Select Porter Surname Genealogy

Porter is French in origin and is an occupational name. 

The word may have come from the old French portier.  Here it would describe the gatekeeper of a town or the doorkeeper of a large house.  The Milo Portarius who appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 was the gatekeeper or porter of Winchester castle.  The office could come with accommodation and even be hereditary.

Alternatively Porter could derive from the Old French porteour, meaning "to carry" or "convey."  This usage as a load bearer probably came in later.  A porter here reflects the modern sense of one who carries loads for a living.  It was, in medieval times, a well-organized trade.  In York in 1495 it was written that "every porter must observe and keep their ordinances in every point or article," or risk a heavy fine.

Porter may as well be an anglicized Jewish name, for example Sir Leslie Porter (from Pasamount) in England and Jack Nusan Porter (from Puchtik) in America..     

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Select Porter Ancestry

England.  There was a le Porter family recorded in Essex in the late 13th century.  Some two hundred years later, Porter as a surname was spread more widely - to Kent and Essex in the southeast, to Nottinghamshire in the Midlands, and to Gloucestershire and Cornwall in the southwest:
  • a Porter family held Hall Place in Seal (near Sevenoaks) in Kent from 1448 to 1648 and the Porter name has continued in that area since that time. 
  • while Sir William Porter, sergeant-at-arms to Henry VII, came from Gloucestershire.  His descendant Endymion Porter was a courtier and diplomat in the service of Charles I.
Later distribution of the Porter name showed two Porter concentrations, one in the southeast around London and another further north in Lancashire and the northwest. 

NW England  The Porters of Allerby in Cumberland may date from the 1400ís.  This line perhaps died out by the early 1600ís.  But there were Porters nearby at Weary Hall and later at Low Holme in Eskdale.

The Porter family of Bury in Lancashire can be traced back to the 1650's.  Liverpool trade directories of the early 1800's list a number of Porters, including the alderman Thomas Colley Porter and the shipowner William Field Porter.  John Merry Porter from Manchester was one of the developers of Colwyn Bay in north Wales as a seaside resort in the early 1900's.         

The Porter name in the 20th century was carried by Sir Leslie and Dame Shirley Porter of Tesco supermarket fame and by the fictional Jimmy Porter, the angry young man of John Osborne's 1956 play Look Back in Anger.
Ireland.  Porter in Ireland appears mainly in Ulster and came from English plantation settlers in the 17th century.  They did not necessarily take the English side.  There were five Porters among the Jacobites outlawed in Ireland following the final defeat of James II in 1691.  The Rev. James Porter was a Presbyterian minister who was hanged in 1798 for his involvement in the Irish rebellion.

"Porter was a United Irishman who had published a series of letters under the title of Blind Bluff and Square Firebrand which had drawn the attention of the Government.  He was tried on the false evidence of an informer and hanged at Greyabbey, county Down, within sight on his home and church."

Alexander Porter of this family escaped to America in 1801.  He was an early settler in Louisiana and became its senator in 1833.

There were, however, Porters who took the English line.  One such was John Porter, a Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, who came to Ireland in 1795 and became the Anglican bishop of Clogher.  His family acquired the Belle Isle estate in county Longford in 1830.  Son John Grey Vesey Porter was involved in a scandalous affair that came to light in a Dublin courtroom in 1870.       

  The early Porter arrivals were mainly into New England.

New England  John Porter from Dorset arrived in 1635 with his wife Mary on the Susan & Ellen and settled in Salem, Massachusetts.  He and his family prospered there, but at the expense of a feud with the Putnam family.
"The interfamily rivalry began in 1672 when a dam and sawmill run by the Porters flooded the Putnam farms.  Seventeen years later, the arrival of the Rev. Samuel Parris intensified the conflict.  It was Parris, backed by the Putnams, who initiated the witchcraft complaints and accusations."

A later Porter, Benjamin, moved to West Boxford in 1716 and became the wealthiest man there.  His progeny included many distinguished doctors, lawyers, professors, and businessmen.  Rufus Porter, who grew up in Maine, was the founder of Scientific American

Other New England arrivals were:
  • Richard Porter who arrived in 1635 and settled in Weymouth, Massachusetts.  Terry Porter-Fahey's 2008 book The Richard Porter Family Genealogy described this family's line.
  • John and Rose Porter who came to America in 1637 and were one of the early settlers of Windsor, Connecticut.  Son Samuel was a prosperous merchant but daughter Hannah was slain by Indians at her home in Hadley in 1677.  Joshua Porter fought in the Revolutionary War and son Peter Buell was a successful general in the War of 1812.  Later Porters migrated to Illinois, Texas, and Oklahoma.
There were two brothers, Robert and Thomas Porter, who settled in Farmington, Connecticut in 1640 and possibly a third brother, Dr. David Porter, who was the town's physician.  The Rev. Noah Porter was the Congregational Minister of Farmington from 1806 to 1866.  His son was Noah Porter, the academic and writer who was President of Yale University and his daughter Sarah Porter, who founded Miss Porter's School in Farmington in 1843 (which still flourishes).
Some Porters distinguished themselves at sea:
  • there was a Porter family of eight brothers in Freeport, Maine who were all involved in the sea in some fashion.  Two of these brothers, William and Samuel, had the fast-sailing schooner the Dash built to run the British seaborne blockade during the War of 1812.  Porters Landing in Freeport was named after these Porters. 
  • then there was Commodore David Porter, a hero of this war because of his daring capture of a British warship.  He was the father of Admiral David Dixon Porter and the adopted father of Admiral David Farragut, two of the leading naval officers of the Civil War.
Irish Porters  Many of the Porters who came to America originated from Ireland, notably among them being:
  • Robert Porter who came from Derry in Ireland in 1730 and eventually settled in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania.  His son Andrew distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War and was credited with helping to found the US Marines.  He was the forebear of a Porter political dynasty in Pennsylvania in the 19th century.
  • Patrick and Margaret Porter who left Ireland for America in the 1780's.  Their son Alexander came to Decatur, Indiana in the 1840's and was one of the town's first practicing physicians.  Gene Stratton Porter, who married into this family, became a well-known writer and nature photographer.  She had moved to California at the turn of the century but was killed in Hollywood in an early automobile accident in 1924. 
Tom Porter, born of poor Irish immigrant parents in Pennsylvania, had come to the Pacific Northwest in the 1870's and was an early logger and homesteader on the Skagit river (his wife Mima could recall vividly the flood of 1897 that nearly washed them downriver).  The family stayed on the homestead until Tom's death in 1927.

Canada.  Porter immigrants to Canada came from both England and Ireland.  William and Margaret Porter came to Manvers township, Ontario from Ireland in the 1840's.  David Porter was the son of Irish immigrants in Halton county, Ontario.  He started a sawmill there and then ran in local politics.

Australia.  The escapades of Jimmy Porter, escaped convict, provided the first account of a Porter in Australia. Today three homes offer insights into the lives of some later Porters:
  • Miss Porter's house in Newcastle, NSW had been built by Herbert Porter in 1909.  He died of the flu epidemic in 1921 and it was his wife and their two daughters who lived in the house.  None of these ladies married or re-married and this distinctive Edwardian house, which stayed relatively unchanged over the years, was made into a museum when the last daughter died in 1997.
  • Hubert Porter purchased the rural Ramsay homestead in the Reverina wine district of NSW in 1911.  Joel Porter is the fifth generation of the Porter family to own the property.
Another Porter in Australia, John Porter from Liverpool, discovered gold in NW Victoria in 1906 in one of the last individual gold rushes.  He named his gold nugget Poseidon after the winner of the Melbourne Cup horserace that day.

New Zealand.  William Field Porter was a failed shipowner from Liverpool who set off for New Zealand in 1841 to start a new life.  He came with his family on his own brig the Porter to Auckland where he was a merchant, local politician, and later farmer.  In 1907 his son recorded his remembrance of this voyage in his book Recollections of a Voyage to South Australia and New Zealand.

"The account, written in old age, gives a child's memory of the events of his early life, complete with explorers, pirates, whaling, exotic animals, and the strange indigenous inhabitants of his new home."

Select Porter Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Porter Names

Endymion Porter was an English diplomat and royalist at the time of Charles I.
Rufus Porter was an American inventor and, in 1845, the founder of Scientific American.
William Sydney Porter who wrote under the pen name O. Henry is considered as one of the masters of the short story.
Cole Porter was an American composer and songwriter.  His works have included musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes and songs such as I Get a Kick out of You and I've Got You under My Skin.
Sir Leslie Porter, born Leslie Pasamount, took over the management of the UK supermarket chain Tesco from his father-in-law Jack Cohen in 1973.  His wife was the controversial politician Shirley Porter.

Select Porters Today
  • 45,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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