Unraveling the William Harrells

There were two William Harrells born about the same time in about the same area of Wythe County, Virginia, and they married at about the same time. William (1) was born 1794 and married Elizabeth Hurst 1817 in Wythe County. William (2) was born in about 1797 and married Susannah Florey in 1818, also in Wythe County.

Several years ago, living descendants of William (1) conducted extensive research and—in addition to identifying several generations of descendants—concluded without documented proof that William (1) was the son of earliest known ancestor (EKA) William Harrell Sr.

William (1) moved from Wythe County, Virginia to Claiborne County, Tennessee in about 1833, and between 1850-1860 he moved to Dallas County, Missouri where he died before 1872. DNA from a living descendant of William (1) matched other DNA profiles of living descendants of EKA William Harrell. Those performing this research on William (1) were not aware of the family of John Harrell Sr., son of EKA William Harrell. It was only after EKA William Harrell and his son John Sr. died (1822 and about 1830, respectively) that Wythe County court litigation records revealed the children (heirs) of John Harrell Sr. Unfortunately, these records were not discovered until after the prior research on William (1) had become widely accepted.

In these early Wythe County court records it was learned that John Harrell Sr. also had a son William but there was no additional information other than his name. These records involved litigation by certain members of EKA William’s family against John Harrell Sr. (deceased) and his heirs because John Harrell Sr., as Executor of his father’s estate (along with his brother Reuben Harrell), did not carry out all his fiduciary responsibilities.

Marriage documents were found showing William Harrell (2) being given consent (by parents David and Martha Florey) on September 25, 1818 to marry Susannah Florey – with the marriage bond on September 26, 1818 in Wythe County and John “Hurt” (believed to be John Hurst) as surety. The birth year of this William Harrell (2) was estimated to be 1797, assuming he was about 21 years old when married. The only other record relating to William (2) was found in the book The Lost Children of Wythe County, Virginia 1790-1878; Poor School Children, Orphans and Apprentices From County Records, compiled by Mary B. Kegley, 1995. In this book it was reported that in 1833 Susannah Florey was one of the poor parents with orphan children. Only the mother Susannah was cited which suggested William Harrell was no longer living with Susannah and her children in 1833; William Harrell (2) had either died or left the family and was never found again. At this point, the parents/siblings of William Harrell (2) were not known but DNA from a living descendant of his family showed a DNA match with other descendants of EKA William Harrell Sr. and (his son) John Harrell Sr.

Records show that in about 1827 John Harrell Sr. moved from Wythe County, Virginia to Harrison County, Indiana with all members of his family except for his sons William and John. Son John married Hester Galbreath in Wythe County in 1827 and later settled in Pulaski County (at that time Pulaski was still part of Wythe County), in an area believed to be the same general location where William (2) and Susannah Florey lived.

In early 2015, a significant clue about the parents of this William Harrell (2), spouse Susannah Florey, was discovered when a living descendant of John Harrell Sr. found documents in Harrison County, Indiana related to the settlement of John Harrell Sr.’s estate (he died intestate in about 1830). These documents related to a chancery court suit initiated in Harrison County, Indiana in 1840 by Beverly Hurst against the heirs of John Harrell Sr. about an unfulfilled transfer of property from John Harrell Sr. to Beverly Hurst. Specifically, in return for borrowing $100 from Hurst in February 1829, John Harrell agreed to give Hurst a deed for a certain parcel of land by 1832 and Hurst would pay Harrell $30 plus interest. Unfortunately, John Harrell died before 1832 and Hurst did not get his deed. Hurst waited until 1840 to sue Harrell’s heirs to obtain this property and eventually he prevailed. During this court case, it was revealed that a “William Harrell of Claiborne County, Tennessee” was one of John Harrell Sr.’s 10 heirs. It was known from earlier records in Wythe County that John Harrell Sr. had 10 children; Hurst identified all of them in the 1840 court documents as living heirs, with William Harrell of Claiborne County, Tennessee being one of them. The 1840 court records acknowledged that sons (heirs) William, Landy, James and John were not living in Harrison County (William was in Claiborne County, Tennessee; Landy was in Macon County, Illinois; James was in Monroe County, Indiana; and John was in Pulaski County, Virginia). William Harrell of Claiborne County inherited 1/10th of properties owned by his father John Harrell Sr. and subsequently sold them to his brother Jerome Harrell and James Patterson.

This 1840 court case thus proved that William Harrell of Claiborne County, Tennessee was a son of John Harrell Sr., and a study of Claiborne County census records confirmed that this William Harrell was the person who married Elizabeth Hurst. It is also worth noting that (a) several close relationships between Hursts and John Harrell’s family existed (including intermarriages); and (b) there was a similarity in the names of William’s children and the names of family members of John Harrell Sr. – both of these adding further support to this father-son relationship. After considering all this information, it is believed/proven that William Harrell of Claiborne County, Tennessee, is William (1).

If the father of William (1) is John Harrell Sr., then who is the father of William (2) – the William who married Susannah Florey? By a process of elimination, the only known father with a son William who could have been born about 1797 is EKA William Harrell. The aforementioned DNA match also reinforces this assumed relationship. Thus, in spite of not having solid proof, William Harrell (2) who married Susannah is believed to be the son of EKA William Harrell.


Click here to view the Indentures between William Harrell of Claiborne County, TN and Jerome Harrell and James Patterson, of Harrison County, IN, dated November 27th, 1849.

Copies of the original documents as well as a transcript of the above-mentioned 1840 chancery suit—Beverly Hurst vs William Harrell and Others—is available by request.