Select Harper Miscellany

Here are some Harper stories and accounts over the years:

Early Harpers in Scotland

George Fraser Black had the following description of Harper in his 1946 book The Surnames of Scotland.

“From the office of "harper" in early times the harper was a hereditary official in the households of many great families.  The Brehon laws rank the harp as ‘the one art of music which deserves nobility.’  According to Clan Donald, the last hereditary harper appears to have been Murdoch Macdonald, harper to Maclean of Coll, who died at an advanced age in 1739.

In some districts lands were attached to the office as shown by the place names Croit a' Chlarsair (the Harper's Croft) in the parish of Kiltarlity near Dundonald in Ayrshire.  The lands of Harperfield in the parish of Lesmahagow are probably of the same origin. 

Several individuals named Harper appear in the Ragman Roll as having rendered homage in 1296:

(1) William le Harpur of La Lawe, of the county of Edinburgh
(2) Uctins le Harpur of the county of Lanark.
(3) Robert le Harper of the county of Ayr
(4) Johan le Harpur of the county of Berwick
and (5) Rogier le Harpur of Hom, also of the county of Berwick.

As the name is fairly common in the Stewartry, it is probably a translation of Mac chruiter, which in Gaelic has the meaning of ‘son of the harper.’"

Harperstown Castle

According to family lore, it was to Aghdare in south Wexford that Sir William le Harpur came soon after the settlement of Leinster by Strongbow and here he built his castle. The ancestor of the Harpur family may have been Welsh harper or minstrel to Strongbow.  At any rate he was awarded Aghdare for his services and promptly changed the district's name to Harperstown.

There is some doubt about the exact date of the building of Harperstown Castle.  One source has it being in the 12th century; while another indicates the date at 1320.  Sir Thomas le Harpur of this family was described in records as “a knight of the distinguished family of le Harper or Harpur of Gloucestershire in England.”

Ruins are all that remain of Harperstown House and Castle

Who Was Captain John Harper of Alexandria?

A letter by a descendant William Walton Harper opined as follows:

"John Harper, the son of Sir John Harper of Kent, while yet in England bought from William Penn 500 acres of land near Philadelphia and willed it to his son Robert Harper who was in Philadelphia.  But it was only a life interest.  Thus, on his death, the land went to John Harper, grandson of John and son of Robert. This Captain John Harper was born in Philadelphia in 1728 and settled in Alexandria, Virginia, before 1776.  There he became wealthy in the South American trade, owning his own ships.  He died and was buried in Alexandria."

All writers seem to agree that Captain John Harper was born in Philadelphia in 1728.  But they differ as to the identity of his parents. 

One view has him descended from John Harper, a Quaker, who came to Oxford county, Philadelphia in 1682 and died there in 1714.  His line supposedly went through son Joseph, grandson Robert, to great grandson Captain John.  Then he could be descended from the Quaker Robert Harper who founded Harpers Ferry at the river point where Maryland and Virginia meet.  However, this Robert Harper married Rachel Griffith and died a widower without descendants.

Scots Irish Harpers

Scots Irish Harpers came to this country from Ulster in the latter part of the 17th or the beginning of the 18th century.

Of the three brothers said to be emigrants, one went South, according to tradition, and settled in the Carolinas.  It is supposed that Gen. Goodloe Harper of Baltimore and Chancellor Harper of South Carolina were descendants of this branch.

Another brother settled in New York, from whom the Harpers of that state and Pennsylvania were supposed to have descended.

The third brother, as it appeared from an old family record, was a weaver by trade and settled in Newbury, Massachusetts. He was the ancestor of the Harpers of New England.  John A. Harper of Meredith, who was a member of Congress in 1812, was of this branch in the fourth generation. His father William Harper was a magistrate for some thirty years and represented Sanbornton in the legislature for a number of sessions. 

Samuel Harper of this line moved the Limerick, Maine in 1787.  The Harper Family house, built there in 1809, is one of Limerick’s few 19th century brick houses and remained with the Harper family until the 1950’s.

Christopher Harper and the Torching of His Farm

Since moving his family to Nova Scotia in 1774, Christopher Harper had worked industriously to improve his lands. He built and operated a store on the property and his estate was considered a model farm, much to the envy of his New England neighbors. That, along with the officious way that he carried out his duties as a magistrate, made him a target for the rebels and their local sympathizers.

An armed rebel patrol visited the Harpers' farm during the daytime on November 6, 1776. The boldness of the patriots so close to Fort Cumberland clearly frightened the Harpers. Christopher gathered friends and family and moved them into the fort. He also recruited twelve men from the community to take up arms to help the garrison fend off the rebels. 

The rebel forces engaged the Fort's defenders with near nightly gun battles and three days later the American patriots torched the Harper farm.  Christopher and his wife Elizabeth watched from the protective works of the fort as their cherished homestead was reduced to ashes.

The Harpers in Aberdeen

John Harper left his parents’ farm near Turriff in Aberdeenshire around the age of nine and found employment as a market gardener before moving down to Edinburgh with his brother Hugh where they became wire-fencers. In 1856 they returned to Aberdeen to set up their own business as fencers and gate manufacturers.  Before long they had established a foundry.  In 1863, aged 30, John Harper registered a patent “device for straining wire,’ which was crucial in the development of bridge building.

John and Hugh Harper were engineers who founded the business of Harper and Company of Aberdeen.  The company they founded originally made wire fencing. Later John moved into the manufacture of suspension bridges, engines and other machinery.  He died in 1906.

His firm's early bridges included suspension bridges at Aboyne in Aberdeenshire and at Shocklach in Cheshire, both built in 1871.  Their span ran about 300 feet.  These early bridges had wooden towers, although these were replaced in later bridges by cast iron or steel.

The Harpers on the Titanic

John Harper was an evangelical Baptist pastor from Renfrewshire in Scotland.  His wife had died in childbirth in 1906, leaving him with a baby daughter Nana who was to be cared for by her mother’s cousin Jessie. 

In 1912 the three of them boarded the Titanic at Southampton as second class passengers.  They were travelling to New York and then onto the Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. 

Jessie later recalled later the events on the night of the sinking of the Titanic:

"About midnight Mr. Harper came to our stateroom and told us that the vessel had struck an iceberg.  While I was dressing he went to learn further particulars and returned to say that the order had been given to put on the life belts.  We did so, and, picking up Nana in his arms, he took her up to the deck.  There the women were ordered to the upper deck. I had to climb a vertical iron ladder and Mr. Harper brought Nana after me up the ladder and the men at the top lifted her up to me again.  There was no opportunity for farewell.  In fact, even then we did not realize the danger, as we were assured again and again that the vessel could not sink, that the Olympic would be alongside at any minute, and that the women and children were to be put into the boats first and the men to follow, and that there were boats sufficient for all.  Our boat was well manned.  It was the eleventh to leave the vessel.  After about half an hour the Titanic went down.  We were about a mile away."

A well-known photograph of the second class promenade, in which a young girl is seen holding her father's hand, is believed by many to show young Nana Harper and her father.  Nana's own recollections were sparse but she later recalled sitting on her cousin Jessie's knee as she watched the Titanic sink and the noise of those struggling in the water.

Jessie and Nana are believed to have been rescued in Lifeboat 11, but Pastor Harper was lost in the sinking. Following their rescue by the Carpathia, they reached New York, still in the clothes they wore to leave the Titanic.

Jessie elected not to continue to Chicago and decided instead to return to England at the earliest available opportunity.  
Nana, now an orphan, returned to England and was apparently raised by an uncle and aunt in London. During her upbringing discussion of Titanic was discouraged by her family. 

our years after the sinking of the Titanic, a young Scotsman by the name of Aguilla Webb stood up in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada and gave the following testimony: 

“I am a survivor of the Titanic.  When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me.
‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’‘
'No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’
He replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’
The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’
He said again, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed.  I am John Harper’s last convert.” 

Apparently God wanted Webb's amazing testimony to be shared, because only seven people were plucked from the icy water that night to join the survivors in the lifeboats.  Webb was one of them

Return to Top of Page
Return to Harper Main Page