Enoch and Deborah Harris: Black Pioneers

Enoch and Deborah Harris image

Enoch and Deborah Harris

Among the earliest pioneers in Oshtemo Township were Enoch Harris and his family, the first black settlers in Kalamazoo County. They arrived in Michigan from Marion County, Ohio, in approximately 1830, bringing with them seed from which they are said to have planted the first apple orchard in Kalamazoo County. Harris was sufficiently respected by his neighbors that he was often asked to mediate property disputes. The Harris family also owns the distinction of celebrating the first wedding in Oshtemo Township, when daughter Louisa Harris married Henry Powers in 1836.

Enoch Harris was born in Virginia in 1785 and raised in Pennsylvania, where he married his wife, Deborah, in 1812. She was born in 1793. They had settled more than once on the Ohio frontier before coming to Michigan. Enoch Harris died on 21 March 1870, at the age of 85. His wife died on 2 May 1881. Both are buried in Genesee Prairie Cemetery, located at the corner of Parkview Avenue and 11th Street, where a historical marker was dedicated in their honor in 1973. They left many descendants, some of whom still live in Kalamazoo County.

The Harris home stood in Oshtemo until recently. It was in poor condition, and the owner was unwilling to make the necessary expensive repairs. The Oshtemo Township Fire Department used it to train firefighters to rescue people from burning buildings, then they burned it to the ground in May 2006.

Harris House

Harris House, 5821 Parkview, 2004
Photo courtesy of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society 
 

Sources

Books

History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan 

  • Durant, Samuel W. 
  • Philadelphia: Everts and Abbott, 1880 
  • H 977.417 H67u

Articles

"Historic home burned after training" 

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 May 2006, Page A1, column 1 

“Enoch Harris – Negro Pioneer” 

  • Praus, Alexis A.
  • Michigan Heritage, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 61-66

History Room Name File

Harris, Enoch