will! Wondering how he got the money for the land, Angie looks into Michael’s inventory list, which shows that Michael appears to have used the skills from his indenture to open a tanning business. Angie then finds her ancestor’s land on an old map, and Amalie tells her she made arrangements with the current owners if she would like to see it.  Angie agrees and heads out to see her ancestral land.

Angie Harmon 3

Courtesy TLC

Angie and her daughters who have joined her for this part of the journey pull up to a farmhouse where the current owner… are you ready for this…another Harmon, greets her.  Amazingly, this land is still in the Harmon family 200+ years later.  Angie’s cousin invites her to take a look around the land to see where it all started.  Angie heads up a hillside to fully survey all that Michael Harmon accomplished. One must admit, it’s a beautiful, traditional fall Kentucky farm scene.

Angie Harmon 4

Courtesy TLC

Standing on Michael’s land, Angie says, “All of that fighting, all of that suffering, all of that hardship – was for this.”  Yes, Michael got his land, although he didn’t live terribly long and died with underage children. Yet, he clearly accomplished the American dream…land…a family…freedom – a legacy he literally passed to his descendants.

Angie’s commentary about how whole this process made her feel really rang a bell with me.  I was glad to hear her say, “This gives me new light into the rest of my life and how I’m going to live it.”

My one regret with this episode was that there is an absolutely perfect opportunity for Y DNA testing.  I realize that Ancestry is sponsoring this series, and that they no longer offer Y DNA tests, but DNA testing is an important part of genealogy today.  In fact, having Michael’s Harmon Y DNA proven through two lines, Angie’s father and Angie’s cousin, could help secure Michael’s descendants membership in organizations like the DAR and SAR.  I hope that even though DNA testing isn’t part of the episode, that someone explains this opportunity to Angie and her Harmon cousin.

Who will enjoy this episode?  Anyone who is interested in the Revolutionary War, and in particular, if your ancestor was at Valley Forge, you won’t want to miss this episode. If your ancestor served in the Pennsylvania line between 1777 and 1781, this is for you.  And of course, if you have a contact with Mercer County, KY, this is a wonderful opportunity to see a lovely hilltop view of Mercer County in the fall.  It’s a great feel-good genealogy story.

Would you like a sneak peek?

Watch the full episode Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC.

36 thoughts on “Angie Harmon – Who Do You Think You Are – “Mutiny”

  1. Hello Roberta, The Spanish/Mexicans of New Mexico were also in the indentured slave business and this persisted until about 5 years after the US Civil War. Because the slaves were indentured, the owners were reluctant to free them. Later the Governor of New Mexico used the army as a threat to remove the slaves from their owners. The Native Americans also had captive Indian and Hispanic slaves.

    • Indentured servants and “slaves” were totally different in scope. You need to do some research, Jesus. My 5th gt. grandfather was an indentured servant. He worked the land on property promised him after a certain number of years for his service. He gained the property and was no longer an indentured servant after a certain number of years. He was not a “slave” in your sense of the word
      .

  2. Roberta,
    Yes don’t we all wish for a covey of experts with magic wands?

    Although yet to be proven a cousin and I have been working on a possible connection to a pair of convict brothers who were sentenced to death in York England and then reprieved to 14 years indenture in the American colonies in 1772. Records secured from the National Arichives in England include the sworn testimony of all concerned. A few years later and they would have been sent to Australia and I might not be here. 50,000 convicts were transported to the American colonies —–one we know of allegedly stole a pair of socks! Many missing links may lie with indenured/transported individuals.

    After the Highland Clearances many Scots were sent to the colonies as well as children scooped off the streets of major cities in the UK because they were orphans. Not a pretty history…..but one more people need to know about.

    Resilency and survival, YES!

    Kelly

  3. While this series is indeed interesting the research successes are due to the work of professional genealogists. While celebs and TV producers may be able to afford such, and the associated travel expenses, most of us mere mortals probably can’t. So in a way the show creates an unsatisfying itch for more than we know we will be able to do.

    • I knew Angie’s history up to her grandparents, and her uncle is connected to my family, so I was able to fill in the gaps between Michael and “Uncle” right here in my own home. That was fun. She’s a lousy actress, by the way. 🙂

  4. June, I don’t agree. So much can be done from home, on the computer, and writing letters. Most of us probably can’t take all the journeys Angie did but I myself made it to Valley Forge and to the town that Rev War ancestor was born in and to the land in Pennsylvania he lived in after the war. One of the greatest experiences of my life! Would love to do it again.

    • Unfortunately I’m an Ashkenazi Jew and all of my grandparents are from the Russian Empire area. Even when I have a town name, location is often somewhat indeterminate as town names repeat in different areas. That makes visiting a lot more expensive prospect than if you have generations of US born family. I’m more comparable to what Julie Chen or Josh Grogen had to do. Online index records are hit and miss and mostly not translated which greatly limits what you can do online. I don’t speak any of the relevant languages so that alone means involving a translator just to write letters. I’m really glad to have those online resources but when you don’t have much to start with beyond your grandparents names they often can’t get you very far in foreign language countries.

      I’ve written to many of my genetic connections but even when they have trees going back much farther than mine they usually only have their direct line and ultimately my connections must have been made through siblings that aren’t included. I’ve been able to expand the US part of my tree horizontally quite a lot from online information but I’m still pretty much brick walled in the old country. I’ve also written to people who still appear to be researching my family names, that is people who have at least logged in within the past few years. My mother’s family are Okuns. Both Okun and Genis are very common names.

      Any ideas would be most welcome.

  5. The life Europeans left behind had more poverty and hopelessness than the New World. Life was incredibly hard. Working as a tanner and learning that skill is what made Michael Harmon able to accrue land and economic success. Joining the Revolutionary Army was also a terrific opportunity. Being a soldier was difficult and chancy but they didn’t face anything like IEDs and modern weaponry. I like reading your column, Roberta, but you are tone-deaf when it comes to historical recreation, everything seems compared with 21st century.

    • Carol, you’re living in the 21st century, you have to compare it with the past. It’s human nature to do so. Facing a musket in one’s face was just as hard and scarey as facing our modern weaponry…it’s called the “threat of death”….(I do not remember in my 80 yrs. ever having to face any kind of weaponry).

  6. One of my immigrant ancestors who arrived in 1635 was said to have been indentured but I have found no information to prove it. Another, more recent relative, was “bound out” in the late 1800s. I understand that “bound out” is similar to being indentured. He was not happy about it and ran away. I also have a relative, not a direct ancestor, who was an officer at Valley Forge where he died in 1778. I have found some info about him at Fold3 but would love to know more. I cannot travel so some of these mysteries will have to wait.

  7. What’s fascinating to me about this is that my maternal grandmother’s family, the Lapsleys, were also very early settlers of Mercer County. They lived in McAfee and were a prominent family in the area. I don’t think we’re related to the Harmons, but since the Lapsleys have been there about as long, who knows? It’s a small world, after all.

  8. I grew up on a farm south of McAfee and I remember walking to Lapsley’s store in McAfee in the early 50’s which also had a set up as a rural post office.

  9. I agree with June, that this program provides a wonderful service for those who can afford to have it done themselves. For this reason, I much prefer “Genealogy Road Show” that provides help to ordinary people. As for Carol, I think she is a little “tone deaf” when it comes to the Revolutionary War. Of course those soldiers did not have to deal with modern weaponry, but neither did they have antibiotics or modern surgery. A wound that would be considered minor today, many times back then resulted in certain death.

    • I hadn’t heard of Genealogy Road Show so I goggled it and discovered it is on PBS which unfortunately isn’t available in my area. I tried to see if I could watch it online but somehow I got locked when it asked me to confirm my preferred station. Maybe it knew I really couldn’t get it :-). Do you know how to watch online? If so, please contact me at junegenis@gmail.com. Thanks.

  10. I am 92 years old and live in an Assisted Care facility and am wheelchair bound. I just completed writing a manuscript that documents my ggggrandfather’s service in the Virginia Line of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. I did not spend a penny beyond computer supplies. My David Edwards, Jr. volunteered for two years service at age 18. He was one of 2,400 men who were under the direct command of General George Washington when they crossed the Delaware River in an ice storm for the Battle of Trenton. He was in all succeeding battles that led up to the winter in Valley Forge, including the battle for Phildelphia, our capitol city at the time. He then spent the winter in Valley Forge and survived to march out in the Spring with his 3rd Virginia Division under the command of Major General Marquis de Lafayette (the French had then joined us) to fight in the Battle of Monmouth, N.J. His division was still under the command of Washington.

    After his time was up for service in the Continental Line, he went home to Virginia and volunteered for the Virginia Militia. He served a year for his father, a year for an uncle, both of whom were too old to serve and then finished a year for a brother, who was too sick to complete his year of service. He was with the Virginia Militia at Yorktown, Virgina, when Majory General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his British troops. He was still only 22 or 23 years old.

    When I started this research for documentation of his service the only information I had was his application for a pension. My search was like having the box for a giant puzzle and then having to find the pieces to put in the box before I could put the puzzle together….just like all genealogy. It took years to find the pieces and the help of a lot of people who responded to my requests for info. If I can do it any one can. Most of the time I worked on it, I could not even go to history centers or libraries to do research. Patience is certainly a virtue for these searches. So forge ahead, you can do it, if the will is there.

    Roberta, I lived in the next county to Mercer for many years. I had no interest in genealogy at the time. But recently when I found Abraham Estes in my father’s maternal line and again in my husband’s paternal line, I also found Abraham Estes died in Mercer County. Interesting “stuff” this genealogy, if one has an inquiring mind.

    There were two ways to pay one’s passage to America, transports, who paid their own way to ship masters and those who were indentured because they not have the money to pay for their passage. Some one already settled in the colonies who needed help on their plantations, paid their passage to the shipmasters and then the newcomer was bound to serve that person until their passage money was repaid. It was usually 7 years for each person, though like everything else in life, there were exceptions at times. Slaves and convicts had different rules for payment.

    One of those exceptions was a 3 month old baby declared to be a mulatto (when they were not even sure of that) was bound for 30 years. My six great grandfather came into possession of him in later years, and gave him his freedom in his will when he was 19. He had to wait until he was 21 years old to get his legal manumission papers.

  11. Shucks! I was out of town this weekend and like you Roberta, am VERY interested in the indentured servitude and anything that may help in searching those ancestors. Do these programs air on their website, or somewhere else, after appearing on television, where I can watch after the fact? Thx!

  12. We are cousins. I too am descended from Michael Harmon of Mercer (now Boyle) County, KY.~~ Mike Crain Postcardlex@aol.com Lexington KY but I grew up in the next county to Mercer & Boyle counties in Washington County KY

  13. I personally loved that episode and watched with pen-in-hand! My Harmon family came from Greene County, TN, and married with the Mercer families there. I found the Harmon-Mercer connection quite a coincidence…or maybe not such a coincidence after all!!

  14. One thing I liked about this episode was how excited she seemed by everything she found out, and how she seemed to appreciate all of those experts who helped her, too. And Roberta, I don’t think you are “tone deaf” in any way. Since we all live in the 21st century, what else are we to compare things to??

  15. I just don’t understand why there was no mention of any effort to find Michael Harman’s Rev. War pension application. The genealogists contracted for the show must have known it’s a critical to any RW ancestral research, so, even if not found, the audience would benefit from knowing it’s a must for research.

  16. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Entertainment Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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