The Porters From Virginia to Pennsylvania to Illinois to Nebraska

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The Porters and Mahoneys Unite

When Michael Mahoney married Josephine Porter in 1893 in Heartwell, Nebraska, they united two families with quite different histories. The Mahoneys were new to the United States, and Michael was a first-generation American. [His parents](dennis and mary.html) had endured the potato famines of Ireland and had come to the United States in the mid-1860s to build a better life for themselves and for their children. But the Porters had been in the United States for nearly 100 years before that, and perhaps longer, as it is not yet known who Edward Porter’s father was.

Josephine Amanda Porter knew the names of her parents and grandparents, her great-grandparents and her great-great-grandparents. These four couples are discussed here, beginning with her great-great grandparents:

Edward Porter (1770-?) and Elizabeth Morgan (1760-?)

Josephine’s great-great grandparents were Edward Porter and his wife, Elizabeth Morgan, but unfortunately not a great deal is known about them.

It is believed that Edward Porter was born in Virginia in 1770 and Elizabeth Morgan ten years earlier, in 1760. They married, probably in Virginia, in 1790. She would have been 30; he would have been 20.

Edward Porter and Elizabeth Morgan had at least seven children:

Edward and Elizabeth’s names are in the LDS database, along with their children, but numerous web sites express frustration at the inability to find out more about Edward Porter and Elizabeth Morgan.

Daniel Porter (1792-1836) and Catherine Gaffney (1787-1883)

Daniel Porter— the son of Edward Porter and Elizabeth Morgan — was born in 1792 in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

Daniel married Catherine Gaffney on 12 Jul 1809 in West Newton, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Catherine — the daughter of Edward Gaffney and Catherine Alstoots — had been born in 1787 (making her five years older than Daniel), also in Pennsylvania.

The census records indicate that Catherine and Daniel remained in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania through the 1810’s and early 1820’s. Westmoreland County (Map courtesy of Wikipedia) is located in the southwest portion of the state and was founded in February of 1773. It was the first colony in the state of Pennsylvania that was west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was in Westmoreland County that several of their children were born. West Newton, where Daniel and Catherine were married, is located 33 miles (53 km) southeast of Pittsburgh.

Later, Daniel and Catherine moved east to York County, where their three youngest children were born. York County was created in August of 1749 and named either for the Duke of York, an early patron of the Penn family, or for the city and shire of York in England. Its county seat is the city of York.

Daniel and Catherine had at least eight children:

“In 1834, [Daniel and Catherine] brought their family to Illinois and after traveling all over the state took up residence in Decatur on the 6th of October of that year. On account of the frequency of prairie fires, he avoided the newer settlements. He spent the 4th of July in Danville, and remained for about four weeks in Bloomington on this trip. He bought a farm of two hundred and forty acres adjoining Decator, which was already fenced and under cultivation.” 2

Daniel died in West Jersey, Stark County, Illinois on 5 February 1836. He was only 44 years old. At the time of his death, Catherine had at least eight children, ranging in age from 12 to 26. Eventually, her two sons, William and Isaiah, would travel to California, but William would return after two years of failure in mining. (Map at right courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Catherine can be found on the census listings for 1850 through 1880 — all in Stark County, Illinois. In 1850, she is living with three of her adult children — Aaron, Catherine, and Lucinda. Just ten years later, in 1860, she has joined her daughter, Lucinda, who is married to Daniel Gingrich and has given birth to eight children between 1850 and 1860. By 1870, Lucinda’s children have grown and some have left home, but 82-year-old Catherine still lives with her daughter, her son-in-law and five of her grandchildren. In 1880, at the age of 93, Catherine remains in the same home with her daughter, Lucinda (now 59 years old), and her son-in-law, Daniel Gingrich (now 71 years old). For more than twenty years, she lived with her daughter’s family.

Catherine obviously remained close to her children throughout her life. When her daughter and namesake Catherine Ann died, she willed several things to her mother, her sister, and her brother. Just three years after the 1880 Census, Catherine died on 25 May 1883 in West Jersey Township, Stark County, Illinois. She was 96 years old. In part, the will says:

“This is to certify that Catharine A. [Porter] Earhart deceased did according to the tenor of her will bearing date the 29th of Sept. 1856 make the following bequests & declarations in our presents on the 3 & 4th days of Dec 1856.

That s[h]e gave to her brother Edward Porter her watch & thirty dollars in money to come out of her estate.

To her Mother Catherine [Gaffney] Porter her buggy & her roan mare Kit for her own special benefit as long as she lives (or ?) at the death of her Mother Catharine Porter it is her will that Daniel Gingrich shall have the mare & Lucinda [Porter] Gingrich the buggy provided that the said Gingrich shall and does keep the said mare & buggy in readyness for the said Catharine [Gaffney] Porter to go when & where she pleases & should the said mare go blind or any accident happen (to) her so that she would not be safe or fit for her Mother to use & the said Gingrich gets or furnishes her another good safe & quiet beast for her use & if the said Gingrich keeps the buggy in good running order & repair it is her will that the said Daniel & Lucinda [Porter] Gingrich have them as above specified but if the said Gingrich should not keep the mare in readiness or another critter that is as safe or should let the buggy be or get out of repair then it is her will that A. J. Finly shall have the said Kit mare & Hanah Emery have the buggy.

It was her will & request that Aaron Porter her brother shall have the first colt that her Kit mare has.

It was her will & request that Lucinda Gingrich should have her bureau & money enough to buy herself a small rocking chair & each of her children a small chair.”

William E. Porter (1815-1904) and Eleanor Hamilton (1818-1886)

William Porter — the son of Daniel Porter and Catherine Gaffney — was born on 15 February 1815 in South Huntington township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, just three years before his wife, Eleanor. “He went with his parents to Illinois and remained on the farm near Decatur until June, 1837, when he went to Stark county. There he entered one hundred and sixty acres of unbroken land, to the improvement and cultivation of which he devoted his energies until coming to Henry county in the spring of 1843.” 3

Eleanor Hamilton, William’s wife, was one of the daughters of Alexander and Elizabeth (Steel) Hamilton. 4 The sixth of nine children, she was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, on 6 Feb 1818, where her parents had a 300-acre farm near what was called Irishtown in Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania. Eleanor's mother died in 1834 when Eleanor was only sixteen years old. With several younger siblings, she was probably left with the responsibility of taking care of them after her mother’s death. Her father, Alexander, "moved west" in 1838, but Eleanor remained behind in Pennsylvania. Two years later, when she was 22 years old, she married William Porter on 5 May 1840. He was 25.

Before the birth of their son William in 1846, William and Eleanor migrated to Atkinson, Henry County, Illinois, a small community 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Peoria, in the northwestern section of the state. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois: “Among the honored pioneers and highly esteemed citizens of Henry county (Illinois) is … William Porter, who located here in the spring of 1843 and has since been prominently identified with its growth and development. He is now the owner of a fine farm of two hundred and seventy-three acres on sections 3 and 4; Cornwall township .... [By 1901, the farm was] under a high state of cultivation with good and substantial buildings, all of which have been erected by Mr. Porter. The neat and thrifty appearance of the place plainly indicates careful supervision.”

Within a few years, they had moved slightly further west, however, to Henderson County, where they stayed and raised their family. Henderson County was formed in 1841 out of Warren County. It was named for Henderson County, Kentucky, which was named for Richard Henderson, founder of the Transylvania Company, an early attempt to organize what later became Kentucky around 1775.

William and Eleanor had at least eleven children, most of them born in Cornwell Township, Henderson County, Illinois. Some of these children are listed in the 1860 or 1880 Censuses, or in other sources, and so a birthdate can be established. Though not all lived to adulthood, here are the children believed to be born to William and Eleanor:

“[William Porter] took an active and commendable interest in public affairs, especially educational matters, and efficiently served as school director. Politically he [was] identified with the Peoples party, and [was] a warm supporter of the principles advocated by Abraham Lincoln, and fraternally [was] connected with the Grange (see sidebar for information about the Grange). In religious belief, he [was] a Baptist, and an earnest and consistent member of that church. Through the 58 years of his residence [in Henry county], he [was] widely known, and his many excellent traits of character...gained him the high regard of a host of friends.” 5

“In 1849, in company with two others from Bureau county, Illinois, William started for the gold fields of California, making the trip with ox teams in about four months’ time. On the Little Blue River they joined a wagon train, so that when they finally crossed the great plains there were 65 men and 1 woman and a baby, the wife of William’s brother Isaiah. William remained in California two years, prospecting and mining. His trip did not prove a financial success. The return trip was made by water, via New Orleans, and the Mississippi River to Peoria, then by stage to Henry county." 6

“In 1861 he again went to California, via New York City by boat to Aspinwall, by rain, ocean, and the Isthmus to Panama and then by boat to San Francisco. He engaged in mining in Nevada and remained four years, returning in 1865 by water to New York, thence by rail to Henry county. He crossed the isthmus over the now-proposed canal route by stage and river steamers. In 1883, he went to the state of Washington, via the Northern Pacific, being a passenger on the first train to cross the mountains from St. Paul.” 7

Eleanor died in Illinois on 17 May 1886 at the age of 86. She lived to see her youngest child, Bowen, reach the age of 25, but she lost two children in infancy and a third before the age of four. With a husband gone for six years, it could not have been an easy existence.

By 1900, at the age of 84, William was living with his son, Daniel, and Daniel’s wife, Sarah, and their seven children, in Cornwall, Henry, Illinois. However, four years later, he died, at the age of 89, on 16 Feb 1904 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Whether he had moved there or was just visiting is unknown, but certainly several of his children had moved to Nebraska and he may have gone there to live with one of them.

William C. Porter (1845-1890) and Mary Amanda Turpin (1855-1912)

Mary Amanda Turpin — the daughter of Robert Newton and Sarah Elizabeth Lowery of Virginia — was born in McLean County, Illinois, on 14 Oct 1855. William — the son of Eleanor Hamilton and William Porter of Pennsylvania and Illinois, respectively — was born on 14 Nov 1845, in Cornwall, Illinois.

William and Mary were married in Rippey, Iowa on 22 Oct 1871, when Mary was just shy of her 16th birthday. William was a druggist by trade. They remained in Iowa until at least 1880.

Some time after 1880, they travelled to Nebraska in a covered wagon where they filed on a land claim in Pierce County near Plainview, Nebraska. For about a year or slightly more, they apparently did well, but then the grasshoppers came in their huge black clouds and destroyed their crops. They tried again for a second year, but the grasshoppers came again. At that point, William and Mary gave up farming, and William decided to return to his druggist trade.

In about 1884, they moved to Heartwell, Kearney County, Nebraska. (Map locating Kearney County is courtesy of Wikipedia.) At first they were forced to live with another family, but eventually the drug store was finished and the family lived in two back rooms.

By 1890, Mary and William had eight children:

William died on 27 Aug 1890 (at the age of 44), succumbing to typhoid fever. Mary Amanda was left to raise eight children, ranging in age from eight months to seventeen years. Well-meaning family members wanted to take the youngest children but Mary Amanda was determined to keep her children together. The older children continued to run the store while Charley, the oldest son, was the druggist. But a large fire destroyed most of the town — including the drug store — and the family had to find other ways to make ends meet. The Old Soldiers of the GAR petitioned to make Mary the postmistress. She accepted their offer and two of her children, Leona and Louie, helped her in the office.

It was said that Mary Amanda “was remembered for her great assistance to all, especially those who were sick or in distress. She was never too busy to drop everything if someone required her help. She went in all kinds of weather as far as wagons or buggies could reach. It was hard to get doctors, and many times Dr. Hapeman and Dr. Martin (both from Minden, Nebraska) would tell their patients to get Mrs. Porter in case they were unable to drive to Minden.”

A family story passed down through the generations involved Mary Amanda arriving at the Helman house to find the new baby bleeding at the naval; it had been delivered by a Minden doctor the day before. Mary and the priest tied the cord and the baby lived. Mary Amanda did not take pay for her services but did receive many gifts — often food — for her family.

Mary had a small building to rent in Heartwell. Many times it remained vacant unless she could have a guarantee that it would not be used for a saloon or a pool hall.

Mary was named "Pioneer Woman of the Year" by the Heartwell Women's Club.

Mary died in Heartwell, Nebraska, on 10 April 1912, at the age of 56 (this was 22 years after her husband, William, had died). The following is her obituary from the Heartwell paper:

Death of Mrs. Mary A. Porter

Heartwell, Nebr., April 15 -- Special to the News -- On last Wednesday morning, April 10, our community was shocked to learn that Mrs. Mary A. Porter was dead. Mrs. Porter had been a sufferer from rheumatism for several years past, the disease gradually making toward the heart, but for the past four months she had been enjoying fair health; even on Tuesday night when she retired, she seemed to be in her usual good spirits; on retiring her daughter Louie stepped into mother's room and found her sleeping peacefully, with hands folded gently across her bosom; and, as was her custom in the morning, the first thought was of mother. She stepped into the room and found her in exactly the same position as on the previous evening, hands folded calmly on her bosom, but she was cold in death; she had breathed her spirit to its maker while in sleep; no ruffling of the clothes, no indication whatever that there was a struggle; no, the hand of death came like a thief in the night and she yielded her soul to her heavenly father as gently and peacefully as the falling of an autumn leaf. Mary Amanda Turpin was born Oct. 14, 1855. She was married to William C. Porter at Rippey, Iowa, Oct. 22, 1871. To this union 8 children were born: Chas. A., Mrs. Josephine A. Mahoney, Mrs. Leona A. Howard, Frederick A., Mrs. Louisa Converse, Mrs. Mary E. Home, William E., and Daniel O., all living in Kearney county, except Frederick A., whose home is at Pinicle, Montana.

With her husband and family, she settled at Heartwell Nebr., about 28 years ago. Eight years after the arrival here, she was stricken with her greatest sorrow in the death of her beloved husband who died Aug. 27, 1890.

Left with a family of eight children, all small, mother Porter, after a heroic strength triumphed, and her later years were brightened and comforted by the thought that all of her loved ones were around her grown to manhood and womanhood and respected by all. Never for an instant daunted by vicissitudes, she remained a widow for twenty-one years, keeping fresh in mind the memory of her beloved husband, till at last, at the call of her master, she left to join him on the bright shores of her eternal home.

A great lover of home, she devoted her entire life to the care of her children, ever guiding them in the path of right. No one has ever heard from her lips a word of detraction, and to calumny and slander she was a stranger; were any sick or in distress, there you would find Mrs. Porter ready and willing at all times to assist.

Her life was like an open book, a beautiful book, with not a page marred.

Mother Porter, with her husband, united with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more than thirty years ago and was always a steadfast and sincere member of the church. At her death she was slightly over fifty-six years of age, too young to leave her little flock she loved so well, but God's wisdom is not ours, and we bow in submission to the Divine Will.

She leaves to mourn her untimely death, besides her eight children, an entire community, whose heartfelt sorrow goes out to them in their sad bereavement spontaneously.

The funeral services were held from her late home in Heartwell Friday, Apr. 12, the services being conducted by Elder C.H. Porter of Wilber, Nebr. Interment in the Heartwell cemetery. Her funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed in this community, a corterie one half mile long followed her to her last resting place.

[This page researched and written by Susan Overturf Ingraham, a descendant of the Porters through Josephine Porter who married Michael Mahoney. Last updated May 30, 2019.]

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1901) 

  3. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois, 1901. 

  4. For more information about The Steels, click on this link. 

  5. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois, 1901. 

  6. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois, 1901. 

  7. From The Biographical Record of Henry County, Illinois, 1901. 

  8. For more about Josephine Amanda's life, click on her name.