Porter Surname Genealogy

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:

  • 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

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

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
William Sydney
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.
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 Porters

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




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