John President Porterby Nancy Rich Porter
Today we honor John President Porter and his family. He was born July 28th, 1818 at Plymouth, Oneida Co., NY. He was the 4th child of Sanford Porter and Nancy Warriner. Sanford had lived in several places as he grew up, but when he decided to marry and begin his family he went back to the town of his youth--Vershire, Orange Co., Vermont and sought out his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Warriner, and asked for her hand in marriage.Nancy is a Mayflower descendant through George Soule and the American Revolutionary War through Reuben Warriner. She was always a hard working and loving wife.Hardship and indefatigable labor was a fact of life with the Porter family. Sanford's philosophy of life was to deal honestly with his fellowman; hard work and determination would get you the better things of life; borrow only when absolutely necessary and then pay the debt in full as quickly as possible. Proud of his American Heritage and willing to sacrifice to maintain it, Sanford taught his family to be the best they were capable of. John President was named in memory of Sanford's (half) brother John, who died near the time of his birth. Sanford missed his brother, John, and living so close to his home, he was reminded of him daily. It was a depressing situation so he made arrangements to trade his home in New York for property in Ohio and thus, John President made the first of what was to become many moves during his lifetime. Almost always each new home had to be built from the ground up. Clearing new land, felling trees for lumber, even sometimes building a sawmill to cut lumber and building a cabin for shelter. During this time the growing Porter family either lived with another family; or in a tent, dugout, or covered wagon until a new house could be constructed.Before John President was born his father, in answer to three days of fasting and praying for spiritual guidance, was told in a dream or vision, "Jesus Christ organized His church with apostles, who were prophets, and they declared many things that would come upon the earth again which time is shortly ripe. You may not live to see it, but your children certainly will. If you will humble yourself and repent of all your sins and blasphemies, you will be forgiven and will rejoice in the goodness and grace of God in all your days. Deal justly and honestly with all mankind. Acknowledge the truth whether it be for or against you. Cease to complain. Cultivate love for God and man. Speak the truth--and the whole truth--whether it be for or against you, and your rest will be sweet." Now, as early as 1828,it would seem that the Lord was beginning to "call forth out of the wilderness" many of the"elect" who were beginning to feel the restlessness and a longing for the truth, and though they knew not why, were gradually migrating to a central meeting place. Let us follow John President's father as he agonizes over John's grandfather, Nathan, who died 13 years before..."Where is my dear Father? Has he found what he expected--a seraphic home where none but God and angels dwell. Or was he just dead--dead to himself, to us and to all things forever?" These thoughts pained his soul. If there was a God as the ancients declared, why was there so much confusion written in regard to Him? No! No! There is no God! What part of man could be a spirit? How could there be a spirit world? There are so many churches here--all different in their beliefs, and all of them can prove they are right by the Bible--and I can prove that they are all wrong! I am afraid I am what they call an infidel!
"In 1820 the Porter family was living in Cornith, Orange, Co., Vermont. Here John's brother Nathan Tanner was born. By 1822 they were living in Augusta, Oneida, NY. where a brother Reuben was born and died. He lived only a short time. John President was now 6 years old. The next move found John, his parents and four brothers and sisters in the state of Ohio. His father had traded for what he thought was to be productive land there, but was misled and the trade was a bad one, and making a living for his growing family was next to impossible. It took several years of toil and hardship before they could arrange to move on. The Porter family grew larger. Sanford Jr., Nancy Areta, and twin boys, Joseph and Hyrum (who died the same year), were all born in Vienna, Liberty, Trumball Co., Ohio. They had worked desperately to raise enough food to feed the family, but it was an unresponsive land. In desperation Sanford again cried to the Lord for direction. He immediately went into a trance and in the vision the messenger told him to sell the place for it was too hard for a man to support a family there. "He said I had better go the state of Illinois--not far from Peoria--what was called Fort Clark."Little did the Porter family realize, in spite of the many moves and new homes they made during John President's 7 years that they were gradually being led toward a meeting place of several strong, ingenious families that would soon play an important part and become close friends of the family for the rest of their lives; and also help fulfill the revelation given Oct. 1830: "And, verily, verily, I say unto you that his Church have I established and called forth out or the wilderness and even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in Me and hearken to My voice." Surely the Porter family and some of their neighbors were "some of mine elect". In 1827, when John was nine, they began their journey "toward the land of setting sun." The parents, seven children and a Mr. John Morgan, set out; first constructing a flat boat, loaded it with all their belongings and began floating down the Mahoning River, then into the Beaver and on into the Ohio River. As they neared a treacherous fall they had to draw near the shore and John and everyone but Mr. Morgan and two pilots disembarked and followed along the shore as the boat went over the huge falls. "For moments we thought all was lost, but She soon came in sight, right side up, and no material damage was done." The country they were passing through was wild and uninhabited and fraught with danger. In May they disembarked near Evansville, Indiana. They rented a farm and planted a crop. John's father became very ill, but eventually he got well enough to teach school that winter. Then, in March, they again continued their march through Illinois. One night they spent in the hollow base of a large tree to find protection from the cold wind and accepted it as a fair degree of comfort. The Porter family settled on a 40 acre farm covered with beautiful white oak--thrifty and good sized, with a good road running from the Wabash to Port Clark. (Now Peoria). They all worked at clearing the land and making logs to build a house, a barn,pig-sty and other things. They plowed and planted and got ready for winter. There was so much to do, but the guys were good workers and by winter they were quite comfortable.
A neighbor, Morris Phelps, and Sanford decided to build a saw mill in partnership. There were many families coming into the area and would need lumber. John's father ended up owning the mill himself and eventually they sold the farm and moved into the mill in order to give it their full attention. At the time the Porters moved to Tazewell Co., Joseph and Nancy O'Neal Rich had been there a while. Morris Phelps, Hosea Stout and several other families who became faithful, close friends to the Porter family also lived there. These people were to weave a lifetime pattern in the Porter saga. John President and his family, through industry and hard work, prospered and began to accumulate the better things of life. One day two gentlemen came to the Porter home with a letter of introduction from Morris Phelps (See Stanford's conversion in the "Porter Family History", by Grant Stevenson). Lyman Wight and John Corril, two Mormon missionaries, were made welcome by the Porter family. After the Porter family was taught, Sanford, Nancy, and his eldest sister were all baptized, John was baptized one year later. When John was 14 years old two Elders passed through informing all the members of the Church that Jackson Co., was to be the gathering place of the Saints. Most of the people wanted to be with others of their faith and set about selling their property and preparing to move. Sanford sold his home and mill. He was responsible for 7 other families. They started their journey Dec. 1st, 1831. It was to be a 500 mile trek in the dead of winter. They crossed rivers on the ice, struggled through snow and cold. Nancy W. and Sanford now had 8 children, the youngest was 3 ½.
Records show that they lost a daughter, Lucinda, in Aug of 1831, making 4 babies they had buried. Nancy was then 41. They were on the road three months. In spite of the hardships "the saints" were a happy people, enjoying the companionship of their brotherhood and the Spirit of God guiding them. When they arrived in Jackson Co., they put behind them the trials and rejoiced in their new life. It was a busy and different one. Here they were introduced to the principle of "the Law of Consecration" where all things were held in common and each was given stewardship over all he needed and could manage. Each was assigned the property and the labor that his vocation required. The thick timber needed to be cleared from the block designation for a beautiful temple, and they all needed new homes and business accommodations. The Porters settle at Prairie Branch, 12 miles west of Independence, on May 5, 1833. Though they were happy here, it was short lived as persecution from the local residents began to heat up.
The Porters were driven with the rest of the saints out of Jackson Co. John and his family spent the winter of 1833 and 1834 on a tributary of the main river, clearing land and building more houses in an uninhabited wilderness with other refugees. Fourteen other families stayed with them with nothing but their own resourcefulness to keep them alive. In 1836 a good number of Saints had taken up residence in Caldwell Co., Mo. They had obtained property and homes through purchase, and had sent a petition to the governor asking for a County organization. This petition was granted and hopes now seemed possible for a peaceful habitation. The colonies of "Mormons" grew by leaps and bounds. Among those coming into the County was the Joseph Rich family. The son, Charles C, had bought, in connection with his father, a tract of land--40 acres--and moved to the area. At this time Nancy was 15 and John 18. We know little of the romance of John and Nancy except that they lived in the same County and were taught by the same missionaries. Both families joined and moved from gathering place to gathering place wherever the "Saints" congregated. History has not recorded just how often John and Nancy saw each other nor how often they were at the same church functions, but John's family lived in the same general area as did Nancy's. It was common for large families to stay together even after the children married (except when some of the men were on missions or special assignments for the church) caring for and helping each other. The Rich family--married brother, sisters, parents, and even a cousin moved from place to place together, often living under one roof, and so did the Porters. Both families remained faithful to the Prophet Joseph Smith and church doctrine so it would be expected that Nancy and John were often in some congregations hearing the same sermons and news of the day. It was during this tumultuous period that many new developments and instructions and church policies were being presented to the members through revelations to become the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church. No doubt both families attended conferences where these important teachings were being presented by general authorities of the church. Nancy's brother, Charles, from the day he was baptized, was a prominent missionary and leader in the Church, eventually he became an apostle. Since much of his travels are documented we know more of his family and Nancy and so are able to trace her from home to home until she and John marry. And since both families crossed the plains under charge of the Charles C. Rich company--we have more detail than we would otherwise have known. Nancy Rich was baptized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, April 22nd, 1832, and we know from "Essentials in Church History" that the prophet made his second visit to Missouri in April 1832 where "at a general council of the Church, Joseph Smith was acknowledged by the Saints in Zion as "President of the High Priesthood," ratifying the action of the Amherst, Ohio Conference held Jan. 25th, 1832 so sustaining him." Surely the Porters also attended the momentous occasion. Perhaps John even attended Nancy's baptism. Nancy would have been 10 ½ and John almost 14 then, and 11 years and many trying events and moves would yet transpire before John and Nancy would unite their lives. As Nauvoo and the Nauvoo Temple were being built, John and Nancy courted. Times were relatively peaceful, people were building better homes, educational opportunities were provided and for a while, they were a happy people. John's brother, Nathan, had a very serious injury while handling heavy timber and was unable to work for a long time, but eventually he regained enough strength to go on a mission to the Eastern States. His 13 year old brother, Justin Theodore, was killed when a horse fell on him. John's sisters, Sarah and Nancy A married. On Feb 5, 1843, Nancy and John were married. Brother, Charles, performed the ceremony in the Rich home. Both families, and their neighbors celebrated the happy occasion. Their first son, Joseph Rich, was born Mar. 29th, 1844. They named him for Nancy's father. Political and religious enemies began again to agitate in the community. Once again the people had to be on guard. The temple construction was guarded night and day. Hosea Stout, who had been a friend and neighbor since the Tazewell County days, tells in his journal of the situation by 1846. "I was then notified by President B. Young to send spies out into different parts of the country to watch and report the proceedings of the mob--. I committed the business of sending spies out in Iowa to Sanford Porter who lives in Iowa. He was to send some three or four in different directions to watch their movements and let us know when anything is going on among them against us." Sanford Porter was one of the most faithful members of the Mormon Church at that time, and also most respected among non-members....He was the father of a large family, all of whom were active in and loyal to the local church. Living across the line in Iowa, he escaped many of the difficulties of Nauvoo.
Porter followed the pioneer group to Utah in the fall of 1847 with the Charles C.Rich company and the next season he sent back teams and supplies to meet the immigrants and he served as bishop. In spite of the great persecutions Joseph Smith had taken to prevent the Church from being put into a vulnerable position again, the mob and political leaders began anew to persecute the people, and it was evident that they would yet have to find another place to practice their beliefs. Joseph Smith decided to run for President of the United States and John's brother, Nathan, went to Ohio to campaign for him. Just three months after the birth of Joseph Rich, mob violence reigned and they murdered the Prophet Joseph Smith. Nathan was still in Ohio when the terrible news reached him and he returned to Nauvoo. Even before the martyrdom of Joseph the people had begun to plan how to move on further West. Brigham Young, who had been president of the council of twelve apostles, was now the President of the Church and considered their new Prophet. He set about at once to plan and prepare the people for outfitting each family with wagons, teams, supplies and all it would take to move such a body of people across so many uncharted miles. They supposed--and it was promised them by their enemies--that they would have time to dispose of their property and purchase what would be needed before going, but, as history can affirm, their Prophet and others were murdered and the time was cut short. Once more they were driven out into the winter elements to endure--or perish. Before the exodus began all haste was put forth to finish the precious temple they had all worked so hard to complete. This was necessary to them. Even when they knew they would be leaving all the work and beauty behind they knew they must finish it. It would be here that certain vows and blessings could be given. And it was here that John and Nancy came (as did all devout members) to be sealed as husband and wife for all time and eternity in the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage" before they set there feet west.
On Dec 26th, 1846 the first of the Saints left Nauvoo and crossed the Mississippi River on the journey to the west. Mary Phelps Rich, Charles C's wife, states that on Feb. 12, 1846 their family began the journey west. On reaching the Iowa side of the stream the Riches went to some relatives in Lee County--some to Nancy's father, Joseph. Since Nancy is mentioned with the Rich caravan, and John's father speaks of some of the children, but not John, we can assume that John and Nancy were often with the Riches as they crossed the plains, and were probably with them when they left. Through all the trials, persecutions and testing, the Saints who were left in the church were strong, faithful and determined. They would take the necessary discipline that it would take to stand the trials yet to come. There would be many more...but Brigham Young said that he doubted "if ever there was a body of people since the days of Enoch, who had done so little grumbling under such unpleasant and trying circumstances." Both the Porter and Rich families fit well into this category. Due to sickness and having to replenish supplies, etc. and the weather and impassable roads, progress was very slow. The wagon train averaged only a mile or two a day. They didn't travel on Sundays. They often slept on frozen or muddy ground; and all cooking was done in the open.They reached Garden Grove the latter part of April and Mount Pisgah in mid-May. The company stayed here at this temporary "stopping off" place until March 1847.Life at Mt. Pisgah was one of hard work and poverty, but with the usual spirit of these hardy people there was also some happy, joyous socials and parties. The people not only planted and built homes that they knew they would be leaving for these to follow to harvest and live in--but they made baskets, tubs, churns, and anything that could be sold to the local markets about the area. The trip from Mount Pisgah to the Missouri was through Indian Country. They helped build roads and bridges along the way for those who would follow. John P was getting valuable experience which he needed in later years. They proceeded across the plains to Winter Quarters, just across the Nebraska-Iowas line. Here the Porter and Rich families were all together again and traveled on to Utah in the same Company. From Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City was about 1100 miles as they traveled. The company had about 2000 people in it. There were five groups of wagons, each group being made up of about one hundred wagons. These were divided into groups of fifty wagons and ten wagons, and as usual there were captains of hundreds, fifties, and of tens. The exposure they had had to endure had weakened Nancy's mother. She was not well at all. Nancy, too, was tired and weak and expecting another baby. Their third son, John President Jr., was born in a wagon bed, along the Sweetwater River somewhere in Wyoming Territory--then Mexican Territory--Sept. 4th 1847. At the time Mother Rich was taken seriously ill with Rocky Mountain Fever. They did all they could for her. She lived to reach the valley, but died three days later, Oct. 5 1847. Young John P Jr., was the youngest child to immigrate there. Three days after John P Jr. was born, Sept 7th, 1847, they continued the journey west. The month before they had walked through dust, over steep hills, and the women were sunburned and the men exhausted from walking all day and standing guard at night. Now the weather changed to snow and cold to plague them. Breakdowns and loss of teams were common. The final approach to Salt Lake Valley had been slow and tedious. They averaged about 16 miles a day. Nathan T Porter writes of the arrival in Salt Lake Valley. "When, for the first time, our anxious eyes rested on the silvery lake and slopes in the distance below, the dusty hat and faded sunbonnet were seen waving above the heads of their wearers, while shouts of joy and admiration ascended up as each in his gaiety made the summit! The tears of sorrow having now fled, those of gratitude burst forth making a path way down many a careworn face. The contrast between the long dreary plains and this valley like an oasis in the desert, coupled with the thought of safety from oppression was truly stirring. We were met by some of the Pioneers who had preceded us and soon were camped with them."The temple block had already been laid out. A body of log houses were being constructed by Lorenzo Young. A few half finished adobe walls marking a wing of a fort to be erected after the manner of a block house for defense against the Indians. Next to the stockade was a big field with some crops planted.True, there was great jubilation at reaching their destination but their troubles were far from over. Nancy's mother died three days after their arrival. Nancy, herself, was in a weakened and fragile health. Their chances of survival was still questionable. There were very limited provisions; crops were planted late in the year, and there wasn't much chance of a large harvest. They had brought some provisions with them, but not enough to keep 2,200 people alive until another harvest, (and remember, they needed to save enough for seed for the next planting.) They were 1100 miles from the nearest settlement to the west. At the time all the valley seemed to produce was crickets and sago root. When beef cattle were brought from the San Bernadino Valley in California, half the herd was lost and the rest only made it at great sacrifice.Soon after Brigham Young set foot in the valley he set men to work fencing, plowing, and planting "the big field." He sent to the coast for work animals, milk cows, and beef cattle. He negotiated a contract with the traders in the district for exchange of goods.
Brigham Young had also had--in his desire to be friendly with the Indians--pacified and assured them, so there was little danger from them, but they often stole from the Pioneers. John's father and brothers found a homestead about 4 miles south of Salt Lake on Millcreek and built a sawmill. These families spent most of that winter in their wagons, the men building houses when weather permitted. Food supplies dwindled and they had to ration their food. Records do not show that John and Nancy went to Millcreek for winter, but Joseph and Charles Rich and John Porter were awarded lots within the 9 block area--which included Temple Square-- in what later became the 17th Ward. Charles' record shows they lived in a tent in the North section of the fort for about a year, later taking up land out of the fort. Perhaps John and Nancy did too. In 1851 the Porters moved 11 miles north of Salt Lake to Duell Creek (now called Centerville). With more converts from oversees and more saints emigrating from Winter Quarters, Centerville was growing quickly. In 1852 a Ward of the church was formed and Father Sanford Porter was sustained as their first bishop. Among the people coming to Centerville was Mary Palmer Graves Bratton. She and her 5 daughters, with her mother and a 16 year old boy who drove one of her teams, crossed the plains with two covered wagons. Mary was a sister to Eliza Graves Rich, who was a sister-in-law to Nancy Rich Porter. Mary's husband, Charles, decided not to come west with the body of Saints. But Mary and her girls wanted to stay with the church, so they separated. Charles helped outfit them with supplies, wagons, and teams. He went with them as far as Council Bluffs, Nebraska. Here their fifth daughter was born. When the opportunity to move on with a company of 50 wagons--in May 1852--the 5 girls, Mary and her mother joined the company. Mr. Bratton returned to Nauvoo. March 24th, 1853 John President married Mary Graves, thus uniting the 2 families. It was also in 1854, that John's brothers, Chauncy and Sanford, were scouting the area. They rode over the mountains above the Centerville area, and dropped down into a rocky,rough canyon onto a creek they called Beaver Creek. Having been millwrights before, they were impressed with the feasibility of operating a sawmill in the vicinity. There was plenty of timber of all sizes; small trees for fence poles, larger ones for making log cabins, and big trees for slab lumber. They decided to build one. It was such a struggle to get back to the mill site that they named the canyon Hardscrable. Very apropos. There were no roads, of course, and the descent from the summit was steep and treacherous. They would have to work on making a road back across the mountains to take the lumber out. Eventually the Porter brothers were taking lumber back over the mountain to Centerville and Salt Lake by a cart drawn with four yoke of oxen. Their church and family were the center of their lives. Records show that John P was a member of the 26th quorum of Seventies while in Centerville and that he received his Patriarchal blessing August 14th, 1856 by Isaac Morley Sr.On Dec 14th, 1857 John's beloved wife, Nancy, died. She had stood by his side through all the hardships he had known. For 14 years she had gone wherever he took her, bore four sons and a daughter in the most trying of circumstances, lived in the most primitive of homes; but nothing had dimmed her strong testimony that the gospel was worth it all. John had been sealed to Nancy and Mary. In March 1853 he and Mary were sealed again in the Endowment House. It had not been ready for use when they first married. Now Mary had full responsibility for 9 children, and she was a great comfort to John, and a good mother of the family.1858 was also a very severe winter. Several of the Porter families decided they would go to the valley where Hardscrabble Creek wound down the canyon and joined East Canyon Creek. This little valley was about 5 miles east of Morgan. Whether you entered the valley from over the mountains and down Hardscrabble or took the long way around through Weber Canyon the roads were almost impassable. Part of the canyon, where the Weber River cut through was so treacherous it had been named Devil's gate. A road had been built about 3 years previously leading into the town of Morgan by Sanford Porter Jr. and several other men. In the Winter of 1860 Sanford Sr. and his sons crossed the mountain above Centerville on snowshoes. As they approached the little valley they climbed a hill and then before them was a view that they supposed had not been seen by white men before. They could see almost to Weber Canyon where, for 10 miles or more, a creek wound peacefully through the meadows. To their right their eyes traveled along a range of low hills and rested on a somewhat level area that looked perfect for farmland. Further east was another canyon that they named East Canyon. They planned to build a road down Hardscrabble so they could bring lumber down to the valley and build homes. For the first time since they left Nauvoo they would have wood floors! On the west side of East Canyon Creek the ground became higher and they decided this "bench" was not so much to their liking. They crossed the valley and staked out homesteads where each would build a home. In the spring, when the women and children could also go and see where their new home were to be, the whole valley was alive with flowers, shrubs, grass, and leafy trees. There was just about everything they would need for both them and their livestock to survive. The soil was rich and would grow good crops; there was pasture land for their cows and sheep could find all the food they would need; there were herbs for medicine and seasoning; wild berries... they could think of nothing that couldn't be provided for there. Sanford would build the first house and move there and the "boys" would soon follow. Some of the women were trained midwives and nurses and they would collect all the things they needed for medicine and food storage.There was much road building to be done, and John P did his share of it. In the summer of 1859 the men brought a road from the Hardscrabble mill into Porterville. The Weber Canyon Devils Gate road into Morgan and on east to Porterville was improved. This would be the way the wagons with household possession, tools and families would come. John P and his son, Joseph Rich, and a nephew, Warriner Ahaz, did a great deal of this work. "Necessity is the mother of invention" was a phrase often quoted by the Porters. They trapped, hunted, fished, and foraged for berries, roots, and herbs. They followed behind sheep and gathered any bit of wool that caught on bush or fence and carefully washed,carded and spun it into clothes. Nothing was wasted that could possibly be used. They invented games that could be played while working and even their fun-time was accomplishing some needed task. In spite of the fact that from early dawn to late at night meant hard work and only the bare necessities were available, they had finally found peace and an opportunity to live their religion in a full and happy way and their children grew in an atmosphere of love, respect, deep religious conviction that brought an assurance and feeling of self worth they had never known before. During the following year some of the Porters were in Centerville, and sometime in Porterville. Sometimes the men, busy with building houses and running a lumber mill, stayed in Porterville and their families lived with relatives.