Nathan Tanner Porter, pioneer, father of Aaron Benjamin Porter


(Note:  This history was written by Edna Margaret Porter Hegsted and taken from the Clements’ family web site: We appreciate their generosity in sharing this history.  Two homes built by Nathan Tanner Porter still stand and are easily located in Centerville behind the Home Depot Store by the freeway, 4th South (Porter lane) and 4th West.  The small one is part of the original Rebecca Cherry Porter home, and the larger one built later for Eliza Ford and her children. See them next time by!!  The whole area along fourth west behind Target was the original Porter farm, and became Porter Walton nurseries.   The Centerville cemetery is east on Porter Lane (4th South) up the hill on the right. Nathan's grave is marked by a tall white pillar, Rebecca is to the right, and Aaron Benjamin Porter Jr., Roger's Grandfather, and Allanna Nichols and his second wife, Myrtle Parker Smith are just behind Nathan and Rebecca to the east.  Also the church on about second east and second south was originally built in Nathan's time, and he donated the land for that purpose. The middle of the existing church is the original old church with a facelift, but with the typical central door of churches of that time. It of course has been added to substantially, but you can still see the old part of the church. Roger Porter)

Nathan Tanner Porter was the son of Sanford and Nancy Warriner Porter, born July 10, 1820 at Corinth, Orange County, Vermont. His father, a sturdy New Englander, was a restless frontiersman, whose blood tingled with the adventure that filled this young growing country with the desire to push on; to expand and to conquer the vast riches of unexplored wilderness to the south and to the west. His mother was a woman with a certain spiritual grace and refinement of manner, a Puritan woman, loyal, earnest and enduring.

Before Nathan, who was the fifth child in the family, was a year old, his parents moved to western New York, breaking forest land into a homestead, only to remain for three or four years, and then as the community began to grow about them they sold out and with a group of neighbors forged farther on: This time out into Ohio for a few years and then on into Illinois. Sometimes they traveled in a truck wagon over streams and rivers exploring, conquering, building and then moving on. Somewhere in the west was an unnamed goal that urged them on.

It was in July, 1830, while the Porter family was working their new farm in Illinois and doing a profitable business running a sawmill, that the event that shaped and directed their future lives occurred. Two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ, a church that had been organized then only three months, came to their home to tell them of the doctrines and principles of their new, and as they claimed, divinely established religion. The father was not a member of any church, though he had a deep and profound interest in theology, but had been unable to reconcile his views with any creed he had so far investigated. This new religion deeply interested and appealed to him and that it was true and God-given was made known to him in a heavenly manifestation. This testimony he held sacred all his life. Straightway the father and mother accepted the new faith and from then on there was a definite goal ahead; it was to be with the Latter-Day Saints Church members at their gathering place and to share with them their blessings and sacrifices.

Nathan was then only ten years of age. He was deeply impressed and his mind was filled with boyish religious thoughts and emotions as the Porter family, and a number of other converts set out for Jackson County, Missouri, the headquarters of their church. It was a long journey, made in a wagon in the dead of winter, and filled with many hazards but without serious disaster they arrived at their destination in the spring of 1832. That summer, following his own conviction of the truth of his parents' religion, the boy was baptized and became a member of the church and then in a few months he began with them their long epoch of suffering and persecutions.

Driven from their homes by their enemies in what is known in Church history as the first Missouri persecution, they were encamped on the banks of the Grand River, helpless against an oncoming, infuriated mom, when a rain of meteors and falling stars lighted the night sky to the brilliance of mid-day, frightening and dispelling the mob, while the homeless saints knelt in prayers of thanksgiving for the heaven-sent deliverance. Moving down the river, the foundation of another home was made, only to be left some five years later.

The fall of 1839 found Nathan, together with his parents, on the west bank of the Missouri River opposite the city of Nauvoo. The second Missouri persecution had taken place. All the saints had been driven from that state and had taken refuge in Illinois, where they built their beautiful city and reared a Temple to their God. Through privation and overwork in trying to help his parents and also to establish property for himself, then only nineteen, overtaxed his strength, he became so ill that his life was despaired of. In his writings of that illness he says, AI poured out to my maker my desire for length of days on earth, not to use according to the council of my own will but as should be pleasing to Him, and I did covenant with the Lord that I would spend my days in his service, leaving all that I had and travel to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, should he require it of me.' He was healed by the power of God and those who knew Nathan Porter knew how faithfully he kept that promise throughout his entire lifetime.

In 1841 he was made a member of the Quorum of Seventies and volunteered his services as a missionary. He labored in the East Central States for thirteen months, converting and baptizing many.

He knew the Prophet Joseph Smith well and listened to and believed his teachings as they fell from his lips. In 1844 he returned to the mission field again, this time laboring in the Eastern States, until summoned home at the time of the martyrdom. He was in attendance at the special conference when Brigham Young was made president of the church and graphically, in his own written words, he has left an account of that wonderful divine manifestation and his testimony as an eye witness that it was true. In the next year he saw Nauvoo grow and flourish; saw the Temple near completion, and on the outskirts little farm villages were growing up; and then a year later he suffered with those who saw their homes burned; their crops trampled and destroyed and themselves driven, homeless and destitute, out over the desolate plains to a camp of refuge they called Winter Quarters, 300 miles away.

In July, 1846, the call came to this band of homeless pilgrims to spare 500 of its strongest young men to serve their country in its war with Mexico. Nathan's younger brother, Sanford, was one of the men to go.

In April, 1847, Brigham Young, with a small company, set out to find a home for the saints away in the mountains where their enemies could not pursue them. The very first company to follow their leader included the Porter family. Nathan had worked hard to help provide an outfit so that his mother and youngest brother could go well provided for. They traveled in the company led by Charles C. Rich; leaving Council Bluffs June 20th and arriving in the Salt Lake Valley October 1, 1847. On their arrival in the valley he writes, “when for the first time our anxious eyes rested on the silvery lake and slopes intervening in the distance below, the dusty hats and faded sunbonnets were seen waving above the heads of the wearers, while shouts of joy and admiration ascended up as each in his gaiety made the summit. The tears of sorrow having now fled, those of gratitude burst forth, making a pathway down many a careworn face. The contrast between the long dreary plains and this valley, like an oasis in a desert, coupled with the thought of safety from oppression was truly soul stirring. We were met by some of the pioneers who preceded us and were soon camped with them on the site selected for a city and a temple; the temple block having already been pointed out by President Young. The plot was to bear the name of Great Salt Lake City and its improvement now consisted of a body of a log house being put up by Brother Lorenzo Young and a few half-finished adobe walls marking the line of a fort to be erected after the manner of block houses for defense against the attacks of the Red Men.'

With his father and family he located on a homestead on Mill Creek four miles south of the site of Salt Lake City. During that winter most of the saints lived in their wagons, the men trying to build log houses as the weather permitted. The food supply became so limited that they were reduced to one fourth pound of flour per person for a day. Almost any kind of wild animal or bird was killed for food, yet a dissatisfied murmur was rare indeed. In the spring of 1848 they planted their seed and the fresh green crop gave encouragement for a beautiful harvest, “when from the bench land came great moving masses of crickets toward our patches of grain below, sweeping almost every green herb and blade of native grass before them. As they reached the first field of tender grain in their way they surged over it leaving nothing but the bare ground behind them. Our anxiety was now intense. Bushels of them were destroyed in divers way but to little or no avail. Many were seen coming in the valley on every hand and after days of hard battling to try to save their fields of grain, many of the saints were discouraged. And then large flocks of sea gulls were seen entering the valley from the southeast and lighting down on the wheat plots they exhibited a strange phenomenon. They would eat to the full of the crickets, then go and spew them up and repeat over and over again. The gorge soon put an end to our innumerable foe and then they departed. We poured out our thanks and praise to God for His sending them to our deliverance, for surely they were sent even as the quails were sent into the camps of Israel to save the lives of His chosen people.'

That fall after the crops were harvested Nathan married Rebecca Ann Cherry, a member of the same pioneer company in which he traveled, and they lived that winter in a cabin in the fort. In the spring of 1849 he joined his father-in-law, Aaron B. Cherry, who with others founded a colony some twelve miles north of Salt Lake City, and there he established his home in the little town later known as Centerville, which was to be his home place for life. He procured ten acres of land within the survey, which was to be enclosed in one common field surrounded by a fort wall.

After putting in his crop he procured timbers from the nearby canyon and built for himself and his wife a little hewed log cabin. (It was sitting where the Robert Smith home now stands.) The happy couple moved into their new home November 10, 1849 and five days later a baby daughter was born to them. The following year, 1850, Nathan Porter procured twenty acres of land in a new survey adjoining the old one on the west. This was the beginning of the Porter farm of eighty acres, most of which is owned today by members of his family. Here he built a little home of sun-dried brick. This stood just one block north of the old home now standing. They moved into it late in the fall of that year.

The little settlement was growing and its people must have a school and church, so in 1851 they erected a log building, which served for both purposes; the ground on which it stood being donated by Nathan Porter.

In September 1852 he accepted a call from President Young to go on a mission to the fortress of Gibraltar. He traveled by mule team to St. Louis, then by boat to Cincinnati and then by rail to New York. Of his railroad journey he writes, “This was my first trip by railway and instead of riding, it seemed to me we were flying through space with the speed of the swiftest bird.” He reached his destination in March, 1853, but through interference from the ministers in the fortress, he was banished from the garrison and sailed to England where he labored with great success for three years. On his homeward journey, February 1856, he became so very ill at New York that no hope was held for his recovery and at the crisis in his illness, those attending him believed him dead. But through faith he was restored to health, and by September he was back again at Council Bluff to begin his second trip across the plains with team and wagon. On the way his company overtook that belated and unfortunate hand cart company whose terrible hardships made a sad page in the history of the church. They provided shelter for the survivors until a rescue party came and brought them to the valley. Never could he forget the trials and hardships of that little emigrant band.

It was the 5th of December when he arrived home and took up his work on his farm and in building up the little community. The next spring he married Eliza Ford, daughter of John and Rebecca Ford, who had joined the church in England, and had with their family come to Utah, locating in Centerville during Nathan's absence.

Nathan and his wife accepted polygamy as a sacred principle of their religion and the spirit of love, unity and justice that dwelt in the home which they all shared together will live forever in the hearts of their children.

In the fall of that year, 1857, Johnson's army came to disrupt the peace of the people, and at command of their leader, the Porter family, with all others, left their homes and possessions and went south, leaving behind them a few men who were to burn and destroy the cities and villages should the troops attempt to take control of them. But through wise advisement the crisis passed and the people came back unmolested to the homes they had left.

When Nathan's father, Sanford Porter, was released from being bishop of the Centerville Ward, he was called to be councilor to his successor and a missionary among the saints at home. In 1864 when the Sunday School was organized he was made a superintendent, and in 1869 he was called again to go on a foreign mission, and in 1872 he was called on a special mission to the Eastern States.

At the organization of the Davis Stake he was released from his ward duties and made Stake Superintendent of Sunday Schools and a member of the High Council, which offices he held until the time of his death.

Although so much of his time was given to ecclesiastical duties, he did not neglect the material welfare of his families. He was a prosperous and progressive farmer and took pride in his livestock, his well-filled barns and granaries and his splendid fields of grain and hay. He and his neighbor, John Wooley, owned the first grain binder in Davis County, a real marvel in that day. His farm and the work it entailed was more than he and his four sons could do and many men were given work and a home while in his employ. As his family grew he built larger and better homes, leaving the former homes to make comfortable some new homeless emigrant until they could make homes for themselves.

The big brick farmhouse, with its thirteen comfortable rooms and its many porches, with its adjoining orchards and gardens, gave evidence of thrift and comfort of its occupants. For his children he provided means for their advancement and education in the best schools and colleges of the state and supplied finances for his son's missions to foreign countries.

In 1894 he was called to the office of Patriarch and under his hands many have received a blessing. The closing years of his life were spent in the Temple in work he most loved. On the 9th of April, 1897, without illness or pain, he passed to the great beyond survived by his two devoted wives, ten children, and thirteen grandchildren who ever revere his memory.