Cary - Constance (Cary) Harrison (1843-1920)


Cary - Constance (Cary) Harrison (1843-1920)

Constance Cary, later Mrs. Burton Harrison, (1843-1920) was born on April 25, 1843 to Archibald Cary and Monimia Fairfax Cary, probably in Lexington, Kentucky. Her family were members of the Virginia Jefferson and Randolph clans. She was educated by a French governess and at Hubert Pierre Lefebvre's boarding school in Richmond, Virginia. She worked as a nurse during the Civil War and created one of the first Confederate flags, now in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

She started sending her writing to newspaper and magazine publishers in 1862. Her first stories were of the war and then described society as she knew it emphasizing morality, patriotism and patrimony from a woman’s point of view. She traveled to Europe with her mother and returned to renew a friendship with Burton Norvell Harrison who had been the private secretary to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Cary and Burton married on November 26, 1867 and settled in New York City.

In 1871, the Harrisons first visited Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine, staying at the cottage of Captain Royal George Higgins. Sometime in the 1880s, they commissioned Arthur Rotch of the architectural firm Rotch & Tilden to build a seaside cottage called “Sea Urchins,” with a garden designed by Beatrix Farrand. The property now is owned by the College of the Atlantic, transformed into the Deering Common student center. “Sea Urchins” was a center of hospitality during the "Gilded Age" in Bar Harbor and she entertained many noted visitors there.

In 1875 Cary began to write again and, while her stories and novels described the upper levels of society, she had a keen eye for the realities of the manners and social conditions she described. She signed many of her novels as “Mrs. Burton Harrison.” Some of her stories were serialized in “Century,” “Scribners” and “Harper’s” magazines. She published over 42 stories, plays and novels, among which were “Golden-Rod: An Idyll of Mount Desert” in 1880 and “Bar Harbor Days” in 1887.

Burton Norvell Harrison died in 1904. Constance (Cary) Harrison died in Washington, D.C., in 1920, at the age of 77.

“Bar Harbor Days” by Mrs. Burton Harrison with illustrations by Fenn and Hyde was published by Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, New York, 1887.


“Cary - Constance (Cary) Harrison (1843-1920),” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed December 14, 2018, 14926