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Backgrounds of the Two Letters

Dan Harris's closest sibling in age was his brother, Benjamin Franklin Harris (See "Meet Dan's Family" to see the Harris Family Chart). In 1861 Benjamin married a woman named Phebe Porter and the couple had one child, a son named Benjamin Franklin Harris, Jr., born about 1863. When Dan Harris executed his will on April 6, 1871, he named this nephew as the sole heir to his Donation Land Claim of 146.40 acres and the adjacent tract of 43 acres that he purchased privately.1 By that time, Benjamin, Sr. had evidently deceased, for the will designated the heir's uncle, George Harris, or his mother, Phebe, to exercise guardianship until Benjamin, Jr. reached the age of twenty-one. Testimony by four material witnesses, subpoenaed by the Whatcom County Superior Court during the settlement of Dan Harris's estate indicates that in the last months of his life Dan had repeatedly identified his nephew, Benjamin, as his favorite relative and affirmed his determination to leave all of his property to him.2

Dan evidently carried on an active correspondence with his nephew, Benjamin, over a period of some years. The first surviving letter, addressed specifically to him, was written from Fairhaven on Friday, January 23, 1885.3 It opens with an acknowledgement of Dan's having received a letter from Benjamin that very day and an affirmation of his resulting satisfaction. A few lines later, Dan responds to questions Benjamin had asked about the number of town lots Dan had left to sell, indicating that Dan had previously informed his nephew about his development of Fairhaven.

The heart of the letter is Dan's impassioned appeal for Benjamin to join him in managing his business affairs. This offer was evidently declined by the nephew. According to the testimony of material witness, Alexander Helander, one of the nurses to care for Dan Harris during his final days, Dan had explained that Benjamin's mother had discouraged him from accepting it because she hoped that Dan would marry her. 4

The second letter was written from Los Angeles on Thursday, May 16, 1889.5 Although no addressee is identified in the letter, it was presumably also sent to Dan Harris' nephew, Benjamin. Material witness, Frederick G. Purssord, another of the nurses who cared for Dan Harris during his final illness, testified that Dan had received a letter from Benjamin in March of 1890 and that he had been too sick to answer it. 6 This indicates that Dan and Benjamin had continued their correspondence after the uncle's move to Los Angeles.

The letter was addressed from 413 South Spring Street, Room 21, a second floor, furnished room which Dan had occupied for about two years before his death, according to the testimony material witness, F. C. Anderson, a real estate agent with an office in the same building.7 The letter discloses the extent of Dan Harris' illness, his concern about his future, the status of his financial affairs and his feeling of separation from his roots.

These two letters written by Dan Harris were discovered in the Washington Supreme Court file on Case No. 1243, now deposited at the Washington State Archives. The file contains no indication of how they reached the court. Since the first letter, and, probably, the second, were sent to Benjamin F. Harris, Jr., they still may have been in his possession when Dan died. In all likelihood, he submitted them to the court in support of his claim to being his uncle's sole heir, which was being contested by Dan's three siblings, George, Edwin and Margaret, and his niece, Ella Fordham.
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