Porter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Porter Meaning

Porter is French in origin and is an occupational name. The word may have come from the old French portier.  Here it would describe the gatekeeper of a town or the doorkeeper of a large house. The Milo Portarius who appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 was the gatekeeper or porter of Winchester castle. The
office could come with accommodation and even be hereditary.

Alternatively Porter could derive from the Old French porteour, meaning “to carry” or “convey.” This usage as a load bearer probably came in later. A porter here reflects the modern sense of one who carries loads for a living.  It was, in medieval times, a well-organized trade. In York in 1495 it was written that “every porter must observe and keep their ordinances in every point or article,” or risk a heavy fine.

Porter may as well be an anglicized Jewish name, for example Sir Leslie Porter (from Pasamount) in England and Jack Nusan Porter (from Puchtik) in America.

Resources on

Porter Ancestry

There was a le
Porter family recorded in Essex
in the late 13th
century. Some two hundred years later, Porter as a surname was
spread more widely – to
Kent and Essex in the southeast, to Nottinghamshire in the Midlands,
and to
Gloucestershire and Cornwall in the southwest:

  • a Porter family
    held Hall Place in Seal (near Sevenoaks) in Kent from 1448 to 1648 and
    the Porter name has continued in that area since that time.
  • while Sir
    William Porter, sergeant-at-arms to Henry VII, came from
    Gloucestershire. His descendant Endymion Porter was a courtier
    and diplomat in the service of Charles I.

Later distribution of the Porter name showed two Porter concentrations,
one in
the southeast around London and another further north in
Lancashire and the northwest.

NW England
The Porters of Allerby in Cumberland may date from the 1400’s. This line perhaps died out by the early
1600’s. But there were Porters nearby at
Weary Hall and later at Low Holme in Eskdale.

The Porter family of Bury in Lancashire can be traced
back to the 1650’s. Liverpool trade directories of the early
list a number of Porters, including the alderman
Thomas Colley Porter and the shipowner William Field Porter. John
Merry Porter from Manchester was one of the developers of Colwyn Bay in
north Wales as a seaside resort in the early 1900’s.

The Porter name in the 20th century was carried by Sir Leslie and
Dame Shirley Porter
of Tesco supermarket fame and by the
fictional Jimmy Porter, the angry young man of John Osborne’s 1956 play
Look Back in Anger.

Ireland. Porter in
Ireland appears mainly in Ulster and came from English plantation
settlers in the 17th century. They did not necessarily take the
English side. There were five Porters among the Jacobites
outlawed in Ireland following the final defeat of James II in
1691. The Rev. James Porter was a Presbyterian minister who was
hanged in 1798 for his involvement in the Irish rebellion.

“Porter was a United Irishman who had
published a series of letters under the title of Blind Bluff and Square Firebrand
which had drawn the attention of the Government. He was tried on
the false evidence of an informer and hanged at Greyabbey, county Down,
within sight on his home and church.”

Alexander Porter of this family escaped to America in 1801.
He was an early settler in Louisiana and became its
senator in 1833.

There were, however, Porters who took the English line. One such
was John Porter, a Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, who came to
Ireland in 1795 and became the Anglican bishop of Clogher. His
family acquired the Belle Isle estate in county Longford in 1830.
Son John Grey Vesey Porter was involved in a scandalous affair that came
to light
in a Dublin courtroom in 1870.


The early Porter arrivals were mainly into New England.

New England John
Porter from Dorset arrived in 1635 with his wife Mary on
the Susan & Ellen and
settled in Salem, Massachusetts. He and his family prospered
there, but at the expense of a feud with the Putnam family.

“The interfamily rivalry began in 1672
when a dam and sawmill run by the Porters flooded the Putnam
farms. Seventeen years later, the arrival of the Rev. Samuel
Parris intensified the conflict. It was Parris, backed by the
Putnams, who initiated the witchcraft complaints and accusations.”

A later Porter, Benjamin, moved to West
Boxford in 1716 and became the wealthiest man there. His progeny
included many distinguished doctors, lawyers, professors, and
businessmen. Rufus Porter, who grew up in Maine, was the founder
of Scientific American.

Other New England arrivals were:

  • Richard Porter who arrived in 1635 and settled in Weymouth,
    Massachusetts. Terry Porter-Fahey’s 2008 book The Richard Porter Family Genealogy
    described this family’s line.
  • John and Rose Porter who came to America in 1637 and were one of
    the early settlers of Windsor, Connecticut. Son Samuel was a
    prosperous merchant but daughter Hannah was slain by Indians at her
    home in Hadley in 1677. Joshua Porter fought in the Revolutionary
    War and son Peter Buell was a successful general in the War of
    1812. Later Porters migrated to Illinois, Texas, and Oklahoma.

There were two brothers, Robert and Thomas Porter, who
settled in Farmington, Connecticut in 1640 and possibly a third
brother, Dr.
David Porter
, who was the town’s physician. The Rev.
Noah Porter was the Congregational Minister of Farmington from 1806 to
1866. His son was Noah Porter, the academic and writer who was
President of Yale University and his daughter Sarah Porter, who founded
Miss Porter’s School in Farmington in 1843 (which still flourishes).

Some Porters distinguished themselves at sea:

  • there was a Porter
    family of eight brothers in Freeport, Maine who were all involved in
    the sea in some fashion. Two of these brothers, William and
    Samuel, had the fast-sailing schooner the Dash built to run the British
    seaborne blockade during the War of 1812. Porters Landing in
    Freeport was named after these Porters.
  • then there was Commodore
    David Porter, a hero of this war because of his daring capture of a
    British warship. He was
    the father of Admiral David Dixon Porter and the adopted father of
    Admiral David Farragut, two of the leading naval officers of the Civil

Irish Porters
Many of the Porters who came to America originated from Ireland,
notably among them being:

  • Robert Porter who came from Derry in Ireland in 1730 and
    eventually settled in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. His son
    Andrew distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War and was
    credited with helping to found the US Marines. He was the
    forebear of a
    Porter political dynasty in Pennsylvania
    in the 19th century.
  • Patrick and Margaret Porter who left Ireland for America in the
    1780’s. Their son Alexander came to Decatur, Indiana in the
    1840’s and was one of the town’s first practicing physicians.
    Gene Stratton Porter, who married into this family, became a well-known
    writer and nature photographer. She had moved to California at
    the turn of the century but was killed in Hollywood in an early
    automobile accident in 1924.

Tom Porter, born of poor Irish immigrant parents in Pennsylvania, had
come to the Pacific Northwest in the 1870’s and was an early logger and
homesteader on the Skagit river (his wife Mima could recall vividly the
flood of 1897 that nearly washed them downriver). The family
stayed on the homestead until Tom’s death in 1927.

Canada. Porter immigrants
to Canada came from both England and Ireland. William and
Margaret Porter came to Manvers township, Ontario from Ireland in the
1840’s. David Porter was the son of Irish immigrants in Halton
county, Ontario. He started a sawmill there and then ran in local

Australia. The escapades of
Jimmy Porter
escaped convict, provided the first account of a Porter in
Australia. Today three homes offer insights into the lives of
some later Porters:

  • Tim Porter constructed his home Avoca at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains
    in 1886. He was the grandson of the convict Thomas Porter who had
    been transported to Australia back in 1820.
  • Miss Porter’s house in Newcastle, NSW had been built by Herbert
    Porter in 1909. He died of the flu epidemic in 1921 and it was
    his wife and their two daughters who lived in the house. None of
    these ladies married or re-married and this distinctive Edwardian
    house, which stayed relatively unchanged over the years, was made into
    a museum when the last daughter died in 1997.
  • Hubert Porter purchased the rural Ramsay homestead in the
    Reverina wine district of NSW in 1911. Joel Porter is the fifth
    generation of the Porter family to own the property.

Another Porter in Australia, John Porter from Liverpool,
discovered gold in NW Victoria in 1906 in one of the last individual
gold rushes. He named his gold nugget Poseidon after the winner
of the Melbourne Cup horserace that day.

New Zealand. William
Field Porter was a failed shipowner from Liverpool who set off for
New Zealand in 1841 to start a new life. He came with his family
on his own brig the Porter to
Auckland where he was a merchant, local politician, and later
farmer. In 1907 his son
recorded his remembrance of this voyage in his book Recollections of a Voyage to South
Australia and New Zealand

“The account, written in old age, gives
a child’s memory of the events of his early life, complete with
explorers, pirates, whaling, exotic animals, and the strange indigenous
inhabitants of his new home.”


Porter Miscellany

Porter Derivation.  Porter as a load bearer seems to have been a later rather than an
earlier meaning of the word.  Whenever the King or his royal party
were going to travel, it was the porter or door-keeper that was
instructed to carry the luggage to the coach.  It was then the
duty of the coachman to load the baggage.  After the tradition was
established by the King, people started calling anyone who had duty as
load-bearers porters.

Early Porters of Essex.  There was a le Porter family that appears to have been
prominent in Essex during the 13th and 14th centuries.  They have
left their name to two houses in the county, Porter’s Hall near
Stebbing in north Essex and Porters in the southeast of the county near
present-day Southend.

The land around Porter’s Hall had been rented by the le
Porters from the de Ferrers family.  There are various deeds
dating back to 1292 which record Henry le Porter and his wife Ymanye as
holders of the land. The present house is 400 years old and surrounded
by a moat.

Porters in SE Essex, as it now stands, is a late 15th or
16th century house.   The general plan, medieval in
character, suggests an earlier construction and supports a belief that
an older building stood on the site.  Its name appears to have
been taken from that of the le Porter family.  In 1305 and again
in 1324, Laurence le Porter of Prittlewell was recorded as holding
lands in Prittlewell and Middelton (Milton).

Porters in Liverpool.  The following Porters were recorded in Baines Trade Directory of Liverpool for 1824.

Porter Henry, shopkeeper, 48 London Road

Porter Jas. & Co, tea dealers, 48 Old Haymarket

Porter John, hairdresser, 89 Dale Street

Porter John, grocer and flour dealer, 20 Circus Street

Porter Letitia, boarding house, 44 New Scotland Road

Porter Maria, commercial eating house, Market Street

Porter Mary, funeral furnisher, 22 Lydia Ann Street

Porter Thomas, coal dealer and shopkeeper, 3 Wright Street

Porter Thomas Colley, oil and color manufacturer, 53 Mersey Street

Porter William Field, shipowner and sail-maker, 77 Sparling Street

Porter William, victualler and commercial eating house, 8 Wapping

Porter William, tea dealer, 2 Nash Grove

Porter Street in Liverpool was named after Thomas Colley
Porter, its mayor in 1827 “who won one of the most corrupt elections in
Liverpool’s history.”  Captain William Field Porter was a
prominent shipowner and merchant engaged in the China trade.
However, his vessels were uninsured and he lost heavily when a number
of them came to grief.  He left Liverpool in 1838 to start a new
life in New Zealand.

A Scandalous Affair.  In 1863
John Vesey Porter, the owner of the Belle Isle estate in county
Longford, married Elizabeth Jane Hall, daughter
co-heiress of Richard Hall of Inishmore Hall nearby.
The marriage was desirable from the financial
point of view and because the Belle Isle and Inishmore estates
marched.  But it
was childless and, it would seem, unhappy, partly on account of the
in their ages (he was 47 and she was about 18) and partly (it is
on account of Porter’s cantankerousness.

In September 1870 Mrs. Porter formed an
illicit liaison with Captain Leonard Poynter of the 16th Regiment, then
stationed in Enniskillen.  Porter found out about this affair in
December and,
with the aid of his butler and other men-servants, lured Captain
Poynter to
Belle Isle where he was considerably knocked about, had his hair and
one side
of his luxuriant moustache cut off, and was then severely horse-whipped

Captain Poynter brought an action for assault and battery against
and claimed damages of £10,000. Porter would probably have been well
advised to
have settled out of court. Instead, a packed Dublin courtroom was
regaled for
almost a week with salacious details of the doings of Mrs. Porter and
Captain Poynter
at Belle Isle.  In the end, the jury –
obviously composed of stern Victorian paterfamiliae – found for Captain
but awarded him a farthing in damages.

Shortly afterwards, Porter successfully
sued for divorce.  His wife and her parents retired to London
where Mrs. Porter
died, still only in her early forties, in 1887.

Drs. Daniel Porter of Farmington, Connecticut and Environs.  The first Dr. Daniel was initially recorded in Farmington in the early
1650’s.  He lived on the west side of the main street, not far
from the South schoolhouse, and was paid a salary of twelve pounds by
the General Court for setting all the broken bones in the colony.
He was allowed six shillings extra for traveling expenses for each
journey to the river towns.

Dr. Daniel the younger assumed the practice of surgery on the death of
his father.  He moved to Waterbury and was the second of five
generations of Drs. Daniel Porters – father, son, grandson, great
grandson, and nephew of great grandson.  His medical library
consisted of a bone “set book,” appraised with a value of two shillings.

The Porter Family of Pennsylvania.  The Porters were one of the leading political families of
Pennsylvania of the 19th century.  There were strong ties with the
Edwards family from Maryland and David Rittenhouse Porter was
grand-uncle by marriage to Abraham Lincoln.

The General Andrew Porter who distinguished himself in the
Revolutionary War had three notable sons:

  • David Rittenhouse Porter (1788-1867), the eldest son who was
    Governor of Pennsylvania from 1839 to 1845
  • George Bryan Porter (1791-1834), the sixth son who was Governor
    of Michigan territory during the last three years of his life
  • and James Madison Porter (1793-1862), the seventh son who was US
    Secretary of War in 1843-44.  He was earlier instrumental in the
    founding of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

David’s son Horace was a general in the Union army during the Civil
War, as was George’s son Andrew.  Horace later served as the US
Ambassador to France.

William Sidney Porter, alias O. Henry.  His mother died when he was three and his father, a medical
doctor, began to care more about alcohol than his practice.  His
grandmother was thus given the task of raising him and a younger
sibling.  She also was responsible for their extensive
education.  He was an avid reader and, by the age of nineteen, had
read a wide variety of books and articles that would later influence
his literary works.

Porter moved to Texas in 1884 to be with friends because they
were concerned about a chronic cough that had plagued him from
childhood.  In Texas, he got married and obtained a job as a bank
teller at one of the local banks.  When faced with charges of bank
fraud from the bank he fled to New Orleans and then to Honduras.
He returned to America when word came that his wife was losing her
battle with tuberculosis.  On his return he was convicted for bank
fraud and was sentenced to three years in an Ohio penitentiary.

From this low point in Porter’s life, he began a remarkable
comeback.  Three years and about a dozen short stories later, he
emerged from prison as “O. Henry” to help shield his true
identity.  He moved to New York City where, over the following ten
years, he published over 300 stories and gained acclaim as America’s
favorite short story writer.

He was also an alcoholic.  Sadly he died in New York City at the
age of just forty seven virtually penniless.

Jimmy Porter, A Convict’s Story.  “Born in the neighborhood of London in 1802 – parents
moving in a respectable sphere of life – when six years old I was
transferred to the care of my grandmother by her particular request,
tho’ not without great reluctance of my mother.  I remained happy
under the care of my grandmother (going to school regularly until I was
twelve years of age) and whose kindness you will find in the sequel
proved my ruin.

At twelve years old I could write a tolerable hand and
was pretty forward in arithmetic; but being punished by my schoolmaster
for placing hair in his cane so that when he chastised any of us it
would split up and cut his hand, and indeed to this day and through all
my misfortunes and rambles the same propensity for mischief haunts me.”

So began the life story of Jimmy Porter, convict, thief,
sailor, and scallywag.  He had led a colorful life until the time
he was transported to Tasmania in 1823.  Ten years later he was
imprisoned on the notorious Sarah island.  In a calculated and
audacious bid for freedom he and nine other convicts commandeered the
brig Frederick from Macquarie
harhor and made their escape to the open seas.  Rather than head
for the islands in the Bass Straits or the coastline of New Zealand,
the men decided to make their way to Valdivia on the coast of Chile, a
full six thousand miles away.  And – extraordinarily – they made

They enjoyed a year’s blissful refuge until betrayal led
to their discovery and recapture.  Porter was tried for piracy and
condemned to death in Tasmania.  Then his sentence was commuted to
exile and he was sent to rot on Norfolk Island.

But Porter had a story to tell and he was determined to
be heard.  He wrote two versions of his life story, one surviving
in manuscript and another published in the Hobart Town Almanac.  A third
narrative, purportedly by a returned convict named James Connor, was
serialized in the Fife Herald
in the mid 1840’s. James Connor was the alias used by Porter while on
the run in South America and the Fife
narrative told basically the same story as the two

Porter in Australia – from Convict Ship to Paradise.  In 1819 Thomas Porter was tried at the Old Bailey in London and
convicted of “feloniously having in his custody and possession three
forged banknotes for payment of one pound each, well knowing them to be
forged.”  For this he was sentenced to transportation for fourteen
years.  His common law wife Sarah Ward had in the previous year
also been convicted at the Old Bailey for passing forged
banknotes.  Thomas was transported to Australia on the Prince
Regent and arrived in Sydney in early 1820.  An 1822 muster
recorded him as a Government servant living there with his wife Sarah
and their five children.

Two generations later, grandson Tim Porter bought land in the Blue
Mountains south of the railway line in Blackheath and built a home
there, Avoca, for his family
in 1886.  They were the first settlers in the area and he named it
Paradise.  Tim Porter’s main claim to fame is through the path
from Blackheath down into the Kanimbla valley which is now known as
Porter’s Pass walk.  It is as spectacular and beautiful as any in
the Blue Mountains.

Porter’s house was built on a site sheltered from the westerly
winds.  When the bitter winds blow in the rest of the town, their
large garden is the place to sit and enjoy the site of the gales
bending the tops of the trees.

Sir Leslie and Dame Shirley Porter.  In 1949 Leslie Porter’s life was transformed
through his marriage to Shirley Cohen, one of the two daughters of the
founder of Tesco, Jack Cohen.  She was only seventeen, ten years
younger than her husband, of whom she said in 1994: “He looks a bit
like Paul Newman.  Women still swoon.”

However, throughout their married life Leslie Porter was hampered by
his wife’s bullying, according to one of his colleagues.  As soon
as he became chairman, she “began to meddle in the business and, in the
process, made his life and ours hell.”

Monday was his worst day, after he had spent a weekend at home.
Normally the most easy-going and affable of characters, he would arrive
at the office like a bear with a sore head and grumble his way through
to lunchtime, by which time he had finally recovered from the shock of
being over-exposed to Shirley’s strictures.

Not surprisingly Porter, who enjoyed his social life, was fond of “a Scotch or three” and at parties his wife would threaten “in a voice as
sotto voce
as a buzzsaw: ‘Leslie, if you don’t behave I’ll take you

Reader Feedback – Porters in Liverpool and Australia.  My Porter ancestors, two brothers and a cousin, came to Australia from
Liverpool.  The family had been originally from Hull in Yorkshire,
but both John and his brother Thomas were born in Liverpool.  John
had been a carpenter there.

It was John who struck lucky with the Poseidon gold field
discovery in Victoria in 1906.   He later settled in
the Milton Uladulla area.  His daughter Kitty, a nursing sister,
won a Red Cross medal in World War One.  Meanwhile, brother Thomas
returned to Liverpool and became Porters the funeral directors.

My line married Irish girls for several generations in a
They may have been Irish; or maybe there were a lot of single Irish

Dr. Gary Porter, Toowoomba, Australia (gporter@platinumhg.com.au)


Select Porter Names

  • Endymion Porter was an English diplomat and royalist at the time of Charles I.
  • Rufus Porter was an American inventor and, in 1845, the founder of Scientific American.
  • William Sydney Porter who wrote
    under the pen name O. Henry is considered as one of the masters of the short story.
  • Cole Porter was an American
    composer and songwriter. His works have included musicals such as
    Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes and songs such as I Get a Kick out of You and I’ve Got You under My Skin.
  • Sir Leslie Porter, born Leslie
    Pasamount, took over the management of the UK supermarket chain Tesco from his father-in-law Jack Cohen in 1973. His wife was the
    controversial politician Shirley Porter.

Select Porter Numbers Today

  • 45,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Porter and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.




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