Robert Porter, Betsey Ford, and Lucy Hannah

1764-1843 / 1765-1794 / 1767-1850

For many years all we knew about our ancestor Robert Porter was his name, the name of his wife Betsey Ford, the birth dates of their two children, and the fact and date of Betsey's death four days after the birth of their second child. That information came from the Porter family history written by Mary Ann (Mrs. George) Porter in 1923.

Following the visit of Esther and Fred Gross to the Bethlehem cemetery in May of 1995 (see letter to Robert & Betsey), Esther exchanged correspondence with the town historian of Bethlehem, Evelyn Paluskas. Unasked, Evelyn hand- and photocopied and sent to Esther many pieces of the historical record. At first, no connections seemed to appear between Robert/Betsey and any of the new information, but little by little, some important pieces began to emerge and fit together.

As of October 1995, we know the following:

Land Sales

On November 6, 1792, just three years after George Washington's first election as President, Robert Porter of Bethlehem, Connecticut, purchased a piece of land from a Simon Martin. The copy of that deed, provided by Evelyn, is the oldest actual record we have in any of our family information. Since Curtis was born December 29, it is easy to imagine that Robert made the purchase in preparation for the birth of his first child.

The deed makes no mention of buildings on the land at the time of the purchase. But we know it was common for homes in other parts of New England in the early nineteenth century to be quite large, often with two stories, well furnished and quite fine. Some homes from that time (and earlier) still stand in Bethlehem today.

Robert's piece of land was bordered on two sides by land belonging to a Thomas Ford. Was he Betsey's father? or perhaps her brother? So far, we have not been able to confirm a connection. If Betsey was a member of this Thomas Ford's family, then 1794 was a doubly sad year. On January 13 a daughter of Thomas Ford named Mary Ann died, and in April Betsey died. No age is given for Mary Ann, so it is impossible to know whether she was a small child or a young woman. The fact that no separate birth date is given may suggest the former, perhaps even a baby under a year. That might suggest Thomas was a brother (rather than father) of Betsey (or Mary Ann could have been a granddaughter).

Records Not Found

Despite all her searching, Evelyn has found no birth records for any Fords, only a couple of marriage dates for Ford girls (Susannah in 1788 and Polly in 1797--Betsey's sisters?).[1] What Evelyn has found are a variety of land sales from Thomas Ford to various others, as well as one sale to Thomas Ford, Jr., describing the land as bordering on Robert Porter's land. Evelyn suggests the Fords may have owned landed in Bethlehem but not lived there.

Though Evelyn has found many dates for Porter births, no birth record has emerged for Robert Porter. From his headstone, we can calculate he was born in 1764, but we have no information about his parents. This makes it possible he was born elsewhere.

However, one piece of information from Evelyn Paluskas[2] reports that “a Robert Porter was ‘bound out’ as a young boy to Dr. Bellamy [see note on Dr. Bellamy] and entered the Revolutionary Army at 16, in 1776.” This sounds as if it could well have been our Robert, except it makes him four years older than his headstone does[3]. This makes it at least a possibility that Robert served in the Revolutionary army, undoubtedly as a teenager. In response to a direct question, Evelyn reports that “bound out” simply implied apprenticeship and that Robert likely learned farming from Dr. Bellamy.

Second Marriage

One of the most important pieces of information which turned up is a wedding date for Robert’s second marriage. Most of our wondering about how he raised his two motherless babies are answered. We now know he married Lucy Hannah on January 4, 1795, following Betsey’s death on April 21, 1794.

We also know Robert and Lucy had at least one child of their own—Alfred, born January 24, 1802, when Robert was 38 and Lucy 35. Since that was seven years after their marriage, it would seem there might have been others, in which case it is a mystery why no records of their births have been found, unless they all died at birth or in infancy.

Information from Evelyn tells us that Alfred voted in the elections of 1824 (no record of Robert ever doing so). Wonder whether he voted for John Quincy Adams or Andrew Jackson? Two years later, when he was 24, he married a Lucina Hannah. The similarities between her name and his mother’s are intriguing, but we have no information to establish a relationship between them.

An even more intriguing piece of information is that Alfred named his daughter Betsey as well—which makes four Betsey Porters in the family, three of them born to the name! This Betsey was Betsey Jane; Curtis’s daughter was Betsey Ann (we do not have middle names for Curtis’s mother or sister). Betsey Jane is mentioned in the cemetery records copied by Evelyn. She was born March 23, 1832, and died March 29, 1858, age 24. So far no record of other children for Alfred and Lucina.

A Surprisingly Full Picture

We can now reconstruct a surprisingly full picture of the life of Robert Porter[4], including his birth the year after the end of the French and Indian War, his marriage sometime in his twenties (perhaps as old as 27), and his purchase of land, presumably for a homestead.

Seven and a half weeks after Robert’s land purchase, son Curtis was born, and fifteen and a half months later, daughter Betsey. What a tragic and difficult birth that must have been since four days later, April 21, 1794, the 29-year-old mother Betsey died. We can only imagine how hard that experience and the following months must have been. As was a common necessity in life in those times, eight months later, Robert remarried.

Robert apparently lived out his life in Bethlehem. He and Lucy raised Betsey's two children and at least one of their own. Before 1811 (i.e., age 19), Curtis left Connecticut for central New York [see Curtis Porter history]. In 1817, Robert's daughter Betsey married Ephraim Birdsey Peck of nearby Newtown (Porter family history).

When Robert was 62, his son Alfred was married (Nov. 1, 1826). Six years later granddaughter Betsey Jane was born. That means Robert had two granddaughters named Betsey, in addition to his first wife and his own daughter. When he was 73 (1837), his New York granddaughter, Betsey Ann, was married in nearby Woodbury, Connecticut[5]. This seems to suggest that at least some travel took place between Curtis's family in New York and his roots back in Connecticut [again, see Curtis Porter history].

At age 79, one month short of 49 years of marriage to Lucy, Robert Porter died (Dec. 3, 1843). He was buried beside Betsey, and Lucy was buried there when she died seven years later.

Two Mysterious Porters

Two most interesting people turned up in the Bethlehem records—not only interesting but mysterious since we don't have evidence to connect them to our ancestors. The first is a Robert Curtis Porter (1868-1950). His parents were a John Porter (born 12/1/1834; died 10/30/1912) and Wealtha Cowles (1838-1904). John and Wealtha were married March 16, 1859, nine years before the birth of Robert Curtis. Since Robert Curtis wasn't born until 100 years after our Robert and 76 after Curtis, it seems strange, even if he were somehow a descendant, that he should have been named after those two.

We learned from Evelyn about a house in Bethlehem which she refers to as "the Porter house". It belonged to the Robert Curtis Porter who died in 1950. His daughters inherited it, and when they died in the early 1990s, it went out of the family. Evelyn gave us the address, and Esther wrote to the current owner inquiring what he knew of the history of the house. Apparently he did not know anything special because he did not reply.

So far, we do not have an established connection between John Porter with our Robert. It seems possible he might have been the son of Alfred and Lucina Porter; note that he was born just two years after their daughter Betsey Jane—but again, we don't have names recorded for his parents.

The other intriguing person is a David Curtis Porter, reportedly born in 1800 and dying in 1886. One record Evelyn sent actually gave his parents as Alfred and Lucina Porter, but that could not be since Alfred himself wasn't born until 1802. So who was this other David Curtis Porter, born in Connecticut before the David Curtis we know was born to our ancestor Curtis in New York in 1817? (that David Curtis migrated to Michigan with the rest of his family and died there, so it does appear there were two of them).

Still lots of questions, but we surely never expected to know this much about an ancestor so far back in time! (By contrast, note how much we know or rather how little about Robert contemporaries in the family, the two William Comptons and the Stauffers of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.)

Dr. Bellamy of Bethlehem

Dr. Bellamy was an educator and early leader in Bethlehem; the cemetery is on Bellamy Road and the Bellamy home is a major tourist attraction in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem historical sketch tells us he arrived in the earliest days of the town [see “Bethlehem, Connecticut, Growing and Thriving in Colonial America”], at age 18, to preach. He is described as “a good land owner as well as minister, for by 1750 he had acquired 2 houses [and] 23 pieces of property.”

In 1750 Dr. Bellamy published True Religion Delineated, “a work what brought fame at home and abroad.” This resulted in “an influx of students to learn of Bellamy and started the first Theological Seminary in America. His method of teaching was surprisingly modern” [no explanation of what that means]. It also resulted in “the honor of a degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, one of the few of that degree in the country.”

All of this would have predated by as much as two decades the boy Robert’s being “bound out” to him. Of course we would like to imagine that a theological scholar such as Dr. Bellamy would have possessed the compassion of the Scriptures towards those who worked for or served under him.

Footnote on Betsey’s family:

Spring 2000: The following was received from another Porter descendant met via an Internet message board. Lo and behold, she had information on Betsey’s family that Evelyn Paluskas didn’t have! The following is from an e-mail:

I have copies from Microfilm of some of the records. I have a record that April 9, 1800, a child of Robert Porter’s  was “destroyed in birth.” The record I got about Robert Porter and Dr. Bellamy came from a book called “Apprentices of Connecticut.”  The children of Thomas Ford and Phebe were John M., Betsey, Joseph, Thomas Ford Jr., Grant Ford who married Lucretia Canfield, Sarah, who married Slomon [Solomon?] D. Sherman, Mary (Polly) Ford who married Milo Knapp, Martia Ford and Mary Ann Ford. This Ford info I got from a Jean Porter in California who’s husband is a descendant of Adly Porter (Preston’s brother).

[1] See long footnote on page 4 for the latest update as of year 2000.

[2] Bethlehem, Connecticut: A Primer of Local History, published by Old Bethlehem Historical Society, Inc., in Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution.

[3] Since this historical record was written at a much later time, it is possible it was “off” a little; it seems a better idea to trust the headstone information.

[4] Events in the families of other Porters, especially a Nathaniel and a Thomas, were well represented in Bethlehem’s historical records, but so far we have been unable to make any connections between them and our Robert.

[5] Record of this marriage and the name of Betsey Ann’s husband (John Bennett) are found both in Monty Porter’s family history and in the Bethlehem records copied by Evelyn. It is the latter reports that it took place in Connecticut.

May 6, 1995

Dear Grandfather Robert and Grandmother Betsey,

I stood by your graves yesterday. More that that, I discovered your graves yesterday! Could you ever have imagined, Grandfather, as you laid your dear Betsey to rest, that two hundred and one years and two weeks later one of your descendants would be tracking down her grave—and yours?

My husband and I are still in awe that we found you! All we knew was that your firstborn, Curtis (my ancestor), was born in Bethlehem, Connecticut, in 1792 and that you, Grandmother, died following childbirth in 1794, presumably also there. We knew nothing of you beyond that. Did you, Robert, remarry? Did you spend the rest of your life in Bethlehem, or migrate somewhere else, as Curtis did? And we didn’t know when either of you were born (we still don’t know where).

After mistakenly searching a newer cemetery, we finally found the old, right one. Did I say “old”? I’ve never been in one like it! In neither cemetery were there any headstones readable as early as 1794.Oh, Betsey, I thought, if Robert “went off and left you,” both of you will undoubtedly be lost to us forever!

Then Fred hollered! And there you were, with names and ages—and Lucy! So you did remarry! Someday I hope to find out when. And you lived to be 79! That was a notable accomplishment in those days. To think that 49 years after your Betsey died, you were still buried beside her. In fact, I find it incredibly touching that you were buried with—probably between—both your wives.

Because the headstone gave your ages at death, we can now calculate the years of your births: Robert–1764; Betsey–1765; Lucy–1867. I am really surprised that you two weren’t a lot younger when your children were born. Of course, a number of questions are still unanswered:

  • Where were each of you born—in the colonies? or in Europe?
  • Were Curtis and daughter Betsey raised by Lucy?
  • Did you and Lucy have other children?

The family history we have is written by a daughter-in-law of Curtis’s who married into the family ten years after his death; in it she says she knew nothing of his childhood.

Another corner of the tapestry of my ancestors has come into clearer focus. A big welcome to the known history of one of the families you helped to start!

Your great-granddaughter six generations down the line, Esther Moneysmith Gross