Porters' Perspective

These are some notes from Carl English Porter, that he has graciously donated to us. He contends that they are for the most part, his opinion, but are grounded in common sense thinking, and based on as many facts as are available at this time.
"Regarding the name Harmonas, the LDS Family History Center has a little book citing different language versions of names. I did not find Harmonas. I did find Harmon, Harman, and Manus, Dutch forms of Herman.

In a carry over from medieval times, scholars often "Latinized" names, so that Christofo Columbo became Christopher Columbus. Harman = Harmanus. The wisdom of the ancients was locked away behind a barrier of Latin, and Greek. Even the Bible was available only in Latin. To educate a man, it was necessary to train him to read Latin and Greek. This had the advantage of linking all educated men to a common language. They could share ideas freely all over Europe. For centuries, they continued to write in Latin so that others could read & understand. With the translation of the Bible into "native languages", the pressure for mass education began, slowly at first, then with vigor. In Harmonas' day, a classical education (in Latin & Greek) was still very much in vogue. Lawyers still toss Latin phrases around frequently (et al, versus, prima facia, etc). These were the guys that were writing the deeds, and the other court records that we so much love to examine.

Now try to imagine. You are a lawyer with British background. A fellow with German roots tells you his name is Harmanus Alghire. Try to imagine how it sounds when he says it. No, he doesn't know how to spell it.  All those A's say ahh, and that G is so hard it sounds like K. Cautiously you begin to write. H a r m o n a s   A l k i r e . You have spelled what you heard. That was the rule of the day. (Standardized spelling was still in the future, after Noah Webster. Andrew Jackson was chided for his spelling, which was atrocious. The rules had changed it in his lifetime. Now there was a right way, and a wrong way, to spell. His comment: "Any man that can't think of more then one way to spell a word is a damned fool!") Smiling, you show the written name to your client for his approval. He takes special note of what you have written. His children have been learning to read. He is determined that he will never have to say; "I don't know how to spell it", again. You realize he has been learning from his wife, as his children were drilled on their alphabet. You get a warm feeling as you realize that you have just taught a man how to spell his own name!

There is a theory that "Alkire" derives from "Alt Kirk" (Scottish for "Old Church"). I have even seen where some have speculated that the German family Algire were transplanted Scots. I admire the efforts to reconcile these disparate traditions, but "Old Church", in Scotland, would be Roman Catholic. We certainly have no evidence of that. I think our family lived in Germany, near the Netherlands. This was an area contested by Protestants & Catholics alike. Everybody living in that area paid an enormous price, regardless of religious orientation. It was a great place to leave, when our ancestors left.

I think they came where other Germans came, Pennsylvania mostly. As they saw cattle as wealth, they saw land as security. When they arrived, the opportunities to acquire land were far greater in Virginia. The Virginians were forbidden to go west of the mountains. The westernmost settlers wanted more neighbors for better defense against the "savage Indians". The solution, was to entice others, Germans, Scots, whomever could be secured, to these western lands to create a buffer between themselves, & the hostiles. Land was made available, at most impressive prices, and the plan worked, if you don't consider that Virginia still had to defend her own territory!

I believe the first record of Harmonas in the South Branch is the Tosher/Dasher vendue (sale). Within a few years, we find him "leasing" the land he had squatted on and improved. The system of "quit rents", where only aristocracy might own land, already seems out of place in the new world, but in Virginia, the system prevailed until the Revolutionary War. From Harmonas' perspective, he had found the long lost Garden of Eden. Here, whatever you stuck in the ground would grow, & grow abundantly. What a joy for a farmer! Here, at last, he was free to propagate some farm labor, and turn his sweat into a comfortable living for his family.

It was one of these forays to make the frontier safe, (Lord Dunmore's War), that involved Monas. I don't believe he was ever called Harmonas to his face. He would have been considered an old man by his contempories. He was given a Lieutenant's commission to spare him the rigors of a regular foot soldier, and because he was the kind of man who would stand his ground, and give orders that the men would take. Since he had several descendants who were crack shots, I infer he was also a marksman of repute. He must have been very good at describing things in his war stories, as his accounts of the Ohio country seem to have lingered in the minds of his children a very long time.

We need to know where exactly the family was before they migrated to the South Branch. In the data you posted, you show John Alkire married Christena Wolfe/McCann ca. 1770 in PA. I think this family was in the South Branch by 1770. It probably reflects the belief that the family resided in PA. before VA. You can put a "?" by PA. for me, because, I challenge anyone to prove they were married ca. 1770 in PA. Interestingly, a "Widow Wolfe" lived in a cabin on Harmonas' land. Wouldn't it neatly explain the apparent discrepancy, in the name of John Alkire's wife, if we discovered she was Mrs. Christena (McCann) Wolfe?

I have been trying to identify as many origins of South Branch Families as I can. Some later arrivals came there from Maryland, but the earlier arrivals appear to have come from Bucks Co., PA, with a stop over in Tulpehocken/Swatara, in Cumberland Co., PA. This appears probable to me. I think we will eventually find the "Algire" spelling, where we expect the German spellings to be more familiar, when we find the records in Pa.

Sent to Ian Alkire 7/4/1998