Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Porter Family Arrives in America

Porter Names in Early Records

While researching the history of the Porter family in America, I found that most Porter emigrants came into the ports of Baltimore or Philadelphia and some in Virginia and South Carolina. Many were shown to be from parts of Northern Ireland, particularly near Ulster, County Antrim, or from Germany. Some of these Porter families settled in the early 1700's in Penn's Colony in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, or Amish country, as we know it today. According to historical records, many of the Amish religious traditions originate from the German settlers who were brought into the area by William Penn. Penn's Colony (see below) grew out of an invitation from Queen Anne when she advertised in the Rhine River Valley area (known as "The "Palatine" or "Palatine Valley" that England would accept all German Protestants who wanted to immigrate.

The Great Palatine Migration
What we now know as Bavaria, near Heidelberg, Germany, was known in 1700 and before as the "Palatine Valley, or Palatinate". The people who lived there came from Switzerland, Holland, Germany, and various other places, but what they shared was a common belief in Protestantism. Since France was at war with Germany over this area for many years, Protestants suffering from religious persecution during the early 1700's was at an all-time high. Many residents had already left on their own to escape both religious persecution and the horrors of war, and those remaining were subjected to imprisonment and possible death at the hands of the French. In 1709, the winter was so severe that the Rhine River froze over and people were freezing and starving. Queen Anne of England issued an invitation to all German Protestants to immigrate, and she planned to set up refugee camps in England and in Ireland. Catholics who tried to enter England would be given a small amount of money and sent back to Germany. Refugees would not be allowed to become citizens, and as soon as boats became available to sail for the colonies, they were packed to capacity and beyond for voyages to English colonies, predominately American colonies. Some refugees sailed first from England to Ireland and later sailed to the
American colonies.

Penn's Colony
In 1681, William Penn, an English Quaker, had been granted a charter for the Province of Pennsylvania. After he established Philadelphia and signed a peace treaty with the Delaware Indians, he advertised that Pennsylvania was available to persecuted Protestants as a place of refuge. And so Penn's Colony became a refuge for some of those who left the Palatine Region.

The Voyage
In many cases, a ship's captain or other officials required German immigrants to sign a contract before they boarded the ship. Since England sponsored the Palatine migration, the destination was intended to be an English colony. Records show at least one ship, however, left all its refugees in Brazil instead of the English colony for which it was intended. The contract was in English, and the verbal explanation was that refugees would be required to perform a time of service in the colonies when they arrived at their final destination. The actual contract was for a fee to be paid upon disembarkation, and the fee was still required, even if the person died during the voyage. (Some ports of disembarkation required a separate fee, not included in the contract.) If a husband died, the widow was required to pay the fee, and if parents died during the arduous voyage on an overcrowded ship, the children were obligated to pay the fee for both deceased parents. If the passenger could not pay the fee charged, a "bond" of servitude of up to four years was required. If children were left orphaned, or if they had become separated from their parents during the voyage, they were required to serve in bond of servitude. The number of German Protestants who migrated from the Palatine area was estimated to be approximately 7000, and over 2000 died during the voyages to their final destinations.

Searching for John
Porter family research has been difficult, particularly when my ancestors were often named "James" or "John", or "Joseph". Such was the case of my great-grandfather, "James Joseph Porter". I did find some unique information (and possible explanation) about traditional naming of males by families who had lived in and migrated from the Palatine area. It was customary for German and Swiss families to name all of their sons "John" or "Joseph", with middle names given to all but one of them. As odd as it may seem to us today, I also found at least one story that explained the tradition was based on an early belief that if the devil came for a child, the naming convention would confuse him as to which one to take.

A Mississippi Beginning
Although I have found the Porter family name replete in early Pennsylvania records, particularly in Lancaster County and in the Philadelphia area during the early 1700's, I have also found a large number of Porter families living in South Carolina in the early and mid 1700's. Whether my Porter ancestors originally settled in Pennsylvania or South Carolina, or whether they migrated first to Pennsylvania and then to South Carolina is still unknown. What I do know, however, is that nine Porter family members, five men and four women, were already living in the Mississippi Territory and were married there between 1809 and 1825.

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