Judge Augustus Seymour Porter


Judge Augustus Seymour Porter

Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut, USA
Death 10 Jun 1849 (aged 80)
Niagara Falls, Niagara County, New York, USA
Burial Niagara Falls, Niagara County, New York, USA
Memorial ID 63879607 View Source

Children: Five children with second wife, Jane Howell:

Augustus Seymour (1798-1872)
Albert Howell Porter (1801-1888) #103098966
Peter Buell Porter (1806-1871)
Lavinia E Porter
Jane S. Porter

excerpts from Publications, Volume 7
By Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo Historical Society (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Augustus Porter was born January 18, 1769, in his father's home at Salisbury, Connecticut, in the small county (Litchfield) of which it has been said that no other equal area in the United States has given to the world so many famous men; and among them he was to deserve, and be given, a place.Augustus Porter was the fourth in a family of six children: Joshua, Abigail, Eunice, Augustus, Peter B., and Sally. He acquired the rudiments of education in the common school of his native town, working on the farm in the summer. When he was 17 he studied surveying for a few months in Lebanon; but his tutor dying he had soon to return to his father's house. He was able, however, to gain some practical as well as theoretical knowledge of his chosen profession, and his keen ambition dissatisfying him with the narrow though busy life of a New England valley, Augustus Porter determined in 1789, when 20 years old, to leave home and to journey to the West. He joined a party from Sheffield, Massachusetts, and went to Ontario (then just taken from Montgomery) county in New York to survey lands in which his father held an interest.

Of this journey, his first into the wilderness of Western New York, we have from Augustus Porter himself a full and most interesting account. Part of it is printed in Turner's "Holland Purchase." . .
says that it "was very tedious," owing to the depth of the snow. He had three companions and whenever practicable the party made use of snowshoes. It was on one of these long trips, in the spring of 1790 that Augustus Porter, westward bound, first met James Wadsworth, who was also going west to occupy property at Geneseo. It was on Wood creek, the little stream navigable only by a flood from the mill-dam, that the strange meeting took place. Occasionally these floods proved insufficient to carry a boat through to deep water, and in that case there was nothing to do but to wait for a second moving of the waters. As Porter and his party were coursing down the stream, they came upon a grounded boat the navigators of which were standing in the water, ready to start with the coming tide, and one of these navigators was Wadsworth. He had been held on a snag for three days. L. L. Doty, in his "History of Livingston County, New York," says in describing the meeting that Augustus Porter "took part of Mr. Wadsworth's cargo on his boat, and so far reduced the burthen that little trouble was now experienced in getting it again afloat." Wadsworth at this time was 22 years old—fifteen months older than Porter, and they journeyed together to Canandaigua. So began a friendship that the families have continued through several generations.

In 1794 Porter was one of the witnesses who signed the treaty that resulted from the last general council of the United States with the Iroquois Confederacy. This was at Canandaigua, and a boulder and tablet placed in the public square in 1902 commemorate the spot and give his name.

. . . The following winter he apparently spent, as he did so many, at home in old Connecticut, and his success as a surveyor and prosperity in the West seem to have given tenderer thoughts a chance in his young heart. At any rate, on March 10, 1796, Augustus Porter was married to Lavinia Steele, of Hartford. She was the daughter of Timothy Steele, and some two years Porter's junior. She was of a good family, her great-great-great-grandfather Steele having come from England in 1636; and Governor Bradford, who came in the "Mayflower," was one of her direct ancestors. Porternow had a house in Canandaigua, and thither he took his brave young bride by sleigh.
In 1796 the Connecticut Land Company employed Augustus Porter as chief surveyor, with a corps of more than fifty assistants, to make the first survey ever made in lands situated on the south shore of Lake Erie, called the "Western Reserve," and recently sold by the state to this copartnership. The unbroken wilderness was occupied by hostile Indians, but the dauntless pioneer, only 26 years old, accomplished his task, and laid out and named, among other towns, that which is now the city of Cleveland, choosing the name in compliment to the party's managing agent, General Moses Cleaveland. The party had left Hartford on the twelfth of May, and first reached the Western Reserve, at its northeastern corner on the shore of the lake—at Conneaut—on July 4th. They celebrated the double event with salutes and toasts.
Amzi Atwater, one of the assistants on this survey, has described his chief. He says that Augustus Porter "was full middling in height, stout built, with a full face and dark, or rather brown, complexion. In a woodman's dress, anyone would see by his appearance that he was capable and determined to go through thick and thin in whatever business he was engaged. By the bursting of a gun he had lost the entire thumb of his left hand." Porter received for his services as principal surveyor five dollars a day.. . .
. . . Doubtless he tried to be in Canandaigua as much as possible, where his home, wife, and child were; but work still kept him much away, for in addition to the surveying he began now the development of his own landed property. The child, Augustus S., had been born January 18, 1798. In the winter of 1799, Augustus Porter went to New England for a few weeks, and on his return with his sister Eunice in March, he found his wife "languishing and sick on her death-bed." She died four days after his return, though she had been ill less than a week when he reached her. He at once, with his sister and the little boy, took the journey back to Salisbury and Hartford. Some eighteen months before that his mother had died. In May, Augustus Porter returned again to the West accompanied once more by his sister, who was a widow, and who stayed for a year and a half, caring for his house.
In 1800 Augustus Porter, in the development of his own property, ploughed and sowed with wheat forty acres of the tract which he had purchased some years before near Honeoye Falls. This, it is recorded, then gave conclusive evidence of having been the site of a large Indian village, embracing the burying ground within its limits. So numerous were the graves that it was necessary to level the earth with the spade before teams could pass over it, and nearly 1,000 pounds weight of hatchets, bits of brass kettles, gun barrels, locks, leads, etc., were found.
In January, 1801, Augustus Porter went to Blooming Grove in Orange county, and there, on the 24th of the month, he married Jane Howell whose brother* had been for six years a resident of Canandaigua. Jane was the only daughter of Hezekiah Howell, and her family too was old and distinguished. Her great-great-grandfather, Edward Howell, had come to Boston from England in 1639, the same year, curiously enough, in which John Porter—the first of the Porter emigrants—came over. He was the leader of the new settlement of Southampton, Long Island, was a magistrate, and served until his death as a member of the colonial legislature at Hartford. The old stone manor house of the Howell family, in Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, still stands; and is known to have been occupied in 1536, by Howells that preceded Jane by six generations.
Augustus Porter took his bride to Canandaigua, to a house which he had built the year before, situated opposite to the Academy. And from the time she joined him he took a more active part in public affairs and less, it seems, in surveying. For the lot on which the house stood Porter paid, in 1799, $1000. If uniform with the other Phelps and Gorham lots in Canandaigua, it contained about 40 acres, fronting 380 feet on Main street and extending seven-eighths of a mile back, to the corporation line.

On October 24, 1801, Jane Porter bore to Augustus a son, who was named Albert Howell, his Christian name having been chosen in honor of Albert Gallatin. In the next year Porter was awarded the contract for carrying the mails from Utica to Fort Niagara. It was a stage line now, and the route was the usual one to Buffalo, and thence down the river, by the old portage road, to the fort. In the fall of that year he was elected to the state legislature from the counties of Ontario and Genesee, serving as one of the three assemblymen for all that region in the session of 1803. Thus the year 1802 was notable to Augustus Porter as marking his

* Judge Howell, who three years before had married Sally Chapin, youngest daughter of General Israel Chapin. In 1799 he had built the house later known as the Howell Homestead. On the opening of Howell street it was moved to Dungan street, where it still stood a hundred years later, in fragments, forming two houses. It had a fine drawing room, and in its large kitchen tradition says "more matches were made than in any other five houses in town."
first appearance in the transportation business, and his first election to public office.
There was probably little feeling of loneliness for these pioneers in Canandaigua, for in addition to his own family, and the family of his brother-in-law, and the wide acquaintance that his eminence as a surveyor had gained for him, Augustus Porter had with him also his own brother, Peter BuellPorter, who had come to Canandaigua in 1795, and had settled there in the practice of law.

Peter B. Porter, the junior of Augustus by fourteen years, had been graduated from Yale in 1791, and had then gained his professional education with Judge Reeves, of Litchfield, Conn., a very famous advocate. Judge Reeves, by the way, was a brother-in-law of Aaron Burr. The building in which he held his renowned law school still stands in Litchfield, and the youthful autographs of Calhoun, Pierpont, and others are said to be visible cut in its small square panes. The young pioneer-barrister, whose name was soon to become so famous in the annals of his country, took at once a high position in the new settlement. The year of his arrival he was counsel at Canandaigua in the first trial in a court of record in Western New York. Two years later he was appointed clerk of Ontario county, and in 1801 made Augustus Porter his deputy; in 1802 he served in the legislature as an assemblyman for the counties of Ontario and Steuben, and retired at the close of the session only that his brother might be elected to succeed him, as has been alreadv told.

In Peter B. Porter's appearance in the first jury trial held west of Herkimer county there were coincidences which came to be of unusual family interest. He had been admitted to practice in the courts of Ontario county at the same time with Nathaniel W. Howell, afterwards judge, who was his sister-in-law's brother. This first trial by jury, which was on an indictment for stealing a cowbell, took place just after their admission, and the very year that Peter B. Porter arrived. The prosecution was managed by Nathaniel W. Howell and the defense by Peter B. Porter and Vincent Matthews, the latter already a distant cousin, and destined to be yet more closely connected as the father-in-law of ono of the nephews of the former! In 1804 Peter B. Porter was connected with another interesting case, when he was associated with Red Jacket, the Indian orator, in defense of an Indian charged with the murder of a white man near Buffalo.

On May 7, 1806, another son was born to Augustus Porter, and this child was named Peter Buell, for the young lawyer. Early in June of the same year the family removed to Niagara Falls. After the fashion of those days Porter, though well off, was his own teamster, coming to his new home with whip and reins in hand. The weather was favorable, but four or five days were needed for the journey, and it must have been a rough one for a mother with a month old child. The house at Canandaigua was sold to John Greig, who, having studied law in Judge Howell's office, had entered into partnership with him in 1804. Just thirty years afterwards, the princely "Greig Hall" having been completed, the Porter residence was donated to the Episcopal church for a parsonage and was removed to Gibson street where, very little modernized, it was still standing in 1896, good it was thought for another century. The church had sold it to Edward G. Tyler, the retired principal of Ontario Female Seminary and his family still owned it. Lafayette was a guest at the house in 1825.
With the trip to Niagara closes definitely the first phase in the already changing life of Augustus Porter. He is no more the pioneer-surveyor; but becomes, for a time, the business man.
(info provided by Msmith #47320929)

Judge Augustus Porter
February 4, 2011 Profile by Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York

One of Niagara Falls' earliest settlers, Judge Augustus Porter and family actually owned Goat Island between the American Falls, and the Horseshoe Canadian Falls.

In a late 1924 Biological sketch, he was written of in this manner:

We will look ahead a few years for a perspective before we begin the sketch chronologically. Judge Augustus Porter was virtually the first white settler of what is now the city of Niagara Falls, called Manchester up to 1840. He was a pathfinder and pioneer in the promotion and development of the power of the Niagara River and in those things which have made this city great. He was an engineer, a lawyer and a business man, as well as statesman. He built the first mills to use Niagara power. He promoted the then great project of the construction of the hydraulic canal. He, as a civil engineer, surveyed some of the roads through the wilderness that lead to the present city. He was a pioneer of great lakes transportation. In official life he was the first county judge of Niagara county as it was first erected, and including Erie county, in 1808. He was the first postmaster of what later became the village of Niagara Falls. With his brother, Gen. Peter B. Porter, his name is writ large in the public and business affairs of Western New York, and beyond.

The genealogy of the Porter family traces back to sterling English origin, and representatives of the name settled in New England in the early colonial era of our national history. Judge Augustus Porter was born at Salisbury, Conn., in January 1769, and the family home was established at Canandaigua, N.Y., in the year 1800. Judge Porter first came to Niagara County in 1795, and incidentally he learned of the now historic ridge leading from the Niagara River, at Lewiston, eastward to Rochester, the Indians having given him the information, which led him to exploit the tracing of a road along the ridge, in 1789. After visiting the Niagara Falls district in 1795, he returned to his home, but in the following year came again to Western New York, as head of a party of surveyors commissioned to lay out townships in this sparsely settled part of the state. He was a skilled surveyor and did a large amount of important surveying work in the early period of the history of Western New York.

The first wife of Judge Porter bore the maiden name of Lavinia Steele, the one son, Augustus S., born of this union. After the death of his first wife, he wedded Jane Howell, and they became the parents of two sons and two daughters: Albert H., Peter B., Jr., Lavinia and Jane S.

Concerning Judge Porter's activities and services to the community, the following statement was made in a newspaper in recent years:

"When Augustus Porter located in Niagara Falls, then called Manchester, the place was nearly a wilderness, there being only a few decayed log cabins and a dilapidated barracks at Fort Schlosser. Judge Porter encouraged others to locate here and assist in building up the community in a business way. After the destruction of his first house, he erected the substantial building which is still standing and still occupied by members of the Porter family. For more than a century this house has been a center of gracious hospitality, and under its friendly roof many prominent men and women, from all over the nation, as well as many from foreign lands, have been entertained."

In May of 1789, Augustus Porter set out from Schenectady as one of a party of surveyors from western Massachusetts and Connecticut to locate some lands which had been bought by a group of neighbors, of which his father was one.

Similar programs, varied only in methods of travel, occupied several succeeding years. One of these journeys was made in winter on foot. On his second trip West he overtook young James Wadsworth stranded on Wood Creek on his way to settle on lands in Genesee and therewith began a friendship lasting through life.

In 1794 he participated in the last council with the Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy, which meeting is still commemorated by a stone and tablet in Canandaigua. It was then that he first met Andrew Ellicot, who was United States Surveyor General, and by whom he was engaged as an assistant in running the line from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario. Subsequently he made the acquaintance of Oliver Phelps and was selected by him for important surveys on lands west of Seneca Lake and this, in turn, led to engagements by Robert Morris on extensive surveys on his large holdings leading, again, to like work on lands of the Holland Purchase. During these times, too, he made purchase himself, including the buying of an interest in a tract of 20,000 where now is located the city of Rochester and, in 1795, purchased a tract six miles northeast of Avon and one-half mile west of Honeoye Falls.

In 1795 he was joined by a younger brother, Peter B. Porter, who then settled in Canandaigua as a lawyer and began a career of national brilliancy and of the closest of associations with that of his older brother. In this year, too, Augustus Porter arrived in Niagara Falls in company with a party of surveyors and assistants to explore and lay out townships in the Western Reserve. From Chippawa Creek he took passage, in company with his friend, Juday Colt, for Presque Isle (now Erie) on a British vessel, afor still the British were holding Oswego, Niagara, Detroit and Mackinac. At Buffalo the only then residents were: Johnson, a British Indian interpreter; Winnie, and Indian trader, and two other families. In all the Western Reserve not a family resided.

In 1796 he was employed be the Connecticut Land Company as chief surveyor, with corps of 50 assistants, to make a traverse of the southern shore of Lake Erie. This tract was estimated to contain more than 3,500,000 acres. He laid out the city of Cleveland, which he named after General Moses Cleveland, who was the Connecticut Land Company's managing agent.

In 1797 there was built at the mouth of the Genesee river the first vessel of U.S. registry on the Great Lakes. This was the schooner Jemima by Eli Granger and in which Augustus Porter was a part owners. In the succeeding year this vessel became the property of Augustus Porter and his brother, Peter B. They afterwards owned a fleet of vessels. In 1802 he obtained the contract for carrying the mails from Utica to Fort Niagara and, during the same year, was elected to the New York Legislature in place of his brother, Peter B., who had withdrawn in his favor. In 1803 Judge Porter and his associates leased from the State the Portage Road and that year he built the first saw mill on the river shore. In 1807 the firm of Porter, Barton & Co. was formed to do a general forwarding business from Oswego, via the Portage, to Mackinaw, Chicago and Fort Wayne. In 1808 be built the original of the present Porter residence on Buffalo Avenue, which was burned by the British during the War of 1812, and the present house was built in 1818. In 1826 he, with his son, A. H. Porter, built a paper mill at Bath, now Green Island. In 1816 Judge Porter and Gen. Porter acquired Goat Island from the State and it remained the property of the Porter family until 1885 when the State took it as a part of the Niagara Reservation.

Judge Porter died in 1849, aged four score.

Lot 348.


Family Members



In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees