Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


John Thomas Porter was a Californian whose career, eminently successful, despite the obstacles he had to contend with, will long be held in pleasant remembrance both by those who knew him to esteem him and by all who like to honor the sturdy, sacrificing, unselfish and uncomplaining pioneer. He passed away February 13, 1900, at the close of a century in which he had made definite contribution to the welfare and upbuilding of his community. He was born at Duxbury, near Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in August, 1831, the son of Dr. John Porter, one of the physicians to Daniel Webster, and Anna Thomas Porter, who was the beaming recipient, at their pretty wedding, of a spinet from the immortal statesman and orator, still treasured as a family heirloom.

John Thomas Porter attended the Duxbury schools and then went to college. As a youth he ventured as far west as Wisconsin and tried farming and sawmill operation. Later he came to the Golden Gate, by way of the Horn, sailing in 1849, from Boston, on the barque Herculaneum, upon which he worked his way before the mast. He reached San Francisco the same year and for a short time remained there. Then he rushed off to the mines and staked his luck in those regions but while the '49ers were still pouring in from all corners of the earth he was back again in the Bay City.

He came to Santa Cruz county in 1852 and four years later was elected sheriff of Santa Cruz county, and served for the full term of four years. Later he was appointed collector of the port of Monterey by President Lincoln, serving during Lincoln's first term and the first year of his second term, when the port and its office was abolished. Having a ranch at Jolon, Monterey county, and relying upon his official income, he stocked it with cattle, putting into that investment that seemed to promise so much all that he could spare but when the port was closed and his income from office-holding was cut off, and when drought followed close to strike down the famished cattle, he lost all that he had-all save honor.

Mr. Porter next ventured into the real estate field, first at Soquel and next in Watsonville, which town he chose for his residence in 1872 when there was not much to boast of in the way of a town, but one estate in particular attracted him, and its fate doubtless spurred him on to what he finally accomplished. A brother of General Vallejo, owned the handsome Santa Clara rancho, an extensive farm some nine miles long and four miles wide, and this brother was killed on his ranch while trying to catch some wild cattle. General Vallejo received, in consequence, one-twelfth of the estate and this he arranged to sell to Mr. Porter but several years passed before the estate was divided. When Mr. Porter got the share he had agreed to purchase, it consisted of eight hundred and twenty acres, and in the meantime he had been buying and selling real estate to get it paid for. He was instrumental, however, as early as 1874, in organizing the Bank of Watsonville, and also in starting, in 1888, the Pajaro Valley Bank, of which he became president.

In matters of general welfare he was deeply and helpfully interested and his activities contributed largely to the progress of his section of the state. He was a member of the first convention to nominate Leland Stanford for governor. Public-spirited to an exceptional degree, inspired far beyond the majority of business men with high, altruistic ideals, Mr. Porter, through his wide, never-failing and enviable influence, accomplished much good, in many ways and directions, and blessed many other lives.

John Thomas Porter was married, April 6, 1859, while he was sheriff of Santa Cruz county, to Miss Fanny Cumming, who had come out to California in 1857 with a brother, William, this being his second trip to the coast. Mrs. Porter taught school in Santa Cruz and Soquel, and bravely adapted herself to the conditions she found here. It was then necessary to travel from Santa Cruz to San Francisco by stage, and it took two days to make the journey. The ceremony was performed at San Francisco, and the nuptial knot was tied by the Rev. Dr. William Ingraham Kip, the first Episcopal bishop of California, so well known as a vigorous, sturdy and intellectual and kindly personality moving untiringly about the rough country, and now fixed in California history because of his interesting accounts of what he saw on his episcopal travels. Reared in luxury, Mrs. Porter went through many hardships of early ranch life; and now although in her 86th year finds much pleasure in charitable and humanitarian work, devoting herself, in particular, to the much-abused and too little understood Chinese. Mr. and Mrs. Porter became parents of a son and a daughter. The former, Warren R. Porter, at one time lieutenant-governor of California, is now a banker of Watsonville, and his son, John E. Porter, is vice president and director of the Pajaro Valley National Bank of Watsonville. The daughter, Florence, now the widow of Fernando Pfingst, is living at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren give joy to Mrs. Porter, esteemed and honored pioneer woman. Mr. Porter's estate is now incorporated as the John B. Porter Company, of which Mrs. Porter is president, while her grandson, Edward P. Pfingst, a wide-awake enterprising young business man of Watsonville, is her manager.

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.