Early Life, Family, and Marriage

Throughout many of the sources, his exact date of birth was not known, all of which signaled his birth date to fall sometime between 1867-1870.

Thomas Preston Harris (commonly known as Thomas P Harris or simply Thomas Harris) was likely born on June 7, 1868 (according to his death certificate) in Fairfax, VA to Mary Harris and Thompson Harris. As of the 1880 Federal census, he lived at Inagua Street in Mount Vernon, Fairfax, VA at the age of 12. He was stated to be illiterate.[1]

At the age of 23, he married Emma Quander on March 10, 1892 in Fairfax, VA.[2] His wife Emma was part of the well-known Quander family, an extensive family of free African Americans tracing back to Henry Quando in 1686.[3] During his marriage with Emma, the couple had no children. They did eventually have their nephew Lewis P Quander living in their household by the 1930 census.[4] For the majority of his life, he worked as a farm laborer, in which his tasks varied from carpentry to gardening, and had never been unemployed.

Death certificate of Emma Harris

Death certificate of Emma Quander

Emma passed away on March 29, 1937 at the age of 68 in Woodlawn. She was then buried at the Woodlawn Methodist Church cemetery, which is now located in Fort Belvoir (beyond security checkpoint. A special access pass is required in order to access the cemetery).[5]

Thomas Harris - 2nd Marriage Certificate

The second marriage of Thomas Harris with Sadie Napper

Two years after Emma’s death, Thomas, who was 71 at that time, married Sadie Napper, a 48 year old African American widow who had a son Wilber Brown, who was 23 at the time. Sadie’s mother was also part of the Quander family.[6]

In the 1940 Federal Census, it is revealed that Thomas and Sadie were residing at Woodlawn-Potter Hills road, although no deed of purchase was found, therefore it is unclear when he had bought that property. He was also working as a gardner as a wage or salary worker in the private industry.[7]


[1] Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014

[2] Marriage License of Thomas Harris and Emma Quander, Fairfax County Historic Records Center, Fairfax, VA.

[3] Quander,Rohulamin. 2021. The Quanders : Since 1684, an Enduring African American Legacy, 69. La Vergne: Christian Faith Publishing, Inc.. Accessed November 13, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[4] Year: 1930; Census Place: Mount Vemon, Fairfax, Virginia; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0017; FHL microfilm: 2342176

[5] Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014

[6] Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia, Marriages, 1936-2014; Roll: 101167014

[7] Year: 1940; Census Place: Mount Vernon, Fairfax, Virginia; Roll: m-t0627-04261; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 30-18

Research by: Calvin Lwin

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