PORTER and HANNAH HOLT
1994 National Geographic map of New England in 1830 (specifically, Boston
to Washington) carries the following note:
scratching a living from Connecticut’s rocky hill sides, farmers rarely
owned enough arable land to divide among their children. Between 1800 and
1830, hundreds of thousands of people left the state to head west.
One of those “hundreds of thousands” was
evidently our ancestor, Curtis Porter. He was born in Bethlehem,
Connecticut, eight weeks after George Washington began his second term.
Was Curtis’s father, Robert, one of those farmers “barely scratching
out a living on the rocky hillsides”? He may have been because Bethlehem
(even today) is a tiny town in the western hills, near no large city or
main traffic artery. [See information on Bethlehem in Robert
When Curtis was fifteen months old, his mother, Betsey Ford Porter,
gave birth to a baby girl, also named Betsey.
Four days later, Betsey the mother died, undoubtedly from complications of
the birth. Intriguing question: Was baby Betsey given her name by her
father and her mother while the latter was still alive? or did Robert name
her that after her mother’s death? The name was used three more times
that we know of in the family.
Mary Ann Porter’s 1923 family history, she reported no remarriage for
Robert and stated she had no further knowledge of Curtis’s childhood
(Curtis had been dead ten years when Mary joined the family). But in 1995
it was learned that on January 4, 1795, Robert married a Lucy Hannah. So
Lucy, who is buried with Robert and Betsey, raised Curtis and Betsey and
was the only mother they ever knew. We also know they had at least one
half-brother, Alfred, born in 1802, when Curtis was ten.
[See entire Robert
HEADING WEST TO NEW YORK
do not have direct word about Curtis’s departure from Connecticut. Our
next information on him is that in 1811 he married in Hamilton, Madison
County, New York, six years before his sister, Betsey, married in
Connecticut. Now that we know about the rest of Robert’s life, we know
that Curtis migrated to New York before age 19. At that time he married a
Hannah Sturdevant in New York.
A metal “vet” spike on his grave in Michigan suggests
that he may have served in the War of 1812. However, no record of military
service was found for him by the National Archives in Washington (1992
request for search made by Esther Gross).
In 1813, a baby girl was born to Curtis and Hannah; they named her
Betsey. When she was 3 ½ (March
1817), a son, David Curtis,
was born. In an eerie similarity to Curtis’s own mother, Hannah died
eight days later. Between Christmas and New Years that year, Curtis (then
25) married 17-year-old Hannah Holt, and she took on the responsibility of
raising his two motherless children. To her and Curtis were born three
sons of their own, spread over fifteen years—Henry (1821); Robert
(1823); and George Ford (1832).
knew from the 1923 Porter history that Curtis’s daughter, Betsey Ann,
born and raised in central New York, married a John Bennett and ended up
in Michigan with her father, brother David, and all three of her
half-brothers. It was a surprise to learn in 1995 that she married this
when she was 24 years old.
would seem to suggest that when Curtis left his Connecticut roots and went
to New York state, it was not a “forever” break, as was often common
in those days due to travel difficulties. Hamilton, New York, where Mary
Porter says Curtis lived until moving to Michigan at age 55 (four years
after his father’s death), is between 160 and 200 miles from Bethlehem,
Connecticut, over nearly entirely mountainous terrain, especially the New
York portion. Traveling the distance between the two places in the early
1800s may well have taken as much as two weeks.
can only imagine the trips that may have been made during Robert’s
lifetime, the anticipation of getting reacquainted with extended family,
the joy for Robert of having his five New York grandchildren visit. And we
can only imagine what brought Betsey Ann back to Connecticut long enough
to find a husband and marry him (five years before Robert died). In the
end, she and John joined the rest of her immediate family in migrating
HEADING WEST TO MICHIGAN
migration of the Curtis Porter family to Michigan began in 1844 when son
Henry, his wife Lucy (one source calls her “Melvina,” another “Lucy
M.”), and baby daughter Frances moved to Michigan. They “made the trip
mostly by water in a boat drawn by horses on a toe[tow]-path,”
undoubtedly a reference to travel via the Erie Canal, which was not far
north of Hamilton County. They apparently found things well enough to
their liking that they encouraged other family members to do the same. It
is likely that most of the rest also made the trip via the canal, as it
was the easiest form of travel for that route in those days.
In 1847, when Curtis was 55, he and Hannah and fifteen-year-old
George made the move to Grand Rapids. His other grown children—Betsey
Porter Bennett, David, and Robert E.—all eventually found their way to
Michigan, too, though the only date we have is for Robert (1851).
PIONEER AND SOLID CITIZEN
first Curtis, a stone mason by trade, lived in Grand Rapids and was
involved in building many of the earliest buildings in Kent County. In
1865 he bought 40 acres of land in Chester Township, where he lived the
rest of his life. At one time he was “overseer of the poor.” When a
man died of smallpox and no one was willing to bury him for fear of
contagion, Curtis took the casket on his shoulder, carried it away, and
buried it alone.
Some of the
above information comes from a book, Portrait and Bio Records of
Muskegon and Ottawa County, page 252. "An able official, he held
many important public offices in Kent County, in all of which he served
with fidelity and efficiency."
another book, Ten Thousand Names and Scetches of Pioneer Settlers of
Madison Co. (Tuttle), we have the following: Religion _ Episcopalian.
Formed company to build Eagle Hotel in Hamilton, Madison Co., NY in
1814. Post Master 1832. Received $336.41 as salary that year [the
year George was born].
and Hannah were married 56 years and had at least thirty grandchildren,
all in Michigan, before he died at age 81. She died five years later. They
are buried in the Lisbon Cemetery, north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the
same plot as son George with his first wife and their five children who
died in infancy (see George
last child, Ford, whose grandfather Curtis was born in 1792, lived until
1976, making three generations span 184 years. Six of Curtis’s
Beth Porter Cobern and Jane Porter Drive (Glenn);
Mary Jane Levine Ensign and Porter Levine (Mila),
Robert Ford Porter and Mary Louise Porter Gibbs (Ford)
still alive in 1992 for the 200th anniversary of Curtis’s death, making
a mere four generations spanning 200 years!