Aaron Burr: A Man of his Time

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Was there in Greece or Rome a man of virtue and independence, and supposed to possess great talents, who was not the subject of vindictive and unrelenting persecution?

—Aaron Burr to Theodosia Burr Alston

I never, indeed thought him an honest, frank-dealing man, but considered him as a crooked gun, or other perverted machine, whose aim or stroke you could never be sure of.

—Thomas Jefferson

Aaron Burr, the 3rd Vice-President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson, is once again (due to the popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton”) making the news.

* For more on this, see the recent article from the Dallas Morning News comparing Trump to Burr.

http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20160512-sanford-levinson-if-trump-is-todays-aaron-burr-who-will-be-our-hamilton.ece

Currently, I see a problem in some authors writing about History. The Revisionists’ penchant to interpret Burr’s and other historic personalities actions from their own contemporary ideology and viewpoint, creates a problem in trying to get an “accurate” understanding of who these complex people were, and how they fit within the historical context of the era in which their lives were led, without the 21st century “spin.”

The following essay is not to defend Burr – but to look at his character and actions, political and otherwise, within the context of the time period in which he lived and how that had a profound impact upon his and other men’s lives and fates.

None of the other members of the acknowledged “Founding Fathers club” of this great Nation brings about such strong contempt, and blatant disgust as Aaron Burr. With that fatal shot at Hamilton in 1804, Burr not only killed a political rival, he also destroyed his political career and was doomed to be remembered mostly for a murder (and treason) in America’s narrative.

Aaron Burr was born into a Presbyterian household (father was the Rev. Aaron Burr) in 1756. By 1758, he and his older sister were orphaned and then placed into guardianship with a maternal uncle. He was in College in 1775 when the first battles began between the Americans and the British in Massachusetts. Burr immediately enlisted in the Continental Army, saw active duty in Canada and was recognized for valor. General Montgomery elevated Burr to captain and Aide-de-Camp. His strong military ability earned him a position in Washington’s staff (then in Manhattan), but Burr quit within 14 days, missing the action. Burr and Washington apparently had some problems getting along, which was unusual, for most of Washington’s men adored the General.

Meanwhile, General Putnam recruited Burr to assist in getting men out of lower Manhattan to avoid certain capture by the British who had just landed on Manhattan. Burr saved an entire brigade (including Alexander Hamilton) and brought them to safety in Harlem. In March 1779, Burr resigned from the military for health reasons (later in the 1830s he would receive a Pension for his service), went back to school and got his law degree.

In 1782, Aaron Burr married the woman who he would later say was the love of his life – Theodosia Bartow Prevost, the widow of Jacques Marcus Prevost, a Swiss/British army officer who in 1781 had died in the West Indies. Theodosia was 10 years older and had 5 children from Prevost, as well as quite a bit of *money and property.

* In the 18th century (well into the 19th century actually), widows were highly desirable marriage partners – particularly for their money/property, of which the women typically transferred all rights to their new husbands, i.e.Thomas Jefferson’s only wife was a wealthy widow and Alexander Hamilton married into the Schuyler family, one of the oldest and richest in New York. In the same manner, George Washington increased his financial situation after marrying the very rich widow Martha Custis.

During the American Revolution Burr had stayed at Mrs. Prevost’s large and cultured estate house named The Hermitage, as had other American officers:  Washington,  Greene, Hamilton,  Clinton and the French Marquis de Lafayette. This was a Loyalist’s home so they would sequester it  while”warring” in the area.

Picture of The Hermitage below.

Hermitage-rear.jpg

Burr was a very successful attorney and had moved to New York in 1783 with his family. With his law practice, he came into contact with many of the up-and-coming politicians of the day. Attorney Burr even worked as co-defendant  of a murderer on a huge sensational crime (the murder of a young woman) with Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s.

In 1783, Theodosia Burr was born and she would be their only surviving child together. Tragically, Burr’s wife Theodosia was diagnosed in 1788 with what is now believed to be stomach cancer, and her condition worsened until she was bed-ridden and eventually died in 1794. By all accounts he was devastated.

He officially entered politics in 1789 when he was designated New York Attorney General. Then, in 1791, he was elected to the New York Senate, which position he held until 1797. Burr also made an unsuccessful run for President in 1796, placing fourth behind John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Pinckney.

In 1798, as President John Adams appointed Washington commanding general of U.S. forces, Washington struck down Burr’s application for a Brigadier General’s commission during the Quasi-War with France. Washington wrote, *“By all that I have known and heard, Colonel Burr is a brave and able officer, but the question is whether he has not equal talents at intrigue. John Adams, whose enmity toward Alexander Hamilton was legendary, later wrote in 1815 that Washington’s response was startling, given his promotion of Hamilton, whom he described as “the most restless, impatient, artful, indefatigable, and unprincipled intriquer in the United States, if not in the world, to be second-in-command under himself, and how (Washington) dreaded an intriquer in a poor Brigadier.”

* Alexander Hamilton had been an Aide-de-Camp to George Washington and had a falling-out with the General as well. Hamilton also had strained relations with Jefferson over the 1797 Maria Reynolds affair, which reportedly was brought to the public’s (and Hamilton’s wife’s) attention by Thomas Jefferson, a man with a tainted sexual reputation himself, as well as Hamilton’s chief adversary.

The Maria Reynolds affair, in which a humiliated Hamilton was exposed, essentially ruined his political career. After the scandal broke, and when Maria Reynolds began proceedings to divorce her husband, she hired as her attorney none other than….. Aaron Burr.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why Jefferson was willing to expose Hamilton in the Reynolds affair was in the contents of  a 1796 essay. Hamilton (who had ceded his Secretary of the Treasury to Wolcott in 1795 and was acting as an consultant to Federalist politicians) condemned Jefferson’s private life, writing that the Virginian’s “simplicity and humility afford but a flimsy veil to the internal evidences of aristocratic splendor, sensuality, and epicureanism.” 

The newly-formed United States was a small place at this time and political nepotism was at an all-time high. The American political arena was made up of upwardly mobile, land & *slave owning,  educated,  white men who interacted with one another within a small clique, which sub-divided into smaller cliques that thrived on mud-slinging and pettiness.

* George Washington at his death in 1799 owned 318 slaves. Aaron Burr is enumerated on the 1800 New York City Census with 2 slaves. On the 1820 Albemarle County, VA Census Thomas Jefferson is enumerated with 107 enslaved people. Alexander Hamilton was the exception: he did not own slaves BUT he married into a family – the Schuyler’s – who had many slaves to work their farm properties in New York.

During the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson and Burr were (again) candidates for President/Vice-President. Jefferson decided to run with Burr in exchange for the latter’s lobbying to obtain New York’s electoral votes for Jefferson.

Upon Jefferson winning the election, Burr became Vice-President of the United States. Despite his letters supporting Jefferson and his avoidance of any political activity during the balloting (he supposedly never left Albany), Burr was never trusted by Jefferson. He was effectively pushed aside regarding topics of party interests.

Another Burr relationship charged with political rivalry and personal animosity was that with Alexander Hamilton. There was no love lost here – they really despised one another. So with their back and forth comments, their “honor” being insulted , their status of “being a gentleman” questioned, the rivalry finally culminated in the July 11, 1804 duel that ended with the death of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr.

Shortly afterward, Burr fled (supposedly running from Federal authorities) to South Carolina, where he stayed with his daughter Theodosia Burr Alston and her family. It was also during this time, August of 1804,  Burr boated down to St. Simon’s Island in  Georgia, making a visit to Hampton Point, the plantation of his fellow colleague and former senator, Pierce Butler. Butler owned one of the largest plantations in the South.

antebellum_map

While on St. Simons as Butler’s guest, he sent a message to Catharine Littlefield Greene, the widow of General Nathaniel Greene who lived on Cumberland Island, land which the U.S. government rewarded Gen. Greene for his service in the American Revolution. Catharine Greene (by this time had remarried and was Mrs. Phineas Miller) and her family had had close relations with Hamilton, and she knew Burr and his reputation for being a “ladies man”.  Catharine Greene Miller had a reputation as well, dating back as far as 1775. Catharine and her family were devastated by the news of Hamilton’s death. Burr sent a note stating he would like to have permission to visit “with an old friend” on Cumberland Island. Mrs. Miller felt she had to honor his request, however she made arrangements with a servant who was to meet Burr’s boat at the pier on the island to signal her once they were underway to the main house. Meanwhile, she had carriages waiting, and packed up her extended family and sped to the interior of the island. Elizabeth Ellet author of “Women of the American Revolution” wrote “She (Catharine Greene Miller) could not receive as a guest one whose hands were “crimsoned” with (Hamilton’s) blood.” Needless to say, Burr was snubbed and did not stay long.

After a few months in the South, Burr returned to Philadelphia and then went back to work (and conspiring) in Washington to complete his Vice-Presidency (term ended in December 1805). Once there, he was reviled by the Federalists for the murder of Alexander Hamilton. The Democratic-Republicans mistrusted him equally. Burr was never tried for the illegal duel, and all charges against him were eventually dropped, but Hamilton’s death forever ended Burr’s political career.

Burr was kind of a man without a country – certainly a man without the support of a  political party. Just before leaving office, Burr was already deeply embroiled in a conspiracy to conquer Mexico. This was when he started looking West (it was after the Louisiana Purchase and there was LOTS of land available.)la-purchase-large

Among many things, he was a land speculator. Long story made short, Burr in a despotic attempt to “revolutionize Mexico” and to settle some lands he held in Texas, wanted to form an independent empire in the West. Seriously. The evidence of his treason are found in his papers: maps of New Orleans, Veracruz and the roads to Mexico City, and the letters suggesting that he would not liberate, but seize Mexico, where he would draw the Western states from the Union and combine them into one nation. When this was done, he would stand at the throne of the Aztecs and crown himself Emperor of the West. “The gods invite us to glory and fortune,” Burr wrote to his co-conspirator, Gen. James Wilkinson. John Randolph of Roanoke (who incidentally was a cousin of Jefferson) and one of the fiercest of politicians, called Wilkinson “the mammoth of iniquity, the only man I ever saw who was from the bark to the very core a villain.” Wilkinson was then General in-Chief of the U.S. Army. He was also a paid agent of Spain.( See map above)

Eventually, unbeknownst to Burr, Wilkinson disclosed the entire plot to President Jefferson. On Nov. 27, 1806,  Jefferson issued a proclamation that undermined the success of the scheme and led to Burr’s arrest and his indictment for treason by levying war against the United States.

Burr was tried in Richmond before Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s third cousin (though they did not like each other – recall the comment about political nepotism?) The United States Attorney hinted during the trial in an obvious “power play” that Marshall would be impeached if he did not rule for the prosecution on the motions of evidence. Marshall duly noted the threat in his decision. He then excluded all evidence presented by the government as “merely corroborative and incompetent.” Within an hour, the jury found Burr not guilty. After the acquittal, the animosity between Jefferson and Marshall increased as Jefferson felt Marshall had effectively released Burr from his “overt act” of treason.

After the trial,  Burr spent time with his daughter and her family and then sailed for England in 1808, confident that he would gain support for a revolution in Mexico. England ordered him out of the country and he then traveled in Europe, including Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France. In Paris, he tried to garner support from Napoleon who was quite preoccupied with his own Empire at the time. Of course Burr’s scheme failed, leaving him so penniless and in such debt to friends that he couldn’t afford to return to the United States.

He eventually left for the United States in a French ship in 1811, but this was the time leading up to the war of 1812 and as Burr’s fortune’s took another hit he was captured by the British and detained until May 1812. He finally returned to the U.S. to pursue his law practice back in New York. This was also the period when his daughter Theodosia Burr Alston was going to travel up to New York to spend time with her father.

From my previous post:

Theodosia, who was eagerly awaiting the reunion with her father, was to go to New York, but tragically her 10-year-old son Aaron Alston had succumbed to a fever and died on June 30, 1812. Heartbroken, her grief nearly killed her. Meanwhile, her husband was sworn in as Governor of S.C., and for this reason he could not join her on the journey to New York City. So, she waited until December to make the trip.

On December 31, 1812, her father sent a friend with medical knowledge to accompany her on the ship Patriot leaving Georgetown, S.C. for New York City. The War of 1812 is on and the Patriot was a fast-sailing Privateer most likely making a rapid run to New York with its cargo. It is likely that the ship was laden with the proceeds from its privateering raids.

It never reached its destination.The fate of Theodosia Alston and all on-board the ship Patriot remains a sad mystery: no survivor returned to tell whether it had been victim of a storm, pirates or Carolina “Bankers” (Outerbank’s gangs that would lure ships to wreck, and then they would kill the passengers and take the cargo.) The only documented evidence was on Jan. 2, 1813 when a British fleet had stopped the Patriot off Cape Hatteras.

It was said that many of Burr’s personal records, which Theodosia had stored in South Carolina while her father was in Europe (she had been working to get a pardon for him as well), went down with the Patriot.

After the death of his daughter, whom he sadly assumed had drowned and accepted that that was her fate,  he loyally maintained a good relationship with her husband Joseph Alston, until his early death in 1816. Aaron Burr also returned to his law practice in New York.*Despite his efforts he continually had money and debt problems and would go to his grave with that being an issue.

*Alexander Hamilton at his death left his family in debt. George Washington left large debts and Thomas Jefferson was in debt for much of his life in the 19th century, and when he died in 1826, Jefferson owed his creditors about $100,000.

Aaron Burr who always had, according to one of his best biographer’s Nancy Isenberg,  a “passion for territorial expansion”, was again a man of his time. Jefferson certainly had the same passion,  that and his fortuitousness led to his probably making one of the best land acquisitions in History, with the Louisiana Purchase. These men lived at a time when the West had just opened up, and while there were indeed boundaries, the possibilities were endless.

*Nancy Isenberg, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr (New York: Penguin, 2007),

http://www.smithsonianmag.com

Milton Lomask in Aaron Burr, The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979), 216, posits that Washington’s distrust of Burr dated to the Revolution.

Aaron Burr, Fallen Angel
William Bryk   read at http://www.nypress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?avis=NP&date=20000718&category=NEWS&lopenr=307189997&Ref=AR&template=printart

http://www.thehermitage.org/history/history_people_prevost_theodosia.html

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_Aaron_Burr.htmhttps://

Caty: A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene by John F. Stegeman & Janet A. Stegeman Georgia Press, Athens, GA  1977

http://www.americanhistoryusa.com/strange-reputation-of-aaron-burr/

 

 

Alstons & Burrs

 

Theodosiaburr

Theodocia Burr Alston (1802) by John Vanderlyn

Referring back to the 2nd part/post here regarding the family of the Rev. James Porter, his grand-daughter Anne Porter, the daughter of Alexander Porter of Oaklawn Manor Plantation married in April of 1840, William Ashe Alston. The Alstons were a very powerful & wealthy planter family from the Georgetown area of South Carolina who generation upon generation increased their properties up until the Civil War.

Below is some of the genealogy of this family, however in this post I will be predominantly focusing on Joseph Alston Jr. born 1779, who was Governor of South Carolina.

I.  Joseph Alston married Charlotte Rothmahler and they had (among others):

   II. William Alston b. 1756 SC d.   married Mary Ash b. 1759 d.  They had:

      III. : 1) Marie Alston b. 1779

             *2) Joseph Alston b. 1779 see below

3) John Ash Alston b. 1780

            *4) William Algernon Alston b. 1782

5) Charlotte Alston b. 1784

         IV. *2) Joseph Alston b. 1779 Murrell’s Inlet, SC d. 1816 SC married in 1801 Theodocia Burr daughter of 3rd Vice President of the U.S. Aaron Burr (1756-1836) and Theodosia Bartow Prevost (1746–1794)  Story Continues below.

1) Aaron Burr Alston

*4) William Algernon Alston b.1782 d.1860 married Mary Alston and had:

1 )Joseph Alston (1809-1861)

2) Josephine Alston (1810-1834)

                        *3) William Ashe Alston (1812-1842) married Anne Porter

4) Mary Ashe Alston (1812- )

                          5) Theodosius Alston (1813 -)

                          6) John Ashe Alston (1816-1858)

7) Anna Louisa Alston (1820-1905)

8) Charlotte Maria Alston (1820-1896)

                  V.   *3) William Ashe Alston born 1812 in SC died NYC 1842 married in Franklin,     Louisiana,  Anne Porter daughter of Alexander Porter of Oaklawn Manor Plantation.

“Up the Waccamaw, only a few miles from Georgetown, is “Rose Hill,” the estate of the late Colonel William Ashe Alston. The founder of the American branch of this family was William, who came to this country in the early part of the eighteenth century. He married Esther La Bruce. In 1775,  his son Joseph Alston married Charlotte Rothmahler. A son of this marriage, William Alston, named after his grandfather William, was the first to spell the name with one “l” probably to distinguish themselves from the other “Allston” branches that were predominantly in North Carolina.

William Alston, grandson of the founder, was first wedded to Mary Ashe, daughter of General Ashe, of North Carolina (from whom Asheville is named), and afterward married Mary, the daughter of Jacob Motte. At “Rose Hill,” the residence of his son William (by his first marriage), there hung at one time a beautiful life-size painting of this family, including William Alston, his wife Mary Ashe, and their five children.”

 

Joseph Alston   065675a9-adbb-44c9-a9a8-9b524d7b9a9a

At the home of her father Aaron Burr, on February 2, 1801,  Theodosia Burr age 17,  married Joseph Alston age 22 a wealthy and cultured South Carolina rice planter. They afterward briefly stayed at Burr’s Richmond Hill mansion, and then traveled to Washington, where they watched Aaron Burr inaugurated as Vice President of the United States on March 4, 1801. The couple then continued south to The Oaks, Alston’s ancestral home on the Waccamaw River near Georgetown, S.C. That summer, escaping South Carolina’s heat & humidity they returned to upstate New York where the Alston’s had their “official” honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and are believed to be to be the first couple on record to do so.

Joseph Alston first came into public notice by his marriage with Theodosia Burr.  Joseph was a gentleman of talent and culture, as his subsequent career proved. Inheriting considerable property, he was not impelled by want of means to make strenuous efforts for fame or fortune. His admission to the bar was the extent of his legal progression. Not until after his marriage, when he imbibed some of the ambition of his father-in law, Aaron Burr (who he corresponded with on a regular basis), do we find him in the political arena. “Theodosia was now in the zenith of life, the daughter of the Vice-President of the United States and the wife of the soon to be Governor of South Carolina. Rarely cultivated (for the time period – her father was very keen on women being educated), and accustomed to entertain at an early age, the guests that gathered around her (widowed) father’s table. None were more intellectually capable of filling the high positions she occupied in her native and adopted States.”

From “Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly” Article titled “In the Lowlands of South Carolina”p. 287 Jan.1. 1891

Connected with the best families of the South by marriage and association, Theodosia and Joseph Alston lived in South Carolina and had their only child Aaron Burr Alston in 1802. As mentioned, Theodosia Alston was the only (legitimate) daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr and by 1804 his political career was entering crisis mode.  Jefferson had dropped Burr as his running mate for the 1804 election and he was being heavily criticized on personal and political levels by many other politicians – chiefly Alexander Hamilton. This led to the famous duel July 11, 1804 in which Aaron Burr shot and murdered Hamilton.

Burr’s political career was in shambles after this and he continued to involve himself in conspiracies (there will be more on Burr in the next post) to the extent that he left the US for Europe and only returned to New York in July 1812.

Theodosia, who was eagerly awaiting the reunion with her father, was to go to New York, but tragically her 10 year old son Aaron Alston had succumbed to a fever and died on June 30, 1812. Heartbroken, her grief nearly killed her. Meanwhile, her husband was sworn in as Governor of S.C., and for this reason he could not join her on the journey to New York City. So, she waited until December to make the trip.

On December 31, 1812, her father sent a friend with medical knowledge to accompany her on the ship Patriot leaving Georgetown, S.C. for New York City. The War of 1812 is on and the Patriot was a fast-sailing Privateer most likely making a rapid run to New York with its cargo. It is likely that the ship was laden with the proceeds from its privateering raids.

It never reached its destination.The fate of Theodosia Alston and all on-board the ship Patriot remains a sad mystery: no survivor returned to tell whether it had been victim of a storm, pirates or Carolina “Bankers” (Outerbanks gangs that would lure ships to wreck, and then they would kill the passengers and take the cargo.) The only documented evidence was on Jan. 2, 1813 when a British fleet had stopped the Patriot off Cape Hatteras.

Lore claims that Theodosia was carrying a portrait of herself as a gift for her father, and here is where the speculation of what happened to her gets fairly creative. There were several death bed confessions, a couple of pirates claimed responsibility -two of those supposedly made her “walk the plank.” That is assuming you could trust the pirate to tell the truth.

A New York paper some time since revived the story by giving an account of a lady in North Carolina who had in her possession a portrait of Theodosia. It was given her by an old lady (on her death bed…), who prized it very highly as one of the many things obtained by her husband some years before out of a vessel that came on shore under very extraordinary circumstances within a mile of their home in North Carolina. Another version of the tale has the old woman giving the painting to a Doctor for payment for services rendered.

All that is known about the Patriot and all those on board is that they were never heard from again.

Theodosia was 29 years old when she disappeared, leaving both a grieving husband (who would live only 3 more years) and a devastated father to mourn her loss.

_______________

From “Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly” Article titled “In the Lowlands of South Carolina”p. 287 Jan.1. 1891

http://northcarolinashipwrecks.blogspot.com/2012/04/schooner-patriot-and-mystery-of.html

Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr Book by Nancy Isenberg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodosia_Burr_Alston

Oaklawn Manor Plantation and the Porter & related families: Part 2

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Photo taken in the Study of Oaklawn Manor Plantation (Napoleon desk) with Porter Portrait – Franklin, LA.

Rev. James Porter, who was hung to death in July 1798, was the oldest child of Alexander Porter and _____Sims Porter. He actually had many siblings, some of whom stayed in Ireland and intermarried with prominent local families. Some of the others came to America.

The first one of the Rev. James Porter’s immediate family to come to the U.S. was his brother Alexander Porter who took ship from Londonderry to Baltimore, MD. in 1793.  Alexander first settled in Wilmington, Del., and finally in Nashville, Tenn., and was a successful merchant and Alderman (1807-1810). He resided there for a year or so then settled in Jonesboro and shortly married Susan Massengill. They would go onto to have seven children all born and raised in Tennessee, they were: 1) Dr.James Armstrong Porter b. 1800 married Sally Murphy died Nashville 1853) 2) Matilda Porter (married Robert W. Green) 3) Penelope Porter (married James Woods) 4) *Jane Eliza Porter (married James W. Campbell) 5) Alexander M. Porter 6) William Porter 7) Robert M. Porter.

*It was while he was living at Jonesborough that the Irish Rebellion of 1798 broke out in full force after simmering for 7 years. Alexander’s oldest brother Rev. James Porter had become involved in the “Troubles” (unfortunately that would not be the last use of that term to describe the civil chaos in that Northern section of Ireland.) – and this made Alexander determined to return to his native land to look after the welfare of his relatives.

Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans:  Containing Biographies and Records of..… by William S.Speer

He arrived too late to save his oldest brother the Rev. James Porter, but he was able to get two younger brothers (Robert & William Porter) safely out of Northern Ireland and established at Nashville. Alexander Porter returned again to Donegal in 1801 and brought over two younger sisters and two nephews: 1) Alexander Porter – the subject of this sketch and 2) James Porter.

*One of the sisters of Alexander and James’ Uncle who came over in 1801 was a Mrs. Allison. Matilda Porter Allison born 1781 of Churchminster (near Ballindrait) who married in Lifford, Ireland Andrew Allison who was born at Lifford Dec. 26, 1775 and died at Carthage, Tenn., Sept. 29, 1818.  They had a family and settled in Tennessee and will be the subjects of a following post.

*The History of the Alison. Or Allison Family of Europe and America, A.D.(Alexander Porter of Lifford, and of Tennessee, with his relatives) By Leonard Allison Morrison p.165

Keep in mind that one of the sister’s of Alexander( Jr. )and James Porter (Jr.) married an Allison also- the youngest Rebecca Porter. She basically married her first cousin the son of her Aunt. This was not unusual in the day.

Of the two brothers (or the Uncles of Alexander Porter Jr. and James Porter Jr.)Robert died unmarried.  William first lived at Carthage in Smith County (as did his sister Matilda Allison and family), but then removed to Maury County where he died leaving 3 children: 1) Louisa Porter  2) Mary Porter  3) William Porter died CW.

Alexander Porter & James Porter:

Meanwhile the two nephews Alexander and James Porter lived with their Uncle Alexander and family where both received a rudimentary education. They did however attend the now-defunct Clemenceau College and “read the law” as apprentices and Alexander was admitted to the bar in 1807.

Why Louisiana?

The Louisiana Purchase -had just been accomplished a few years previous and in effect doubled the size of the United States. By a treaty signed on Apr. 30, 1803, the United States purchased from France the Louisiana Territory, more than 2 million sq km (800,000 sq mi) of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The price was 60 million francs, about $15 million; $11,250,000 was to be paid directly, with the balance to be covered by the assumption by the United States of French debts to American citizens. Large tracts of fertile and  inexpensive land was available for those willing to relocate, work hard and rely heavily and completely on slave labor for the Sugar plantations being built over most of southern Louisiana.

la-purchase-large

Several accounts have both Alexander Porter and his brother James Porter being encouraged to move to Louisiana by Andrew Jackson who was of Ulster/Presbyterian descent (his mother was Elizabeth Hutchinson, Father was Robert Jackson of Carrickfergus.) The Battle of New Orleans where Jackson would gain his fame, was still 10 years away.  Their Uncle Alexander Porter was alderman of Nashville from 1808-1810 and a merchant who moved in the cliquish circles of early Eastern Tennessee which was where “the new frontier” was at the time (also KY. & OH.) And Alexander Porter and Jackson would have certainly known one another.

Several of those statesman advised Alexander and James Porter to start their law practices in the new territories of Louisiana and Mississippi. Alexander in 1809 made the long trip to Opeloussas, LA, then the parish seat of Attakapas parish which comprised almost a fourth of the present state. He decided to locate there and in 1812 made his first purchase of land along the Bayou Teche in what is now St. Mary Parish.It was Porter’s Irish ancestry that gave the curved stretch of the Teche the name Irish Bend. Most of his neighbors were French Creoles, he immediately immersed himself in their traditions, learned the language and gained their trust which would prove crucial to his political career.

In, 1811 Alexander was a delegate to the Convention that drew up the Constitution for the new state of Louisiana, which was admitted into the Union in 1812. His brother James also a Sugar Planter and land holder was elected Attorney General. Both brothers, still subjects by their birth in Donegal,  Ireland of King George III were naturalized in 1816 swearing allegiance to their new adopted country – the United States of America.

In 1816, Alexander Porter was appointed to a two year term in the lower house of the new State Legislature and therein helped pass laws and regulations to get the new state functioning soundly. In 1821, when only 35 years, he was appointed an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court which office he held for 12 years.

From the marriage registers of this parish there are these important dates. From St. Mary Parish La 1807-1874:

Alexander Porter & Evaline Baker 24 Aug, 1815

James A. Porter and Sarah Anne Murphy June 1821

William Ashe Alston (of No. Carolina (sic)) and the daughter of Alexander Porter -Anne Porter 18 Apr. 1840

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Evaline Villars Baker Porter was born 1797 in Washington, KY.  She was one of the 12 children of Joshua Baker born 1763 Berkley, VA and Susannah Lewis all eventually of Franklin, LA.

Name: Joshua Baker
Home in 1810 (City, County, State): Nashville, Rutherford, Tennessee
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 4
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1 he born 1763 (47 years)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1
Number of Household Members Under 16: 7
Number of Household Members Over 25: 2
Number of Household Members: 9

Year: 1810; Census Place: Nashville, Rutherford, Tennessee; Roll: 63; Page: 13; Image: 00014; Family History Library Film: 0218687

Alexander and Evalina had 2 daughters- the 1st Evalina died sometime after 1820 – see Census information below, the 2nd Anna, was raised by Porter’s maiden sister who lived with them and ran the household. His wife died 2 years after the 2nd child was born in 1819 and is buried in the family “Baker” plot  at The Old City Cemetery, Nashville, TN.(As are her parents and Alexander Porter)

From the obituary below, Evelina Porter died at the home (see below) of the Uncle Alexander Porter (who died 1833.)

riverwood

“Tammany Wood” later called Riverwood Mansion

DIEDIn this town, {Nashville}at the house of Mr. A. Porter, on Saturday evening the 30th ult. aged 22, Mrs. Evelina Porter, wife of Alexander Porter, Esq. of St. Martinsville, Louisiana, and daughter of the late Col. Joshua Baker. Mrs. Porter sailed from New-Orleans, for New York in June last, under the hope that a sea voyage and change of climate might relieve her from an affection of the lungs; but every essay from travel and medicine was in vain. She was interred on Sunday evening in Mr. T. Talbot’s burying ground, by the side of her father, who died here of the epidemic in 1816. / Mrs. P. possessed in an eminent degree all the social and endearing virtues; and leaves behind her a husband, two infant children and a large circle of relatives and friends to deplore her loss. —Published in The Nashville Whig (Nashville, Tennessee), Wednesday, November 3, 1819, p. 3.

 

Name: Alexander Porter
Home in 1820 (City, County, State): St Martin, Louisiana
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1 ?
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1 ?
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1 He – age 35 years
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 2 Anne & Evelina
Slaves – Males – 14 thru 25: 1
Slaves – Females – 14 thru 25: 2
Slaves – Females – 26 thru 44: 1
Slaves – Females – 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons – Under 16: 3
Free White Persons – Over 25: 1
Total Free White Persons: 5
Total Slaves: 5
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 10

Source Citation 1820 U S Census; Census Place: St Martin, Louisiana; Page: 164; NARA Roll: M33_31; Image: 159

Porter and his daughter Anne enjoyed traveling  and left for a 6 month stay in Cuba in 1838 and then in early 1840 (see below -she gets married April 1840) traveled to England and Ireland. Domestically, they went to the fashionable horse tracks in Louisville and New Orleans and visited sophisticated White Sulphur Spring’s Spa in WV and other posh spas and health resorts. Both had fragile health, as did many of the newcomers to the tropical, disease oriented Bayou country. They  were most certainly traveling the latter half of 1836 when there was a massive cholera epidemic in Louisiana.

The Porters (who had a ballroom on the 3rd floor) would have entertained political colleagues including Henry Clay, (Supposedly Mr.Clay’s ghost like’s walking around the grounds to this day : ) neighbors, extended family and friends per the custom of the day.

By about 1830, South Carolinian Planters were looking to Louisiana for more land and markets to diversify their holdings. Not only was Alexander a successful plantation owner, he was also a Lawyer (and had apprentices) and was involved with the convoluted politics of the times. John S.Preston (1809-1881) of Columbia, SC is a perfect example of Louisiana land speculation. He was a law graduate of the University of Virginia, married Caroline, daughter of Wade Hampton (SC’s wealthiest planter) and then took up residence in Columbia, South Carolina, and established a legal practice there. He later invested heavily in a sugar plantation, named the Houmas near Baton Rouge, LA. which prospered and gained him a substantial profit. Another visitor would have been William Ashe Alston, also a law graduate from the University of Virginia. He and Alexander Porter’s 24 year old daughter Anne Porter married at the Oaklawn Manor Plantation 18 Apr. 1840.

The lovely white-stuccoed Greek Revival brick house (some walls are 2 feet thick) has identical porticoes front and back, with six full-height Tuscan columns and a pediment ventilated by a small window. Both floors of the house are identical in floor plan, with two rooms on each side of a central hall and a staircase set into a side hall.

Even on the outskirts of American Society, deep in the bayou on large plantations in St. Martin Parish, Alexander like many of his fellow Irish & Kinsmen had a passion for horse racing, and even maintained a racing stable and trainer on his Oaklawn Plantation. In 1840, Alexander was in Kentucky visiting a friend, Col. William R. Johnson. Johnson had a gifted enslaved (born VA) horse trainer Charles Stewart, who had lost his wife and was looking for a new start (new owner) who Alexander bought for $3,500 and offered him the position as his horse trainer. They apparently got along well and had a mutual respect for one another.

From the Alexander Porter Papers, 1811-1879 Louisiana State Univ.-Special Collections. “Some letters discuss Porter’s involvement with the slave trade, slave behavior, their treatment, and their value. Two letters discuss a slave in Kentucky named Charles who had taken a wife; letters were signed by Col. William R. Johnson (Aug. 23, 1839, Aug. 30, 1841). One letter mentions a will where it is discussed how the value of the bequeathed slaves will affect the estate (Dec. 3, 1823), and an unsigned letter (April 20, 1842) asks Porter to see after the writer’s slaves, to not sell them, but exchange them to good owners. Two letters are written to James Porter (brother of Alexander) at Oaklawn from Patrick McGraw, not only discussing people’s health and livestock, but the behavior of some slaves (Sept./Nov. 1844).”

 

Name: William Ashe Alston
Birth Year: abt 1813
Event: Death
Death Date: 30 May 1842 “In this City”
Age at Death: 29
Newspaper: New York Evening Post
Publication Date: Jun 1842
Publication Place: New York, USA
Call Number: 83432

U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT,

From https://uvastudents.wordpress.com “What little we do know about William Ashe Alston (1812-1842) is that he attended Univ. of VA. for only a few months in session 7, and was released “by letter” to return home in October 1830; he returned to U.Va. in sessions 8 and 9 to complete his education. (U.Va. Matriculation Books) {*His brother Theodocious Alston also attended U of VA.}He became a lawyer, and on 18 Apr. 1840, married Anne Porter (1816-1841), daughter of Alexander Porter of Louisiana. He had just returned from a trip to Europe at the time (1842) of his death in New York City. (Winyah Observer)

*There will be some related information on this subject

I wanted to know a little more about Anne Porter Alston and her spouse William Ashe Alston. I found other than the above about his attending University of Virginia, some passport information: Dec. 31, 1838 he arrived at the port of New York from Liverpool, Eng. his occupation is listed as “Gentleman.”Dec. 31, 1839 he went from Galveston Island TX. to New Orleans, LA.  Then June 1, 1840 (New York) “William Ashe Alston & Wife” applied for passports June 1, 1840.

What is curious he consigned Apr. 16, 1840 (this is 2 days before the wedding) -16 slaves of various ages to Capt. James B. Thompson who would take them from Charleston, SC to New Orleans, LA (see document below). The slaves arrived May 1, 1840.  Was he selling/brokering these slaves? Was he planning on setting up a plantation?  Were they a wedding gift? Unfortunately, neither of them lived long enough to track historically.

In New Orleans, the slave auctions were held every Saturday and they drew large crowds of onlookers beneath the rotundas (particularly the Old St. Louis) of the city’s luxury hotels. There was a large demand for slaves in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia for the cultivation of sugar and cotton, slave traders/brokers went throughout the upper South to purchase slaves to be sold at auction in the deep South. Slaves from Virginia were especially desired for their training & ability  and brought the highest prices . (see Charles Stewart the horse trainer above)

Anne Porter Alston died December 1841 and “was” buried in New Orleans. William Ashe Alston died in New York City 1842 upon returning from a trip to Europe

Name: Mrs William Ash Alston
Birth Date: 1816
Death Date: 28 Dec 1841
Cemetery: Girod Street Cemetery (Defunct)
Burial or Cremation Place: New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
Has Bio?: N
URL: http://www.findagrave.com
Name: Thomas +15 others
Gender: Male
Color: Brown
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1815
Ship Name: Chapman
Port of Departure: Charleston, South Carolina
Port of Arrival: New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of Arrival: 16 Apr 1840

(**Notice he was married Apr. 18 1840)

Age: 25
First Shipper/Owner: W Ashe Allston
Second Shipper/Owner: J B Tompson Capt. James B. Thompson
Record Type: Arrivals (Inward Manifests)
Name: Alexs Porter
[Alexr Porter
Home in 1840 (City, County, State): Saint Mary, Louisiana
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 3
Free White Persons – Males – 60 thru 69: 1
Slaves – Males – 10 thru 23: 1
Slaves – Males – 24 thru 35: 1
Slaves – Males – 36 thru 54: 2
Slaves – Females – Under 10: 1
Slaves – Females – 10 thru 23: 1
Slaves – Females – 36 thru 54: 1
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 3
Total Free White Persons: 4
Total Slaves: 7
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 11
Year: 1840; Census Place: Saint Mary, Louisiana; Roll: 128; Page: 327; Image: 668; Family History Library Film: 0009689

April 9, 1844 (Tuesday)http://www.thenashvillecitycemetery.org
The remains of the Honor Alexander Porter which were brought from his late residence in the Steamer Westwood, were, on Sunday last, committed to the tomb in the cemetery near the city. A procession was formed at the Wharf and proceeded to the grave where a brief but impressive discourse was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Edgar (This is Rev. John Todd Edgar of 1st Presbyterian Nashville) . The remains of this distinguished man now rest in peace beside the body of his wife who died in this city some twenty-five years ago.

Alexander Porter was laid to rest in 1844 in the family Plot in Nashville, TN with a monument marking his grave. His brother James Porter inherited his brother’s estate and moved his family From his smaller plantation in West Baton Rouge Parish. James Porter died at Oaklawn in 1849 and left the estate to his wife Mary Walton Porter and their children. At his death the Oaklawn Manor Plantation was appraised at $266,000.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans:  Containing Biographies and Records of..… by William S.Speer

*The History of the Alison. Or Allison Family of Europe and America, A.D.(Alexander Porter of Lifford, and of Tennessee, with his relatives) By Leonard Allison Morrison p.165

https://uvastudents.wordpress.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_S._Preston

http://www.thenashvillecitycemetery.org

Oaklawn Manor Plantation Louisiana and the 1798 Irish Rebellion:

IMG_0983

Oaklawn Manor Today located in Franklin, Louisiana.

This is Part One of a Two Part Post:

Last year while doing some History/Genealogical and Travel research online, I literally bumped into a story I had been following for years as it involved the 1798 Irish Rebellion and the tragic story of Rev. James Porter.

Backing up a little bit. I moved back to Texas a couple of years ago and had not traveled in Louisiana at all (ok – I did drive across it from Northern Mississippi once), and I was looking for a place to spend a long weekend and came across Breaux Bridge, LA. Deciding on that locale I then looked at things to do and discovered there was a Plantation about 30 minutes south in the town of Franklin in St. Mary’s Parish, called “Oaklawn Manor”.

Oaklawn Manor is a 1830’s plantation house located on the banks of the Bayou Teche on a stretch called “Irish Bend” so named for the owner Alexander Porter’s place of birth in Donegal, Ireland and who overcame family tragedy in his native land, and adopted America as his own, eventually became a leading Louisiana statesman. 

But what of his past?  While touring the historic home Oaklawn Manor in 2014 with the knowledgeable Docent, I asked her if she knew of Alexander Porter’s family in Ireland?  She replied “she did not” and regarding his life in Ireland that all “she knew was that he and his brother were born in Ireland.”

Porter Family:

I.Alexander Porter b. Scot. d. Donegal, Ire. married ________ Sims

II.Robert Porter b.

III. James Porter b. 1753 Donegal, Ire. d. 1798 Donegal, Ire. married Ann Knox

IV. Alexander Porter b. 1785 Donegal, Ire. d. 1844 LA &  James Porter Jr.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Strabane map

So, here follows the remarkable historical and heroic story of the Porter family of Ballindrait, Donegal, Ireland.

“The story of James Porter is one of the saddest in the history of our church, and his fate may serve as a warning to ministers of the gospel who devote to politics the time and talents that ought to be exercised in their own profession.” (From The High Presbyterian, March 1906)  ~~I will make further commentary on this topic in a future post.

ReverendJames

The Porter Family of Ballindrait, Donegal Ireland:

The Porter family were part of the 17th Century Ulster Plantation, that gave land in Northern Ireland to Loyal Scots of Scotland.  The Porter’s lived on land that had been inhabited for centuries by the Indigenous Irish in the Parish of Conleigh, Co Donegal and were connected for generations with the Presbyterian congregation of Ballindrait.

family35

The Following is from”Ulster Biographies, relating chiefly to the rebellion of 1798.” by William Thomas Latimer 1897  pp.62-72

“James Porter was born in 1753, about half-a-mile from Ballindrait, a village situated between Lifford and Raphoe, in a beautiful valley through which the Deele slowly meanders around the base of heath-clad Croghan. The Porter family had, for several generations, resided near Ballindrait, and they have been distinguished in the persons of Miss Jane Porter, the novelist, and Sir Robert K. Porter, the artist and diplomatist. The last representatives of the name, who resided in this locality, lived in the house now occupied by Mr. Alex. Weir. But the residence of the Patriot’s father was at Tamna Wood, which is near Ballindrait School-house.”

“James Porter was the son of a Presbyterian farmer (who was also an elder in the local Presbyterian church) and mill-owner*, and was the eldest of a family that consisted of four sons and four daughters. When a boy he was distinguished for the rapidity with which he acquired knowledge, and the extent of his attainments. Having left school, he began to work on his father’s farm, and, cultivating a taste for mechanics, was soon able to make most of the repairs necessary in the machinery of the mill. During the winter evenings he read books and added to his rapidly increasing knowledge.

There still exists at Ballindrait a beautifully engraved sun-dial made by James Porter for his relative Andrew Stilley with the following inscription : — “By James Porter, anno 1771, for latitude 54° 58″, for Andrew Stilley.”(now in a small historical museum of the Presbyterian Church in the Assembly Buildings, in Belfast)

*In 1768-9. a map and survey were made of the Lifford Estate of Abraham Creighton, Baron Erne. From these it appears that James Porter was then tenant of a small farm at Tamna Wood, and had a ” tuck ” mill at Ballindrait, on the north bank of the Deele, a few yards west of the bridge. The water power of this mill must have been the same as is now used by Mr. Robert MacBeth, although his mills are on the south bank, inasmuch as there could not be two weirs on this part of a stream so sluggish as the Deele, up which the tide ascends to the very bridge at Ballindrait.”

“In this way the time passed until he was twenty years of age, when his father died, and soon afterwards James left home to push his fortune. There is a tradition in Ballindrait that, having dressed himself in his “Go-to-Meeting” suit, he walked off one day without telling any person of his intention, taking with him two or three of his own shirts, which happened to be drying on a thorn hedge that he passed. After some vicissitudes, he became a tutor in the house of a gentleman in County Down. Being a remarkably fine looking young man, with good conversational powers, he won the heart of one of the young ladies of the family —Miss Anne Knox — to whom he was married in 1780, by the Rev. Robert Black, of Dromore. Afterwards, when minister of Derry, Dr. Black told the Rev. William Porter, of Limavady, that Mr. James Porter was, at the time of his marriage, the handsomest man he had ever seen. The bride’s Grand-mother was present at the wedding, and on wishing the newly-married pair “great happiness,” as- is usual on such occasions, added that she saw but ” small signs of it.” Soon after his marriage, Mr. Porter opened a school in Drogheda. There he continued his own studies assiduity and success, that, about 1784, he was enabled to enter the Divinity classes of Glasgow University — his previously – acquired attainments being accepted by the Presbytery as equivalent to a degree in Arts. After studying there for three sessions, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Bangor. The Rev. Classon Porter states, that, soon afterwards, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Congregation of Ballindrait. But certainly he could not have been then a candidate for that congregation, as its minister, the Rev. John Marshall, did not die till 1795, and never had an assistant. Soon after Mr. Porter was licensed, he received a call to Greyabbey, then vacant by the resignation of Dr. Stevenson, in which charge he was ordained on the 31st of July, 1787, being thirty-four years of age. His yearly income may have then been about £50 of stipend and £12 of Royal Bounty, but in 1792 the Government grant was raised to a sum sufficient to pay every minister about £32 annually.”

The following is from  James Porter Jr. reminiscing (written 1840’s USA) and describing with detail his early childhood.

“In 1796 or 1797 my father resided on a small farm of about 14 acres forming part of the estate of the Rev. Hugh Montgomery of Rosemount, from whom it was rented. He had previously resided in the village of Greyabbey and also in the farmhouse of Ballynestor in the same neighbourhood.

Cabinvale was the name my father gave the little “snuggery”* where my memory was born. It was a long, low, thatched cottage about half a mile from Greyabbey, on the left-hand side of the road leading to Donaghadee, and stood near the road, from which it was separated by a small strip of green sod without enclosure or shrubbery. The building was not unlike the engravings of the cottage in which Burns, the poet, was born, perhaps rather better, but still an humble dwelling. Here, attending to his farm, his professional duties and the care of his children, his life passed in peace and poverty. The life of a Presbyterian clergyman was at that time a life of constant struggle. With the education and manners of gentlemen they were unable to live as such, but had frequently to earn their support by the sweat of their brow. It was genteel starvation. To this we add, as in my father’s case, the consciousness of talent and the promptings of a mind which no doubt sided with the people and eagerly longed for better government for their sake as well as his own, I cannot conceive a situation requiring more fortitude, philosophy and Christian resignation.” (By James Porter’s son James)

*Snuggery is a charming Irish term for a place that is snug, warm and full of loved ones. Larger Pubs in Ireland (North and the Republic) have separate closed off booths which are called “Snugs.”

“Like many clergymen of our Church, Mr. Porter cultivated a farm. In this avocation his mechanical tastes came into operation, and he constructed many models of improved agricultural implements. At the same time, he prosecuted his literary, scientific, and studying there for three sessions, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Bangor.”

“At the same time, he prosecuted his literary, scientific, and experiments by way of illustration.* These lectures were exceedingly popular, and were sometimes attended by members of Lord Londonderry’s family. Happy for James Porter had he kept to literature, science, and theology, and left politics to others! But he was a kind-hearted, unselfish man, and he was pained by the oppression of the people among whom he lived. For, at that time, tenant-farmers were little better than serfs, and the legalized robberies committed by landlords and rectors had driven them to the verge of rebellion. Indeed it appears that the general oppression inflicted by the State was not nearly so galling as the particular oppression of those who claimed the fruits of their labours and administered ” justice ” among them.

* His great grand-daughter, Mrs. Harris, in a very interesting sketch of Mr. Porter, states that her family possess portions of an electric machine which he used in these experiments. It is now converted into a looking-glass, and has a brass plate with a suitable inscription. Charles H. Teeling writes of Porter : ” His school was resorted to by the most ardent votaries of science, and the first in rank were proud to be numbered amongst his pupils. His discourses were plain — unostentatious— but adorned with a native simplicity of eloquence which riveted the attention of his auditors. If I have ever derived any pleasure in the pursuit of these delightful theories, I owe it to the early lessons of the eloquent and scientific Porter.” Sequel to Personal Narrative, p. 204.

“But there is no evidence to show that Mr. Porter ever became a United Irishman, or did anything more unlawful than to sympathize with those who suffered political and religious oppression, and to exhibit his sympathy by attacking abuses in the press, on the platform, and some times even in the pulpit. In the years 1794 and 1795, he published several songs in the Northern Star, which, with others, were afterwards republished under the title of ” Paddy’s Resource.” One of the most popular of Mr.Porter’s effusions was “The Exiled Irishman’s Lamentation ”

— Green were the fields where my forefathers dwelt.Tho’ our farm it was small, yet comforts we felt. At length came the day when our lease did expire, And fain would I live where before lived my sire ; But, ah ! well-a-day ! I was forced to retire.”

“At this period there were neither police nor stipendiary magistrates, and accordingly the maintenance of order and the local administration of justice was in the hands of land lords, agents, and rectors, who were often guided by the information of spies and base informers, that accused the innocent as well as the guilty. Mr. Porter’s sympathy was touched, and his anger aroused by the treatment experienced by his friends the farmers, and he applied the lash of satire to some of their oppressors in a series of letters, signed “Billy Bluff,” which, in 1796, appeared in the Northern Star. These letters were then circulated far and wide;  they have been several times reprinted, and they present the very best picture that we have of the relations that prevailed between landlord and tenant during the latter part of the last century. In attacking a system, Mr. Porter held up to ridicule the persons by whom that system was represented. ” Lord Mount-mumble,” represented the Earl of Londonderry ; “Squire Firebrand,” Mr. Montgomery, of Greyabbey (not the Rev. J. Cleland, as stated by some Historians), and “Billy Bluff,” one Billy Lowry, bailiff and spy on Mr. Montgomery’s estate. Lord Londonderry recognized his own likeness, and, it is generally believed, awaited patiently the time when he would be revenged.  Although those letters contained some strong language, charging Mr. Pitt with bringing the country to the verge of destruction, with invective quite as fierce could be found in Coleridge’s Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, written a short time previously. The following extract may serve as a specimen :

— “You will talk of Ireland — of Ireland, my Lord, not of the blood-thirsty, supercilious, unprincipled ascendancy, who watch over the public that they may destroy every thing great and good in the mind of man ; who herd together for the purpose of forging heavier chains for their country ; who distrust the people ; belie their spirit ; scoff at their com plaints, and imprudently call themselves Ireland. Your duty and inclination will concur in leaving off this deceitful veil ; your sovereign will know the truth from your own lips ; he will hear that a few proud aristocrats hold the representation of the country in their own hands ; that three-fourths of the people are excluded from participating in the benefits of the  people are excluded from participating in the benefits of the constitution;  that 800,000 Northern’s are insulted and reviled because they talk of Emancipation, Union, and Reform ; and that forced oaths, overflowing bastiles(sic), and foreign troops, are the only means taken for extorting loyalty from his Irish subjects.”

“Towards the end of 1796, a French fleet that was carrying an army to invade Ireland was dispersed by a storm, and soon afterwards the Government appointed a thanksgiving for this deliverance. On the appointed day, which was Thursday, the 16th of February, 1797, Mr. Porter preached a sermon, in which he tried to prove that the Government were saved from disaster by the intervention of Providence, working through the elements, and not by their own foresight or the valour (sic) of their army. The inference to be drawn was that inasmuch as the Government might not be provided with a storm to scatter the next fleet of invaders, the people ought to “unite” to protect themselves.”

“This sermon he afterwards published under the title Wind and Weather. Although Mr. Porter had kept clear of treason, he knew well that he was exceedingly obnoxious to the local authorities. Accordingly, when the insurrection broke out in 1798, he retired to a place of concealment in the neighbourhood(sic), which he sometimes ventured to leave by night to visit his family. Being soon discovered, he was arrested. First, he was brought to Belfast and then to Newtownards, where he, was tried by court-martial on the charge of assisting to take a military dispatch from a post boy. Mr. Porter solemnly denied the truth of this accusation, and the boy refused to swear to his identity. A paid informer was then produced, who testified all that was necessary. On the unsupported evidence of this wretch, Mr. Porter was condemned.”

“After his condemnation, according to an oft-quoted MS., he addressed the Court as follows : “Gentlemen, during the course of this mock trial I was repeatedly interrupted when putting questions to that self-convicted witness, who stands before you to swear away my life and the lives of other men to save his own ; and I do most solemnly appeal to you as to the dreadful injustice of passing sentence of death on such evidence. You were much disappointed when the post boy could not identify me, and he was the only person who could recognise (sic) the individual who committed the offence (sic). But because there was a large reward offered for my apprehension, you were determined you would find a person who should accomplish your purpose, although at the expense of violating everything sacred in a court of justice ; else why put me on my trial and give a verdict against me on the sole testimony of a renegade and a notorious paid informer?  I pray God He may open your eyes to the iniquitous evidence now before you, or you will be guilty of the blood of an innocent man, and base gold will prove to be the cause of my destruction, and the unjust judgment will be registered in the records of heaven, with tenfold vengeance on your own heads when you shall appear before the Great Judge of the quick and the dead. Therefore pause, gentlemen, before you pass the awful sentence of death upon the individual now before you, who, in the course of a laborious and active life, never concealed his sentiments, but expressed the honest convictions of his mind, verbally and in writing, upon all occasions when he thought the interest of his country was concerned.”

“But this appeal was of no avail, and sentence was passed of death by hanging, and afterwards the usual brutal mutilation of the body. Again Mr. Porter addressed the Court to this effect : ” The verdict just pronounced by the Court has had the effect of rousing my indignation and giving energy to my spirit ; and if mercy — which I do not expect from this Court — does not avert the awful calamity that awaits me, what will become of my beloved wife and children, who are endeared to me by the tenderest ties of love, duty, and affection?  They will be desolate wanderers, and experience all the horrors of anguish and despair. May the God of all worlds, who is the Searcher of hearts, pardon my many weaknesses and errors ; and, as I freely forgive all my enemies, may God, in His infinite mercy, forgive them also.

Ballindrait Presbyterian ChurchBallendrait

“Thus was James Porter condemned for a crime he had never committed and learned his fate with resignation. {Before his wife left}, the order arrived for his execution. When informed that his remains would be given to his friends, he said to his wife, “Then, my dear, I shall lie at home to-night.” Even in his execution the spirit of revenge was distinctly visible. A member of his own congregation was compelled to erect the scaffold, and it was placed in such a position that it could be distinctly seen from the meeting-house and from Mr. Porter’s own private residence.”

“In addition to all, many members of the congregation were compelled to be present as unwilling spectators of the execution. Mr. Porter was hanged on the 2nd of July, 1798. His wife accompanied him to the scaffold, and was removed in a state of distraction. Mr. Porter then ascended the steps with courage and calmness. He sang the 35th Psalm, and after wards prayed fervently. In a few minutes all was over. His body having been brought home, was laid on a sofa. After a while one of the fatherless little ones, coming into the room, exclaimed “Father is sleeping long to-day.”

“The notice of the execution which appeared in the News-Letter next day is exceedingly brief “The Rev. James Porter, dissenting minister of Greyabbey, found guilty;  also sentenced to be executed on the 2nd, which was put into execution yesterday at the rear of his own meeting-house at Greyabbey;  head not severed.”

His remains were left to rest in the churchyard of Greyabbey, where their place of repose is marked by a flat gravestone thus inscribed :  “Sacred to the memory of the Reverend James Porter, dissenting minister of Greyabbey, who departed this life July 2, 1798, aged 45 years.” “Also his wife Anna Porter alias Knox who died 3rd November, 1823 aged 70 Years
Also Eliza Porter a child.”

The following paragraph’s were written by James Porter Jr. in America describing the day his father died and the affect upon the family:

“On the morning of the day which terminated my father’s life (2nd July 1798) he got into a carriage at the hour of 11 o’clock and was conducted by a guard of cavalry from Newtownards to Greyabbey where a temporary gallows was erected on a small hill which overlooked the meetinghouse (not only in sight of the meeting house – but with a refinement of cruelty such as fiends only could have imagined – commanding on the other side a near view of his cottage where his wife and children were waiting in a horrible state of agony for the lifeless body of a husband and a father.) Whether Lord Londonderry or Atherton suggested this worse than Boeotian (Greek monster 0f Myth) torment on a dying man I do not know,  I will not attribute it to either, for fear of depriving the other of the credit) where he had officiated as a pastor for ten years.”

“My mother rode with him to the place of execution. During the ride the conversation turned on her future course in life. He directed her to send his sons to America as soon as they were of age to leave her and told her that he had had too many evidences in his life of God’s providence to doubt that she and her daughters would be protected and provided for.”

“When they arrived at the fatal spot my mother kissed him for the last time. “He walked to the gallows with a firm step and dignified bearing singing the 35th Psalm and praying earnestly.” (Rev Bewglass) There was scarcely any one present, but the military, at the execution. It was intimated to the tenants of Lord Londonderry that it was his Lordship’s wish they should attend, but I believe nothing but force could have drawn fifty men in the Barony to have witnessed a spectacle which so shocked public feeling. The account, therefore, of his conduct in his last moments could only be gathered from the soldiers. They, I have been told, were much impressed by his firmness and resignation. It is stated he prayed for his family, asked forgiveness of his God for the sins he must have committed in life, declared he forgave his enemies and hoped God would do so – he then gave the fatal signal and was launched into eternity. His struggles, I have learned, were severe, and his death must have been painful.”

“When she returned to the manse, the children were all at the door, waiting for her arrival. She did not sit down. In an hour after, the body she had left in health and strength and all the pride of manly beauty was delivered to her a corpse. She had it carried into the room, and I remember that until the next morning no solicitation or entreaty could tear her from its side. Nor would she sit down. She stood and looked on it with her hands clasped. Not a tear fell, not a word escaped her lips”

There is commentary and  some primary sources that state that the Rev. James Porter knew and looked the informant in the eyes from the gallows and said that he “declared he forgave his enemies.” This informant was Nicholas Magin called “the Saintfield Informer” who gave the government often embellished information about the military plans and preparations of the United Irishmen in exchange for payment (Ironically he would die in debt)

*for more information see the Rev. John Cleland papers including the following item all housed at PRONI (Belfast)  15 Jan. 1799  Nicholas Magecan (Misspelled Magin)  John Cleland  Mr. Price Dr. Dickson. Deposition. Saintfield.

There are also some stories that still circulate that young Alexander Porter who was 11 years old when his father was murdered, participated (and even carried a flag that was blown to pieces) in the Battle of Ballynahinch the month before his father’s death. I doubt this!  Never mind the age,  but I really find it hard to believe the father would put his son in what was the one of the largest battle of the Rebellion of 1798.  Here is a part of the myth (Keeping in mind, there is also a little bit of truth in lore) “When the United Irishmen were defeated at the Battle of Ballynahinch, Alexander Porter escaped from the battlefield and made his way to the home of his father’s cousin, Andrew Stilley of Ballindrait (see above this is who Rev. James Porter made the Sundial for) who sheltered him. But after a time, he was recognised.(sic) He was then hidden by a neighbour, a tailor named Donald McGinley from Guystown.

He probably was hidden by his mother who was terribly afraid of repercussions on the part of Lord Londonderry and was known to hide the children when he passed by her house. When the tension was finally easing up (1801) over the failed rebellion, the idea was put forth to follow through with Rev. Porter’s plans of sending the two sons (Alexander Porter & James Porter) and apparently a daughter, to America with their Uncle Alexander Porter acting as guardian, this was circa 1801.

In the time period from 1785 to 1810, Emigration Agents were located throughout the larger towns of Northern Ireland encouraging people to leave Ireland for a new life and start in America. One example of an Agent representing the shipping companies was the Rev. Peter McMillan (McMullen) of the Presbyterian Seceder church at Ahoghill.~~~There will be more on him in future posts.

Several accounts have the mother – Anne Knox Porter, going to America with “most” of the children. But, she did not leave Donegal. For some time after his death, his widow and daughter’s resided in a small cottage near Greyabbey (Celtic called Gryba.) Mrs. Porter finally won her right to an annuity from the widows’ fund which was for a time in doubt; it was paid (including arrears) from 1800. She never remarried and died there in 1823 and is buried alongside her lamented spouse.

Of the six daughters of Mr. James Porter who stayed behind in Ireland they intermarried with prominent men from the region. The following are the daughter’s and who they married:

The eldest daughter Ellen Ann Porter married John Cochrane Wightman, Presbyterian minister of Holywood.

Matilda Porter married Andrew Goudy,  Presbyterian minister of Ballywater. They had two sons (including Alexander Porter Goudy) and a daughter.

Isobella Porter, married James Templeton, Presbyterian minister of Ballywater.

Sophia Porter married William Dickey Henderson of Belfast. She kept up correspondence with her brothers in the United States.

Rebecca Porter who married Mr Allison.

Eliza Porter died young and is buried with her parents.

Coming later this week:

Oaklawn Manor Plantation Louisiana and the 1798 Irish Rebellion Part 2 -America