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  • The Elusive Benjamin Porter (1760-1841)

    Mary B. Sherwood

    Published Date : April-May 1990
    In over 75 years, nobody apparently has responded to a Boston Evening Transcript query of 28 September 1914 (#4272):

    “Information of the ancestry of Benjamin Porter is desired. He was born at Bethlehem, Litchfield Co., Conn., May 10, 1760...Were Benjamin and Simeon Porter brothers?....etc.—[Signed] M.H.H.B.”

    If you’re still waiting, M.H.H.B., I think I can shed some light at the end of a long tunnel.

    My starting points were Benjamin’s Revolutionary War pension application (S23376 Conn.) and an unpublished family manuscript written about 1900 by Mary H. Hosmer (1850-1932), a granddaughter of Benjamin.  She lived in Batavia, Genesee Co., N.Y., where Benjamin had settled in 1802.

    Both pension application and family manuscnpt gave Benjamin’s date and place of birth as 10 May 1760, Bethlehem, Litchfield Co., Conn., but did not name his parents.  I found nothing helpful in any published Porter genealogies.

    There is, however, a manuscript at NEHGS (“Porter Notes, Temporary, Addenda G”) by Mrs. Winifred Lovering Holman Dodge which traces a Porter line in the desired area of Connecticut. This manuscript does not mention Benjamin, but does name some members of the family of Nathaniel and Joanna (Smith) Porter, formerly of Farmington, who farmed at Bethlehem, then a part of Woodbury, Conn.  Mrs. Dodge gave Nathaniel as a son of Thomas and Abigail (Cowles) Porter and a grandson of Robert Porter (an early landowner at Farmington, who died in 1689) by his first marriage to Mary Scott.

    It seemed appropriate to search for Benjamin’s parents among the Porters of Bethlehem.  Land records listed Nathaniel Porter and identified three married sons who farmed at Bethlehem: Nathaniel, Thomas (both named in the Dodge ms.) and John, not named in the Dodge ms., but referred to in Woodbury land records (7:79, 275), as a son of Nathaniel.  Another land record refers to Thomas Porter, brother of John Porter; and to John and Deborah Porter, his wife.

    I looked among the Bethlehem Porter families to find one into which Benjamin’s 1760 birth might “fit.”  The date was impossible for the families of either the younger Nathaniel or of Thomas; no records of births to John and his wife were found.  However, Woodbury VRs list the marriage of a John Porter to Deborah Hand 14 January 1750/51 (Woodbury VRs, LRB 2).

    The Mary Hosmer ms. said that Benjamin had a brother John who came from Goshen, Conn. to New York in 1795.  Benjamin enlisted in the Revolutionary War from Bethlehem in 1776, 1777, and February 1778.  In April 1778, Benjamin entered service from Goshen, “where he then resided.”  After the war Benjamin lived at Goshen for about 14 years, moved to Sangerfield, Oneida Co., N.Y., where he lived about six years, and [59] finally removed to Batavia, N.Y. where he farmed for many years and died, aged about 80, in 1841.

    Goshen land records (7:18) record the sale of land to John and Benjamin Porter 6 December 1784. This John was probably the brother, rather than the John who had previously owned land in Bethlehem; Bethlehem Congregational Church records showed that his second wife Rebecca Joslin died in 1793 as “widow of John Porter.”

    Goshen church records referred to Benjamin, but proved misleading.  Benjamin was here referred to as the brother of Seth Porter, a surveyor; however, these records had been reconstructed from earlier, destroyed documents and interviews.  Seth Porter was the son of Lt. Elijah and Thankful (Bull) Porter of Farmington, the births of whose nine children were all recorded there.  Their seventh child, Elijah, was born 15 February 1761 at Farmington - making Benjamin’s May 1760 birth at Bethlehem highly unlikely for this family.

    I searched for evidence of John as Benjamin’s brother.  The only record of this John I had was the unsuccessful Revolutionary War pension application (R8344 John Porter, Conn.) of John Porter, who gave his birthplace as Bethlehem and claimed to have served from Connecticut at various times from 1776 to 1783.  To support his claim this John Porter submitted a sworn statement by Benjamin Porter of Genesee Co., N.Y., that he (Benjamin) had knowledge of John Porter’s having enlisted as a private in the service of his country during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, Benjamin did not indicate any family relationship to this John, who lived at Reading and later Wayne, Steuben Co., N.Y.

    Other accompanying documents sworn to in 1823 by James Egleston and wife Ruth of Bethlehem state that in 1779 John Porter, “then John Porter Jr.,” moved with his family, then only a wife and one child, to the Eglestons’, where the wife and child lived while John Porter “was gone a soldiering.”  This statement could give the name of John’s father, since John the applicant is referred to by the Eglestons as “then John Jr.”

    Despite the lack of specific documentation, it is reasonable to conclude that John Jr. and Benjamin Porter were brothers, on the basis of (1) Bethlehem births claimed by both men, (2) the shared property in Goshen, (3) the Hosmer ms. reference to “John Porter, brother of Benjamin Porter,” who went from Goshen, Conn. to New York State, and (4) Benjamin’s affidavit supporting John’s pension claim.

    Both Benjamin and John Jr. are therefore almost certainly the sons of John Porter of Bethlehem (Woodbury) and his wife Deborah Hand.  That Benjamin named his first daughter Debby tends to confirm this conclusion.

    Benjamin Porter died in Batavia, Genesee Co., N.Y. 24 August 1841 and is buried in Batavia Cemetery.  He married (1) Rosenna Howe (also called Rosanna Powers in the Hosmer ms.), b. poss. Litchfield Co., Conn, ca. 1760-63, d. Batavia March 1830, “aged 67,” of unknown parentage (Hosmer ms.; D.W. Howe, Howe Genealogies, vol. 2 [1929], pp. 582-83, treats her as miscellaneous, “probably a descendant of Edward Howe” [of Lynn], and does not say why she should be so placed; he gives her age at death as 70).  Benjamin married (2), as her second husband, Rachel (Johnson) Bradley, b. prob. New Haven ca. 1774, d. 6 October 1847, bur. Hamden, Conn., daughter of Job and Susanna (Sperry) Johnson and widow of Ezra Bradley (D. L. Jacobus, Families of Ancient New Haven [1922-32, repr. 1974], 1:279, 2:1047.

    According to the Hosmer ms., Benjamin’s children (all by Rosenna) were:

    1. Levi, b. Goshen, Conn. 18 Jan. 1781 Goshen VRs 1:244; Barbour collection], d. Navy Yard, N.Y. in War of 1812.
    2. Debby, b. 19 Oct. 1783, d. 11 May 1856; m. (1) John S. Leonard, (2) ___ Barross and (3) C. Denio. (Note: John S. Leonard seems so far unidentified.  An Epaphas Barross was an early nineteenth-century Batavia resident, and an Evander Barross was postmaster there in 1854; Debby’s third husband “C. Denio” may have been Cotton Denio, b. Greenfield, Mass, in May or June 1778, d. Batavia 5 Dec. 1846, ae. 68:6, son of Solomon and Esther [Pennell] Denio.  According to F.B. Denio and H.W. Denio, A Genealogy of Aaron Denio of Deerfield, Massachusetts 1704-1925 (1926) this Cotton m. three times.  His first and second wives [by both of whom he had ch.] were Nancy Sloan and Elizabeth Christie; the third wife’s name was left blank.)
    3. Philo, b. Goshen (Hosmer ms.) 22 June 1787, d. East Toledo, Ohio 8 Feb. 1863; m. Attica, Genesee Co., N.Y. 12 Oct. 1809 Lucy Brown, b. New Marlborough, Mass. 29 July 1786, dau. of Azariah and Ruth (Hitchcock) Brown of Genesee Co.
    4. Anna, b. perhaps Goshen 8 Sept. 1789, d. 5 Aug. 1850; m. ___ Morley.
    5. Benjamin, b. perhaps Goshen 8 Nov. 1793; m. Sarah Quance, perhaps rel. to the Isaac Quance of Batavia, “a native of Southampton, Mass. [who] came to Genesee County in 1808,” m. Mehitable Powers (dau. of Peter and Sally) and d. 1851, ae. 61 (F.W. Beers, Gazetteer and Biographical Record of Genesee County, N.Y. 1788-1890 [1890], p. 305.  Benjamin Porter, Jr. may also have rem. to East Toledo.
    6. Lucy, b. perhaps Goshen 19 May 1798, d. 27 Nov. 1835; m. Levi Crawford.

    Finally, the Simeon Porter who M.H.H.B. thought might be Benjamin’s brother is instead, then, a first cousin, born at Woodbury 26 November 1737, the oldest child of Nathaniel Porter by his second wife Abigail Joslin.  Nathaniel and Abigail had eight more children, all born in Salisbury.

    Mary B. Sherwood contributed “The Barbour Connection" to NEXUS (4119871:2 9). She has written for the Mayflower Quarterly, and is the author of Pilgrim: A Biography of William Brewster (1982) and Nicholas Burke (1838-1878), Margaret Shannon (1838-1916): Their Descendants and a Few Ancestors (7985) in the NEHGS collection.  Before her retirement she was a writer for the U.S. Information Agency.  Interested readers may write her at 7402 Lanham Road, Falls Church, VA 22043.

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