George Washington Harris was born in Allegheny City, Pa. (now part of Pittsburgh). When Harris was five, he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., to work in his stepbrother’s metalworking shop as an apprentice. At age nineteen, Harris became a steamboat captain. He left the steamboat business in 1839 and bought farmland in Blount County, Tenn. Harris also began writing for a friend’s newspaper, the Knoxville Argus. He was unable to make a financial success of his farm and returned to Knoxville and opened a metalworking shop. That same year, 1843, Harris began publishing short pieces in Spirit of the Times, a national sporting and humor newspaper. In 1849, Harris became the superintendent of a glass manufactory. Five years later, he briefly became a steamboat captain again before working as a surveying superintendent at the Ducktown copper mines in Polk County, Tenn. He returned to Knoxville the following year. In early 1846, Harris served as an alderman and began writing for the Nashville Union & American. In 1858, Harris tried but was unable to locate a publisher for a proposed book. He continued to publish his stories in the periodical press.
In 1859, Harris became a conductor on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. He was a freight agent for that railroad from 1860 to 1861. After the Civil War broke out, Harris moved his family from Knoxville (a stronghold of Unionism) to Nashville. For the next four years, they moved frequently, living in Nashville, Chattanooga, Decatur, Ala., and Trenton, Ga. They returned to Nashville in 1866, where his stories continued to appear in the Union & American. In the spring of 1867, Harris published a collection of his Sut Lovingood stories. His sketches also began appearing in the Chattanooga Daily American Union. The following spring, he published some political satires in the Knoxville Press and Messenger. In October 1869, Harris remarried in Decatur, Ala. (his first wife had died two years earlier). Two months later, he traveled to Lynchburg, Va., to look for a publisher for a new book. On his trip home, he became ill, possibly from a stroke. He was taken off the train in Knoxville and died there. The book manuscript disappeared and was never recovered.
George Washington Harris’s frequently risqué stories are in the Old Southwest humor tradition.
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Last updated on Dec 21, 2009.