Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Working on Wednesday: Orville Tracy Porter (1838 - 1916) North to Alaska

The son of Martha Shepard (1800-1875) and William Porter (1796-1868), this paternal great great grandfather Orville Tracy "O.T." Porter was born in Mexico (Oswego County, New York) on November 23, 1838. The 1850 U.S. Census listed him as attending school, and by the 1855 New York State Census, 17-year old Orville was described as a "Farmer" in the household of his older brother Charles Dixon Porter.*

[ New York, State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
Original data: Census of the state of New York, for 1855. Microfilm. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.]

O.T. must not have found farming the life he wanted to dedicate himself to because in 1860 he traveled to Oregon, although sources are divided whether he arrived via Panama or around Cape Horn.**

In her book  "..And This Is Our Heritage," Esther Moreland Leithold gives a brief description of Orville in 1862 when he courted and married my great great grandmother Matilda "Puggie" Biddle (1846-1927)*** who was living in Corvallis with her parents.
"Puggie was then sixteen; and, as she was living in a country where eligible young men outnumbered young women, of their own class, almost six to one, she had many admirers with matrimonial designs. Among those who saw Puggie most frequently was a handsome young teacher named Orville Porter, who had alluring brown eyes and an engaging manner. He was very intelligent, and was always employed; but he lacked the accumulative instinct,--the ability to spend less than he made;--and, while Robert liked him personally, he did not consider him a suitable husband for his daughter; and was very glad to have her at the Agency (the Indian Agency) where should would not see the charming Orville for awhile."
But parental objections didn't stop the pair from getting together.
"Each day she walked down to town to get the mail and the needed supplies for the house; and if she went at the right time (which she usually did) Orville Porter would walk home with her, and stay, to sit on the front porch, until time for him to return to his work. Then on Sunday afternoons he would stay until time for the evening Church Service and walk, with her, to the church. No one thought seriously of their friendship: but, on the morning of August 26th, he drove up to the house in a buggy; and Puggie went out, carrying a hat-box, to join him. She did not tell anyone where she was going: but, before the day was over, the secret had leaked out, and the family learned that they had gone to Albany to be married: and there they remained for a wonderful two day's honeymoon at the St. Charles Hotel."
In the 1870 U.S. Census for Waitsburg, Walla Walla County, Washington Territory, O.T.'s occupation was listed as school teacher and the household includes Matilda and three children, the youngest of which was born in 1868 in the territory so the family must have moved there sometime after Walter's birth two years earlier in Oregon.

[ 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.]

The Porters didn't remain in Washington and were living in Harrisburg, Linn County, Oregon, where O.T. began publishing a weekly newspaper, The Nucleus, amid high hopes for the area.
"The centennial year of 1876 saw the birth of journalism in Harrisburg, when O. T. Porter started the Nucleus, a four-page Saturday weekly, Republican, 22x32, for which he charged $2.50 a year.
Like a good many other newspapers of the period, the Nucleus had a mission and frankly proclaimed it. In Pettengill’s newspaper directory for 1878 the publisher, announcing a circulation of 400, and proclaiming that “it will soon . . . possibly treble its circulation,” declared that “portions of Linn, Lane, and Benton counties are destined, at no distant day, to be separated and form a new county, with Harrisburg as the county seat. The Nucleus will be THE newspaper of Nucleus county. . . . Circulation in six incorporated villages.” In Ayer’s for the same year Porter asserted that the Nucleus “circulates as the local journal of Brownsville, Halsey, Junction, and Harrisburg, none of which has a smaller population than 300, all incorporated.” 
The ambitious dreams of Mr. Porter failed to save his little paper. Brownsville and Junction proceeded at once to establish their own papers, and within three years the Nucleus was not."****
O.T.'s occupation is listed as Editor in the 1880 U.S. Census when he and his expanding family were still living in Harrisburg.

[ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. 1880 U.S. Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © Copyright 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Original data: Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.]

According to his Oregon Biographical Index Card File 1900-1986, over his newspaper career had papers not only in Harrisburg, but also Albany,***** Waitsburg (Washington), and Healdsburg, California, probably where his youngest child was born. His editorial support during the 1888 election must have been the reason he was given a juicy political appointment, that of U.S. Marshall****** and Surveyor General (ex officio) of Alaska, by newly-elected Republican President Benjamin Harrison in 1889.

[Official Register of the United States ..., Volume 1, U.S. Government Printing Office 1892, Google Books]

We don't know at what point O.T. and Matilda's marriage ended but he married Carrie Delph****** in Sitka in 1890. She had come to Alaska a year earlier to teach at a missionary school sponsored by the Presbyterian Church.

As the only U.S. Marshall for all of Alaska, O.T. kept busy not only professionally but also personally. He was elected Treasurer of the Alaska Historical Society in December of 1889, co-authored a book of poems about Alaska, and collected Native Art. Some of his actions made the national news.

[Date: Wednesday, May 14, 1890   Paper: New York Herald (New York, New York)   Issue: 134   Page: 7 . This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.Source:]

[Date: Friday, January 12, 1894   Paper: Santa Fe Daily New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico)   Volume: 30   Issue: 275   Page: 1. This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004

Since it was a political appointment, it must have been clear to O.T. that when Harrison lost the 1892 election to Democrat Grover Cleveland his job as Marshall was in jeopardy and he was replaced by Louis L. Williams in 1894.

By the 1900 U.S. Census O.T. and Callie were living in West Albany, in the same ward and enumeration district of the city as the "widowed" Matilda Porter and their youngest child Chester A. Porter, a 15-year old student.

[ 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.:
National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.]

The 1905 Albany City Directory gives their addresses; note that O.T. had become a Justice of the Peace by then.
[ U.S. City Directories, 1822-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
Original data: Title : Albany, Oregon, City Directory, 1905]

And O.T. and Carrie were still living in the same area as the "widowed" Matilda who was now residing in the household of her daughter Alice's family in the 1910 U.S. Census.

Orville Porter died on January 30, 1916.

[Date: Monday, January 31, 1916   Paper: Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)   Volume: LV   Issue: 17220   Page: 4   Piece: One of Two. This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004

As an example of how obituaries are not always accurate, of the eight children O.T. and Matilda had together, five survived him. Somehow his oldest child, my great grandfather Tracy Darrow Porter, another newspaperman, who was alive and well in Mississippi at the time wasn't mentioned at all.

Matilda survived him by 11 years, Carrie by 17.

*Although Charles is listed as head of household, both parents and two elderly aunts are living there too.
**Orville's obituary states that he came by way of Panama; the Oregon Biographical Index Card File 1900-1986 says via Cape Horn.
***She was the daughter of Benjamin Robert "B.R." Biddle (1808-1882) and Maria Evans (1814-1899).
****Source for this quote from Linn County Roots here.
*****Linn County Roots names him as a partner in the Albany Herald by 1883 here.
******You can read more about Carrie on a blog post by a member of the Delph family here.

© 2015 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

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