Drury Harrell

Mary Acito
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Drury P. Harrell

Throughout the 1770s settlers (some from North Carolina, some from Pennsylvania, but the majority from Virginia) began to pour into East Tennessee. As the encroachment of white settlers and a series of treaties and land deals with the Indians made more land available for settlement in Tennessee and Kentucky, many of the original setters of East Tennessee moved to Kentucky and to farther west in Tennessee, where the land was more suitable for farming. By the 1780's most of those who remained in East Tennessee were subsistence farmers who knew how to hunt, grow, and build what they needed in the rocky mountains and valleys. They were self-sufficient.

Among those settlers was a Harrell couple, names and origins unknown, who had at least one child: Drury P. Harrell.

There is a story popular among Harrell Researchers that Drury's ancestors came from Scotland to Virginia sometime in the 1700's. The three Harrell brothers are said to have been named John, Drury, and William. As the story goes, Drury remained in Virginia while John and William migrated to North Carolina. John named one of his sons John, and it is this John, Jr. who is purported to be the father of Drury P. Harrell of East Tennessee. This story may be true, all of it or part of it: but I have not been able to find a shred of evidence to support it, so I will continue to call it a story.

What is known for certain is that Drury P. Harrell is the earliest ancestor our Harrell line of whom we can be sure. We know he was born between 1780 and 1790 because the 1830 Census shows him to be 40-49 years old. The census also lists his birthplace as North Carolina, but there are reasons to believe that he actually was born in what is now East Tennessee (it was not until 1789 that North Carolina officially gave the Tennessee-Kentucky are to the U S Government, so E Tennessee would have been known as North Carolia until that time.)

The very earliest references to Drury are to be found in the records of the Big Spring Baptist Church, located in what is now Springdale. They document that Drury spent the winter of 1795-176 assisting the Reverend Tidence Lane in felling the timber, hewing the logs, and constructing the church. The site of this church in Claiborne County is now deemed a historic location, (there is a historical marker at the site which names Drury as one of the builders) celebrated as being one of the first churches built in Tennessee. Although there is evidence of Lane building other churches before this one, the Big Spring church was probably the last church built beore Tennessee became a state on June 1, 1796.

Drury appears not to have been known as "Drew" as some of his later descendants would be. He was born during the height of the Revolutionary War and was still a baby when the war officialy ended in 1783. Nothing more of Drury's childhood is known. We know that he married Mary "Polly" Hopson, probably about 1808. As is the case with Drury, Polly's parents are unknown. It has been speculated that Polly may have been a sister to Harod "Old Hard" Hopson, another early Claiborne Co settler, but there is no evidence to prove it. The 1870 Census lists Polly as 82, which would place her birth at about 1788. The year of Drury and Polly's marriage is estimated from knowing that the first of their eleven children was born no later than 1810.

In the 1810 Census, Drury was listed in the Grainger Co census. With him were a female, age 16-26 (Polly), another female under ten years old (Patsy), and a mystery girl age 10-16, who could not have been Drury and Polly's aughter. He is shown as "Driery Hearl" in that year's census. Tax records of that year show him as "Harrel, Dewry", owner of one hundred acres of land. There were no other Harrells in Grainger Co in that year, per census and tax records.

Presumably Drury moved his family to Claiborne Co shortly after 1810. He does not appear on the 1815 tax list for Grainger Co, and had been appearing as a juror in Tazewell before 1815.

Drury died before cameras were beyond the experimental stage. But if he fit the profile of his descendants, as seems likely, then he was tall and lean, with the angular nose and cheekbones that we have been accustomed to seeing in the men of this Harrell line.

There were other Harrell families who lived near Drury in the early part of the nineteenth century. As far as is known, the Drury Harrell household was the first Harrell family to settle in the Claiborne-Grainger area of East Tennessee. Aside from Drury and Polly, there were three Harrell households: William and Dicy Harrell, who migrated from Orange County, North Carolina; Ezekiel Perry Harrell from North Carolina, and William Harrell from nearby Wythe County, Virginia. There is no clear prof of blood relationships among any of those four families; but there is more than a little circumstantial evidence to weigh heavily in favor of kinship.

In early 1814 the Claiborne Co Court appointed Drury "...overser of the Jinings road from the top of the River Ridge to Tazewell..", Court minutes record that Sheriff Dennis Condry's deputy, Jeremiah Cloud, "...gave Drury Harrel his orders on the 6th of March...". Though minutes don't specify, it is likely that Drury resided on Jennings Road, as Drury was a neighbor of Anderson Jennings. It is also likely that Drury's land was situated either by or near a river, since it is a fact that he owned a boat. The river could havebeen either the Powell River or the Clinch River, most likely the latter.

On March 4, 1815, Drury bought fifty acres of land on the Sweetlick Branch in Claiborne Co from John Casey and Walter Evans. From the description of the boundares of the purchased tract, it appears that this was land which adjoined property which he already owned.

In a January 29, 1828, recorded deed Drury bought ten acres of land from Hiram Hurst, Again it appears that the land bordered property Drury already owned. He paid eighty dollars for the land. Drury sold twenty acres to a William Houston on February 20, 1833, for fifty dollars.

Drury P. Harrell died in 1839, exact date unknown. Drury was in his late fifties. The Claiborne Co Will Book records that Drury died without having left a will. On the first Monday of November, 1839, the county court appointed Drury's son Jacob administrator of Drury's estate. He was ordered to inventory the estate "...and also to render a true and clear account of said administration...".

Drury is buried behind the Springdale Primitive Baptist Church, the site of the Big Spring Primitive Baptist Church which he helped to build. The headstones are, for the most part, so weathered as to be unreadable; there is no grave marker which can be identified as Drury's. There is a commemorative marker - a large one, about six feet tall - which was erected in the 1940s and tells of the construction of the church by Drury and the Rev. Tidence Lane. Drury's date of death on the marker is given as 1840, but we have court documents proving that Drury died before the first Monday in Novembr, 1839.

There is a story that is told about Drury's burial. Most times, anecdotal events cannot be verified; but they do offer color to the telling of events. As this story goes, Drury's family was refused permission to bury him at the Big Springchurchyard because Drury had been excommunicated from the church. It was not uncommn for a church member to be excommunicated from this church; in fact, it appears to have been almost a weekly occurrence that someone would be "cast out" of the church for such sins as dancing or (more usually) speaking ill of other members, and so forth. We don't know what Drury may have done to invoke the displeasure of the congregation.

Supposedly the Harrell family went by night to the churchyard. Some stood watch with their rifles and shotguns i hand while others dug the grave and buried Drury. This could be a true event; certainly there is no element of the story which is so far-fetched as to make it out-of-character with what we know of the people in that tie and place.

Polly lived on for many more years. In the 1840 census, she was still living in the same place, with several of her children still at home (some were quite young). In 1870, census records show her in the household of her son Peter; her age is listed as eighty-two.

Polly's date of death is unknown.
Their children were
1. Martha "Patsy" Harrell (between 1808-1810 TN)
2. Elizabth Harrell (Mar 10, 1811 TN)
3. Gus Harrell (abt 1813 TN)
4. Male Harrell (bet. 1815-1820 TN) (John, William, or Jacob)
5. Male Harrell (bet. 1815-1820 TN) (John, William, or Jacob)
6. Drewry Peter Harrell (abt 1821 TN)
7. Catherine Clarissa/Clarisa Catherine Harrell (abt. 1824 TN)
8. Male Harrell (bet. 1826-1829 TN) John, William, or Jacob)
9. Female Harrell (bet. 1826-1829 TN)
10. Male Harrel (bet. 1830-1835 TN) (maybe Daniel)
11. James E "Dick" Harrell (abt. 1832 TN)
Source: 1830 and 1840 Claiborne Co., TN census, P.G. Fulkerson's Papers, Family oral history.

Notes for Gus Harrell: married Susannah Hicks/Heck, stabbed and killed in Alabama, Claiborne Co., TN married records 9Angusles Herral-Susannah Heck 1841)
Note for Daniel Harrell: married Priscilla Barlow
Write a comment
Galen Beery I admire through and well-written genealogical research such as this.
Sep 03, 2010 · Reply
Crystal King I found this story very interesting because my maiden name is Harrell and I am from north carolina, to be exact Mount Airy, n.c. close to tennessee. My Great grandfather's name was John Harrell and His daughter's name was Polly my grandfather which is her brother was Jesse Harrell. I wonder if there is any relation? If you have any info please email me or reply
Nov 05, 2010 · Reply

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