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Ancestor of the Month

December 2009 

 

Ambrose Porter

b. 1731                  d. 1773

 

Ambrose Porter is one of our ancestors who illustrates the difficulty in finding information about our forebears.  He also illustrates how names can help or hinder in research. 

 

The Problem

 

Our Ambrose Porter was born in America, and we luckily know his descendants down to the present day.  His ancestral lineage, however, may never be successfully pinned down.  The problem begins because there are lots of Porters, lots of Benjamins, and surprisingly, lots of Ambroses.  In beginning this research, I wrongly assumed that looking for information on a name as unique as Ambrose Porter would be a cakewalk.  Wrong.  There are scads of Ambrose Porters:  ministers, alumni of Ivy League colleges, landowners, people named in wills in England and America.  They’re everywhere.  There is even a Medal of Honor winner named Ambrose Porter buried in Missouri.  Ambrose Porters lived in Virginia, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Georgia. There are also lots of Benjamins and Nicholases (Ambrose’s supposed father and grandfather.)  On top of that, all the Porters in each generation seemed determined to name as many as possible of their male children Benjamin, Nicholas, and Ambrose.

 

Apparently a number of Porter descendants have attached themselves to “our” Benjamin because of the similarities of names.  Some of the Porters are from England, some from Ireland, and some of the ones in question were born in America. Our Ambrose was born in 1731 or thereabouts in Orange Co., VA, and died after 25 Jun 1773 in (prob.) VA. He was the son of Benjamin Porter and Ann Campbell (who, by the way, was born in Ireland, Wales, England, and/or Virginia.)  There are as many as twenty-two children credited to Benjamin and Ann between 1714 and 1755.  Astounding feat, but somehow improbable.  Perhaps Benjamin was married twice.

 

Apparently at least two extended Porter families lived in colonial Virginia on opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The older Porter family had been in the colonies for some time.  Nicholas Porter was living in Virginia as early as 1637, and it is possible that his family had moved to the colonies even before that.  This Porter family settled first along the York and Rappahannock rivers but eventually moved west across the Blue Ridge.  This family was among the first to settle in Spotsylvania County, which was formed in 1721 from King William and Essex Counties. They are probably ours.  The other Porters, those more newly arrived, were said to be part of a massive influx of Irish and Scots-Irish immigrants who arrived in the south and traveled north through the Shenandoah Valley, settling on the eastern side of the mountains.  Both families claim a Benjamin married to an Ann Campbell with a son named Ambrose.  Tradition has it that our Benjamin lived west of the Blue Ridge.

 

Luckily, when our Ambrose died, he named his children and grandchildren in his will.  Thus, we know he is ours and we are his.  Beyond that, the waters are murky.  Most sources say Ambrose is the son of Benjamin and Ann Campbell Porter, but Benjamin does not name Ambrose as one of his children in his will.  This does not necessarily mean Benjamin is not Ambrose’s father, but a mention in the will would certainly have been helpful for those of us who came later.  Since we know Ambrose is ours, why not just take him and be happy, leaving the tangled knot of Benjamins, Anns, and Nicholases  (or in some cases George) for “cousins” who will come after us to untie.

 

Marriage and Family

 

In 1743 or 1744, Ambrose married Jemima Smith (?) (b.c1717-d. aft. 1773) in Essex Co., VA.  According to Ambrose’s will, the couple had six children: 

 

  1. Nancy Ann (Nannie) (b.1745-d.1818), m. in 1760 to John Ownby (b.1735-d.1824).  Nannie (called Ann in the will) is our ancestor.  She and John had 14 children.  (See the AOM article on John Ownby in the Archives.  Click link at the top of this page.)
  2. Mary (b. 1745-d. probably between 21 November 1785 and 17 April 1786) was possibly the wife of Henry McDaniel (b. c1730-d. c1819), farmer and landowner in VA.  Henry is named in Ambrose’s will as an executor.  He owned land or lived in Halifax, Pittsylvania, Bedford, Greenbrier, and Monroe Counties, VA. He died in Monroe Co., VA in 1819     
  3. Benjamin (b.1748-d.?) m. Unknown. Benjamin had at least one son, Julius N(icholas) who was born in SC.  Benjamin signed an Oath of Allegiance in Pittsylvania Co., VA in 1777.  IF he is the Benjamin Porter listed on the1784 Tax Returns for Fredrick's Parish, SC, he owned 1725 acres and 33 slaves at that time.  Census records for Charleston, SC list records for a Benjamin Porter in 1800,1810, and 1820.
  4. Jane (b.1750-d.?)
  5. Joseph N(icholas) (b. 10 Feb 1755-d. Sep 1825 in GA)  Joseph married Rose Taliaferro  (b. 23 Apr 1758-d. 13 Oct 1819) on 6 Feb 1777.  Rose was the daughter of Dr. John and Mary Hardin Taliaferro.  Joseph and Rose had five children: John Taliaferro b. 26 Jan 1778, Ambrose Richard b. 23 Jan 1782, Mary "Elizabeth" b. 1787, Behethland  b. 13 Jun 1793, and Richard Taliaferro b. 25 Jul 1800.  Joseph signed an Oath of Allegiance in Pittsylvania Co, VA in 1777.  During the Revolution, Joseph was a Corporal 2 (1775-1776) in Capt. William Shepard's Company, NC Revolutionary Army. Joseph and his wife came to GA from Surry, NC with his father-in-law, Dr. John Taliaferro, sometime between 1790 and 1794. Joseph wrote and signed a will 4 Jun 1820.
  6. Susannah (b.1756-d.?) in Pittsylvania County, Virginia  m.15 NOV 1777 to John May (b.?-d.1819) in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. John died 1819 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

 

Property and Possessions

 

Not too much is known about Ambrose’s life in VA, but on 7 Mar 1769 he was listed as a surveyor of a road built from Thomas Parks’ property to the main road by Gabriel Penn's in Amherst Co., VA.  We also know that he was a property owner, for on 27 April 1764, John Ownby, Ambrose’s son-in-law, bought 359 acres on the north branch of the Buffalo River and the north side of Fluvanna from Charles Parkes.  This land ran “with the lines of Ambrose Porter.” Ambrose’s will indicates that he and his family were fairly well off financially.  In it he mentions land, plantations, and slaves that he wants to leave to his wife and children.  The inventory of his property also mentions books which suggests that education and learning were important to the family

 

On 18 June 1773 Ambrose wrote his Last Will and Testament.  On 25 Jun 1773, he added a codicil.   Sometime between that date and 22 Jul 1773 when the will was probated, Ambrose died.  He was buried in Mountain Creek Church Cemetery in Pittsylvania County, VA.   It is from his will that researchers have gleaned most of the information that we know about him and his family.

 

Last  Will and Testament

 

AMBROSE PORTER being very sick in body but of perfect mind and memory.

To my daughter ANN (this is our ancestor, “Nannie”) 1 shilling

To my daughter ANN's five youngest children: JOHN, MILLEY, SUSANNA, AMBROSE and ARTHUR to each one a cow to be delivered to them as they come of age 9 or 10 years.

To my daughter MARY 150 acres with the plantation that she now lives on, on White Oak creek, likewise the 2 cows she now has, 1 feather bed and a side saddle.

 

To my two sons BENJAMIN and JOSEPH the remainder of my lands to be equally divided. BENJAMIN to have the first choice and to JOSEPH one colt named Partner. If either or both sons die without issue, then their part or parts to go to my other children.

To my well beloved wife JEMIMA PORTER all the rest of my estate and the use of my plantation during her life or widowhood.

To my daughters JANE and SUSANNA at the death of my wife or her marriage, fifty pounds each out of the moveable estate.

Should there be anything over that, to be divided amongst my five youngest children: MARY, BENJAMIN, JANE, JOSEPH and SUSANNAH

 

Appoint HENRY MC DANIEL and my son BENJAMIN PORTER executors.  (Henry McDaniel was probably Ambrose’s son-in-law)

Wit: RICHARD TALIFAFERRO, PETER JAMES BAILEY, MARY (X) PROSIGH (Richard Talifaferro was Joseph Porter’s brother-in-law)

 

On 25 Jun 1773 the following codicil was added:

 If negro wench Bett continues to breed, her increase to be divided among my five youngest children as above mentioned.

JOHN DONELSON security for executors

 

This will provokes some questions.  Why did Nannie receive only 1 shilling?  Often such a bequest indicates some family disapproval or punishment.  Perhaps her father considered Nannie better off financially than her sister Mary who was also married.  Mary, however, received not only land and a plantation, she also received a sidesaddle and a feather bed.  Could that last bequest indicate a slap at Nannie?  As a final rebuff, if any additional estate were found or any extra slaves were born, the division was to be among all of Ambrose’s children except Nannie.

 

On the other hand, Ambrose did see that Nannie’s children received bequests, whereas Mary’s did not.  Although I did find one source that indicated that there might have been some dissension between the Porter and Talifaferro families (rumors that the Porters were Quakers and the Talifaferros were Baptists), I found nothing other than Ambrose’s will to indicate that there were problems between the Porters and the Ownbys.

 

Descendants

 

Around 1780, about 7 or 8 years after Ambrose’s death, some of his children and their families and friends moved to the Carolinas.  Some of these and/or their descendants later moved on into GA and TN (including the children of our ancestors John and Nannie Ownby.)  One Porter researcher has stated that his own ancestors came to the Carolinas from “Pittsylvania or King George/Stafford [Counties], VA with Dr. John Taliaferro.”  Dr. Taliaferro, remember, was the father of Rose Taliaferro who married Joseph Porter. In Dr. Taliaferro’s own history, he writes that “he moved to Georgia from Surry, NC with his son-in-law, Joseph Porter, sometime between 1790 and 1794.”  This same researcher’s description of the migrating Porter-Taliaferros was that  “they were prosperous farmers, progressive in their techniques. In general, they tended to their own business and therefore [did] not figure prominently on the roles of civil or military offices, public or private scoundrels, or the rich or poverty stricken.”  If this is the case, one might assume that the Porters had probably followed that same quiet lifestyle in VA, leaving us with little public information to find today.

 

Jemima Porter survived her husband, although we do not know how much longer she lived.  She is probably buried in Pittsylvania, VA, but she may have lived long enough to travel with her children and their families to NC.

 

Ambrose Porter is another of our ancestors who did not make his way into the history books.  Nevertheless, he undoubtedly gave his children the background, education, and will to succeed that helped them to be numbered among our country’s pioneers.

 

Ambrose Porter was Papaw’s 4-great grandfather.  If you are Eli McCarter’s great great grandchild, Ambrose Porter is your 8-great grandfather.

 

Line of Descent from Ambrose Porter to Rev. Eli McCarter

 

Ambrose Porter (1731-1773) + Jemima (Smith?) (c1731-after 1773)

Nancy Ann Porter (c1745-c1818) + Johny Ownby (1735-1824)

James Ownby (1761-1850) + Joanna Sims (1761-1852)

John Ownby (1791-1857) + Mary Koone  (1793-1881)

Mary Ownby (1814-1846) + Thomas McCarter (1811-1888)

Thomas Hill McCarter (1846-1923) + Marriah Reagan (1842-1923)

Rev. Eli McCarter (1886-1955) + Mary Elizabeth Hatcher (1889-1969)

 

Sources

 

“Ambrose Porter,” Photos of Medal of Honor Gravesites in the State of Missouri..  www.homeofheroes.com/gravesites/states/missouri.html

 

“Ancestors of Tami Altman.”  http://www.angelfire.com/folk/tamisfamilytree/pafn09.htm

 

Benjamin Porter.” Smokykin.com

 

“Chapter 7”  http://www.geocities.com/taliaferro_family_2002/Chapter-7.html

 

“Data 29”  http://www.byron.johnson.org/d29.htm

 

“Descendants of Capt. John Dent.”  http://dkwilde.com/Genealogy/Dent/genmain/dent/john1/john2/peter3chrono.html

 

“Linda Parson’s Notes” 

http://genealogy.wikia.com/wiki/Patrick_Porter_%281731-c1814%29/Linda_Parsons_Notes

 

“Mary Ann Unknown.”  http://hathcoat.org/p/cards/ps01/ps01_179.htm

 

McCarter Family Charts

 

Message Board, John S.. Ledford.”

http://boards.tiscali.ancestry.co.uk/thread.aspx?mv=flat&m=762&p=surnames.ledford

 

Message Board, Porter.”

http://boards.ancestry.com.au/surnames.porter/2413/mb.ashx

 

“My Family Tree.”  http://home.comcast.net/~davidmartin/ppl/a/b/abcefa6857c42843237.html

 

PORTER”   http://www.byron.johnson.org/johnson.htm#P1

 

Porter Family Genforum.  http://genforum.genealogy.com/porter/

 

“THE HISTORY of  PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY VIRGINIA, CHAPTER XII, PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY IN 1777.”  In “Janet’s Genealogy.”  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~janet/Heard.html

 

“The Owenby Family.”  http://obcgs.com/owenby.htm

 

 “The Porter Family Forest.”  http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=davidporter&id=I00019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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