Support the Burwell School

Jane Rebecca Parker


« return to database list

At a Glance

On the morning of August 7, 1856, Jane Rebecca Parker mounted a horse behind Robert Harrison Harris at Eno and rode off on the spur of the moment, without any clothing, save the garments she had on, to be married at South Lowell [1].


Jane Parker, as she is entered in the Burwell School Catalogue of 1848-51 [2], was orphaned almost at birth. She was the daughter of the William Nelsons' only child, Jane Rebecca Nelson and David Parker, [Jr.]. Her mother died a few weeks after Jane's birth and is buried in the Old Town Cemetery in Hillsborough, NC in one of the three crypts behind the Presbyterian church. Her young father, who came from the Bahama (or Round Hill) community near Flat River, died on November 11, 1841, aged twenty-seven, when Jane was a little over two years old.

Jane appears to have been reared by her Hillsborough grand-parents, William and Elizabeth Nelson, and perhaps by her great-aunt, Jane Nelson, who lived nearby. William Nelson, appointed Jane's legal guardian, was a dry goods merchant in Hillsborough, NC whose name appears in various partnerships, but whose character is something of a puzzle. When Jane's grandmother, Elizabeth Nelson, died at the age of fifty-one on July 10, 1850, the little girl was nearly eleven years old. It is possible that her grandfather could have sent her to the Burwell School as early as 1845 or possibly even earlier, but it seems clear she was always a day student. The Nelson and Parker Account Book, Vol. 6 at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, records money paid to Robert Burwell for  "Miss Jane R.Parker"  in August 1851, and the 1850 census records that she was then living in William Nelson's household.

In 1854, however, her grandfather entered into a partnership with John C. Shields to operate the Alpha Woolen Mills on the Eno River some six miles downstream from Hillsborough, NC, and it may be that he maintained a small house there. At any rate Jane Parker made a new friend in Julia Shields, and fell in love with a young man, Robert Harrison Harris, actually a first cousin first removed, from Bahama, NC.

Although nothing is known of Jane's relationship with her Presbyterian grandfather, the fact is that on the morning of August 7, 1856, she mounted a horse behind Robert Harrison Harris at Eno and rode off on the spur of the moment, without any clothing, save the garments she had on, to be married at South Lowell by the Rev. John A. McMannen. Six days later, on August 13, 1856, she sent this letter to her friend Julia Shields:

"Dearest Julia,

As I promised to write you I will fulfill my promise for never can I forget your kindness to me and I ever will remember you with the warmest love for I believe that you are my friend. After I left you Thursday morning I thought about you a great many times. We got to Mr. McMannens about 1 oclock and were married there by Mr. Mc then we come on home and have been to see some of our friends. There has been a meeting going on at South Lowell for 2 or 3 days. I have attended evry day with the dresses of one or two of my friends and also a bonnet which is loned. I tell you Sunday I cut a shine with my white swiss dress and black lace mantle and white hair bonnet. I walked as large as if they were mine but no one did not know any better. The camp meeting is going to be at New Bethel soon it commences the 29 of this month you must be sure to come and tent with us I would be so glad to see you. It is cloudy and raining here to day we will make something to eat down here I think for it has been raining yesterday and today in a hurry last night it poured all night. I am as happy as possible love Mr. Harris better than ever but I can hardly say Mr. Harris yet I never knew how good I loved him till now yes I love him too well but no better than he loves me he sends his best respects to you. You must be sure to come down as I want him to get better acquainted with you for I know you will like each other. Julia please send me my clothes put them all in my trunk as they are scattered about Becky has got some of them please pack them all up and send them to me send me both my bonnets you can put them in the same Box and I will do as much for you some day give the keys to Mr. Parrish as he will bring my clothes to me. You must burn this as soon as you read it for I am in such a hurry I do not know hardly what I am writing but you must excuse it this time and I will do better next time do not let any person see this letter. You must be sure to write often and come to the Camp Meeting. Give my love to all and tell them to come. Be sure to send me all my clothes.

Your affectionate Friend,

Jane R. Harris"

Whatever the reason for Jane's elopement, she did enclose a brief impersonal note to her grandfather Nelson on the fourth page of Julia's letter.

Jane and Robert Harris eventually settled in a small house at the end of Jock Rd., Bahama, NC. They had three small boys by the time the Civil War began: David D. Harris, W. Henry Harris and Charles Harris.

Jane's picture, taken about this time and owned by her granddaughter, Mrs. Clifton Ball, shows her, as researcher Jean Bradley Anderson remarks, to be  "a pretty young woman with a steely and determined look in her eyes, a direct and forthright gaze."

Jane died of pneumonia on March 30, 1869, when she was twenty-nine years old. She is buried in Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery in Bahama, NC with Robert beside her in an unmarked grave, and two of their sons, David D. Harris and W. Henry Harris, to her left [1].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Jane Rebecca Parker was born on August 18, 1839. She died on March 30, 1869, of pneumonia, and was buried in Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery in Bahama, NC.

Places of Residence

Schools Attended



  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. Burwell School Catalogue of 1848-51.