William G. Porter family papers, 1821-1936

Emory University

Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322



Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/8zs7j

Collection Stored Off-Site

All or portions of this collection are housed off-site. Materials can still be requested but researchers should expect a delay of up to two business days for retrieval.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Porter, William G. (William Gibbs), 1799-1877.
Title: William G. Porter family papers, 1821-1936
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 938
Extent: 91 linear feet (185 boxes), 2 oversized papers box and 1 oversized papers folder (OP), and 10 bound volumes (BV)
Abstract:Papers of the William G. Porter family of Pennsylvania and Florida including correspondence, financial, and legal records, as well as the records of the family business, William G. Porter and Company.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact the Rose Library in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


Gift, 2002 with subsequent additions.


[after identification of item(s)], William G. Porter family papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by Laura Starratt, Will Love, and Maggie Greaves, September 2013.

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Collection Description

Biographical Note

Reverend Thomas Porter (d. 1821) married Mary Gibbs in 1798 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the couple had three children: William G. Porter (1799-1877), Mary Porter (1801-1874), and Richard G. Porter (1809-1867). William married Catharine Benezet, sister of Samuel Benezet (1821-1877), and had a son, William G. Porter, Jr. (1840-1884). After his wedding, he moved from Apalachicola, Florida, to Pennsylvania, settling in Philadelphia. Richard married Mary Tibbits Salter (1824-1902) and had seven children: Richard Henry Porter, Edward Gibbs Porter, Elizabeth Pepperrell Porter, Gilbert Rodman Porter, William Salter Porter, and Richard Gibbs Porter, Jr.

In 1829, William G. Porter, along with Charles and Joseph Lawton of the firm J & C Lawton, collaborated to found William G. Porter and Company, a shipping and merchandise company. The partnership dictated that the Lawtons would supply merchandise that Porter would ship and sell on their behalf. William's brother, Richard, joined the company in 1834 after working in the area with another merchandising company headed by a Major Hardin. William included other family members in business matters. In addition to his brother, William employed his cousins, James Ruan and John Ruan (1798-1868), and his brother-in-law, Samuel Benezet. John Ruan arranged for the initial wharf and storage space in the Apalachicola Harbor, where their consignment shipping began in 1831. William G. Porter and Company worked with a number of prominent shipping companies, including Gray and Morse out of Boston, Massachusetts, and Eagle and Hazzard as well as John H. Talman out of New York, New York. They also worked with distributors in Liverpool, England, such as John Kearley and Son and John Miller and Company, as well as the Castello Brothers of Havana, Cuba. William was even appointed Vice Consul to Belgium by that country's king in 1840. In addition to destinations in the northeast and overseas, the company regularly supplied merchandise to customers along the Apalachicola River and acted as a consignment shipper for cotton farmers in Georgia and Alabama. The company also invested in their own ships, including the America and the Chipola James Grierson.

Because William G. Porter and Company was highly diversified, it weathered economic slowdowns that drove other companies out of business. The company supported itself by serving as cotton factors (or commission merchants), acting as bank and collections agents, and managing three general merchandise stores in Apalachicola, Florida, St. Josephs, Florida; and Columbus, Georgia. From 1835-1844, James Ruan managed the Apalachicola store. In 1844, Samuel Benezet took over the bookkeeping and bank agent work when James left to begin working at the store in St. Joseph, Florida (now Port St. Joe, Florida).

Their role as bank agents, which was common for areas like Apalachicola, where there was no local bank, added to their revenue, especially during the economic instability of the bank panic of 1837. As bank agents, William G. Porter and Company gained a strong position in cotton factoring. As cotton factor for many cotton planters in Alabama and Georgia, William G. Porter and Company had prime real estate on the Apalachicola River, which was the main shipping route for cotton before the U.S. Civil War. In the 1850s, the company witnessed increased cotton consumption in England following the Crimean War (1855), which led to an expansion of the company's cotton exporting, but was followed by a crash in cotton sales by the end of the 1850s. In 1850, Benezet handed the bookkeeping of the Apalachicola store to his brother, John, and left Florida due to his failing health.

William G. Porter and Company continued to operate during the U. S. Civil War, but due primarily to blockades of Confederate ports, the amount of business conducted was limited in comparison to the booming shipments from before the war. After the war, William retired from the business, and in 1867, the company was renamed R. G. Porter and Company and directed by Richard Porter, Samuel Benezet, and John Ruan. Richard died two months after this change and John Ruan died a year later.

Due to the company's acquisitions, the family still retained a number of properties in Apalachicola. After Samuel Benezet retired to North Carolina, Richard Porter's son, Richard Henry "Harry" Porter, took control of the store and collections of rent on the properties of the company. In 1877, William G. Porter, Jr. settled the firm's final investments and closed the company.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of the William G. Porter family from 1821-1936, as well as the business records of William G. Porter and Company from 1831-1867. The family papers primarily include correspondence but also contain financial records, legal documents, personal papers, professional papers, and photographs of the Porter family. The business records include accounting, legal, and insurance records, as well as bills of lading, freight lists, weighers returns, and correspondence regarding their shipping business and work as bank and collection agents.

The majority of the family papers are correspondence between members of the Porter family on domestic matters, daily events, and family news, but there are also letters between Richard G. Porter, William G. Porter, and John Ruan in which they conduct business relating to William G. Porter and Company. Also included in family papers are records of the family's investments, including receipts and invoices for personal purchases and medical bills, and as property and income taxes. There are documents settling the estate of Richard G. Porter as well as legal records that include estate divisions, contracts, and disputes involving members of the family. Personal papers include devotionals, drawings, historical writings, a series of hunting journals, and photographs of three generations of Porter family members. Professional papers consist primarily of materials relating to William Porter's position as Vice Consul to Belgium, documents on the founding of William G. Porter and Company, and commissioner papers for William Porter and Richard G. Porter.

The business records of William G. Porter and Company contain accounting, legal, and insurance records, as well as shipping records such as bills of lading, ship manifests and freight lists, and weighers returns. There is also a large amount of correspondence from trading partners, both national and international, about merchandise including cotton, rum, tobacco, and other general commodities the company shipped. Other letters pertain to the company's work as bank and collections agents. Accounting records include ledgers, account statements, sales records, bills, and invoices that chronicle merchandise sales and shipping. Bills of lading document the type, quantity, and destination of freight. Legal records include powers of attorney, charter parties, and ships protests, while ships manifests, freight lists, and weighers returns document the company's role in shipping and cotton factoring.

Arrangement Note

Organized into two series: (1) Family papers, and (2) Business records.

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