SUBMITTED BY: Yvonne Spell Williams; Vetted and edited by Cheri Todd Molter
A Mixture of Both Our Family’s Oral Traditions and Documented Information
I was born and raised in Sampson County, North Carolina. We lived in Cumberland until we moved to Utah to be closer to my son’s family. My mother was a Porter and her great-grandfather, grandfather, and grandmother are the focus of this submission. I received this information from a cousin, Kathryn Porter Sykes, who did the research.
Samuel Porter, my great-great-grandfather who lived in Wayne County, NC, raised and bred thoroughbred show horses—horses that would put those in the Kentucky Derby to shame. He sold to buyers all over America. His own personal horse was the prize of the lot, a magnificent stallion. In March of 1865, when the Yankees came, Samuel seated himself on a rocker on his porch and tried to look calm. As they approached, he instructed his riding princess, Edie, to take the stallion to the woods and hold his reins until the intruders had gone. While he explained to the band of Yankees that he had no more bacon and no more ham (it was really buried) to meet their demands, a “neigh” sound was heard from deep in the woods behind the house. The Yankees took off for the woods and, after finding the stallion, yanked the horse’s reins from Edie’s hands. The commander of the gang dismounted his horse and mounted the stallion. He did some fancy stunts as he came back into the yard, then spurred the horse into a standing lurch just in front of Samuel, still seated on the porch. according to family lore, the man then asked, “How do you like my new horse?” Afterward, Samuel’s magnificent stallion charged out of his life forever.
James Haywood Porter, my great-grandfather and Samuel’s son, lived in Sampson County. He was in Company I of the 46th North Carolina Regiment of the Confederate Army [military records list him as “John H. Porter”] and was stationed around Richmond, Virginia, during the summer of 1862. His youngest son (my grandfather, Samuel Bennett Porter) was due to be born at that time. James Haywood had the measles when he left camp, swam the James River, and tried to head south to get home to his pregnant wife, Margaret Jean Butler Porter, and their children. He was picked up by Confederate scouts. Sick with measles, twenty-seven-year-old James died on July 4, 1862. His son, Samuel Bennett Porter, was born two days after James’ death, on July 6th. James Haywood Porter was buried at a Confederate cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, near the first grave marker in the Blandford Cemetery.
Margaret Jean Butler Porter, my great-grandmother, was said to have raised her children in what was called “the Porter field,” which is now a mound of scrub woods far off the narrow dirt road. Her shack, with its dirt floor, was probably gone before overgrowth covered the field. In 1865, after the Yankee strays had left, Margaret, a widow with children who depended on her, went to the soldiers’ former camp site, which had been pitched on her land, and gathered up corn kernels left in the dirt from feeding their horses. She washed and dried the corn kernels and took them to a corn mill to be ground up into flour. Margaret had a hard time keeping her small family fed and clothed, but all her children grew to adulthood. With no one to help, those were desperate times for family farmers, and many people had to make do with whatever they could find.