AGED CITIZEN DEAD. Was Born at Meadville, PA nearly one hundred years ago – had resided in Jamestown , New York for nearly eighty years – leaves many descendants – a double funeral will be held Thursday.
After 98 years of active life, Mrs. Catherine Dickes Harris of 12 West Seventh Street, passed away at midnight Tuesday, living only a few hours after the death of her daughter, Mrs. Maria Hall. She is survived by seven great grandchildren, Miss Lillian E. Wickfield of New York City; Frank H. Hall of Youngstown, Ohio; William, Robert and Ella Hall of Gowanda, NY; Mrs. Grace Lee and Richard Wickfield Jr. of this city, with whom she made her home. She also leaves three great grandchildren, Richard Hall of Youngstown, Ohio; William and George Lee of Jamestown, NY.
Catherine Dickes was born June 10, 1809, on a farm near Meadville, Pa. Her grandfather was a full-blooded negro. Quite a romance is connected with the marriage her grandfather and grandmother. An English captain of an African slave ship brought her grandfather to England; and he later married the captain’s daughter. Their son came to America where he married a white woman of Dutch extraction.
When six years of age, her father died, leaving the family in needy circumstances, and then began the real struggle to keep the family together. In 1828, When Catherine Dickes was 19 years of age, she was married to a Negro named Butler. They moved from Meadville to Buffalo, NY, where Butler dies. They had a daughter named Maria, the future Mrs. Hall. In 1831, Mrs. Harris and her daughter moved to Jamestown, NY. When she arrived, there were “no colored” persons living in Jamestown. in 1835, she remarries, to John Harris, son of Rachel Brussels Harris and William Harris. Catherine and John moved into a house only 16 feet in length, which they resided for the first three years of their married life.
Around them were a few scattered dwellings, but the real settlement of the village extended not much farther north than Fourth Street.
Additions to the little house grew from time to time as they were needed, until the home was completed and remained as it is now and has been so long familiar to residents of that portion of the city which has grown up around and about it until the little house, with its old fashioned garden in front, came to be one of the landmarks of the city, and when people passed, they looked in for a smile from the oldest resident of Jamestown.
Year after year she planted lemon verbena, bluebells, hollyhocks and other century-old plants in the little garden which then occupied the whole yard; and she would stop and talk with the neighbors, about the way to make the blossoms fairly cover the plants, and her bright beds of glowing colors illustrated the way she cared for her ‘growing things.’
She was tall and slender, with a refined’ and intelligent face. She loved her home; and when Richard Wickfield, Jr., her great grandson was left motherless at two years of age, she took him and cared tenderly for him, and with as great tenderness as his own mother could have given him; and in her declining years Mr. Wickfield has cared for her and her daughter just as tenderly.
Every day was a busy day for her unless, which rarely happened, she was confined to her bed. Even up to Christmas time only two months ago she insisted upon doing a washing and to be inactive was her only hardship. She hoped to live to be 100 years of age and it seemed very probable with her constitution, but a few days ago she was stricken with pneumonia which had already fastened itself upon her daughter, and the fight was an uneven one from the start, for while she survived Mrs. Hall’s death a few hours, her splendid vitality was so diminished that death ensued. She was a woman of a peculiarly sunny and happy disposition, generous, thoughtful and unselfish.
Mrs. Harris was affectionately known in the community as Aunt Catherine. She had served as nurse to the children of Jamestown’s most prominent families and by them was held in highest regard. So well known and valuable were her services considered that she was held in the public consciousness as an institution.”
Should one wish to appraise the value of recorded history, let him ponder the moral and aesthetic losses that would be sustained, should the consciousness and influence of a beautiful character and remarkable services be confined, so far as identification and association are concerned, to the lifetime and environment of the individual representing them. The following-all too short-record of one who lived and served in the little village of Jamestown, is one of the rare treasures that have come down to us by the hand of a discerning editor, who seized the light that had been borne by this humble disciple of the Divine Archetype, and imprinted its message in durable medium. This records a major and outstanding contribution of Jamestown’s “Africa,” to the village of that day, and to the enrichment of human history.
Pictured: A black lacquered wooden box with Union National, Inc. furniture metal emblem. This photo was submitted by Jared Paxton in an inquiry via the Fenton Facebok page. A double funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 o’clock in the A.M. E. Zion church over the remains of Mrs. Harris and her daughter, Mrs. Maria Hall.Catherine Harris died Feb. 12, 1907, nearly 98 years of age. Mrs. Catherine Dickes Harris had been active up to the last few weeks before her death from pneumonia. Her daughter, Mrs. Maria Hall, who had contracted the same illness, preceded her mother in death by a few hours.
From the book – “Chautauqua County – A History” by Helen McMahon; Chap 20: Chautauqua County and the Slave Question.
Pg. 143: “A few free Negroes lived in and around Jamestown, NY. Their leader was Mrs. Catherine Harris, whose life covered almost a century, from 1809 to 1907.”
Pg. 146: “Mrs. Catherine Harris had a station of the Underground RR at her home on West Seventh Street in Jamestown. Tradition in her family says that at one time she had seventeen fugitives concealed in her attic until she thought it was safe for them to go on.”
Catherine Harris was also instrumental in founding Jamestown’s first church for African Americans. – Findagrave.com
In spirit of all that Mrs. Catherine Dickes Harris contributions to the City of Jamestown and as a civil rights activist, stop in to see the Fenton History Center’s Intersections: the Underground Railroad in Chautauqua County exhibit. February is also African American History Month, creating all the more reason to learn more about Chautauqua County and its residents role in the Underground Railroad. Mrs. Catherine Dickes Harris’s grave site is located in the historic Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown, NY.
Intersections: the Underground Railroad in Chautauqua County exhibit tells the story of the freedom movement in and through the western corner of New York State. The exhibit explores the local reaction to the slavery issue and the violent reaction to a slave capture in 1851, it points out the myths and truths about stations in the County and it tells the story of Catherine Harris, one of the most noted Operators on the trek north.