Mary is one of those ancestors whose life, what we know if it, is told mostly through the lives of those around her – specifically, her husband and children. We don’t know who Mary’s parents were and were it not for one court note in particular, even her name would only be found in legend. In this case, the legend of her name and the name Mary in the court notes match.
Mary was the wife of John Harrold. She was born sometime around 1750, probably someplace in Virginia, and she died in 1826 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.
Based on a combination of the birth year of her son, John, based on census records and his tombstone, we know that Mary had at least one child by 1782, which puts her birth year at 1762 or earlier.
A potential record that mentions one Mary and John O’Harrell in Botetourt County suggests she may have had two children older than John.
The Botetourt County court record on March 11, 1779 tells us the following:
“The court doth allow Mary O’harrell, wife of John O’harrell, a soldier in the Continental Army, 30 pounds for the support of herself and two small children.”
Based on records of soldiers who served, there was no John O’Harrell and there was only one John Harrold or any similar surname who served from Botetourt County. That would be Mary’s husband John – so it’s likely that the John and Mary mentioned in 1779 are our John and Mary.
We know from John’s service record that he was discharged in June of 1779 after serving for 3 years, so his service began in June of 1776.
If Mary has two small children, we can presume they have been married at least 5 years, so that would mean they were married before 1774. If the two children were born before he left in 1776, then they were likely married by 1771 or so, pushing Mary’s birth year back to about 1750 or slightly thereafter. John is believed to have been born about 1750 based on these same records, so her birth about the same time makes sense.
If this is the case, then Mary has become nearly destitute by March of 1779 and had to rely on the county for money. This may well imply that either her family was not from Botetourt County or they were gone, or destitute as well.
If this is our Mary, we don’t know who these two children are. There is no document that gives us a list of her children, and the ones we do know are based on a variety of circumstances, not the least of which is that John Harrold is the only Harrold male in Wilkes County after he appears there around 1800 – so emerging children of that surname would be his.
We find John Herrald on the 1790 census for Iredell County, NC, but his wife’s age is only given as a hash mark in the “free white females” category. By 1790, they had 3 males under 16, 1 male over 16 (John) and 4 females. Six children means they have been married about 12 years, more or less, so by 1778 or earlier. Given that John was gone for 3 years, followed by another 18 month stint in the army, they were probably married 4 years or so earlier than the 2 years multiplication by child suggests, so by 1774 or so.
Given that John’s discharge in 1779 says he is going home to Botetourt County, we can probably presume that is where they lived before the war, and likely where both families were from.
The challenge is that John’s Y DNA doesn’t match the other Harrold (by any spelling) families in Botetourt County.
So, given that we have all of our proverbial ducks in a row, we know the following:
1750ish – Mary born
1774 – Mary married by this date, possibly as early as 1771, possibly in Botetourt County, VA
June 1776 – Mary’s husband leaves for the War from Botetourt County
March 1779 – Mary obtains assistance from the county for herself and 2 children.
June 1779 – John is discharged after 3 years service and returns home.
1780 – John enlists for a second term in the Revolutionary War in August, leaving Mary at home with 2 small children and probably pregnant for another child.
1782 – John is discharged in February, returning home to Botetourt County just in time for spring planting. Mary must be extremely relieved.
1782 or 1783 – son John Jr. is born in Virginia.
About 1784 – Mary has daughter Sallie.
1785 – John and by inference Mary are on the Iredell County, NC tax list.
About 1785 – Mary has daughter Elizabeth.
About 1785 – Mary has son Alexander.
1790 – Mary and John are living in Iredell County, NC according to the census and have 6 children.
About 1790 – Mary has son William.
About 1790 – Mary has daughter Charlotte.
1794 – Mary and John have probably moved to Wilkes County, because John is mentioned in the court notes regarding a transaction with one Robert Powers involving 75 pounds of indigo. This was not registered in court until 1804, so they might not yet have lived in Wilkes in 1794.
1796 – John files in Wilkes court against one Thomas Adams against whom he obtained an execution order in Iredell County. They do live in Wilkes County by now.
1797-1799 – Mary’s son, John, married about this time.
1800 – Mary and John are enumerated in Wilkes County in the census under the surname Harral.
We know that in 1790, John and Mary have 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, the boys being under 16.
In 1800, their children are reported as:
- 1 male under 10 (William born about 1790)
- 1 male 10-15 (Alexander born about 1785)
- 2 female 16-25 (Charlotte, Elizabeth and/or Sallie)
We show three females in 1790 and I have three daughters listed, but only two are shown here and none are known to have married until after 1800. So, there is a discrepancy.
In 1790, their son, John Jr., is living next door and is listed as age 16-25, putting John’s birth between 1775 and 1784, which is consistent with the information we already have. He has a wife and one female child, suggesting they have been married between 1 and 3 years.
Both John and Mary are over the age of 45, which means they were both born before 1755. Given that Mry’s youngest child, William, was born about 1790, Mary could have been born slightly before 1750. Women often bore their last children at the age of 42 or 43.
1801 – John patents land on Harrold Mountain
1803 – Daughter Elizabeth married Reuben Carter whose land abuts that of John Harrold, at least until Reuben loses his land.
1805 – Mary’s daughter Sallie marries Jessie Turner before 1805 and they leave for Breathit County, KY.
1806 – Mary’s daughter, Charlotte, married Koonrod Dick. They were in Simpson Co., KY before 1825.
1809 – Mary’s son, William and Mary McDowell, daughter of their neighbor, are married by Jacob McGrady, the Baptist preacher.
1810 – Son William departs for Claiborne County, TN. This is likely the last time Mary sees her son, although she lives another 16 years. She probably never meets any of her grandchildren by William.
It must have pained Mary greatly to see her children marrying and leaving Wilkes County, one by one.
1810 – The 1810 census shows John Harrold, with one male living with him, age 16-26, plus his wife. Both John and Mary are shown as over age 45.
1812 – Mary’s son, Alexander marries about this time and shortly thereafter, leaves for Breathit County, KY. This is likely the last time Mary sees Alexander. She likely never sees any of Alexander’s children either.
The 1820 census reflects John and Mary’s age the same way. Now John and Mary are living entirely alone, all of the children gone and married. They are living beside John Herrald Jr. who has 9 people in his family and one slave. These grandchildren, Mary probably sees daily!
John Sr. dies in 1825 and Mary follows in 1826. We know Mary’s name, positively, because of an allowance made to her in January 1826 from John’s estate, which was probated in October of 1825. However, by October 1826, just a year after John’s death, Mary’s estate sale was held – so she died sometime between January and October of 1826.
I hired a historian to retrieve John and Mary’s estate inventory and sale information, both, from the North Carolina archives in Raleigh, with absolutely no luck. I know they existed at one time because they are referenced in the court notes complete with book and page number – however – Wilkes County says they no longer have any of those records and they are at the archives in Raleigh, and Raleigh says they never received those books from Wilkes. And then there are those persistent rumors that the staff decades ago in Wilkes County decided to have a bonfire with the old records that no one would need anymore. This just kills me, because Mary and John’s estate inventory would give us the most personal glimpse of their actual lives that we could get from the vantage point of where we sit today, 190 years removed – unless there is an unknown family journal or Bible hanging around someplace. And I’m not holding my breath for that.
One of my close friends and I were discussing a week or so ago how much our descendants would be able to tell about us personally if they were building the scaffolding of our lives from only public records. She and I concluded that while they would find the “big pieces” so to speak, like birth, marriage, death, children’s births, and moving – they would never know anything about us personally. Meaning what we are like. No one would know that I love color, for example, whether it be in summer flowers or quilts. That I hate to cook, love dark chocolate, and do quite a bit of charity work. They would have no idea of my profession, my career, my education level, my degrees or my political or religious leanings. All of those things that make me uniquely me would be absent. However, if they had an inventory listing from my estate sale, there would at least be clues. I so wish we had Mary’s estate listing.
Mary is credited with saying that when she died, she wanted to be put up on the bluff on top of Harrold Mountain so that she could fly back to sweet old Ireland.
Since she doesn’t have a marker, perhaps they did. Harrold Mountain bluff is shown above.
Mary is likely buried beside John Harrold, her husband, on Harrold Mountain. Furthermore, we know about where that is, and she is either buried under the chicken house with John (above), or she is buried with son John in the Harrold/Brown Cemetery.
Perhaps old John is buried with John Jr. in the same cemetery, shown on the map below on Harrold Mountain.
Given that both sons William and Alexander leave Wilkes County, it makes sense that John Jr. would obtain William’s land upon his death. It looks very much like he did, in part because John is buried on the land Old John owned. So, it’s entirely possible that John Jr. lies in the same cemetery with both of his parents. In that time and place, that’s quite unusual – often generations didn’t stay in the same place long enough for multiple generations to live, grow old and pass on.
I’ve tried to reconcile the census documents with John and Mary’s children, reconstructed from the records we do have:
|Name/Birth||1779||1790 census||1800 census||Other|
|2 children in court record||3 boys under 16, 3 girls||1 m<101 m 10-152 f 16-25|
|Child born before 1779 per court record||Possibly James in 1805 record|
|Child born before 1779 per court record|
|John/1782-83||Age 8||Living next door||Birth year of 1783 on tombstone|
|Alexander/c 1785||Age 5||Age 15||1850 census says he was born in NC in 1785|
|William/c1790||Newborn 1790||Age 10||In 1855 deposition, William says he is 65 years old, in 1850 census, says he is born in NC|
|Elizabeth/c1785||Age 5||Age 15||Married in 1803|
|Charlotte/c1790||Newborn or born after census||Doesn’t work based estimated birth year of 1790 and 1800 census||Married in 1806.|
|Sarah/c1784||6||16||Married before 1805|
Note that a James appears once in an 1805 Wilkes County record, but never appears again. If this James is John’s son, then he would have had to be one of the two oldest children AND living on his own or not in John’s household by 1790. Unlikely, but not impossible
These birth years are all estimates, with the exception of John whose birth year is on his tombstone and in the 1850 census, and William who gives his age in a deposition and in the census as well. Other birth years are estimated by marriage date which is estimated by the age of the oldest child when not available in official records. Long way around, I know.
The bottom line is that Mary and John are one child short in 1800, but for all we know, one of the daughters was living elsewhere.
To the best of my knowledge, no one who descends directly from Mary through all females has yet DNA tested. These people would carry Mary’s mitochondrial DNA.
Mary reportedly had three daughters. However, there is some discrepancy in the 1800 census when only two daughters are shown. Of course, one could have been slightly older, one could have been visiting or living with a relative – we don’t know.
However, if people who descend from either 2 or 3 daughters test, and their mitochondrial DNA which would be descended directly from Mary match each other, then we now they share a common ancestor. There is always the possibility as well that Mary was not John’s only wife. There could have been 2 different Mary’s as well – the one in 1779, assuming that is the right family, and the one who died in 1826. There is no oral history of anything like this, but it’s always a possibility.
Secondly, we could tell a lot about Mary – meaning her haplogroup and where her closest matches are found in the world. In other words, we could probably confirm that Mary was indeed Irish!
If you descend from Mary Harrell through all females to the current generation, where either males or females will work, please let me know. There is a DNA testing scholarship waiting for you!
Mary’s female children are as follows:
1. Sarah or Sallie Herrell, born about 1784 and married Jesse Turner about 1805 in Wilkes County. They moved to Breathit County, KY and had daughters:
- Susannah born about 1806 – nothing more known
- Elizabeth “Mama Bets” born February 1813 and married her first cousin, Thomas T. Herrell. They had daughters Sarah born in 1841, Elizabeth born in 1845, Nancy born about 1846, America born in 1850 and Jemima born in 1852.
2. Charlotte Herrell born about 1790, married in 1806 in Wilkes County, NC to Koonrod Peter Dick. They moved to Simpson County, KY and had daughter Mary Dick. They probably had other children as well, but I have found no records.
3. Elizabeth Herrell born about 1785 married Reuben Carter in 1803 in Wilkes County. They moved on to Maury County TN and then, reportedly, to Crawford County, MO. Nothing is known about their children.