The second branch of the Virginia Harrisons descends from an interim chaplain of the Jamestown Colony, who returned to England. The family later immigrated in 1687, first to New England, and then settled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia fifty years later. They include the founder of the city of Harrisonburg, and produced another of the nation’s presidents, Abraham Lincoln. This family also includes noted physicians, educators, and local officials.
Genealogists believe the Harrisons were Viking warriors of Norse origin, and that they arrived in England with Canute the Great. Others indicate they are of Norman, Irish and Scottish descent. Many Harrisons are known to have settled in Northumberland, as well as Yorkshire and Durham, all in the northernmost region of England. Though some continued the use of the older spelling—“Harryson” (for "son of Harry")—this ended with their arrival in the New World.
It is readily apparent that the two family lines of Harrison immigrants to Virginia shared very similar coats of arms, both issued in English peerage. They feature helmets and shields, emblazoned by eagle(s) of golden shade, upon a dark field, with supporters. The arms of William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) of the James River Harrisons, depicting three eagles, is mentioned in the arms of "Harrison of the North" granted in England in 1574 as well as those of "Harrison of London" granted in 1613 with a pedigree dating from 1374. It has often been referred to as the “Yorkshire arms.”
A second, like coat of arms, the “Durham arms,” are from the same or earlier age. These were used by Daniel Harrison of the Shenandoah Valley Harrisons, represented by one eagle, and sourced to Harrisons descended from Durham. Included is the crest shoulder “gules” (red) signaling strength/martyrdom. This is established by the pedigree of Robert Harrison in 1630, depicting him as the grandson of Rowland Harrison of Barnard Castle in Durham.
Among the First Families of Virginia, the James River Harrisons came to the Colony of Virginia in 1630 when Benjamin Harrison I (1594–1677) (the first of many to bear that name) left England for the Americas. There is one tradition holding that the family may have migrated by way of the West Indies. Benjamin's brother Richard settled in Connecticut. Another brother Edward was in Boston. A third brother, Rev. Thomas Harrison (1619–1682), arrived in Virginia in 1640, and was the minister at Elizabeth River Parish. No records have been found to provide earlier definitive genealogy, but a couple of traditions persist. The father of these brothers is said by one source to be Richard Harrison, who descended from the above Rowland Harrison of Durham. Another tradition, not adequately sourced, indicates the brothers may have been the sons of Thomas Harrison, Lord of Gobion's Manor (1568–1625) and Elizabeth Bernard (1569–1643) of St. Giles, Nottinghamshire, England.