THE LETTERS OF HELEN YOAKUM BLACK
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Transcripts and Footnotes by Sara Stevens Patton
Following are transcripts of handwritten copies of two separate letters originally written by Helen Yoakum Black in 1872 and 1873 respectively. These two letters are among the earliest known written family records for the Harness, Stump, Yoakum, and See families. They are often referred to -- especially the 1873 (sometimes cited as the "1878 letter") -- in numerous Harness, Yoakum, and Stump family histories and are probably the basis for many of the names, dates, and locations that appear in various family histories and genealogical reports. The transcripts are presented here in full so that current and future researchers can interpret and analyze the information for themselves. I do not know if either of the original letters have survived nor how closely these copies match the originals.
Apparently several handwritten copies of these letters have been made over the years, with some variations. A copy of the 1872 letter was found in the "Family Ledger of Eliza (Lillie) McNeill Williams Cunningham", pp.254-257. Mrs. Cunningham used the symbols +++++ to mean illegible writing and ----- to indicate unknowns. The ledger is currently the property of her four Williams great-grandchildren, all natives of Hardy Co. I'd especially like to thank George M. Williams, who shared his great-grandmother's ledger with me.
A copy of the second letter probably written in 1873 but dated by the copyist as "1878", appears in the R. B. Woodworth Notebooks on file in the Moorefield, WV, Public Library. George Williams has seen another copy of this same letter which is clearly dated "1873." It appears that the 1878 date has been misread and should have been "1873" as Mrs. Black's death date is listed as August of 1873. To avoid further confusion, I refer to this letter with both dates: 1873/1878.
Because both the 1872 and 1873/1878 letters are handwritten copies of the original, it is sometimes difficult to tell if the comments in parentheses were added by the author or later by the copyist. The bracketed information and footnotes I have added. Otherwise the spelling and punctuation (or lack of!) are kept as they appear in the copies. It is important to remember that Mrs. Black was 75 and 76 years old when she wrote these letters. As with all oral tradition, the reader should use the information below as clues for further research rather than absolute fact.
Helen Yoakum Black was the daughter of Michael Yoakum and Elizabeth Stump. Various family histories give her birth date as Nov. 15, 1797 and her death date Aug. 1, 1873. She was married to E. E. Black. Her grandmother, Elizabeth Harness Yoakum, and her great-grandmother, Barbara Rebecca Harness See, were sisters.
October 29, 1872
Written by Helen Black for America Ann Anderson
Michael Harness and Elizabeth Zephebe1 were born and married in Pennsylvania2. They moved to Va. Hardy Co on the South Branch of the Potomac, about four miles above3 what is now Moorefield, the county seat of Hardy Co. They cut their road and traveled by a pocket compass. It was a grant that Lord Fairfax had from the King of England. The summer before the citizens of Penna. sent four men4 to look at the country. There never was a white man there before. Great grand father Philip Powall [sic] Yoakum and great grandfather Michael Stump, ditto Michael C.5 and others shortly followed.
Grand father Harness raised 18 children6, men and women grown, nine sons and four daughters. Jacob died suddenly from being bled. Leonard married a Ta----7 and went to Illinois. Peter married and went to Ohio8. He was lame. John married Eunice Petty. George married Elizabeth Yoakum9. Jacob 2nd10 married Eunice Petty a niece of Uncle John's wife11. Adam was killed by the Indians and left a daughter12. She married Mr. Dukker. Michael was killed by the Indians and left Michael and Elizabeth13. Elizabeth married Mr. Robinson. Conrad and his wife and child all killed at one time by the Indians. All three were tomahawked and scalped: and found and carried to the Fort, and died in their mothers presence14.
Elizabeth the eldest daughter of Michael Zephebe Harness married Philip Powell Yoakum. Barbara married Michael C. ["See" inserted in different handwriting.]15 Crat married Andrew Trumbo.16 Dolly married Samuel Hornback. These last two moved to Kentucky. Michael See and his son George and a black man were all killed in his meadow while making hay. ["by lightning" inserted in different handwriting.] 17
Great grand mother Harness18 descended from the royal blood of Europe. Her daughter, Elizabeth Harness was eleven years when she left her fathers wagons on Capon Mt. and with tomahawk, spunk and steel in hand cut a road down to the river and had a fire made ready to cook when the men, wagons and stock arrived. Consequently she had the honor of being the first white woman that set foot on that lovely soil. She always wore Irish linen chemises and silk handkerchiefs. They were pioneers, but rich and knew no one and accidentally hit that land where milk and honey flowed. She had a portion left her by a rich uncle in Pennsylvania, but accept it she married P. P. Yoakum. She raised eight children five sons and three daughters. Elizabeth, John, Jacob, George, Catherine, Philip Powell and Michael19 and Elizabeth married ["Jas." inserted in different handwriting] Renick he died and she and her three children went to Kentucky. ++++ 20 married Madaline Neff. Jacob married ------21 . George married Catherine Har 22 Jacob Star 23 went to Kentucky. Catherine married Jonathan Purcell 24 and went to the Wabash and got very rich. Philip Powell married Elizabeth Mace. Michael married Elizabeth Stump 25 and raised eight children. Helen, Riley, Mortimer, Alfred, Palina, America Ann, Catherine, Adam Stump and Christopher Columbus. America and Mortimer died single six days apart. Palina married Cuthwith Stump and raised seven children, Mortimer, Adam, Leonard, Cuthwith, America 26, Elvira, Vivana. They all lived in Oragon[sic], Fishers Landing. Alfred was killed by bushwhackers. His children John, Michael, George, Denes, Henry and one girl Prue. They lived in Grant Co. W. Va. Michael and his father both killed on one place by the bushwhackers. Riley lived near Kansas City. He has five children. Missouri + Jacob, Elizabeth Riley, that is my last account ++++ is thought by some I came here to +++++ it is a grand mistake-------children which has ++++++. I have ++ hundred and twenty dollars, and was also amongst good people. They did not want me to come. They were no relations of mine, and that was the beauty of it. The interest of it would with very little labor have supported me. I could have taken the Widow's Home or I could have gone to some of my rich relations, that is people and live easy.
Now I am going to speak of the Stump family. ["1739" inserted in other handwriting.] Michael Stump was married to Catherine Neff in Penn. and moved to Hardy Co. Virginia. They raised six children three sons and three daughters. Michael married Sarah Carr 27 (poor) George married Elizabeth Wilson 28 (rich) Leonard married Catherine See (rich) Catherine married Michael Brake 29 (rich) Elizabeth married David Welton 30 (rich) Madeline [married] Solomon Welton 31 (rich) David Welton's daughter Rebecca was almost too pretty, and proud and gentle to walk on the earth.
Now I am going to speak of the Yoakum family. Philip Powell Yoakum was born and married in Europe. He and his wife were both Dutch. On coming to America his wife died at sea. She left him two children. Philip Powell and Felty. He came to Hardy Co and purchased some valuable land on the Potomac and married an Irish girl, then moved to Roanoke and raised a large family.32 He left large possessions and died under the old English law without a will. Philip Powell Yoakum his eldest son who was my grandfather Yoakum was the lawful heir to all he left; but would not have a dollar of it. I have often heard him say "Why would I take when I have plenty" His brother Felty married a Miss Van Bibber 33 in Greenbriar[sic] and was the first man killed in the Indian massacre.34 He was rich and when the Indians came he rolled out a barrel of liquor and killed a bullock. It was by his marriage we became connected with the great Boone family.
I saw John Yoakum one of my grandfather's half brothers who came from Kentucky to see grandfather and his other relatives. I saw him count out to Mother on a chest, eighteen Spanish dollars for that I-owel coverlet -that Columbus got and asked her how much more it would take, she answered, "Money would not buy it".
I will now speak of the purest person that ever came under my notice, or at least with whom I was ever acquainted. Philip Powell Yoakum, my beloved grand father. My father lived in the home of his parents until they died. Grandmother (Elizabeth Harness Yoakum) was seventy seven years old when she died.35 She dropped dead well and hearty and never drew a breath. I saw her drop. I was seven years old but the impression it made is as bright today as it was then. Oh! how I loved her and what a pleasure I in thinking over her good counsel. Grand father was ninety odd when he died. He lay sick for forty days. I have often heard him say " If the Lord was only willing". He laid down at a certain time, and arose at a certain time. He said his prayers evening and morning, and always said grace at his table. He was never known to say a word that I would not like to carry to my dying day. He never had a law-suit, he never had a dispute with mortal man. Both of my grand fathers were hunters but only with their rifles at a leisure time. He never owed a cent in his life. He was very ingenious and very industrious, and had plenty, and lived in the best had all the attention the world could afford. He was tall neat and slender, and walked to the last as straight and as light as a cat. His eyesight was strong and bright to the last. His memory was bright to the last also. There were no signs of childishness, and few such people ever lived or died. I never shall forget when death struck him. He asked, "Where is Michael?" I ran for him (my father) and he looked him in the face, locked his hands across his heart and straightened himself out and departed. Oh! this the horror of my mind. I followed my four grandparents to the grave and how I loved them and love them still. I love the turf that wraps the clay.
Now I am going to speak of Mothers family Leonard Stump married Catherine See.36 They raised seven daughters and one son . Elizabeth married Michael Yoakum my father of Hardy County. Mary Ann married Jonathan Hutton of Tygart's Valley. Catherine Stump married Solomon Harness and went to Wood County. Hannah Stump married William Dyer of Pendleton County. Christine Stump married Nathaniel Pearl went to Pickaway. Ann Stump married Thomas Bonet. Dorothy married William Ray and went to Zanesville, Ohio. Adam Stump married Polly Parsons the belle of Hampshire Co., and by her got at least thirty thousand dollars. Jonathan Hutton was very rich. William Dyer was rich. Solomon Harness was rich Nathan Pearl 37 got very rich. William Ray got very rich Ann was left a widow and remained so. Her father left her rich. Michael Yoakum got very rich.
Written by Mrs Dr. Black Oct 29." 1872
Copied by Lillie M. Cunningham, Mar 16" 1926
Transcript of a copy of a letter from Mrs. Helen Black to Mr. Jesse Cunningham found in R.B. Woodworth Notebooks on file in Moorefield Public Library.
Honey Grove, Fannin County Texas May 30 1878 [should read 1873]
Mr. Jesse Cunningham- Dear Sir:
I have drawn a short sketch of those from whom you sprang and herewith enclose it to you. My unfortunate situation has put it out of my power to do for you what I intended doing. I wrote my agent in Moorefield (WVa.) to satisfy all claims you hold against me, provided he was ever so fortunate as to collect anything for me. I could write you a quire of paper if I would consult my own inclination, but don't know that you would appreciate it now, but you would this short sketch. Michael Harness was married to Elizabeth Jephebe in Pennsylvania (both born there) what her mother's maiden name was I have forgotten, but had descended from the Royal blood of Europe, they were of Dutch 38 descent.
Lord Fairfax had a grant from the King of England (his son Lord Fairfax was a woman hater) he made it known among the people of Pa., that all who would go to the South Branch of the Potomac River and there settle and make a tomahawk mark around what land they wanted and the terms were almost nothing and as well as my memory serves me it was at the end of 99 years they were to pay ½ ct per acre 39. The Dutch selected from among them four reliable men to go and look at the country and Lord Fairfax gave the latitude and longitude boundaries and they traveled by a pocket compass. On the return of these men they reported so favorable about the country that Michael Harness started in the next spring time enough to plant a crop, (to this Fairfax Winchester was the nearest town) and Philip Powell Yookum was called to Winchester to report his knowledge of the river and he stated the S.B.[South Branch of the] Potomac was the name given by the Indians on reaching this country and the name was established 40
Elizabeth Harness a daughter of Michael Harness at the age of eleven years left the wagons and with spunk steel and tomahawk in hand led the way from Capon Mt. and clearing the road so the wagon could pass went to the S.B. River built a fire had it in readiness where the men got there, consequently, you will see that the said Elizabeth was the first white woman that trod this glorious soil of the South Branch Potomac, a country of which all have been so proud.
Michael Harness raised 13 children to be men and women grown, 9 sons and 4 daughters. Elizabeth was the oldest daughter, married P.P. Yookum. Rebecca 41 married Michael See, Crate Harness married Andy Trumbo and went to
Kentucky. Dolly H. married Samuel Hornback, also went to KY. John Harness the first child married Elizabeth Yookum, Adam do not remember, Leonard a Hatch and went to Ill. Peter married Susan ______ and went to Ohio, Conrad married Molly M. Jacob married Miss Pettie the niece of your great grandmother Harness. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Roarabor,42 Michael Adam and Conrad were killed and scalped by the Indians and carried to the Fort 43. They died in the presence of their mother but not in the same year. Conrad's wife and child were killed at the same time and their remains were found 3 years to a day by a mulatto woman and her gold purse, clasp and scissors chain, the silk rotted from the purse and the money gone.
Your great grandfather Harness 44 raised 10 children, 5 sons and 5 daughters. Jemima married Wm Cunningham (your grand parents) Elizabeth married Michael Welton, and went to Mo. Rebecca married John Cunningham, Hannah married Henry Hull, Sallie married Isaac Cunningham and went to Ky. The two last women were twins. George Harness married Rebecca Casey and lived in Moorefield. Joseph married Rebecca Williams and went to Ohio. Adam married Elizabeth Baker and lived where Jesse Fisher now lived. Solomon married Catherine Saps.45 John married Hannah Inskeep, and lived at the mouth of the S.B. on the Maryland side of the Potomac.
My father and mother were second cousins.46 Barbara (or Rebecca) See was my mother's grand mother, consequently I have two great grand mothers who were Harnesses. Elizabeth Yookum was eleven years old when she came to this country and died at 77 I was 7 years of age at the time of her death and I was born in 97.
Elizabeth Jephebe was related to Wm Penn. I have now given you the particulars as nearly as I can recollect hoping it will be satisfactory to you.
Remain yours etc.
The following comment followed the above letter in Mr. Woodworth's notes.
A true and exact copy from an old copy sent to Miss Mary M. Williams by Mrs. Ernest Crummell. Another abstract (made Jan 27 1902 by Mrs. I.H.H.R. from a copy by John Cunningham) sent "Mrs. A.M. Stubblefield Augusta 7 1905 by Mrs. Irene H. Harness Roger concludes: -- My father and mother old Capt. Mike Yocum and wife who was a Miss Betsy Stump were second cousins. Barbara See was my mother's grandmother, consequently I have two great grandmothers who were Harnesses. Elizabeth Yocum was 11 years old when she came to this country and died at 77 in 1804, I was 7 years of age at the time. I was born in 1797 so Elizabeth Harness must have been born in 1727 and came here in 1738. Elizabeth Jesschape [sic] wife of Michael Harness Sr. was related to Wm Penn.' Which conclusion beyond question is editorial conflation as regards additional words. R.B. Woodworth 7/9/1933."
Another handwritten copy of this same 1873/1878 letter, with some variations, appears on p. 273 in the "Family Ledger of Eliza (Lillie) McNeill Williams Cunningham", dated April 1926. Following the letter, Mrs. Cunningham added this note:
"The writer of the above letter was born and raised on what was recently the Shearer farm which is about 3/4 of a mile below Jesse Fisher's on the same side of the river, and about 8? miles from Moorefield. The said Jesse Fisher remembers Mrs. Helen Yoakum Black very well. Also her husband and her father as well as some other members of the family. Mrs. Helen Black was 81 years of age when she wrote this letter. Mrs. B. P. Fisher, Edgewater, W.Va., Jan 8, 1902."
Notes: 2. Michael Ernst (Harness) and George Zeh are listed on
land records in the Tulpehocken region in Berks Co, PA in the 1730s. Many
Harness researchers disagree that Michael Harness and Elizabeth Tevebaugh were
both born and married in PA.
3. "Above" means up river, which in this case is south of
4. Black does not name these four men here though later
genealogists assume they are the names that follow Philip Powell Yoakum, Michael
Stump, Michael C. (See), and Michael Harness. Note that Black says these four
and others followed shortly after so we don't know names of four "scouts."
Mathias Yoakum, Michael Harness, several Kuykendalls, a Westfall and Hornback
are first listed on a 1742 Orange Co. South Branch Road Petition. Sees and
Stumps are not listed. On the other hand, there is a See family tradition
including a ghost story! claiming that Frederick See was one of the early
5. Probably referring to Michael See see footnote 15.
6. This is probably a transcription error that should read
"13" 9 boys and 4 girls adds up to 13 not 18. The 1873/1878 letter reads "13".
7. In her 1873/1878 letter, Mrs. Black states "Leonard
married a Hatch and went to Illinois." Most Harness family histories list wife
as Rachael Catherine Heath, though some list Elizabeth Yoakum. Hatch could be
transcription error for Heath.
8. In the 1873/1878 letter, Mrs. Black gives first name as
"Susan." Harness histories list wife as Susan Vause.
1. AKA Jephebe, Tevebaugh, Diffenbach. Spelling varies in Mrs. Black's letters and may have been phonetic. Yoakum is also spelled in a variety of ways.
2. Michael Ernst (Harness) and George Zeh are listed on land records in the Tulpehocken region in Berks Co, PA in the 1730s. Many Harness researchers disagree that Michael Harness and Elizabeth Tevebaugh were both born and married in PA.
3. "Above" means up river, which in this case is south of Moorefield.
4. Black does not name these four men here though later genealogists assume they are the names that follow Philip Powell Yoakum, Michael Stump, Michael C. (See), and Michael Harness. Note that Black says these four and others followed shortly after so we don't know names of four "scouts." Mathias Yoakum, Michael Harness, several Kuykendalls, a Westfall and Hornback are first listed on a 1742 Orange Co. South Branch Road Petition. Sees and Stumps are not listed. On the other hand, there is a See family tradition including a ghost story! claiming that Frederick See was one of the early scouts.
5. Probably referring to Michael See see footnote 15.
6. This is probably a transcription error that should read "13" 9 boys and 4 girls adds up to 13 not 18. The 1873/1878 letter reads "13".
7. In her 1873/1878 letter, Mrs. Black states "Leonard married a Hatch and went to Illinois." Most Harness family histories list wife as Rachael Catherine Heath, though some list Elizabeth Yoakum. Hatch could be transcription error for Heath.
8. In the 1873/1878 letter, Mrs. Black gives first name as "Susan." Harness histories list wife as Susan Vause.
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