Category: History

Veterans in the Harris Family

Happy Veterans Day! Today is a national holiday dedicated to thanking all those who have served our country, both in times of peace and in times of war. We are grateful for the men and women who have sacrificed and are currently sacrificing so much to protect us.

This includes members of Joel Chandler Harris’s family.

A number of Harris family members served in the military during their lifetime. Their family tree includes veterans of both WWI and WWII as well as veterans of the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. Some were related by marriage while others were his direct descendants.

Harris’s second eldest son, Lucien, had a family line that was seems to have been particularly active in the armed services. Of his three sons, two became Navy fliers during WWI: Andrew Stewart (“Stewart”) and Joel Chandler Harris III (“Chandler”). In fact, while conducting our research for the Interactive Harris Family Tree, we were fortunate enough to discover both of their service cards (pictured above) via Ancestry.com.

Continuing this family trend, Lucien Jr. (the third of Lucien’s sons) had two sons who went on to join the military. The first, Lucien III, followed in his uncles’ footsteps and also joined the Navy Aviation unit, becoming a cadet at the Citadel in South Carolina when he was 19 years old. Lucien III also paid tribute to his family’s history by taking his oath of allegiance on December 9, 1942 – his great-grandfather’s birthday (pictured to the left in an article from The Atlanta Constitution acquired via Newspapers.com).

Lucien III’s brother, James Robin Harris also served. J. Robin Harris, a former state legislator for Georgia, was a WWII veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received four battle stars as well as a combat infantry badge for his service.

We spend a lot of time at The Wren’s Nest focusing on Joel Chandler Harris’s contributions. Specifically to history, culture, and literature. However, we are glad to be reminded during this research of his family’s other contributions. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the Harris family members who were/are veterans or of their accomplishments both in and out of the military. We salute their efforts to keep our country safe, even during historic conflicts like WWI and WWII.

And we thank all the veterans for their service.

Social Media in the 20th Century

Back in June, The Wren’s Nest launched the first phase of an interactive version of the Harris family tree. The second phase came at the end of July/early August and with it, my discovery of just how awesome Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris, was. The third phase of the Harris family tree interactive is now available and includes labels for 22 of the family’s members.

This was nearly double the number of labels from the previous two phases. In addition to the generous help of Harris’s descendants (Linda Harris and Annette Shakespeare), I quickly found myself up to my eyeballs in obituaries and wedding announcements – courtesy of memberships to Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com – trying to find out everything I could about each person. I also discovered something about 20th-century newspapers that I didn’t know was a trend:

“Social Items” and “Personals.”

Now, when I hear the term “personals,” I think about personal ads. The advertisements that were like a cross between Craiglist postings and online dating profiles. Basically, a place in the newspaper in which you either try to sell something or try to find a partner.

It also makes me think about the song, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”

But that’s not what these Personals and Social Items contained. Instead, I found announcements like these:

“Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rowsey, who have been residing at the Biltmore hotel, have returned to their home, The Brier [sic.] Patch, on Old Plantation road, for residence.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Joel Chandler Harris III will move to Montgomery, Ala., October 1, where they will make their future home.”

“Miss Burdeene Blechele, of Canton, O., and Misses Gretchen and Brownie Miller, of Lexington, KY, are visiting Misses Lillian and Mildred Harris.”

And there were plenty more examples over the course of many decades (you may notice these examples are from 1943, 1928, and 1900), mostly alerting readers to people’s movements or travels.

It seemed oddly familiar to me and for a little while I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me:

These are basically like modern day social media status updates. But in print media.

Evidently, people used to share when they were going on a trip, moving to a new city, or newly engaged in the newspaper the way we share the same news now on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.

I suspect that in sharing this “revelation,” my millennial age is showing. In retrospect, it almost feels silly that I didn’t know this existed or even considered how this type of information was shared before online social media or widespread phone use. But I guess I assumed it was done in a more intimate way; through personal letters or phone calls to specific people. Not as public announcements that anyone reading the newspaper could read.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Underrated Julia Collier Harris

Earlier this summer, we launched the first phase of a new digital educational tool: an interactive version of the Harris family tree. We decided to launch the tool in phases in large part because … well, there are a lot of members of this family! And as I continue to research each family member — diving deep into Ancestry.com and old newspapers as well as personal records and stories from living descendants — I’m impressed with their accomplishments and amused by their unique attributes and interests. 

No one has impressed me more than Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris. So, I feel compelled to let everyone know how incredible she was.

Julia Florida Collier was the daughter of Susie and Charles Collier (a one-time Atlanta mayor), born in the city in 1875. After attending boarding school in Boston, Julia graduated from Washington Seminary in Atlanta. In secondary school, she began studying illustration under Henry Sandham, a Canadian painter and illustrator and charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She continued her education at the Cowles Art School and the University of Chicago. 

Unfortunately, her career pursuits were cut short when her mother suddenly became ill and she had to return home to Atlanta to care for her six younger siblings. In 1896, she and Julian Harris — Joel Chandler Harris’s oldest son and a budding journalist — became engaged, but the wedding was postponed after Julia’s mother’s health took a turn for the worse and she died. The two were “quietly married” the following October. Because Julia was still caring for her siblings, Julian moved into her childhood home, assisting his wife in the caretaking of the younger Colliers. 

Julia and Julian were a formidable couple, eventually co-owning a newspaper and sharing a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (more on that later). What I love is that the foundation of their relationship was so sweet. The two were so in love that in his letters, Joel Chandler Harris teasingly nicknamed the two “Lovey” and “Dovey.” In a biography she wrote about her father-in-law, Julia remembered how he, “could not resist teasing us a little on the subject of lover’s raptures, yet it was always done with so much geniality that we had no doubt of his sympathy and understanding.” 

Julia Collier Harris and her younger son Pierre

Julia’s father died in 1900, the beginning of a stretch of tragedies that would affect her throughout her life. Two years later, when they decided the Collier house was too big to maintain, she and Julian moved into a new house down the road from The Wren’s Nest. In addition to the couple, their household consisted of two of Julia’s sisters, one of her brothers, and the couple’s two young sons: Charles and Pierre. Julia later recalled that the two years immediately after they moved in, “were the happiest years of all — tranquil and secure — a golden interlude in life before sorrow took possession of us.”

Between December 1903 and April 1904, Julia and Julian lost both their sons. Their deaths came a mere four months apart. Both children were under five. When writing her father-in-law’s biography nearly fifteen years later, she said, “Even after the lapse of so many years, to recur to such losses is anguish.”

Unsurprisingly, the multiple losses so close together took their toll on Julia. She suffered from bouts of grief and depression, or as Joel Chandler Harris described it, “nervous collapse.” It affected her health so much that she took periodic rest cures in various sanitariums in the years after her children’s deaths. She recovered her health after a few years but still had relapses throughout her life.

One reason I love Julia Collier Harris is that she suffered these devastating losses that could have left her flattened, but she didn’t let them. 

Instead, in 1907, she began her journalism career. She started contributing articles to Uncle Remus Magazine, a publication that Julian and his father started and produced out of The Wren’s Nest. When the magazine folded in 1913, Julian and Julia continued their journalism pursuits. He would move from paper to paper and she would go with him, contributing articles and columns for the same papers, including the New York Herald and the Paris Herald. In fact, Julia was one of only two female reporters to cover the Treaty of Versailles. 

In 1922, the journalism power couple purchased the Columbus Enquirer-Sun in Georgia. And I do mean the couple. Julia was a co-owner, an associate editor, and the vice president of the paper! The newspaper became famous for its editorials (particularly Julia’s) that pushed for Progressive reforms in the South on issues like literacy, racial justice, and evolution (Julia and Julian even covered the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925). It was at this paper that the two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for the “service which it rendered in its brave and energetic fight against the Ku Klux Klan; against the enactment of a law barring the teaching of evolution; against dishonest and incompetent public officials and for justice to the Negro and against lynching.” 

Julian and Julia Harris, 1950s

Julia was largely responsible for the award because, by his own admission, she was a better writer than her husband and it was her editorials that garnered notice. In accepting the prize, Julian said, “Associated with me in the ownership and editorial management, is my wife Julia Collier Harris. … She is a trained newspaper woman, and as fearless as she is intelligent, unyielding in the face of injustice of any kind, and a constant inspiration.” Again, reaffirming for me that these two were definitely “couple goals.” 

As if all this wasn’t enough, Julia also wrote three books. The first was called The Foundling Prince and was a collection of Romanian folktales. She also wrote two biographies of Joel Chandler Harris (The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris and Joel Chandler Harris: Editor and Essayist) that we’re still referencing today (including for this blog post) to find out about the more personal aspects of the author’s life.

Julia retired from journalism in 1936 when another bout of depression was serious enough that her doctor advised her to stop working. However, she continued to meet with, advise, and encourage young writers until she died in 1967. 

She was (rightfully!) inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement’s Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2019. 

It feels like sacrilege to say, but given all she accomplished in an era when it was still uncommon for women have a career let alone be so career-focused and in spite of repeated personal traumas that caused her to suffer from a poorly understood mental disorder, I think she is actually more impressive than Joel Chandler Harris himself. And in case it isn’t clear from this post, I definitely think we should be talking about her more!

Joel Chandler Harris’s (Printer’s) Devil-ish Origins

Joel Chandler Harris is remembered as a bestselling author in the 19th-century with his popular Uncle Remus books. But Harris’s professional beginnings are much less glamorous. He got his first job when he was fourteen years old, working for a local Eatonton newspaper called The Countryman as a printer’s devil.

Any chance you found yourself thinking, “Wait… a what? What the heck is a printer’s devil?” 

I know I certainly did the first time I heard the term.

The official definition of a “printer’s devil” is: “a person, typically a young boy, serving at or below the level of apprentice in a printing establishment.” 

Turner Plantation Homestead

Joel Chandler Harris was an apprentice for Joseph Addison Turner. In 1862, Turner decided to produce a newspaper from his home at Turnwold Plantation. (In fact, in a-more-than-semi-autobiographical book Harris wrote called, On the Plantation, he explains that the printing office for The Countryman was established “in an outhouse.”) A young Harris was fortunate enough to come across Turner’s advertisement seeking help for his paper:

“WANTED – An active, intelligent white boy, fourteen or fifteen years of age, is wanted at this office to learn the printing business.” – March 4, 1862, The Countryman

A 19th-century type tray.

As was the typical arrangement for the time, Harris worked for Turner in exchange for clothing and boarding at the Turnwold Plantation for the four plus years he apprenticed there. As a printer’s devil, Harris was responsible for setting and inking the type for the paper on the hand-press, individually placing the letters so they were spaced appropriately for printing. A far more tedious and intense process than typing this blog post on my computer right now and substantially harder than pressing Ctrl + P to have a paper copy for distribution. But Harris quickly learned the trade and eventually even started contributing content to the paper.

However, he wouldn’t be the prankster we love if he didn’t do it somewhat sneakily. He said later in life that:

“While setting type for the ‘Countryman’ I contributed surreptitiously to the columns of that paper, setting my articles from the ‘case’ instead of committing them to paper, thus leaving no evidence of authorship. I supposed that this was a huge joke; but as Mr. Turner read the proof of every line that went into his paper, it is probable that he understood the situation and abetted it.”

Now if you’re like me, you probably thought: “OK, but why the heck was the position called ‘printer’s devil’?”

It appears there’s no real consensus about the origin of the term. Most commonly, it is believed that it refers to the fact that the apprentices would often end up covered in ink while they worked – and when the printing press was first invented, the color black was associated with the devil. 

However, this is by far my least favorite of the theories I encountered in my research.

A popular theory I found is that the term has its origins in printing’s early association with magic. When they first hit the market, the consistency of printed materials in comparison to handwritten ones was seen as so extraordinary, it had to be witchcraft or black magic. Thus, the young boys working on the printing press were little devils, practicing the dark arts.

Titivillus haunting a 13th-century Scribe.

Alternatively, another theory posits that a devil haunted every printing press, ready to invert letters, misspell words, or drop a line or paragraph completely whenever the printer’s back was turned. The devil even has a name: Titivillus. Titivillus’s origins predate the printing press as the “patron demon of scribes,” responsible for errors in their handwritten transcriptions. Basically, he was a 13th-century version of autocorrect in a text message. A less flattering expansion of this theory is that the apprentice’s were called “the printer’s devil” because they were the source of the mistakes.

In some theories, a specific person is called out as the origin of the term. In one instance, it’s the assistant to William Caxton, England’s first printer and book publisher. In another, it’s Gutenberg’s business partner, John Fust, who sold several copies of the printed Bible to Louis XI and his court, but passed them off as handwritten. When people noticed the letters were identical, Fust was accused of witchcraft and imprisoned. 

I’m not sure which of these is the true source, but in some ways, I prefer all the stories to a real answer. 

Regardless of the term’s origins, “printer’s devil” will forever be an integral part of Joel Chandler Harris’s origins.

The Other Family at The Wren’s Nest

Today, we wanted to highlight the African-American people who worked at The Wren’s Nest when the Harris family lived here. 

Our primary resource for information about them were the letters preserved in Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law’s biography of him, The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris. In that biography, she says:

“I mention the servants thus specifically because they played their part in the family life with a certain vividness, and became attached to the fortunes of the family in a way which is rare nowadays; also because they figure in many of the character sketches and are frequently mentioned by name in father’s letters.” 

However, as is the case for most African-American domestic laborers during this time period, the information about the workers at the Nest is spotty at best. The references in Harris’s letters are mostly offhand recounting of the happenings around the home and frequently are a strange mix of familiarity and distance; distinct depictions of individuals and propagations of common stereotypes of the time. 

Harris’s letters are only partial portraits of the Henderson Family. However, they play a crucial role in understanding the day-to-day life at The Wren’s Nest. 

Here is what we know:

Chloe Henderson was a domestic worker at The Wren’s Nest, traveling approximately two to three miles twice a day from her home near the Philadelphia Baptist Church in the Cascade Road neighborhood. She was the mother of 12 children and her children often came with her to The Wren’s Nest, working around the house or in the yard. In her biography, The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris, Julia Collier Harris (Harris’s daughter-in-law), described Chloe as having a “very religious” “old soul” with an “unctuous humor, vivid speech and downright ways.” There are two known photographs of Chloe, most likely because it is believed she was an inspiration for one of Harris’s other famous characters, Aunt Minervy Ann.

Walking directions from Philadelphia Baptist Church near the Hendersons’ home to The Wren’s Nest.

Mattie Henderson was Chloe and Mandy Henderson’s sister. Like Chloe, she also worked for the Harris family. She was a nurse for them. Mattie left the Nest sometime before April 25, 1896.

Mandy Henderson was Mattie and Chloe’s sister and the primary cook at The Wren’s Nest. Of the three Henderson sisters, she is mentioned the least often. Celie (see below) replaced her as cook by 1890.

Rufus Henderson was also a domestic worker at The Wren’s Nest. He cared for the animals on the farm, including the chickens, the goats, and the donkey. Our research leads up to believe he was related to Chloe, however, it is unclear exactly what the familial relationship was. Rufus’s relationship with the Harris family seems to have been the most contentious as he left the Nest in January 1899 after a “dispute” with Mrs. Harris. 

Lizzie Henderson was likely one of Chloe’s daughters, but it is never explicitly stated. She frequently worked alongside Chloe, cooking in the kitchen and/or cleaning the house.

Ed Henderson is mentioned only once in Harris’s letters (April 25, 1896) and is described as part of Chloe’s family. He was likely one of her sons.

 Johnson Henderson was likely one of Chloe’s sons. He also worked at The Wren’s Nest. 

John is only mentioned once in Harris’s letters. He worked alongside Chloe, Johnson, Lizzie, Rufus, Banks, and Caroline during the spring cleaning at the Nest in April 1898.

Banks was the long-time gardener at The Wren’s Nest. He was married, we think to Caroline, and had a family although no children or other family members are ever mentioned by name. 

Caroline was likely Banks’s wife. She is also only mentioned once in Harris’s letters when she worked during the spring cleaning at the Nest in April 1898. 

Celie cooked for the Harris family after 1890. In her biography, Julia Collier Harris describes as “very pious” and tells how she named one of her children “Ananias” after the prophet. 

As we continue to research the diverse community that was the West End in at the turn of the century, we hope to uncover more about the Henderson Family and other African American families that lived and worked around The Wren’s Nest neighborhood and whose lives and stories are vital to understanding a well-rounded and comprehensive history of our historic site.

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