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Porter Family Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 22 Mar 2010

Biographical History

The Porter family resided in Skaneateles and Lockport, New York, during the American Civil War. Family members fought on both the Union and Confederate sides.

James Gurdon Porter (1808-1885) of Skaneateles, New York married Sarah Grosvenor (1811-1882) of Nacogdoches, Louisiana in 1829. They had nine children, six boys and three girls: Lucia Mary (1831-1834), Laura, Seth, Samuel (1837-1868), Henry (1839-1861), Frederick (1840-1864), Stanley, Benjamin, and Maria Grosvenor.

Benjamin Horton Porter (1844-1865) was born in Skaneateles, New York on July 19, 1844. A few years later the family moved to Lockport, New York. He attended the United States Naval School at Annapolis and then served aboard the USS Roanoke. In the early days of the Civil War he was a member of Burnside's North Carolina expedition, earning a commendation from General John Foster. Following this he was put in command of a gunboat patrolling the waterways of North Carolina. In November 1862 he was ordered to the USS Canandaigua for blockade duty. In July 1863 he and his comrades spent three weeks reconnoitering the harbor of Charleston under cover of darkness, ultimately volunteering to be part of stealth attack on Fort Sumter. The attack failed and Porter was a prisoner of war in Columbia, South Carolina for more than a year. Porter was exchanged in October 1864 and assigned as commander of the USS Malvern, Admiral David Porter's (no relation) flagship. He was killed on January 15, 1865 during an attack on Fort Fisher, near Wilmington.

Seth Grosvenor Porter (1835-1910) was a Confederate blockade runner in North Carolina; according to some accounts he later served in the Spanish-American war and became a U.S. Marshall. Stanley Porter (1842-1862) served in the Union Army and was killed in 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Laura (1833-1900) married Cornelius van Schaak Roosevelt, Jr. (1827-1887), a member of the prominent Roosevelt family and an uncle of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Marie (1848-?), the youngest of James and Sarah's children, married Adolf (or Adolph) Mensing, a German Naval officer.

[Biographical information drawn from "Benjamin J. Porter," U.S. Naval Academy Virtual Memorial Hall; "Benjamin Porter: Tragedy at Fort Fisher ", Library of Congress Research Guide; "Heroic Deeds of Heroic Men XVII: Benjamin H. Porter" in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Apr 1867, pp. 559-571; and from "The Other Hero," blog post.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Porter Family Papers consists of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs and subject files relating to the Porter family of Skaneateles and Lockport, New York. Much of the material relates to Benjamin H. Porter and his brother Stanley, both of whom died while serving in the Union military forces during the American Civil War. Other family members represented include their parents, James and Sarah Porter, and their sister Laura.

Correspondence contains letters to and from members of the Porter family, including Benjamin H. Porter, his mother Sarah, his father James, his brother Stanley, and his sister Laura (Mrs. C.V.S. Roosevelt). Many of the letters were written while Benjamin, a Union naval officer, was a prisoner of war in Columbia, South Carolina -- including a very amicable one to his brother Seth, who at the time was a blockade runner for the Confederacy operating in the same area.

Manuscripts consists of several poems by Stanley Porter, including one from 1862 entitled "Off to Baltimore."

Photographs consists mostly of reproductions (engravings) possibly taken from books, but there are a few originals. Subjects include members of the Porter family as well as important Civil War figures such as Major General George B. McCLellan and Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside.

Subject files includes printed material, Stanley Porter's journal, a "Register of Vessel," a military pass, and carbons of typed transcripts and inventories of material in the collection.

Typed captions accompanying the photographs, as well as information in the transcripts and lists at the end of the collection, indicate that the material was once part of something called the Mensing-Braun Collection of Civil War Material. This suggests that the material was accumulated by Maria, the Porters' youngest daughter, who married German naval officer Adolph Mensing.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender. Within that, where appropriate, it is subdivided by recipient and then arranged chronologically. Photographs are subdivided into those of the Porter family and those of others. Subject files are arranged alphabetically by type, title, or topic.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advance notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Porter family.
Porter, Benjamin H., 1844-1865.
Porter, James Gurdon, 1808-1885.
Porter, Sarah Grosvenor, 1811-1882.
Porter, Seth Grosvenor, 1835-1910.
Porter, Stanley, 1842-1862.
Roosevelt, Cornelius V. S., Jr., 1827-1887.
Roosevelt, Laura, 1833-1900.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1831-1878.

Corporate Bodies

Confederate States of America. -- Navy.
United States. -- Navy.


Blockade -- North Carolina.
Soldiers -- United States.


Lockport (N.Y.) -- History.
Skaneateles (N.Y.) -- History.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Military passes.
Registrations (licenses)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Porter Family Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information


Table of Contents




Subject files