Lt. Col Andrew Porter

Lt. Col Andrew Porter
Courtesy of Andrew Hobart Porter, Member, Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati

Andrew Porter, who became one of the most prominent members of the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, was born 24 September 1743 on his father’s farm in Worcester Township, a part of Philadelphia County that in 1784 became Montgomery County. His father emigrated in 1720 from the Isle of Bert, near Londonderry, County Derry, Ireland, and died on 14 July 1770, aged seventy-one; his mother is unknown. There were fourteen children in this family, and Andrew Porter continued the family tradition.

Although it is said that Porter’s father wished otherwise, he showed such an aptitude for “books and figures” that he was sent to the school of one Patrick Mennon in Whitemarsh Township. Encouraged by David Rittenhouse, Porter applied for, and in 1767 was accepted as, principal by an English and mathematical school in Dock Street, Philadelphia. On 10 March of that year he was married to his first wife, Elizabeth McDowell, by whom there were five children. Porter then resided on the south side of Spruce Street, between Third and Fourth, in Philadelphia.

In 1776 Porter was recruited by Major Samuel Nicholas [an Original Member of the Society], and on 25 June was commissioned Captain of Marines aboard the 28-gun frigate Effingham, then abuilding in Southwark, Philadelphia; this ship never got to sea. The first duty of Nicholas’ Marine officers was to recruit their companies, who acted as guards in the city. Inasmuch as the ships were not yet ready, in October the Council of Safety resolved that Nicholas’ Marine Battalion, with other troops, be deployed in Pennsylvania or New Jersey as necessary, to protect the city. After Fort Washington fell on 16 November the British were in New Jersey and a real threat to Philadelphia. Washington’s desperate need for reinforcements was answered by sending three companies of the Marines, in accordance with the foregoing resolution, to join the army at Trenton. Porter’s company crossed the Delaware in Cadwalader’s belated move on 27 December 1776 and remained in New Jersey until Washington returned there. Thus, while they missed the glory of Trenton, they fought at Assunpink and Princeton. The Marines were in winter quarters at Morristown when the expiration of enlistments saw the loss of many artillerists in the army. In February, therefore, Washington ordered these Marines into the artillery service, and in March 1777 Andrew Porter and Isaac Craig [an Original Member of the Society] resigned their Marine commissions and accepted new ones as captains of Artillery. Porter was assigned to Colonel John Lamb’s Continental Artillery Regiment, later the Second Continental Artillery. This study it has emphasized that, because of the dispersed nature of the service of the Continental Artillery, it is difficult to reconstruct an individual service record. It is known that Porter took part in the Battles of Brandywine (11 September 1777) and Germantown (4 October 1777). The Second Artillery wintered at Valley Forge, and there Porter took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States on 19 May 1778. The regiment was engaged in the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778 and aterwards the unit was assigned to northern New Jersey and the Hudson. It has been stated that Porter was in General James Clinton’s army during the Sullivan-Clinton Iroquois Campaign (May-November 1779). One company of Lamb’s did go with Clinton, but the evidence is unclear. Porter met Lieutenant Robert Parker on 7 November, after the ending of the campaign, near New Windsor.

As early as December 1779 Washington was making plans to re-form the Army, but that he foresaw some of the difficulties that resulted is evident from a letter to the Board of War on 14 December. He proposed that Porter’s and James Lee’s artillery companies be transferred to Proctor’s regiment if it could be done without producing discontent in regard to rank. He foresaw the difficulties that, at a later time, did arise from that very cause between Porter and his former friend Isaac Craig. Counter-charges between Porter and Proctor ended in acquittals for both in courts-martial in 1780, but Washington censured Porter for his conduct. Similarly, there was a tale of Porter’s challenging and fatally shooting Major Benjamin Eustis of the Fourth Artillery in 1781.

Porter’s company was reassigned to Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Fourth Continental Artillery on 1 January 1781, and it now for the first time became officially a part of the Pennsylvania Line. On 18 April 1781 Colonel Proctor resigned from the Army in a dispute with President Reed over promotions: he was succeeded by Lt. Colonel Thomas Forrest of Pennsylvania. These events provoked a game of musical chairs, resulting in a puzzle as to ranks and dates which is too complicated (and too uncertain) to detail here; the above-mentioned disagreement with Isaac Craig was a part of it. According to Heitman, Porter was advanced to the rank of Major on 19 April 1781, only four months after joining the regiment. He continued, in fact, as a Captain for several months after that date. Porter did not go south with the small artillery contingent in Wayne’s army, but was stationed in Philadelphia overseeing the production of ammunition, undoubtedly because on 1 January 1781 Captain Isaac Coren’s Company of Artillery Artificers had been merged with his own.

On 7 October 1781 Lt. Colonel Thomas Forrest resigned from the Army and was not replaced for a year. This opened a new field for Porter’s ambitions, and his talent for controversy, but on 24 December 1782 he was finally promoted to Lt. Colonel and later was named Lt. Colonel Commandant. A return for 21 March 1782 showed that the regiment was widely scattered: seventy men were in Philadelphia, Lancaster and Carlisle, thirty-four were at Fort Pitt, and a hundred thirty-one were with Greene’s army in the South; it was never reunited. The regiment was much reduced in the next year, and was finally mustered out on 15 November 1783. At about the same time Porter signed the “Parchment Roll” of the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania as well as the “Pay Order of 1784”.

On 2 April 1784 Dr. Benjamin Rush left Philadelphia for a visit to Carlisle. That night he put up at The Ship tavern, near Downingtown. He said to his diary, “Col: Porter & his two twin sons slept in the same room with me – the Colonel was moving his family from Philada. to settle on a farm 43 miles from the town on the Lancaster Road.” On his farm in Norriton Township, Montgomery County, Porter in 1785 built a fine stone house which he called “Selma”, still a privately owned ornament to west Norristown.

In 1779 the Continental Congress had called upon Pennsylvania and Virginia to suspend their controversy over the border of southwest Pennsylvania. How difficult this proved to be was experienced by all commandants at Fort Pitt, but in 1784 a survey party ws sen there, of which Andrew Porter was Commissary. By 18 November the surveyors successfully completed the running of Mason’s and Dixon’s Line to the “southwest corner”, two hundred and sixty-six miles from the Delaware River. It then remained to survey the north-south line separating Pennsylvania from present-day Ohio. The Commissioners selected for this were David Rittenhouse, Andrew Ellicott and Andrew Porter. They began their line at the southwest corner on 6 June 1785; on 21 June they reached the Ohio river, where Virginia’s claims ceased as she had ceded all claims north of the Ohio to the United States in 1784. The line was completed to Lake Erie, one hundred and fifty-seven miles from the corner, by Porter and Alexander McLean on 14 September 1786.

It still remained to determine the New York-Pennsylvania boundary. In 1786 Andrew Ellicott, James Clinton and Simeon De Witt began at the Delaware River in July and completed ninety miles of the survey by October. When it was taken up again on 11 June 1787, Andrew Porter and Andrew Ellicott were the Pennsylvania Commissioners. In spite of bad weather and Native American interference the surveyors reached the shore of Lake Erie on 29 October. Ellicott could then report to the Supreme Executive Council that Pennsylvania was entirely bounded and surveyed for the first time in her history. And, it might be added, Porter’s early interest in and aptitude for mathematics here came to fruition.

Porter returned to Norristown and in 1800 was one of the Commissioners, with Thomas Boude and William Irvine [Original Members of the Society], who tried unsuccessfully to resolve the conflict over land titles in the Wyoming Valley. The same year Porter was made Brigadier General of the Second Division, Pennsylvania Militia and on 11 July succeeded Peter Muhlenberg [an Original Member of the Society] as Major General of all the State Militia. He was active in the founding of the Norristown Academy, but was defeated as a candidate for State Senator in 1803. Appointed Surveyor General of the Commonwealth on 10 May 1809 by Governor Simon Snyder he held the post for the rest of his life. He was deeply involved with the contemporary political turmoil in Pennsylvania, and a communication from him to the Legislature occasioned a ridiculous donnybrook in 1810. No doubt because of his age Porter played no part in the War of 1812.

Porter’s first wife, Elizabeth McDowell, died in 1773, and on 20 May 1777 he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth (Todd) Parker, the sister of Captain Robert Parker [an Original Member of the Society], Captain Lieutenant of the Fourth Artillery. Of the first marriage there were six children, the eldest being Lieutenant Robert Porter [an Original Member of the Society] of the Fourth Artillery; the two youngest were the twins Andrew and William, born in 1773, and thus eleven years old when they made the acquaintance of Dr. Rush. Of these children, only Robert remained in Pennsylvania, the others scattered from Baltimore to New Orleans. There were eight children of Andrew Porter’s second marriage, the three youngest being the most notable: David Rittenhouse Porter, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1839 to 1845, George Bryan Porter, Governor of Michigan Territory from 1832 to 1834, and James Madison Porter, a founder of Lafayette College, Easton, and Secretary of War pro tem under President John Tyler in 1843. Andrew Porter, survived by ten of his thirteen children, died at Harrisburg on 16 November 1813 and is buried there. Elizabeth (Parker) Porter died at Norristown on 18 May 1821.