Friday, April 18, 2014

P.W. Porter, Inventor of The Porter Rifle

Colonel P.W. Porter, inventor of Porter's Rifle, died at his residence, near Memphis, on the 7th inst., of inflammation of the brain.
Originally posted in the Nashville Daily Patriot, November 13 1856

Parry W. Porter was born in 1807.  He was the son of  Joseph B. Porter who was born in 1770 and died Oct. 21 1828.  Joseph Porter is interred at Lytle Creek/Brown/Old City Cemetery in Maury County TN. His son Parry married Jane M. Looney on Feb. 9 1832 in Maury County Tennessee.  Jane was the daughter of Abram Looney and his wife Elizabeth Gammon.  A detailed history of the Looney family can be found in Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans by William Speer, published in 1888.

In the 1850 Census P.W. Porter and wife Jane are living in Memphis with their children.  The Porter Household in 1850:
P.W. Porter, age 43. His occupation was "none" and his real estate was valued at $3000.
J.M. Porter, age 38. Jane died Dec 28 1877 from malarial toxemia.  She was 66 at her death.
Joseph Porter, age 17.  Joseph died Jan. 30 1923.
Jane Porter, age 15. Jane died Oct. 30 1900 from paralysis. She was 65 when she died.
Lucian Porter, age 13.  Lucian died October 18, 1860 from hemorrhage.  He was 24 when he died.
Betty Porter, age 8.  Betty died Dec 18 1930.  The death certificate says she was 87 at the time of her death and a widow.  Her parents are listed on the death certificate as Parry W. Porter and Jane M. Looney.  The informant was E.W. Porter. Cause of death, senility. Bettie married E.H. Porter in 1861.  Their son, Elias W. Porter was the President of the Memphis Cotton Exchange 1903-1903.
Mary Porter, age 6.  Mary died Dec 8 1927 from cancer of the bowels. She was 82 at the time of her death.

Parry Porter and his family are interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis yet one would never know that buried in grave 1, Lot 1410-1411, Turley Section are the remains of a man still remembered today for his innovation in firearms.

P.W. Parry 1851 Patent
Porter's occupation may have been "none" on Census records but he could easily have been classified as an inventor.  In July of 1851, P.W. Porter patented his innovative multiple shot firearm known as The Porter Rifle. According to the Virginia Military Institute website "The rifle (left) was automatically loaded when the leaver was operated rotating the vertical cylinder (turret) under the silver magazine which housed bullet, powder and primer.  All three ingredients were loaded into the vertical cylinder in the proper proportions." Porter changed the mechanism on later models relying on hand loading.

The 1851 patent can be seen at the American-Firearms website.

The Athens Post reprinted the following article on February 25 1853:
A New Gun Patent--We were shown today a very ingenious constructed rifle, invented by Col. P.W. Porter, of Tennessee, which to all appearance, is the most destructive weapon for its size which the ingenuity of man has yet devised.  It is provided with a cylinder at the base of the barrel capable of holding an indefinite number of charges, by the aid of which it may be practicable to make sixty discharges a minute. The patentee claims that, by the arrangement of his lock, the power obtains more complete combustion than in any other gun now in use, because the ignition takes place nearer the ball.  The lock opens on hinges as easily as the door of a closet, so as to permit the freest success to the cylinder and all the parts of the machinery, for cleaning, repairing, or any other purpose.  It is self-capping and self priming, and is said to shoot with unparalleled force and precision.--New York Post

In addition to his firearm inventions it was reported in the Nashville Union and American, July 15 1855 that he had invented a cotton picking machine.  "He says that with his machine one man and two horses will pick and gather up, without loss, four acres of cotton per day, about equal to the labor of thirty men."

But before he came to Memphis and invented the Porter Rifle and the Porter Cotton Picking machine he had patented a Cotton Press when he was living in Columbia Tennessee, 1842  

P.W. Porter 1842 Cotton Press Patent

In 2009 a Field & Stream article said "the gun was as complex as the average lunar rocket."   Porter produced 1250 of his rifles, mostly in Manhattan.  In 2004 a Porter Second Model Nine-Shot Percussion Revolving Turret Rifle sold for $10,042. 19th Century Weapons has a nice offering for a Type 2 Porter Rifle for $11,400.  Definitely a gun for the discerning collector.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Wilkerson: Confederate, Animal Lover, Auctioneer

John Wilkerson, known as an auctioneer through many years in Memphis, was buried Sunday in Raleigh. He was eminently a good fellow.  His life, constituting a series of jokes, became itself an endless scene of rollicking good-humor.  His generosity was boundless and love of fun insatiable, and, above all, was he distinguished for the strength of his personal attachments. He sometimes swore vigorously, but his heart was tender as a woman's, and he was always for "the under dog in the fight."  John's tears could never be dammed up when suffering of man, or child, or animal appeal to his sympathies.  He had a great soul, and was at last the victim of his social virtues.  

He was the most fearless of soldiers.  Distinguished when a mere boy in Jeff. Davis's regiment in Mexico, he became alike noted for recklessness on the battlefield in many a conflict in the Inter-State war.  An incident at Chickamauga should be written in letters of gold, immortalized on canvas, poetry should tell of it in tenderest accents, pointing out its marvelous beauties with tremulous hand and with tearful eyes.  Late in the afternoon, when the fight was most desperate, and northern and southern soldiers were in utter confusion, where the dead lay thickest, and groans of wounded men were commingled with the shouts of a reckless soldiery, John's horse fell under him. He had been riding the animal three years and borne by him safely over many battlefields.  There was a strong attachment between the man and the animal, and when he stood beside the fallen horse he saw that the wound was fatal, a ball having penetrated the horse's body.  The horse seemed, in fact, already dead, while John stood by almost paralyzed with grief.  He was ordered to leave the spot by an officer who witnessed the incident.  John lifted his holsters and saddle from the animal and went away.  The poor horse, devoted in his master, raised his head and lifted up his body, and making a desperate effort to follow John, neighed faintly, John dropped his burden, ran back to the horse, and putting his arms about Sultan's neck, kissed him.  The nerves and muscles of the faithful, affectionate horse were gradually relaxed, he sank down slowly, and died quietly and peacefully, without a struggle, as John used to say, perfectly blessed that his head rested on his master's bosom.  John never told this story of his much-loved steed that his eyes were not filled with tears.  

The whole population of the ancient county-capital followed John's body to the grave, and never did these villagers do themselves greater honor than when they attested the virtues and worth of John Wilkerson.  He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, December, 1823 and died in Raleigh, April 25th, 1874.  His brother is president of an insurance company in St. Louis.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal. April 28 1874.

When researching John Wilkerson it's important to know that there were at least two John Wilkerson's in the Memphis area during the same time period. John F. Wilkerson was born about 1840 in Tennessee and married Lucy Elizabeth Mhoon on Dec. 18 1873 in Memphis.  John F Wilkerson is not the subject of this article.  He died in California in 1913 and is interred in Santa Rosa California.  

A search of Mexican War records reveals that John M. Wilkerson served in the Mexican War with Co. C, 1st TN Infantry and a John Wilkerson appears on a list dated October 30 1847 of dead and wounded at Mexico. It is unclear if this is the same John Wilkerson in the obituary.  However, it is clear that John Wilkerson began his Civil War military career in Memphis as 1st Lieutenant, Co. E 2nd  TN Regiment (Walker's). He was elected Captain August 9, 1861. He appears on muster rolls for Fort Pillow, Camp Walker, and Chattanooga. Another card even mentions a Court Martial.  He spent some time on the staff of Brigadier General William Henry Carroll.  But none of the war records record the poignant story of his horse, Sultan.

The Memphis Daily Appeal reported on January 26 1864 that Col Rucker and Capt Wilkerson of Memphis were transferred from the Army of Tennessee to that of Mississippi.  "Capt. Wilkerson says it (the army) will neither be idle nor stationary long if this good weather continues.  He further states that a large portion of the clothes worn by our soldiers, and all the wagons, teams and ambulances now in use by our troops, have been captured from the Federals.  Every day, almost a greater or less number of prisoners are brought in by our scouting parties."

Shelby County Tennessee marriage records show that John Wilkerson married Margaret A. Giles on January 17, 1850.   

In the 1850 Census John appears with his 20 year old wife, except that her name is listed as Mary in the Census. However, there is a Robert Giles, age 24, in the household with them. Possibly her brother?

I have yet to find more Census records for John Wilkerson nor any more information regarding his wife. A search of period newspapers shows him to be active politically and socially in Memphis during the 1860's.

1866 finds Captain Wilkerson involved in "a meeting of officers and soldiers of the late Confederate army" to consider "resolutions as will relieve Memphis from the imputation that is prevalent in the North, and is industriously and maliciously continued to be impressed upon the Northern mind, that a Union or Northern man is not safe, in life, liberty and property, within our limits." (Pub. Ledger Sept 18 1866, page 3)  In 1868, he was a member of the committee that drafted resolutions regarding the death of exiled Gen. William H. Carroll (Pub. Ledger. May 8 1868, page 3). He was appointed one of the "Marshals of the Day" during the Old Folks' Annual Barbecue at Bartlett in July 1868 (Pub. Ledger July 20 1868 page 3) and he appears in City Directories.  In 1867 he is an auctioneer at Royster, Trezevant & Co.

Burial Permit Edward Wilkerson
I believe his brother was Edward Wilkerson, born Nov. 19th 1827 in Lynchburg Virginia.  While John went south, Edward moved to St. Louis and worked in the insurance industry.  Edward appears in U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records for Missouri but I find no record of service.  He married Virginia Cline in 1860 in St. Louis Missouri.   Edward died December 2, 1907 and was interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

While many of John Wilkerson's contemporaries were interred at Elmwood Cemetery he lies in a currently unmarked grave at Raleigh.  Raleigh is home to the oldest cemetery in Shelby County and has long been neglected.  Over the past few years volunteers have been making strides to recover the land from the overgrowth of many decades.  Many markers have been revealed when undergrowth has been removed and many that had sunk into the earth have been brought back into the sunlight.  Raleigh Cemetery is a work in progress and though much has been done there is a desperate need for more volunteers and donations to make sure the progress made to date is saved and to continue revealing the hidden secrets that lie buried at the cemetery.  It's very possible that Captain John Wilkerson's monument, if indeed he had one, will be recovered thanks to the efforts of volunteers.  For more information visit Raleigh Cemetery Facebook Page, Raleigh Community Council Cemetery Page, Raleigh Cemetery Findagrave.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

James "Uncle Jim" Nelson, "A good and faithful servant"

James Nelson, also known as Uncle Jim, died February 25 1881.  His obituary notes that he was "colored", 80 years of age and that he had been formerly owned by T.A. Nelson to whom he had been a "good and faithful servant."  

I wanted to see what else I could find out  about Mr. Nelson and his family so my search began.

The earliest record comes from his Freedman's Bureau Application dated November 1 1867. He was born in Maryland but came to Davidson Co. Tennessee when he was about 5 weeks old.  At the age of 11 or 12 he moved to Madison Co, near Huntsville Alabama and stayed there till he "became a man."  Then he lived in Limestone Co. Alabama.  He came to Memphis about 1854.    The application states he was 65 years old and that his father was named James and his mother was Cely Vincent.  His wife was named Sally.  He listed three children: Jennie age 22, Jim and Cely had died.  His place of birth was listed as Georgetown Maryland, Eastern Shore.  His current residence was 3rd street between Poplar and Washington in Memphis. Occupation, drayman.  Remarks: "Never has heard of his father.  He was in Maryland.  Left Mother in Limestone Co., Alabama.  Has not seen her for 30 years. Half-bro. Thomas Vincent, in Huntsville when was separated at same time Mother was."   

His daughter Jennie married William Bickford prior to October 28 1867.  Jennie's application with the Freedman's Bureau states that she was born in Athens Alabama and had come from there about 12 years ago and lived in Memphis since that time.  She was 22, her husband was William and they had a four year old daughter named Bell.  The family lived at Third St between Poplar and Washington streets. Like her father, her husband was a drayman.  Remarks: "Father and Mother in Memphis. They all live together.  Bro. Jim and sister Cely dead.  Tres. Daughters of Zion."

The Nelson and Bickford families continued living together and appear in the 1870 Census for Memphis. James birth state is Maryland and he was 75 years old. Sallie was 71 and from Virginia.  They are living with their daughter Jennie, her husband William Bickford and their daughter Belle. William was a drayman, born in Tennessee, age 39.   Jennie was 24, keeping house, born in Alabama. Young Belle was 6 years old, born in Tennessee.  

Belle Bickford applied with the Freedman's Bureau on January 11, 1872.  She was 8 years old, born in
Memphis, lives at 3rd St and attends school at Mrs. Clark's.  Her father, William Bickford, has died.

A few years after the death of her husband, Jennie Nelson Bickford married Edward Carter on January 20 1875 in Shelby County TN.  This is the last record I find for Jennie.

James, Sally and Belle next appear in the 1880 Census.  James is 83 and his occupation is domestic servant. His wife Sally is now 76 and keeping house. Their grand-daughter Belle is 16.

The next time we find James Nelson he has died and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery on February 27 1881. Elmwood records his age as 80.  His wife Sallie/Sally dies on February 3, 1892.  Cause of death, Dropsy. She is also laid to rest at Elmwood.

Eight months after her grandmother dies, Belle Bickford marries Mose Harris, October 4 1892 in Memphis. They were married by Justice of the Peace P.L. Davis.

After that the trail for Belle goes cold.  I did find a Belle Harris who died in Memphis December 31, 1893.   She was 27 and married at the time of her death.  Her age and marital status are close enough that it's possible this is the grand-daughter of James Nelson. She was interred at Potter's Field in Shelby County.

For those of you that might be interested in the slaveowner, T.A. Nelson he was Thomas A. Nelson, born in 1819 in Tennessee.  He married Miriam W. Mosley in Itawamba Mississippi on Sept. 4 1839.  The family resided in Limestone County Alabama in 1850. His children were Laura, Frederick, Liza and Stephen.

The 1850 Slave Census shows that Thomas A Nelson owned 12 slaves, with five of them checked as "Fugitives from the state."  It's very possible that James and his family are listed in this Census.

In 1869 Nelson purchased the home and property of Wilks Brooks after an outbreak of Yellow Fever.  His daughter Laura and her husband James Brett lived there until 1890.  The house and property passed through the hands of others and was finally sold to James Kirby in 1898.  It would become known as the Kirby House, Germantown Tennessee.  This historic home located at 6792 Poplar Pike was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In September 2013 the home, like so many other historic landmarks in Shelby County, was scheduled for demolition to make way for other forms of development.

Thomas Nelson died on January 11 1887 and like his former slave, James Nelson, was interred at Elmwood Cemetery.  The following appeared in the Memphis Appeal, January 14 1887:  The remains of the late Thomas A. Nelson were laid at rest at Elmwood Cemetery on yesterday.  The funeral was from his late residence, No. 81 Adams street and was largely attended by the members of South Memphis Masonic Lodge, of which lodge he was a member in good standing."