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A man of color’s death leads to family’s economic upheaval

This photo of the Marion County infirmary was taken during the early 1900s. Two brothers, Joshua and Clabe Harris, were patients here in 1935, and died three months apart.


In 1870, Clark Harris was living on the outskirts of Hannibal, Mo., supporting his wife, Martha Allen Harris, and their young family by working as a laborer – a typical occupation for a 40-year-old man of color.

Living nearby in this ethically blended neighborhood were Benjamin Kaley, a 64-year-old machinist born in Switzerland, and his wife, Mary, in addition to their three children, Adaline, William and Eddie.

Another neighbor was John Young, born in Germany, and his wife, Sarah.

While the Harris family was poor, the family was intact. That wouldn’t be the case a decade later, following the death of Clark Harris.


Clark Harris, 40, born about 1830, Mason, Marion, Missouri Laborer

Martha Harris 42, born 1828 in Kentucky

George Harris 9, 1861

Clark Harris 8, 1862

Josh Harris 4, 1866

Belle Harris, 3, 1867

Billy Harris 3, 1867

Anson Harris 2, 1868

Frank Harris baby, 1869

Family without a father

The start of 1880 found Clark Harris reclaimed by his Lord, and his family scattered across the Marion County.

Martha Allen Harris, by now 40 years old, was a house servant for the family of James William and Annie Whaley, who made their home at Wither’s Station in Miller Township. Also living and working for the Whaleys were Asa C. Harris, 24, a farm laborer, and young Isabell Harris, 7, who worked as a servant and nurse for the Whaley’s young children, who were Isabell’s own age and younger.

Martha Harris’ son Joshua Harris, who was 20 in 1880, and his young brother, Frank Harris, 8, were living on the John and Sallie Turner farm in Miller Township, Marion County, Mo. In 1880, the Turners had a 2-year-old son, Charles. Joshua Harris was a farm laborer, and young Frank was a hired hand, who “worked about the house.”

Clabern (Clabe) Harris, 18, worked for Stephen Bowen. Bowen was a prominent farmer of Miller Township, four miles north of Hannibal, who served two terms as sheriff of Marion County.

In 1880, sisters Belle and Arson Harris, ages 14 and 12, lived with and worked as house servants for the James Slifer family, who lived near Withers Mill. There were two Slifer grandchildren living in the house at the time: Slifer Overstreet, an infant, and Margaret Harley, 5. The Harris sisters no doubt were to care for and play with the Bowens’ grandchildren.

Harris legacy

Joshua Harris – sometimes known as Josh – spent his lifetime working as laborer, including work on local farms. He didn’t marry until his was 40.

Nonetheless, he left an imprint upon his community.

By 1913, the population of Hannibal was expanding to the north and west. McMaster’s Avenue had been constructed as an extension of St. Mary’s Avenue to the north, the route of the current U.S. 61.

By 1914, James Mulherin was operating a grocery store on the northwest corner of the intersection of Pleasant, West Ely and McMaster’s Avenue.

In 1918, when the Mulherin store’s address was 3601 McMaster’s Ave., Joshua Harris and his wife lived directly across the street, at the intersection of Pleasant and McMaster’s Avenue: 3600 McMaster’s. (This is the 2018 site of Immanuel Baptist Church.)

In 1923, Joshua Harris and his wife were still living at the intersection, but by then T.E. Kirby had purchased and was operating the store across the street.

Alfred and Mary Etta Rybolt Ahlers bought the grocery store property in 1926, and ultimately expanded it into a restaurant and motel, which served the community for the next seven decades.

The 1930 census located Mr. and Mrs. Josh Harris at 3705 West Ely Road, next door to the Hugh Claggett family, on the north side of the road. (An apartment complex is located on this site in 2018.)

By 1933, when Mrs. Harris died, they were living at 2200 Spruce St.

Josh Harris died Aug. 31, 1935, in the county hospital at Palmyra. His death notice in the Marion County Standard noted that he was to be buried at Bay Mill Cemetery, and confirmed that he was the son of Clark and Martha Harris.

Harris brother

Clabe (or Clabern) Harris was born in 1862, and like his brother, Joshua, he spent his lifetime working as a laborer.

In 1888, Clabe worked for L.A. Hendren, a prominent farmer of Miller Township in Marion County, Mo.

A notation in Hendren’s business ledger (in the possession of Bob and Hong Kilmer) states that Clabe performed “corn work” at $14 per month.

Debits to his pay included tobacco, charged at 50 cents for a pound. A portion of Clabe’s paid was paid out to his brother, Frank, on Nov. 23, 1888.

Like his brother, Clabe Harris died at the Marion County hospital at Palmyra, his death coming just three months after his brother, on Dec. 20, 1935. His burial was to be in Clear Creek Cemetery, but cemetery records (for Rush Cemetery at Clear Creek) do not list any members of the Harris family.

Belly Harris

In mid September 1883, Belly Harris worked for L.C. Hendren, performing “corn work” at $1.25 per week. He worked eight weeks, for a total of $10, and was paid for his work on Nov. 14, 1883.

Debits to his pay, in the form of advancements, were made the following Oct. 29, for one pair of shoes, $1.75, and $1 which went to his wife on Oct. 29.

Ike Harris

Isaac Harris, perhaps another brother, worked for the Hendren family in the summer of 1879. Isaac, or Ike, as he was known, performed “corn work” on the Hendren farm, earning $6.20 for the seasonal work.

Ike married Lizzy Holden of Palmyra in February 1894. They raised their two granddaughters, Josephine, born in 1894, and Otela, born in 1900.

Tragedy would follow. Otela, at the age of 14, died after she was bitten by the family’s dog, which has been infected with rabies.

Ike died April 11, 1936, and his wife Lizzie died April 30, 1934.

The 1913 Sanborn map shows the intersection of St. Mary's Avenue, Pleasant and McMaster's Avenue. The northeast corner of the intersection was where Joshua Harris and his wife lived. Directly across the street, on McMaster's Avenue, was a grocery store operated by James Mulherin.

The Clear Creek cemetery is located on Marion County Road 409. While a newspaper notice of Clabe Harris’ death indicated that he was to be buried here, is name is not listed on the cemetery’s roster. Harris spent much of his life living in and working on farms in the Clear Creek neighborhood. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

If we look closely at details, a house can tell you clues about its past. This house, located on the northwest corner of Spruce and Richmond streets in Hannibal, has been remodeled several times over the years, including an addition to the south, which effectively changed the address from 2200 Spruce Street, around the corner to Richmond street. Joshua Harris, born in 1860, lived in this house during the 1930s, with his wife, Betty Ann (or Betsy) Tyler Harris. Mrs. Harris, born in Galesburg, Ill., died Sept. 1, 1933. Her husband died Aug. 31, 1935, at the Marion County hospital in Palmyra. Records show that he was buried at Bay Mill cemetery. Notice that the foundation of the center part of this house is made of stone, and the foundations for the portions to the north and south are made of concrete. As a rule of thumb, stone foundations suggest construction prior to the start of the 20th Century. PHOTO/MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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