Was Garret Harsin Actually Andrew Harrison?
Written by Steve Harsin
April 13, 2009

Click here for the Answer

It is possible to trace the lineage of almost everyone with the surname Harsin back to one man: Garrett Harsin, buried in Brandywine Cemetery, located just outside Fairland, Indiana, in Shelby County. Trying to press the lineage back another generation has proved problematic. There are two different schools of thought about the origins of Garrett. According to Garrett himself, he was born and raised in New York City, and fought with in the Revolutionary War. Others who have come along later cite a family legend that says Garrett was really Andrew Harrison of the Harrison family from Berkeley Plantation near Richmond, Virginia, home of two presidents of the United States, and that Andrew is of the Presidential line.

One individual even went so far as to place a headstone on Garrett's grave calling him Andrew Harrison.

No documentation of the Harrison connection has ever surfaced, but according to the legend there was some kind of a dust-up involving the switching of identities to prevent someone being hanged for horse thievery. We may never know the details of that tale.

The gist of the legend is that Andrew Harrison was a brother to William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States, and son to Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence. This would also have made him uncle to Benjamin Harrison, twenty-third President of the United States. The proximity in which Garrett (Andrew?) settled to William Henry Harrison in Indiana is taken as evidence of the close connection.

According to the legend, Andrew Harrison and Garrett Harsen served in the same regiment during the Revolution. Garrett came from a prominent New York family, and served with George Washington's guard, as did Andrew, during the war. The tale gets sketchy at this point, with it being claimed that Andrew Harrison was caught stealing, it is believed, a horse, and was facing death by hanging. Since Andrew came from such a prominent family, the commanding officer presumably hung the real Garrett Harsen in his place, switched the clothing. Andrew Harrison was given Harsen's name and papers, and dismissed to flee city, using Garrett's identity for protection, into the frontier to begin a new life.

It's hard to know, however, how the officer could save one prominent family member by hanging the member of a different, just as prominent, family.

The background of Elizabeth Doughty, the wife, only muddies the water more. She and Garrett were married in New York in the Dutch Reformed Church where Garrett Harsen was raised. The Doughty family and the Harsen family both had deep knickerbocker roots. But it's also said the Doughty family had royal roots, and had close ties to the Harrison

It's so hard to uncover the truth of these matters decades and centuries after the fact. And with such allegations and vagaries of behavior, it's hard to know where even to begin, or what can be believed. Even though we can document a marriage between Elizabeth and Garrett Harsen, this tale conveniently makes it possible for Garrett Harsin to be a different man. Or, if the legend is accepted as generally true, how does one document that subterfuge in order to prove prior generations?

This matter has been a dilemma for researchers, and has pretty much stopped inquiry, at least for those who are familiar with the legend, with Garrett. Therefore, in an attempt to verify the true lineage of Garrett Harsin, two individuals, Ray Harsin and Steve Harsin, undertook to begin a DNA study. The initial results proved that Ray and Steve were indeed related by markers on the Y-chromosome, thus indicating they both have a shared male ancestor at some point in time, which documentation indicates would have been Garrett. The next logical step was to see if individuals named Harsen, the form of the name preferred by the New York City family, were a match. Two Harsen individuals descended from what was presumed to be a Michigan branch of that family were tested. The results were negative, and there was no match, indicating the Michigan Harsen men and the Harsin men descended from Garrett, did not share a common male ancestor.

What does this mean? Well, at this point it is too difficult to say because we are not certain the Harsen men from Michigan are indeed descended from the Harsen family of New York. Further work needs to be done in this area, either by documenting the connection of the Michigan Harsen family to the New York Harsen family, or, preferably, by testing a male surnamed Harsen who is known to descend from the New York Harsen family. Efforts are underway to contact a willing subject for this test.

The alternate path is also being pursued. An individual with known descendancy from the Presidential Harrison line has been contacted and has agreed to submit his DNA for testing. A result should be known soon as to whether or not there is a match. If we get a match on the Harrison line, the matter is more or less settled, and all that remains is to document how the Harsin and Harrison families are connected.

If there is no match on the Harrison test subject, we have a dilemma.

It may not be enough to know that there is no Harrison match to prove there is a Harsen connection. We also need to have a definitive test done on a Harsen descendent in order to prove the connection. If there were to be a positive match on a Harsen, then all that remains is to document what published sources indicate as the Harsen family lines.

There is a third possibility, and that is that there is no match for a Harrison nor a Harsen. Then what? Well, then we have a true mystery on our hands, that stops us dead, to make a pun, for the moment, with Garrett Harsin. If this is the case, he may have a secret he has taken to the grave. That certainly would put a burden upon researchers to attempt to locate their true ancestry.

This DNA study has used FamilyTreeDNA for testing. To see more information about the study and the DNA results, click here.

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Last Revised: February 9, 2014

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