John Harper of Bentonville, North Carolina was born February 18th, 1803 most likely in Staunton Virginia or, possibly, Johnston County, North Carolina. He was the son of a Revolutionary War soldier from Virginia and the grandnephew of Robert Harper, the founder of Harper's Ferry Virginia (Now West Virginia). Around the time of John Harper's birth, his family migrated to rural southeastern Johnston County. In 1838, John married seventeen year old Amy Woodard of neighboring Sampson County. By 1856, the couple had nine children and had built a large "Greek Revival" style farm home.
Upon his father's death in 1834, John Harper inherited several hundred acres of property. On this property, Harper raised corn, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, hay, and livestock. These crops were intended as food for the Harper family, not to be sold as "cash crops." It is likely, however, that the family would have traded extra crops for items such as salt and sugar. By 1860, the Harper's had inherited at least three enslaved people from Amy's family. The slaves would have helped with both household and farm chores, but the Harper family would have continued to do much of the work. When he was not busy farming, Harper served as a Justice of the Peace and a militia captain, while cofounding the first public school system in Johnston County.
During the Battle of Bentonville in 1865, the Harper's home was commandeered and used as the Union XIV Corps field hospital. Nearly six hundred soldiers from both armies were treated at the home. Upon the conclusion of the battle, fifty-four Confederate soldiers were left behind in the Harper's care for over three months. The strain of this ordeal, plus Reconstruction, led to the loss of much of the Harpers' property after the war. The family was reduced to sharecropping, but they were able to keep their home, which still stands and is open for tours at Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. John Harper died at his son's home in Harnett County on June 10, 1897 at the age of ninety-four.