History of Porters in America

My father, John Peyton Porter, died 42 years ago. I had taken my wife to work and was back home getting ready for my job when my mother called and said, “Pete passed.” He’d been in a coma for days.

I doubt that anybody else ever thinks about the day Pete died. All his friends are long dead, and he never even mentioned relatives, much less visited them, except once.

He took me to meet some cousins of his when I was 10 or 11. All I remember is that the apartment was dark and so were they. He never talked about his parents or any siblings, and I never thought to ask. I was a silly ass.

For years, I’ve wanted to know something about my father’s family—anything. I mentioned my desire to a friend of mine who mentioned it to a genealogical researcher, and now I know a few things, which makes me want to know more.

Spencer, my great grandfather, was born in January, 1850, in Autauga County, Ala., on James Porter’s plantation. He probably walked to Mobile after the Civil War, where he married Ann about 1870. Ann seems to have been born in Virginia about 1855 and was likely sold to somebody in Alabama. I’d like to know about that.

In May 1899, Spencer and Ann Porter’s son—also named Spencer—married Edna Nins in Mobile, Ala., after paying the outlandish sum of $200 for the privilege. I have copies of their marriage certificate and the note written by the elder Spencer and Edna’s mother giving their consent. That takes me back, and I’ve never been there to begin with. I can’t imagine how long it took black people to amass that much money in 1899 Alabama, and Edna and Spencer managed it only three months before my father was born in August of that year.

I knew that Pete had been on his own early in life, and that sounds right since his father died in 1913. I don’t know what happened to his mother, Edna, and I suspect Spencer’s death marked the end of Pete’s childhood.

I have a copy of Pete’s Selective Service registration card from September 1918, and it has introduced an element of mystery and wonder. He was 19, the same age my youngest is now, and was working as a presser, probably for a tailor. He was later a tailor himself for some years, and maybe that’s how he got started. The mystery arises because he spelled his middle name Payton, a first in my experience, and unrepeated as far as I can tell. The wonder is that his signature at 19 was the same as it was at 70. And I’m just getting started.