By Eilene Lyon
After learning that Indiana Gov. Albert G. Porter had a black-sheep brother named Pinckney J. Porter, I got quite caught up in the idea that Pinckney was Addison W. Porter’s birth identity. Note that all Pinckney’s surviving siblings had names beginning with “A” (Andrew O., Albert G., and Ann T.). If you were going to ditch “Pinckney” for something else, Addison W. seems like a good bet.
I also found another clue that Pinckney went to California in the gold rush. When he joined the Navy in March 1848, he was assigned to the sloop U.S.S. St. Mary’s. Wikipedia has an article about this ship where I learned:
“On 11 April 1848, she sailed for duty with the Pacific Squadron; and, for the next five years, she cruised from the coast of California to the coast of Chile, in the Central Pacific, and in the Far East.”1
It’s highly likely that the St. Mary’s was somewhere along the Pacific coast when he resigned in June 1849. Given his runaway in 1844 and joining the Navy in 1848, clearly Pinckney did not foresee a future for himself in Indiana or Kentucky.
As with Addison W. Porter, I did not find Pinckney J. Porter in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. The 1852 California census for Calaveras County did turn up a good prospect, though.2
This P. J. Porter is the right age, and his name (even just initials) is not a common one. His birth place and last residence is Kentucky. Though he told the Navy he was from Indiana, he could have been born in Kentucky, given that his parents were constantly crossing the river and his maternal grandparents lived on the Kentucky side. It could also be an error by the census taker.
Note his profession: a 19-year-old “Gentleman.” Recall that Pinckney had a good education and was precocious. No doubt he did well for himself out west.
The Porter Papers
I hadn’t exhausted my resources, though. A governor and Congressman would surely have donated papers to an archive. A search on ArchiveGrid revealed that the Indiana Historical Society held the Albert G. Porter collection. I selected the documents most likely referring to family.3
First was a letter from Albert to his father, Thomas, writing about his experiences at college. Then a series of letters by Albert’s wife, written in 1859 while he was in Washington, D.C. She mentions Olly Porter, Omer Tousey, and their sons, but says nothing about her in-laws, Ann and Pinckney.
Next, a couple of autobiographical sketches in which Albert focuses on his career, and his mentor, Uncle Omer Tousey. He discusses his (great) grandfather’s and father’s military careers and obliquely mentions his older half-brother. Nothing about his mother, sister, or younger brother at all. Lame, dude!
I also received photographs of Albert at various ages and one of his three sons as young boys. If any photos of Addison Porter come to light, these could prove helpful.
The last item I requested was another great find: a letter from Pinckney to his father, written December 4, 1845, when he was just 13 (feature image). The handwriting is excellent for such a young student.
Pinckney lived in Burlington, Kentucky, at the time, attending school. The letter shows that he was close to his father and sister. His black sheep status is clear, too, for he wrote at the very top of the page, “(Do not let anybody see this letter)”
The meat of the brief missive tells about his classes and indicates he needs some money. One of his courses is surveying and he has ordered equipment that will cost $3-4.00. This tidbit is interesting, because I do have another record for Addison W. Porter. It’s the earliest record for him, in fact.
The Placerville city directory for 1862 lists A. W. Porter and states his profession is “road overseer.”4 He would have been 29 or 30 years old at the time. Wouldn’t someone with knowledge of surveying be a natural fit for this job?
What I Missed
As I delighted in how all this was coming together, a niggling worry crept into the back of my mind. Had I missed something? It was Thomas Porter’s probate record. I had downloaded a single image (two pages) which is actually quite a bit for a small estate with few heirs. But had I read the whole thing? I went back to Ancestry.com to check.
I hadn’t read the entire entry. There were three more pages, in fact. They proved quite enlightening.
Early in the probate process, once Omer Tousey collected the pension funds and paid Thomas’s funeral expenses and known debts, he disbursed $800 a piece to Olly, Albert and Ann. Omer apparently had some difficulty finding Pinckney to give him his share.
During this hearing in the March 1856 term, Omer asserts that he has settled the estate and each child’s share comes to $829.79. He says he has receipts from Olly, Albert and Ann for the $29.79 remainder he paid them, and he has a receipt from Pinckney for the full $829.79.
The three receipts for $29.79 are transcribed later in the court record, but the one from Pinckney is not. Omer claims he paid the young man, but there’s no official record of how, where, or when this took place.
This is even odder: near the bottom of the 4th page, an addendum is inserted dated March 1858. This is a bound book with pre-numbered pages. How did there happen to be blank space in the March 1856 court term record for another page and a half of notes from 1858? How bizarre!
In this addendum, Omer presents a signed statement dated January 28, 1858 from Pinckney’s siblings that says, “This is to certify that Omer Tousey has furnished us satisfactory evidence that he paid Pinckney J. Porter in his life the Sum of Eight hundred and twenty-nine dollars & 79 cents his distributive Share of the Estate of Thomas Porter…”
The record also contains this statement: “Now comes Omer Tousey Administrator as aforesaid and satisfactory evidence is adduced to the Court that Pinckney J. Porter one of the heirs of said decedent has deceased…”5
The court accepts that Pinckney is dead!!
What that “satisfactory evidence” entails is not mentioned or transcribed in the record. Nor have I found any record for his demise, in 1857 or any time after. Did Ann receive a letter telling her that Pinckney had died? Did he really die before January 1858? There is a mention in the Daily Alta California in December 1858 of a P. J. Porter traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Oh, one last point to ponder: Addison W. and Josephine Porter named their first son Edwin, presumably after Josephine’s brother. The second son they named Albert.
Here is where my research stands on the matter of Addison Walter Porter. I see three possible scenarios. Perhaps you can come up with others.
- Addison W. Porter, born in Indiana in 1832, is exactly who he says he is. The reason for no records prior to age 30 is a mystery that may be resolved, eventually. He may/may not be a distant cousin of Albert G. Porter.
- Addison W. Porter, maybe/maybe not from Indiana, maybe/maybe not born in 1832, is an alias. His true identity will likely remain forever unknown.
- Addison W. Porter was born Pinckney J. Porter. He may/may not have received his inheritance from his uncle, Omer Tousey, in 1856. After learning of his father’s death, he faked his own, forever severing ties with his remaining family. He permanently adopted a new identity or legally changed his name, keeping his last name in honor of his father and forefathers.
The polls are open…
Feature image: Portion of letter from Pinckney J. Porter to his father, Thomas Porter. He expresses his love to his sister, Ann, and shows concern about his father possibly encountering a panther near Bowling Green. (Indiana Historical Society collection M 0396)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_St.Mary%27s(1844) ↩
- PJ Porter. California State Library; Sacramento, California; 1852 California State Census; Roll #: 1; Repository Collection #: C144:1; Page: 183; Line: 38 – via Ancestry.com. ↩
- Indiana Historical Society collection M 0396 – Albert G. Porter Papers. https://www.indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/albert-gallatin-porter-papers-1759-1934.pdf ↩
- Porter, A. W. Placerville, California, 1852. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. ↩
- Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999, Dearborn, Complete Probate Record, Vol 4, 1856-1857, images 98-100, Ancestry.com. ↩