Dr. Algernon Sydney Harris, A Vintage Vignette

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Dr. Algernon Sydney Harris
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
February 17, 2008

A farmer and physician of Madison, Dr. Sydney Harris was born 1811 in Tennessee of Virginia parents. His wife was Musidora Prudencia Cheatham, born in 1818 Virginia. Her ancestry is traced to the 1620s colonial days of Virginia. They married in 1836 and had two children. The censuses of 1840 through 1880 show that their daughter Virginia was born in 1838. Their son Thomas B. was born in 1839. The namesake of their son was probably Musidora’s brother Thomas Branch Cheatham, son of Branch Cheatham and Mary Beasley. The Cheatham family connections according to data posted on Ancestry.com include relationships to Presidents Zachary Taylor and Rutherford B. Hayes, among other notables.

Dr. Harris was mentioned several times in Octavia Fletcher Frazier’s biography of her father, Madison’s Dr. Richard M. Fletcher, who died at age 76 in 1906. In fact, Octavia wrote that many of the area doctors were related, including Fletcher and Harris. Other doctors of the area sharing kinship with them included Eldred Rawlings Mason (Octavia’s maternal uncle), Waddy Tate, J. J. Dement, several doctors named Moore, and doctors Erskine, Westmoreland, and others. Octavia called Dr. Harris “Uncle Syd”, and he had mentored the early practice of her father.

Sydney Harris appears in the 1840 Madison County census with a wife and two children – one male and one female, both under the age of 5. In the 1850 census his family was found in Limestone County, with his occupation listed as “physician”. The 1860 census shows the family in Marshall County, but Syd’s occupation was given as “farmer”. Both the 1870 and the 1880 censuses show Dr. Harris in Madison County, with occupation “physician”. Dr. Harris died in 1884 and is buried in the old section of the Madison City Cemetery.

The farming aspects of Syd’s occupation showed up again in the recommendation provided by John D. Phelan of Montgomery in support of an 1862 request by Thomas B. Harris to be appointed as quartermaster of a regiment formed at Gadsden. Thomas had served in the Confederate army during 1861 in Company I of the 4th Alabama Infantry, fighting at Manassas. He was said to have received a wound there that killed him in 1869, well after the war ended. However, that injury was not mentioned in the service records at the Huntsville – Madison County Public Library. His uncle (by marriage) Phelan, in writing to General Randolph in Richmond, Virginia, described Thomas as “…an intelligent, honorable young man of the best family connections, who managed his father’s planting interests before the war commenced, and who fought well in the 4th Alabama at Manassas.” Thomas married Hybernia Jones of Fayette County, Tennessee and had children Lucy, Dora, Mary, and Sidney before he died at age 30. In 1884 Lucy married James Arthur Wise, brother and business partner of George Washington Wise, a merchant of Madison. Thomas’ tombstone has the earliest date of death in the old section of the Madison City Cemetery, but it is doubtful that he was the first one to be buried there, since the town had existed for 12 years by the time he passed and there are many unmarked graves in the cemetery.

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