Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Peter B. Porter’s Home Sweet Home

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Residence of General Peter B. Porter, overlooking the Niagara River, near Ferry Street (Black Rock). Built 1816. Many years residence of Hon. Lewis F. Allen, and for a short time of his nephew, Grover Cleveland. Torn down in 1911. Source: Hill, Henry Wayland, Municipality of Buffalo New York A History 1720-1923, Volume I, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1923, p. 100a

Peter Buell Porter woke up early that morning. Yesterday, despite all its pomp and circumstance, was just a prelude to today. For it was on this day, Sunday, June 5th, 1825, the General would host the General. General Porter would soon entertain General Lafayette for breakfast at his Black Rock house.

For nearly a quarter of a century, Peter Porter had lived in the Greater Western New York Region. During the last fifteen years, he had fought—both literally and figuratively—for his beloved home of Black Rock.

Born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1773, Peter B. Porter graduated from Yale College before studying law in his hometown with Judge Reeves (who, incidentally, was the brother-in-law of Aaron Burr)2. He couldn’t, however, resist the lure of “the far famed ‘Genesee Country’ — of its fertile soil, its genial climate, of its beautiful lakes and rivers.” In 1793, he and a friend first visited Western New York.3

To give you a flavor of what it was like for a pioneer exploring America’s first frontier in the late eighteenth century, here is how Porter himself described it:

“We entered the interminable forests of the west, at the German Flatts, on the Mohawk, which was then the extreme verge of civilized improvements, and plodded our weary way, day after day, to the Genesee river. The only evidences of civilization, at that time, consisted of some half a dozen log huts at Utica, as many more at this place, and the same again at Canandaigua. Beside these, there were a few miserable cabins, sprinkled along the road, at a distance of five to fifteen miles apart, where the traveler might look, not as now, for comfort or for rest, but for the sheer necessaries for continuing his journey.”4

In 1795, Peter Porter settled in Canandaigua, New York, joining his older brother Augustus. Two years later, he was appointed Ontario County Clerk. He made Augustus his deputy a year later. In 1802, he served in the New York Assembly representing the counties of Ontario and Steuben.5 In this, he was following in the footsteps of his father Joshua Porter, who served in the Connecticut Assembly.6

Those weren’t the only shoes he shared with his dad. Peter served as a general in the War of 1812. Joshua commanded a regiment during the Revolutionary War and witnessed the surrender of Burgoyne on October 16, 1777.7 This victory helped convince the French to come to the aid of the American Patriots. Among those to come to help: the Marquis de Lafayette.8

The father may have never met the French General, but the son just had dinner with him last night. And now, he was preparing to have breakfast with Lafayette in his finally decorated home.

Ah, yes, about that home.

While his brother Augustus took responsibility for the upper Niagara River close to the falls, Peter settled on the Lake Erie end in Black Rock. There, he built a home on the cliffs overlooking the river. That was a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it offered a spectacular vista of not only the river, but of nearby Canada, only a stone’s throw away. On the other hand, Black Rock was well within range of the British field artillery used during the War of 1812.9

Chairing the Committee of the House on Foreign Relations, Congressman Peter B. Porter introduced resolutions couched in “great ability, firm and energetic in its tone, yet temperate and judicious” to deal with the rising British aggressions. Congress adopted the resolutions on December 19, 1811, and Porter immediately resigned his seat.10

After declining a Brigadier’s commission from the U.S. Army, Porter opted instead to serve as Quartermaster-General in the New York State militia.11 In command of a body of New York militia following the Battle of Queenston Heights, Porter used his home as headquarters. In October 1812, the British attacked Black Rock, its cannons hitting Porter’s home. A 25-pounder dropped through his roof while he was eating dinner. The British stopped firing when they hit their intended target, the east barracks, exploding the magazine within it.12

Porter apparently didn’t learn his lesson, or, more likely, remained defiant of the British. He was sleeping in his house when the British attacked again in July 1813. This time they came ashore and seized the building, gathering there for breakfast. The general barely escaped capture. When he returned with troops, he recaptured his homestead, severely injuring the British second in command. Porter brought the soldier to his home until he had recovered.13

Before the end of the year, however, Porter’s house would meet its end. When the British marched down the Niagara River burning almost all in their path, Peter’s home would not survive. But not because the Tories burned it. No. They blew it up.14 Apparently, they wanted to make a statement.

Following this fiery conflagration, the Committee of Safety and Relief at Canandaigua also wanted to make a statement. And they did. They wrote to the citizens of New York in an openly published letter, “Niagara county, and that part of Genesee which lies west of Batavia, are completely depopulated. All the settlements in a section of country forty miles square, and which contained more than twelve thousand souls, are effectively broken up.”15

Once the war was over, Porter returned to Black Rock. He built a new home in 1816 on its original foundation.16 A few years later, he married Letitia Grayson. Widowed since 1811, she was the daughter of John Breckinridge, of Kentucky, formerly the Attorney General of the United States, under President Jefferson. She brought her southern charm to Western New York and immediately impressed. She was described as “her amiable temper, her buoyant spirits, her varied information, her playful wit, and her unaffected, ingenuous and fascinating manners, never failed to win the love and admiration of all, and render her the centre of attraction, and the life-spring of the circles in which she moved.”17

On the morning of Sunday, June 5, 1825, General Lafayette would get his chance to experience Mrs. Porter’s magic in her own home.

But that’s not all the French visitors would experience. Despite all he had done to encourage the creation of it, Peter B. Porter lost the battle with Buffalo to make Black Rock the western terminus of the Erie Canal. Yet, it would be he, along with acting Canal Commissioner William C. Bouck, who would first introduce Lafayette to the portion of the new waterway that had just opened.

Next Week: Breakfast At Black Rock Then On To Tonawanda

1 Turner, Orsamus, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York, Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1849, p. 612
2 Robinson, Charles Mulford, “The Life of Judge Augustus Porter,” Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society Vol VII, Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo, 1904, p. 242
3 Turner, p. 612
4 Ibid.
5 Robinson, p. 242
6 Cozzens, Frederic S., Colonel Peter A Porter – A Memorial, D. Van Norstrand, New York, delivered before The Century December 1864, p. 9
7 Ibid., p. 10
8 retrieved May 25  [retrieved May 25, 2024]
9 [retrieved May 26, 2024]
10 Cozzens, p. 13-14
11 Ibid., p. 14
12 Lossing, Benson J., The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1868, p. 426
13 Ibid., p. 627
14 The Long Island Star, Wednesday, January 26, 1814, p.3
15 Ibid.
16 The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, [Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume Sixteen], Frank Severeace, ed., Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo, NY 1912. p. 259
17 “Communicated for the Star,” The Long Island Star, Wednesday, August 10, 1831, p.3


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