Curtis Porter & Hannah Holt

(1792-1873) / (1800-1878)

A 1994 National Geographic map of New England in 1830 (specifically, Boston to Washington) carries the following note:

Barely 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 Porter history.]

When Curtis was fifteen months old, his mother, Betsey Ford Porter, gave birth to a baby girl, also named Betsey.[1] 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.

In 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.[2] [See entire Robert Porter history.]

Heading West to New York

We 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).[3]

In 1813, a baby girl was born to Curtis and Hannah; they named her Betsey. When she was 3 ˝ (March 1817), a son, David Curtis,[4] 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).

Connecticut Roots

We 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 John BennettľJohn Silas Bennettľin Connecticut when she was 24 years old.

This 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.

We 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 westward.

Heading West to Michigan

The 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,”[5] 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).[6]

Pioneer and Solid Citizen

At 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.[7]

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."

From 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].   

Curtis 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 Porter history).

Long Generations

George’s last child, Ford, whose grandfather Curtis was born in 1792, lived until 1976, making three generations span 184 years. Six of Curtis’s great-grandchildren - 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) -Were still alive in 1992 for the 200th anniversary of Curtis’s death, making a mere four generations spanning 200 years!

[1] Porter Family History by Mary Ann Batson Porter, 1923. All information on Curtis Porter’s birth and later life, and the dates on other members of his family come from this source.

[2] Alfred was married in 1826 to Lucina Hannah; daughter Betsey Jane was born to them in 1832.

[3] It is intriguing to think that Curtis has been dead for more than 120 years, yet during all that time the “vet” spike has been maintained by his headstone, even though no official record of his service seems to have survived.

[4] See reference in Robert Porter history to a David Curtis Porter who was born and died in Connecticut.

[5] Memorial written for Frances Porter (Mrs. Wm.) Shear by grandson Roy Brownell following her death in August 1928.

[6] Henry’s daughter Frances Shear, born 1843, was still alive when the first Porter family reunions were held, beginning in 1922.

[7] Porter Family History, 1923