PORTER 1800 – 1900


John Porter of Fergus, Wellington County, Ontario, husband of Margaret Callahan and father of their eight surviving children was almost certainly the same person as John Porter born in 1822 in North Lopham, Norfolk Couunty, England to Samuel Newson Porter and Mary Gates. Although no record made during his life which included his place of birth or the names of his parents has yet been located, the circumstantial evidence supporting his Norfolk pedigree as the son of Samuel and Mary is extremely strong.

As a starting point, the obituary for John Porter, published in the Fergus News Record of 20 October 1892, with information likely provided by his son James who was the informant for the death certificates of both his parents, included the following:

“Mr. Porter was a native of Norfolk County England and emigrated to America some 46 years ago [thus 1846], finally settling in Fergus about the year 1856. His wife was a Miss Margaret Callahan of Cork, Ireland and they were married in Toronto prior to their arrival in Fergus. ... Mr. and Mrs. Porter were members of the Anglican church ...”.


1. The monumental inscription on the stone above his burial place in Belsyde Cemetery in Fergus, just a block from the family home, establishes John’s date of birth as February of 1822 and John Porter the son of Samuel Newson Porter and Mary Gates was, according to the marginal notation on the 6 July 1822 entry of his baptism in the North Lopham, Norfolk Parish Register, born 9 February 1822 1.

2. The life histories of all 19 John Porters born in Norfolk County England between 1819 and 1825 were extensively researched and those that had died before 1856 or who were found from 1856 to 1861 in another location than Ontario were eliminated. In the end only two remained as potential candidates for John Porter of Fergus Ontario - John Porter born 9 February 1822 in North Lopham, Norfolk to Samuel Newson Porter and Mary Gates and John Portler (note that this is a different surname) born 16 June 1822 in South Lynn, Norfolk to William Portler and Charlotte Garner.

3. A family story passed down by my grand-mother recalls that her husband David Porter (my grand-father, born in 1873) remembered that as a boy the family either received a letter or read an advertisement in a newspaper requesting contact with someone in England and the father refused to have any of his family respond. Very possibly this was a letter or notice posted by a solicitor in Norfolk concerning a bequest left to the children of Mary Gates Porter by her uncle William Gates who died in Norwich in September of 1885.

There are other avenues of research which might be expected to determine more definitively the birth-place or parentage of John Porter -

1. Marriage Record

Although John’s obituary says that he married Margaret Callahan in Toronto prior to 1856, no record of this marriage has been discovered. In any event, marriage records of this period did not generally include the parish of birth or names of parents of the partners to the marriage. (See below for amplification of marriage searches).

2. Census Records

John Porter of North Lopham has not been definitively located in the 1841 English census. While there was a John Porter aged 20 (therefore born from 1816 to 1822 as the 1841 census reported ages over 15 rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5) enumerated in Grimston(e) in 1841 he was most likely the John son of Thomas and Mary Anne Porter who was born in 1818 in West Rudham but moved within a year with his family to Grimston(e). His mother Mary and three of his youngest siblings were also enumerated in Grimston(e) in that census. John Porter of Grimston(e) was the second cousin of John Porter of North Lopham. In any event the 1841 English census does not list the county or parish of birth but only indicates whether or not the person was residing in the same county they were born in and there were far too many John Porters of the applicable age (rounded down to the nearest five years) who were scattered throughout England and residing in different counties than their county of birth. It is very possible that at the age of 19 John had left North Lopham and Norfolk County 2 and was living elsewhere in England or in a Crown Colony.

The 1841 census of Canada West (Ontario) does not contain a John Porter of the applicable age who had been born in Norfolk England. However there is a strongly possible entry in the 1851 census for Fitzroy Township, Carleton County, just south of the city of Ottawa, for a John Porter 3 a single man in his 30th year [so born about 1822], of the Church of England religion, born in England and a teamster with a company of Irish workers 4. From Directories and other sources it appears that most of the original pioneers of Fitroy were from Ireland and mainly from Cork and Tipperary counties 5. The Irish connection may have facilitated the meeting of John with Margaret Callahan who had been born in Cork Ireland in 1837 (see Callahan elsewhere) and whom he married prior to 1856. Otherwise, there is no record of John Porter of North Lopham between his birth there in 1822 and the entry in Fergus Ontario in the 1861 census.

3. Directories

The first John Porter to appear in Toronto records after 1847 consists of two entries in the 1862 Toronto Directory, one a baker 6 residing at 137 University Avenue (Samuel Porter, foreman GTRR is shown at 135 University Avenue in the same directory) and the other a silversmith boarding at 31 Queen Street West.

The 1851 Census for Toronto City is not available, having earlier been lost or destroyed, but the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls for the city do not contain an entry for John Porter although there are two Samuel Porters: one a carpenter living on Park Lane (St. Johns Ward) and the other a labourer on King St. E.

4. Naming Traditions

Although the tradition of naming children after their grand-parents was still somewhat followed in the second half of the 19th century even in Ontario, none of the children of John Porter and Margaret Callahan were named Samuel or Mary. However, neither was the name of Margaret’s father Cornelius (or Connor) used for the names of any of her male children.

5. Family Relations

Although there is no record of any other of John Porter’s relatives in Ontario it is noteworthy that in 1843 Robert Porter of Yorkville (Toronto) bought and sold a parcel of land in Nichol Township in Wellington County, which contains Fergus (see Norfolk Connections below). Robert was in fact born in Hindolveston 7, Norfolk in about 1813 and was likely a distant cousin of John Porter of North Lopham whose great-grandfather, John Porter of Snetterton, had been born in Hindolveston. Possibly the two men had connected in Toronto and it was Robert who suggested that John might consider settling in Wellington County. The fourth son of John Porter and Margaret Callahan was named Robert but he died and was buried in Fergu in April if 1866 just one month after his birth.

6. Emigration Records

Ships’ records for the likely period of John’s arrival in Canada are mostly non-existent but, in any event, did not record the birth parish or county of passengers. The few that are available include

i. John Porter left England 5 April 1842 aboard the Prince George bound for Montreal and Quebec 8,

ii. John Porter aged 24 arrived in St. John New Brunswick in 1845, but as this was recorded in The Irish in New Brunswick and Their Origins, it may be assumed he was of Irish origins,

iii. John Porter aged 25 and William Porter 21 arrived in Boston from St. John New Brunswick on 29 June 1848 aboard the steamer Commodore,

iv. John Porter aged 28 (and therefore born about 1824) arrived in NYC from Liverpool on 22 March 1852 aboard the”Niagara” and, unlike the other passengers, indicated he was bound for Canada West [Ontario]. He appears to have traveled, or certainly arrived, alone, and

v. John Porter aged 35 arrived in Boston from _______ on 30 September 1854 aboard the “America” [b.c.1819].

7. DNA Analysis

Although the writer has taken one YDNA and three autosomal DNA tests, there are not yet any confirmed connections to any other Norfolk Porters or individuals appearing in the North Lopham Porter pedigree.


Robert Porter was born 5 June 1814 9 in Hindolvestone Norfolk the son of Richard Porter and Mary Breese 10, married Martha Page in Hindolvestone 7 October 1835 and had a son William baptised 15 December of the same year! 11. According to the 1901 Census he emigrated to Canada in 1836 12. In October of 1843 he purchased the NW1/2 of Lot 7 in Nichol Township Wellington County (the township containing Fergus 13), although he and Martha sold it 5 months later. From at least 1843 Robert, a brick-maker and by 1872 a brewer, appeared in the directories and Census in Yorkville, immediately north of the then borders of Toronto. Robert, an Anglican, appears to have lived at 16 Davenport from at least 1859 to 1875 and although he may have been the Robert Porter, a teamster, who resided at 34 York in Yorkville in 1876, he does not appear again in Yorkville after that date. In 1875 an Alfred Porter 14 resided in 18 Davenport, next door to Robert. Robert’s wife Martha died 13 April 1869 in Yorkville. Robert, as Richard Porter, then married Rebecca Turner 15 29 Dec. 1869 in a Methodist church in Toronto and, at some point after 1871, moved to Uxbridge, Ontario County (now Durham County). Robert and Rebecca had 12 children before Robert died on 20 March 1908 16. Robert Porter, aged 91, was buried the next day in lot F22 of the Toronto Necropolis 17.

Robert and Rebecca had the following children:

1. William b.26 September 1870 in Yorkville and married 16 Feb. 1898 in Uxbridge to Jane/Jennie Linton and had at least two sons: Robert Ross Elwood born 25 Jan. 1899 18 (married Elizabeth Abbott 18 July 1925) and William David born 18 Sept. 1900 in Uxbridge? Ontario County. After the death? of Jane he married, secondly, 12 Feb. 1906 in Hamilton to Keturah Tovey. Both parties were listed as Salvation Army. In January 1916 his son Ross entered the US to visit him in Port Huron Michigan and at that time he was a Captain with the Salvation Army brigade there while his two sons were living with their grandmother Rebecca at 34 Belfair Avenue in Toronto;

2. Mary b.c. 1872 and married Christopher Topper [?];

3. Robert b. 21 Aug. 1874 and still single and living with his family in 1901. He married Iva May Jarvis in abt 1904 and had a son Charles Alfred born 21 March 1905 in Uxbridge? Ontario County. He died in 1944 and was buried in Box Grove Cemetery in York Region, Ontario 19.

4. Florence Hannah (Elizabeth) b.c. 1876 and married 26 Nov. 1896 in Stouffville to Thomas Scott and secondly 25 Aug. 1902 in Toronto to James Alloway;

5. Margaret b.c. 1878 and married 3 Sept. 1906 20 in Sudbury to Robert Henry Traviss;

6. John A. born 7 August. 1881 in Goodwood and married 21 Aug. 1905 in Northumberland Co. to Mary Taylor. A millwright with Acme Screw and Bolt Co., he died from accidental electrocution 20 Nov. 1929 in Toronto and was buried in St. John’s Norway Anglican churchyard;

7. Louise b. 31 Oct. 1882 21 and married 26 Feb. 1909 in Toronto to John Robert Dunn;

8. Thomas b. 4 Jan. 1884 in Goodwood and married before 30 June 1911 22 in Toronto to Ellen Jane Cole. Like his brothers John and Frank he was a machinist;

9. Sarah b. June 1886? but died September 1886 in Goodwood and was buried in the Porter plot in the Toronto Necropolis;

10. Charles b.28 Nov. 1887 in Uxbridge Township and married 12 Nov. 1919 in Toronto to Marie Turner. Like his brothers John and Thomas he was a machinist; and

11. Frank b.c. January 1889 but died February 1889.

The family appeared in 1871 in Yorkville and in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses in Uxbridge Township - North Division (Lot 3 of Concession 3), probably in Goodwood which is in the S.W. corner of Uxbridge Township. The 1877 Historical Atlas of Ontario County shows R. Porter on the N1/2 of Lot 22 of the E1/2 of Concession I, N.W. of the town of Goodwood. On all returns, they were reported as Primitive Methodist or Methodist, the religion of their mother.

Margaret Porter, a niece of Robert, who was baptised in Hindolvestone 14 Jan 1830 in Hindolveston daughter of Richard and Thomasin Porter 23, arrived in Ontario in about 1850-1852 with an “uncle” (un-named!) 24 and, after her marriage to William Burnham 8 July 1856 in _____?, lived initially in Scott Township 25, before settling in the Uxbridge area (Lot 37 in the 4th Concession) sometime between 1861 and 1871. They had 10 children: Richard c.1856 26, Elizabeth c.1857, Thomas c. 1860, Catharine c.1861, Martha c.1863, Susan c.1865, Mary Jane c.1868, William c.1871, Margaret c. 1872 and one other who likely died before adulthood. Margaret died 4 Jan 1912 and was buried in the Sandford Community Cemetery beside her husband who had pre-deceased her. Richard Porter, her father, had been baptised in Hindolveston 14 Feb. 1807 the son of Richard and Mary Porter and older brother of Robert Porter, above.


As stated above, John Porter of Fergus, Ontario was in all probability born 9 February 1822 and baptised 6 July 1822 in North Lopham, Norfolk (likely baptised later because his father’s mother was a fervent Non-Conformist Methodist). His monument in the Belsyde Fergus Cemetery records his age in years and months and establishes his birth in February of 1822.

Although his parents Samuel Newson Porter and Mary Gates appear to have had no children for the first 10 years of their marriage, at the time of his birth John had at least 3 older siblings - Mary then aged 9, Susan then 7 and Samuel then aged 4. His extended family living in North Lopham at that time included his uncle John Porter and his wife Mary Elliott and their 2 daughters and his grand-parents Samuel Porter and his wife Mary Newson. Not far away in Garboldisham were his aunt Mary and her husband John Wells and their 7 children and in Great Ringstead his aunt Susan the newly married wife of Thomas Wharton and their first child.

His maternal grand-parents John Gates and Lucy Rose were then living in East Harling having recently moved there from Illington.

The first four years of John’s life were likely idyllic as his grand-father Samuel Sr. was wealthy and owned a large number of properties within the village and in Garboldisham and East Harling. It is likely that John’s father Samuel Newson Porter lived in one of those many properties in North Lopham owned or controlled by his father (Samuel Sr.) and it is highly possible that the Porters lived in the “mansion” located on the east side of the main street of the village (his property at bankruptcy was described as including a “newly-erected brick and slated MANSION, quite equal to the residence of a family of respectability”), likely staffed by retainers. From about 1801 to 1826 Samuel Porter Sr. was a banker in the village as well as, at various times and often simultaneously, a Grocer and Draper, Farmer, Chapman, Dealer, Shopkeeper, Innkeeper and Insurance Agent. Significantly he was also one of the Church Wardens for the parish of North Lopham and was frequently appointed executor of the wills of various town residents.

However, and even before the beginning of John’s life, things had begun to change dramatically. An article in 1870 in the Ipswich Journal discussing the financial difficulties in North Lopham Parish noted that “the churchwardens’ books seemed to be fairly kept up to 1820" when it was determined that two years of records had been cut out of the accounts. “At that time Mr. Samuel Porter, Sen., was churchwarden.”. In 1823 the parish tithes in North and South Lopham were halved on account of the depressed price of agricultural produce (cheaper American cotton was biting into the market for linen from flax, grown in large supply in the Lophams). Samuel Porter Sr. was clearly suffering financially and the day after Christmas 1825 a Commission of Bankruptcy was issued against him. Proceedings moved quickly and on 3 March 1826 Samuel Porter Sr. was committed to the gaol at Norwich Castle. At this point he was 70 years old! It is currently unknown how long he remained incarcerated in Norwich but in May of 1826 when all of his properties were sold to produce funds for those to whom he owed, he was listed as “late of North Lopham” suggesting that he was still in gaol in Norwich. He was however buried in North Lopham, aged 85, 26 May 1838.

It is likely that all of the Porter family were severely impacted by the events resulting in the imprisonment of their patriarch. With the disposition of their land holdings the families of both sons of Samuel Sr - John and Samuel Newson Porter - would probably have re-located to other, and considerably reduced, residences. Depending on the extent of financial dependence of their father’s resources, both John and Samuel Newson may have had to seek new means to support their families.

While there is some evidence that John, the eldest of Samuel’s sons, managed to hold his own, and was able to maintain his Grocery and Drapery business in North Lopham (which was eventually taken over by his son-in-law Charles Vyse), Samuel’s second son Samuel Newson Porter appeared to be less successful. By the time of the 1841 census Samuel was listed as an agricultural labourer, suggesting that he probably was not particularly adept at managing his family finances. The family of Mary Gates, the wife of Samuel Newson Porter, were obviously not convinced of his ability to handle money as both her father and brother made it quite clear in their wills that the bequest to their daughter and sister was not to be touched by her husband. Unfortunately, of all the Porters, the least is known of Samuel Newson Porter and the information consists of only the vital events of his marriage and death and his appearance on the 1841 and 1851 census returns. What is apparent is that his wife Mary Gates had, by at least 1841, left Samuel and was living with her sister Ann the wife of Daniel Watson at the Inn he ran in East Harling. In the same census Samuel was shown as living with his daughter Susan Gooch and her husband William on the green in North Lopham. It is possible that Samuel Newson Porter was a less than satisfactory husband and father which could explain why Mary had left him and possibly precipitated John’s departure from North Lopham. This could also explain why neither John Porter of Fergus nor any of his four surviving siblings had named any of their male children Samuel.

Mary Gates, the wife of Samuel Newson Porter and mother of John had died in North Lopham, or at least was buried there, 11 August 1845. John was 23 years old at the time and not likely still living in North Lopham or elsewhere in Norfolk - there being no record of him in the 1841 census. Both of his sisters had already married - Mary to John Boggis in 1837 and Susan to William Gooch in 1834, both in North Lopham - as had his brother Samuel who married in 1839 to Esther Talbot in Kenninghall. His sister Jane had died in January of 1817 just two months old and had been buried in Illington where the parents of her mother were living.

In any event, by 1841 John had disappeared from North Lopham and his whereabouts until the 1850s remains unknown. Mary, John’s oldest sister who had married John Boggis in 1837 in North Lopham, moved in about 1840 to Walsham Le Willows (between Ixworth and Gislingham), Cockfield (south in Babergh) and ultimately Haughley (NW of Stow Market), all in Suffolk. Susan, John’s second sister, had married William Gooch in North Lopham in 1834 and remained in the village until the death of her husband in 1879. Samuel, John’s only brother, seems also to have remained in North Lopham where he was successively a shoemaker, carrier, baker, farmer and inn-keeper. By about 1863 however it would seem that he was suffering financially and the family moved to Worksop, Nottinghamshire where Samuel and his two sons worked in the local coal mines.


Although it might be expected that the marriage information would contain useful information, this record has not yet been found 27. Although John was Anglican, Margaret was Roman Catholic and it might be more likely that the marriage therefore took place according to the Roman Catholic rites. However, there is another anecdotal account (also from Jessie Porter) that the sisters of Margaret Porter tore her earrings from her ear lobes when they learned of the marriage, so it may have celebrated elsewhere or clandestinely. Since John, the first-born child to John and Margaret, was born 1 November 1857 28, John Sr. and Margaret would likely have been married sometime prior to January 31, 1857. Margaret was baptised in Kanturk, Ireland on 19 March 1857 so as of January 1857 was only 19 years old meaning that they were probably married between March of 1856, when Margaret turned 19 and no longer required consent to marry, and January of 1857. Assuming John Sr. was born in February of 1822, he was 36 years old at the time of his marriage to Margaret, resulting in an age difference of 17 years 29.

Although the obituary (see above) refers to settlement in Fergus about the year 1856, the first evidence of the Porter presence in Fergus in the 1861 census return, followed by a group of family baptisms in September and October of 1865. Interestingly, there is no entry for John Porter in the 1858 Business Directory for Fergus.

According to the 1861 Canadian Census (taken 14 January) John (aged 35 next birthday) and Margaret (aged 24 next birthday) Porter and their 3 children are residing in a 1-story stone house on a 1/4 acre piece of property 30. John’s earning are listed as $300 and he is shown as C of E while Margaret and the children are all shown as Catholics.

In 1865 a group of baptisms for the five Porter children are recorded in the St. Johns Elora Anglican Church registers in the months of September and October, indicating that none of the children had been previously baptised or, perhaps, were baptised earlier in the Roman Catholic Church, although generally that should not require re-baptism 31. Two years later in October of 1867 John Porter is included on a petition in support of an independent rector for St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Fergus which up to then had been run from St. Johns Anglican in Elora.

The 1867 Business Directory for Fergus shows a John Porter, Plasterer, residing on Tower Street in Fergus, and both the 1869 Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Robertson & Cook) and the 1871 Directory (Lovell’s) also list him as a Plasterer in Fergus.

In the 1871 32 Canadian Census (2 April) 33 John aged 48 (therefore born in 1822 or 1823) and Margaret Porter aged 36 are shown with their 7 children. As with the 1861 Census, John is shown as Church of England while Margaret and all the children are, in spite of the 1865 Anglican baptisms, listed as Roman Catholic. John’s occupation is given as a bricklayer and he is shown as a tenant, and not an owner, of the property (probably the same 1/4 acre as in the 1861 census). While John could apparently read and write, the census record indicated that Margaret could do neither.

In the 1875 Directory for Fergus 34John Porter is listed as a bricklayer on St. David Street. The property was probably lots 55, 56 and 57 situated on the corner of St. David and Albert Street, south of the Grand River. The Porters were apparently tenants on the property until they had saved enough money to buy it because on December 6, 1879 they completed the purchase of the lots via a Bill of Sale from George David Fergusson, the second son of Adam Fergusson, the founder of Fergus. They partially financed the transaction by giving a mortgage back to his son Adam David Fergusson on December 15, 1879 for ½ of the purchase price of $360. At the time of the mortgage back John is described as a plasterer. John’s third son, James, also described as plasterer, witnessed his father’s signature on the document. The mortgage payments were to be $60 annually, and the discharge of the mortgage was registered on November 9, 1885.

In the 1881 Canadian Census (4 April) John and Margaret Porter, aged 50 [sic] and 47 respectively, were enumerated with all eight of their children 35. Again, John was described as a Bricklayer as were his sons John and James. while William, the second son, was shown as a butcher. This time John and all of the children were shown as Church of England and only Margaret the mother was listed as Catholic. Residing with them was Catherine Foote, the widow of James Foote 36.

In August of 1890 a Duluth newspaper reported that John and Margaret Porter had traveled to Duluth to visit their sons, likely William, James and, perhaps, Jacob.

In the 1891 Canadian Census (6 April), the last census in which the Porter family appears in Fergus, John , aged 69 and Margaret, aged 50 37 are shown as living with their three youngest children - Ellen, Margaret and David 38. John is still shown as a Bricklayer and a member of the Church of England while Margaret is shown as Roman Catholic. 39 The three children are also shown as Church of England 40, Helen as a Dress Maker, Margaret as a Tailoress and David as a Clerk. Neighbours on the one side were the R. Corbett family followed by Mary Moore and family (as in 1881) and on the other the David Chapman family followed by the James Douglas family.

On September 21, 1892 James and David sent telegrams to their brother Jacob in Chicago Heights Illinois to advise that “mother very low and can’t live long” 41. Six days later on September 27, 1892 Margaret Porter nee Callahan died. Two causes of death were shown on the death certificate: Paralysis “about 5 months ill” and apoplexy “about 6 months”. Her age, as provided by her son James L. the informant, was shown as 55 years and 7 months and her place of birth was given as Kanturk, Ireland. She was buried in Belsyde Cemetery Fergus on 1 October 1892.

Two ½ weeks later on October 15, 1892 John Porter Senior died. Again his second son James L. Porter was the informant and gave his father’s age as 70 years and 8 months, occupation as Bricklayer and place of birth as Norfolkshire, England. His cause of death was listed as “cancer of the stomach” and “cirrhosis of liver, about one year ill”. He was buried on October 17, 1892 beside his wife in Belsyde Cemetery, Fergus 42. According to the land sale document after his death, he died intestate 43.


1. Signature of John Porter on a receipt dated August 1871 from John Mason for whitewashing a house in Fergus. John is described as a plasterer.

2. Signature of John Porter on a mortgage document dated 15 Dec. 1879, witnessed by James Porter, likely their son aged 19. Margaret signed with an “x”.

3. Studio photograph of John Porter & Margaret Callahan aged about 60 and 40 respectively.

4. Original copy of obituary from the Fergus News Record of 20 October 1892.

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