PORTER, GOV. DAVID RITTENHOUSE, the son of Andrew Porter, was born October 31, 1788, near Norristown, Montgomery county. Pa. He received his early education at an academy in Norristown, where the branches of a good English education, mathematics and the elementary classical studies, were successfully taught. With his brothers George and James, he was here pursuing a course preparatory to entering Princeton College, when the buildings of that institution were destroyed by fire, and the purpose of a collegiate course was abandoned. When the father was appointed surveyor general he took his son David with him to the seat of government as his assistant. While thus employed the son also studied law, with the intention of entering upon its practice at Harrisburg, but the labor and confinement of these double duties were too severe, and his health was so much impaired, as was thought, to preclude the possibility of his pursuing any sedentary employment. He decided, therefore, to seek more active occupation, and removed to the county of Huntingdon, where he engaged in the manufacture of iron.
The Messrs. Dorsey then owned that magnificent estate known as the Barree Forges. Mr. Porter was first employed by them for a year as a clerk, and during the following year was made manager of their works. Having thus acquired an acquaintance with the business, he embarked in it on his own account, in partnership with Edward Patton, on Spruce creek, but so great was the depression into which all branches of manufactures fell for some years succeeding the war of 1812 that their enterprise was not successful. He continued, however, through life to take a deep interest in all that related to the business.
He was in 1819 elected a member of the Assembly from Huntingdon county, and was returned for the following year, having as a colleague John Scott, father of the present senator of the United States.
On retiring from the Legislature he was appointed by the governor prothonotary and clerk of the several courts of Huntingdon county, and to these were afterwards added the offices of recorder of deeds and register of wills. There was then little business in these offices, and the pecuniary returns were meager. He had in 1820 married Josephine, daughter of William McDermott, who had emigrated from Scotland for the purpose of manufacturing steel by a new process and who was one of the pioneers in that art.
In 1836 he was elected a member of the State Senate from the district then composed of the counties of Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry and Union. The soundness of his judgment and the readiness of his understanding made him an acknowledged leader.
In 1838 Mr. Porter was elected governor of Pennsylvania, and in 1841 was re-elected by a majority almost four times as great as that given at his first election. His inauguration as governor occurred on the 15th of January, 1839.
Governor Porter took much interest in the success of the system of common schools then in its infancy, and having appointed Francis R. Shunk superintendent, devoted with him much time in resolving the numerous and difficult questions which then came up from the county officers for decision.
His efforts to sustain the credit of the State and to secure the payment of interest on the public debt drew upon him national attention, and were frequently noticed in Europe, where many of the obligations of the State were held. By his recommendation the act of 1840 was passed, requiring the interest on the State debt to be paid in specie or its equivalent. One of his last acts as governor was the suppression of the riots which occurred in Philadelphia in 1844, and the courage and decision displayed on his taking command of the military in person were generally commended and long remembered by men of all parties. Both branches of the city council, then opposed to his administration, honored him with an expression of their thanks, and a resolution unanimously passed by those bodies was presented to him in person, accompanied with an address by the mayor of the city.
Having completed, in 1845, the longest term as governor allowed by the new Constitution he retired from public life and returned to his favorite pursuit of making iron. The adaptation of anthracite coal to the manufacture of this metal was then almost unknown, and having given much reflection to the subject and made many practical experiments, he erected at Harrisburg, at a large cost, the first anthracite furnace built in that portion of the State.
He was for many years the friend of the late President Buchanan, and the correspondence which they maintained for a long period shows how frequently that statesman consulted him on questions of national interest and how greatly he relied upon his judgment.
There was another public man with whom his intimacy was even closer, Gen. Sam. Houston, of Texas, whose career as a military commander, an executive officer, and effective orator is yet fresh in the public recollection.
Mr. Porter returned to his home in Harrisburg and contributed his influence to sustain the government in the fierce conflict which had commenced. He scouted the doctrine of secession. To encourage others he shouldered his musket at the age of more than seventy years, and with the young men of the town joined in military drill. He rejoiced greatly over the success of the Union arms.
During the winter of 1867, while attending at night a meeting of his church, he contracted a severe cold. While others regarded the attack as light, he believed that it would prove fatal and began to prepare for the approaching change. During the succeeding summer he was able to walk out, but in the beginning of August his strength declined. With great composure and even cheerfulness he arranged several matters of business and conversed calmly of his approaching end. On the 6th of August, surrounded by several children and a devoted wife, his hands having been folded on his breast, he thanked those about him for their kindness and duties and composed himself as if to fall asleep. As one and another passage of Scripture was repeated he expressed his assent, until the pulse became still and the aged heart ceased to beat. He had passed away as gently as a child falls to sleep in its mother's arms. The public business was, at the request of the governor of the Commonwealth, generally suspended. Large numbers of citizens came from every section of the State to pay to his memory the last sad tribute of their respect.
Historical Review of Dauphin County
Transcribed by Robert Demyrdemy@earthlink.net for The Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Transcription Project – http://maley.net/transcription.
Date of Transcription: 29 Oct 2000
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