The Sisters’ Revolutionary Secret


May 25, 2020
by Don N. Hagist Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

From 1952 until 1967, a popular American television show featured a panel of celebrities trying to guess a secret about a non-celebrity guest. The guest’s secret might be a remarkable or unusual talent, achievement or other attribute. On April 26, 1961, the show hosted Delia and Bertie Harris, sisters from Knoxville, Tennessee.[1] They were both born in the 1880s, and their secret was a surprising connection. You can watch their segment of the episode:


Their grandfather was Simon Harris, born in 1766 in Southampton, Virginia. According to their family tradition, he enlisted as a soldier in the American Revolution at the age of twelve. The sisters claimed that he was at Valley Forge, and later at the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Given his year of birth and supposed age upon enlistment, his presence at Valley Forge is questionable, but he could have arrived there in the spring of 1778.

These women appeared on television almost two hundred years after their grandfather was born. Such a generational span is unusual, but their father, born in 1818, married his second wife, the mother of Delia and Bertie Harris, in 1884 when she was twenty-eight years old, and he fathered three children in spite of his advanced age.[2]

A quick search of online sources failed to confirm or disprove Simon Harris’s military service—but this may be the last television appearance of grandchildren of a Revolutionary War veteran.




  • So interesting! I love learning about family connections such as this. Plus, a treat seeing Carol Burnett at the beginning of her wonderful career!

  • I’ve looked and fold3 has a 24 page pension record for Simon’s widow Rebecca. Pension number R. 4684.

  • Great discovery. Certainly beats my record. My 3rd great grandfather, Benjamin Johnson (3rd Md W27761) was born in 1758. Married his second wife at 71. Covers 6 genrations in 262 years and hopefully a bit longer. I loved that show. Growing up an “army brat” in Germany in the early 60s we had no TV. I’d listen to it every Sunday on AFN radio.

  • Forgot to mention Benjamin’s youngest grandson was Thomas H Johnson (1871-1953), born Fayette WV. He also spanned 195 years. Certain this was far exceeded by the sisters.

  • President John Tyler, who was born in 1790, and served in the White House from 1841 – 1845, has two grandsons still alive as of February 2020.

  • Stumbled across this on Facebook. Being a member of DAR and a former chapter registrar and long-time genealogist, I had to look them up. Both sisters were members of DAR, having consecutive national numbers, the third and fourth women to join under this ancestor. There were 26 other women who also joined using Simon Harris. Unfortunately, he is now red lined, meaning anyone wishing to join using him as an ancestor must prove correct service. The error stated is that there is “no proof service claimed belongs to this man.” Since it was said that his name is on a monument near the battle with Cornwallis, it would be interesting to find out who that is since there is no other patriot with the same name in the database. Of course, finding documents for proof were much harder at one time. It would take someone today to apply for membership using Simon Harris to clear the redline from this ancestor. Obviously, the sisters Harris have no direct line descendants, but with all those relatives, there should be one somewhere!

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