Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, August 15, 2008

John James Porter and Margaret Susanna Meriwether Porter

Top Left: Maggie Porter, circa 1920, Above: Porter Children and Grandchildren, circa 1940. Right: J. J. Porter and Maggy Porter, circa 1930. Below: J. J. Porter, Alice Porter, and Lelia Porter Branch, my paternal grandmother, circa 1925. All pictures taken in Attala Co., MS

Since J. J. Porter died in the 1940s,knew him except through pictures and stories about him from family members. He was a farmer all of his life, just like many of his neighbors and like all the other Porter men before him. His mother, Eliza Jane Walker Porter, died when he was a small child, and his father, James M. Porter, had also died when J. J. was still quite young. He and Maggy lived on land they farmed in Attala County, Mississippi, near Sallis, the same land that other Porter family members had lived on and used for farming, raising cattle, and cutting timber for many years before them. At one time, J. J. Porter's land amounted to about 300 acres and was bordered by the Big Black River. Much of it was heavily wooded and some of it was "bottom land." Others parts had been cleared for pasture land. A clear creek with a sandy bottom known by locals as "Jordan's Creek", flowed through the property and provided a swimming hole for the children. Some portions of the land were made of red dirt and clay, and cultivation was difficult in those places. But pine trees loved to grow in this soil, and wood was needed for wood stoves for cooking and heating and to burn in fireplaces in the winter. The trees were also sold for timber, likely to a sawmill that was nearby in the Shrock community.

Maggy was one of two children born during her mother's first marriage to Wilds Meriwether. The Meriwether Family in England and the United States has been well-researched, and I will discuss my family's Meriwether connections in a later post. According to census records with information likely provided by her parents, John P. and Margarett J. Williams Gibson, Maggie's mother was shown as "Malverda." In other records, I have seen her name spelled as "Malvertie" and "Melverda." A marriage record from Monroe County, Mississippi, shows that Malverda's mother, Margarett J. Williams and her father, John P. Gibson, were married on January 3, 1843 in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. Joseph Gibson, likely a relative not yet proven, put up the marriage bond of five hundred dollars ($500.) The John P. Gibson family was enumerated on the U.S. Census for Calhoun County, Mississippi conducted in 1860. They were living in the Cherry Hill community, and John's occupation was "Blacksmith." Children shown in the Gibson household were Malverda, Elvira, Asberry, Francis, Mary, Martha, and Becky.

Melverda Gibson later married Wilds Meriwether, and they had two children, Margaret Susanna (Maggy, my great-grandmother), and a son named Lewis. Wilds Meriwether was the son of Robert Emmit and Susan Terrell Meriwether, who lived for a time in Carroll County, Mississippi,, near Carrollton . I have never been able to find a record of a marriage between Malverda and Wilds. Family stories throughout the years told how Malverda gave birth to a third child that was "stillborn", and after he and Melverda buried the baby, Wilds left her and the other children and moved to Kentucky with his childhood family, who had already moved there from Mississippi. I did find a record of a Meriwether infant shown on the 1880 Mortality Index, with "iniation" as the cause of death. Iniation was medical terminology that actually meant "stillborn." This record may establish the time period during which my great-great-grandfather Wilds Meriwether left Mississippi.

Maggie was born in Calhoun City, Calhoun County, in On September 4, 1876, and she would have been about four years old when her father allegedly deserted his family. On September 20, 1886, according to Yalobusha County, Mississippi marriage records, "Mrs. M.V. Merryweather" married Newell Autry Felts. I feel quite certain that "M.V." is Melverda Meriwether, as the next sentence will tell. J. J. and Maggy Porter later gave one of their own sons the name, Newell Autry Porter. Maggie must have respected her stepfather well enough to honor him by naming one of her sons for him.John James and Maggy Porter became the parents of seven living children. Etta, Vertie, and my grandmother, Lelia, were their three daughters. Clarence, Newell, James, and Charles were their four sons. According to records that I have seen, J. J. and Maggy may have lost at least two children at very young ages due to childhood illnesses. One of those children was named Walter.

My great-grandmother was a very petite woman , weighing barely ninety pounds, who wore her long, dark hair in a bun on the back of her head. Her looks really didn't change much over the almost twenty years I knew her. She was almost totally deaf, and I do not recall that she ever wore a hearing aid. I feel that I know very little about her family, and if she had been better able to hear during the years that I was old enough to talk to her and ask questions, I would certainly know more than I do about her Meriwether, Gibson, and Williams families. I think about all the family history I could have learned firsthand from her. Maggy lived longer than any of my other relatives that I knew growing up. She was 93 years old when she died in 1969. She and J. J. Porter are buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Goodman, along with several other Porter relatives, including two of their sons and my paternal grandparents, Clark C. and Lelia Porter Branch.

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