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John Luke Porter Papers, 1860-1998 (bulk 1860-1936), undated

(Manuscript Collection #850)

Descriptive Summary Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

Title: John Luke Porter Papers
Creator: Porter, John L. (John Luke), 1813-1893
Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
Languages: English
Abstract: John L. Porter's notebook (Pensacola, FL 1860), blueprint, photocopies of blueprints, newspaper clippings and photographic print, relating to U.S. Navy ship construction and C.S. ship construction, including drawings of C.S.S. Virginia (U.S.S. Merrimac) and other ships; Porter family genealogy, ca. 1860-1936. 0.25 cf. Note: See attached list for inventory of collection.
Extent: 0.3 Cubic feet, 33 item; 1 archival box & 2 oversized folders, photocopies and digital reproductions of naval architectural notebook, correspondence, newspapers, magazine, photograph, and naval architectural drawings

Administrative Information Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

Accessions Information

December 1, 2001, 24 items; Papers (1860-1998) of Portsmouth Va., Civil War naval constructor, including naval architectural notebook, correspondence, newspapers, magazine, photograph, and naval architectural drawings and photocopies of the above items relating to U.S. Navy ship construction and C.S. ship construction, including drawings of C.S.S. Virginia (U.S.S. Merrimac) and other ships; Porter family genealogy also included, ca. 1860-1936. Loan (original materials) and Gift (photocopies) of Mr. and Mrs. John H. P. Williams, Greenville, N.C.

November 28, 2012, 23 items; Papers (1860-1998) of Portsmouth Va., Civil War naval constructor, including naval architectural notebook, correspondence, newspapers, magazine, photograph, and naval architectural drawings and photocopies of the above items relating to U.S. Navy ship construction and C.S. ship construction, including drawings of C.S.S. Virginia (U.S.S. Merrimac) and other ships; Porter family genealogy also included, ca. 1860-1936. Loan (original materials) returned to lenders Mr. and Mrs. John H. P. Williams, Greenville, N.C. Gift (photocopies & digital reproductions) of Mr. and Mrs. John H. P. Williams, Greenville, N.C. retained in collection.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions

Copyright Notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Preferred Citation

John Luke Porter Papers (#850), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

Acquisition Information

  • Loan and Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Hunter Porter Williams; Loan returned to lender 11/28/2012

Processing Information

  • Accessioned & inventoried by Jonathan Dembo, 5/21/2002; arranged, described Processed by Brian T. Clayton, April 2003; Encoded by Mark Custer, February 2008; originals deaccessioned, 11/28/2012; collection re-arranged, finding aid & inventory revised by Jonathan Dembo, 11/29/2012


Biographical / Historical Note Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

John L. Porter (1813-1893) was a naval constructor in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of a shipwright. In 1859, after passing the naval constructor's examination, he became a naval constructor for the U. S. Navy. He was stationed at the U. S. Navy Yard at Pensacola, Florida and witnessed the Confederate takeover when Florida seceded from the Union. He was then reassigned to the Washington (DC) Navy Yard. A few days before Virginia voted to secede from the Union, Porter was assigned to serve as a naval constructor at the Gosport (Norfolk) Naval Yard. He was in Portsmouth when Confederate forces took control of the Gosport Navy Yard. Porter immediately resigned from the U. S. Navy and offered his services to Virginia. He immediately became prominent in the Confederate States' naval construction program. He played a major role in the refloating and converting the USS MERRIMAC, a burned and scuttled wooden U. S. Navy steam frigate, into the CSS VIRGINIA, the first ever ironclad gunboat & ram, which was commissioned into the Confederate Navy in February 1862. Designed to break the ever-strengthening Union blockade of the South, the CSS VIRGINIA was successful in defeating all wooden warships that she faced; however, VIRGINIA proved unable to overcome the USS Monitor. The two ironclads fought each other to a draw in the Chesapeake Bay off Portsmouth in March 1962. Neither side was able to defeat the other but the draw benefited the Union since it allowed the blockade to continue.

In May 1862 the Confederates abandoned the Norfolk area. Porter then relocated to Richmond, Virginia. As the Civil War progressed, he relocated again to Wilmington, North Carolina. In January 1864 Porter was promoted to Chief Naval Constructor, serving in that position till the end of the war. In this position, he designed many of the Confederate warships that participated in battle during the war. After the war, Porter worked in the industries of civilian and naval ship construction and ferry operations. In later years he conducted a long and inconclusive debate with other participants in the effort to raise the USS MERRIMAC and build the CSS VIRGINIA. He died in Portsmouth, in 1893.

Description Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

The most significant item in the John Luke Porter Papers is notebook in which Porter recorded all the information he believed was required to pass the U. S. Naval Constructor's examination. The notebook features an examination guide for prospective naval contractor candidates, detailing information needed to know to pass the examination. As a note, the naval architectural notebook of John Porter was copied word-for-word directly from an 1816 treatise on steam propulsion by Robertson Buchanan. Robertson Buchanan, A practical treatise on propelling vessels by steam. (London: Ackerman 1816) appeared in numerous editions throughout the 19th century. It is not know which edition Porter copied. The text was also available in the widely-read Universal Encyclopedia.

The notebook is chiefly significant for the significant amount of personal information that Porter inserted in it. Porter includes two accounts details the construction of the USS MERRIMAC and its battle with the USS MONITOR in 1862, as well as a short history of Porter’s life during the Civil War. He writes an expecially vivid account of the last days of the Civil War in which he retreated from Wilmington under Union atttack. He was present in Greensboro at the time of the Gen. Johnston's surrender. He also describes his return to Portsmouth to find his house and property confiscated and sold. Also included, is a transcribed letter written by Porter taken from an entry in his notebook. In the letter, written to Thomas O. Selfridge, Commander U.S.N. at the Boston Navy Yard, Porter gives specific details of the USS MERRIMAC, including its physical structure and its battle and post-battle history. The notebook includes lists of ships that Porter built, lyrics to patriotic naval songs, and brief accounts of Porter's postwar activities.

Also present in the papers are various printed materials concerning genealogical information of the Porter family, as well as a photograph of a Porter relative, Miss Georgie Ridgely. Other topics covered in the printed materials include the history of Portsmouth, Virginia, Alfred Berkeley and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Oversized items consist of eight naval architectural plans for the USS MERRIMAC / CSS VIRGINIA, the CSS ALBEMARLE and the CSS NEUSE and several other unidentified warships.

The collection also includes a significant amount of genealogical and historical materials relating to the Porter and Williams family in Portsmouth, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland.

On 28 November 2012 the lenders, Mrs. & Mrs. John H. P. Williams, requested the return of the original documents in the collection loaned to the repository in 2002. Remaining in the collection are photocopies and digital reproductions of the original documents. See container list for details.

Container List Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

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Series 1:
Manuscript Materials, 1860-1998, undated
Box 1#0850.1
Loaned Collection (Originals returned to lender 11/28/2012)
  • Box 2#0850.2 Icon to indicate that there are digitized materials available
    Donated Collection (Reproductions of originals returned to lender 11/28/2012)
    • Folder a#0850.2.a (2 items  digitized)
      • John Porter naval architectural notebook

        Porter, John Luke. Naval architectural notebook and autobiographical accounts of Civil War and Post Civil War experiences (1860-1882) Digital reproduction of holograph original. 1 vol. 117 p.

    • Folder b#0850.2.b (1 item  digitized)
      • Porter, John L. Last page of a letter to his son-in-law John S. Moore, Alabama, concerning plans / designs for Confederate Ironclad Gunboat USS MERRIMAC / CSS VIRGINIA; description of letter attached (1861) Photocopy holograph. 1 item. 2 p. Note: Includes elevation & section drawings of the USS MERRIMAC / CSS VIRGINIA & sketch map of the vicinity between Paradise Creek and Scott's Creek, in Portsmouth, Virginia; the letter also identifies Mr. John Ridgeley Porter, Jr., who was clerk of the Court of Hustings, in Portsmouth, Virginia, as John Luke Porter's grandson; see also digital reproduction at: #850.os1.1  (item #1)
      • Porter, John L. Letter to Thomas O. Selfridge, Commander, U. S. N., Boston Navy Yard responding to the latter's request for information concerning the CSS Virginia/USS Monitor naval battle (21 December 1874) Photocopy typescript. 1 item. 4 p. Note: Typescript note on p. 4: "(Copied from the notebook of John L. Porter, evidently a copy of a letter he had written.)"   (item #2)
      • History of Portsmouth [Excerpts] by Miss Mildred M. Holladay, The Portsmouth Star (Portsmouth, Virginia), Sunday (19 January 1936) Photocopy typescript. 1 item.  (item #3)
      • Miss Georgie Ridgely  (item #4)

        Miss Georgie Ridgely portrait; Photographic studio name & address on verso (undated) Photographic print. Black & White. 6 cm x 9.5 cm. 1 item. 2 p. Note: Israel & Co. Photographers, Baltimore Street, Baltimore.

    • Folder c#0850.2.c
      The Dorsey Family [Genealogy], The Baltimore Sun, Sunday, pp. 1, 7-8 (26 June 1904) Photocopy clipping. 1 item. 3 p. Note: related to D'Arcy family of Great Britain.
    • Folder d#0850.2.d
      • Who Are You? A Ball? The Romance of Your Name, by Ruby Kasins Ellis (ca. 1 January 1934) Photocopy clipping. 1 item. 1 p.   (item #1)
      • History holds lessons of first presidential impeachment, by Alan Flanders, The Portsmouth Currents, Olde Towne Journal, p. 4 (20 December 1998) Photocopy typescript. 1 item. 1 p. Note: Relates to impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1866.   (item #2)
      • Tourist finds Portsmouth by chance, and finds city a surprising vacation spot, by Ida Kay Jordan, Ida Kay's Portsmouth, The Portsmouth Currents, Sunday, pp. 1K, 4K 13 July 1997) Photocopy clipping. 1 item. 2 p.  (item #3)
      • Confession cracks college caper: Alfred Berkeley, president of NASDAQ, solves a mystery by admitting that it was he who 32 years ago put a cow atop the University of Virginia's Rotunda, by Jennifer Lenhart, The Washington Post (1997) Photocopy clipping. 1 item. 1 p.   (item #4)
      • Three Colonial John Porters championed religious freedom, by Alan Flanders, The Portsmouth Currents, Olde Towne Journal (ca. December 1997) Photocopy clipping. 1 item. 2 p.   (item #5)
    • Folder e#0850.2.e
      The Century Magazine, Midwinter Number, Vol. LI, No. 4, pp. pp. 483-640 (February 1936) Photocopy. 1 vol. 219 p. Note: "Certain Worthies and Dames of Old Maryland, by John Williamson Palmer, concerns genealogy of Dorsey family, p.495; other articles include: The Story of the Development of Africa by Henry M. Stanley, p. 500; Napoleon the Western Emperor, by William M. Sloane, p. 510; The Palmerston Ideal in Diplomacy, by Edward M. Chapman, p. 541, etc.
    • Folder f#0850.2.f
      History of Portsmouth, by Miss Mildred Holladay, The Portsmouth Star (Portsmouth, Virginia) Sunday (19 January 1936) Photocopy. 1 item. 32 p.
    • Folder g#0850.2.g
      Ironclad Gunboat design drawings by John Luke Porter & John H. W. Porter (1860-1862, undated) Photocopy & Digital reproduction drawings. 10 items. 10 p.
Series 2:
Oversized Materials, 1861-1862, undated

Online access to this finding aid is supported with funds created through the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). These funds come through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services which is administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. This grant is part of the North Carolina ECHO, Exploring Cultural Heritage Online, Digitization Grant Program.

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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Special Collections Division, J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University. The materials described here are physically available in our reading room. To see what's been digitized in this collection, please click on the "View Digitized Objects" tab, or look for hyperlinks in the container list
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