Herschel S. Porter

1816 - 1855

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


The funeral rites in honor of the late HERSCHEL S. PORTER, D.D., were performed on Sunday last. REV. S. G. BURNEY, D.D., of Oxford, Miss., preached the funeral discourse in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, to a large and interested audience, in which were conspicuous the mourning badges of the Masonic Fraternity and the Sons of Temperance. The Faculty of the Medical College were also in attendance. The sermon was solemn, instructive and replete with the eloquence of truth. After the services at the church the members of Angerona Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and many visiting brethren, proceeded to Elmwood Cemetery, where repose the mortal remains of the deceased, and performed the ancient funeral rites of their order, which were very solemn and impressive. JAMES PENN, Esq., Master of the Lodge, delivered a chaste and instructive discourse upon the occasion.--[Memphis Appeal.]

[Source: The Banner of Peace and Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate [Nashville, Tennessee], December 15, 1855, page 2]

The Late Rev. H. S. Porter D.D.

Report of the Committee appointed by the Session of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, Memphis, Tennessee, expressive of the feelings of the Congregation in their loss by the death of their Pastor, Rev. Dr. H. S. Porter.

TO THE SESSION OF THE C.P. CHURCH, MEMPHIS, TENN.: Your Committee, appointed to draft resolutions appropriate to the occasion of the Church's bereavement in the death of our Pastor, beg leave to offer the following


WHEREAS, An all-wise and over-ruling Providence hath by his inscrutable dispensation, visited this congregation, and removed therefrom, by death, on the 5th of October, 1855, its amiable and beloved Pastor and Shepherd, it becomes us to recognize, in this sad and afflicting bereavement, that Being "who rules in the armies of Heaven above and upon the earth beneath," and at the same time to offer our feeble tribute of respect to the memory, and our grateful testimony of the worth and merit, of our lamented but beloved and faithful Pastor, DR. H. S. PORTER. The many excellent Christian virtues that always characterized, both in social and ecclesiastical intercourse, our departed friend and Pastor, had endeared him no only to the flock to whom he "broke the bread of life," but to the entire community in which he lived. For four years past his great talents, his assiduous labors and untiring efforts, together with the energies of his highly cultivated and gifted mind, in the faithful exposition of the Word of God, have been devoted to the interest and expended in the growth and progress of this Church and the cultivation of morality in this city. It pleased the great Head of the Church to permit him to "see the pleasure of the Lord prosper in his hands," and gather partially the fruit of his labor, by visiting his congregation with a gracious outpouring of His spirit, converting one hundred souls to the Savior, and adding seventy-five of this number to his own flock. At no period since the organization of our Church, has a king and merciful Parent more graciously exhibited tokens of favor and acceptance of the efforts and services of His ministry, than in this, the last and most gracious revival of His Word, through the preaching and instrumentality of His servant, H. S. PORTER.

The revival drawing to a close as if an angel's voice had whispered in his ear, "brother spirit come away," his last sermons admonished the old followers of Christ "to be examples to the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity;" while he encouraged the young soldiers of the cross, beseeching them to join him in the "journey into the place of which the Lord said, "I will give it you, come then and go along with us and we will do thee good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." From the sacred stand, where Heaven with its eternal joys had just been portrayed in such vivid language that the speaker seemed to speak from experience and actual enjoyment, he went to that couch upon which, four days after, his pure and bright spirit left its tenement of day to enter into that eternal reward and everlasting portion at God's right hand, so faithfully described in his last dying sermon. A jealous God in wrath seems to have remembered and mingled mercy in His dark dispensation, causing His people "to mourn by reason of affliction," yet making them rejoice in the assurance that "whom He loveth He chasteneth," and that "no good thing will He withhold from them that love and serve Him."

Whether in social or religious life, Dr. Porter embodied those qualities, virtues and graces which, while they enlivened and purified the one, adorned the other--rendering him pre-eminently the model of a christian gentleman and the pattern and standard of a faithful pastor--learning so extensive, with piety so conspicuous, talent so varied, with humility so Christ-like--the capacities of the mind, with the qualities of the heart, seldom meet and combine in one personage as they did in the truly great and good Dr. Porter. To do good was the chief ruling passion of his soul, the end and object of life, and in every act performed by him this overshadowed and enveloped the man,--controlling and directing alike the feelings of his heart and the energies of his mind. As evidence of our feelings, and in testimony of our respect for the memory of our lamented pastor, Rev. Dr. H. S. Porter. Be it therefore,

Resolved, That we are pained and overwhelmed with grief and sadness on account of the loss sustained in the death of Dr. Porter, and that in his death the Cumberland Presbyterian church has lost one of her best, ablest, most talented, pious and useful ministers--this congregation a faithful, zealous and devoted pastor--this community an ornament and most valued member--literature a true advocate, and science a liberal patron.

Resolved, That while we are deeply sensible of our almost irreparable loss sustained in the death of Dr. Porter, both as a pastor and shepherd,--a brother and friend, it becomes us not to murmur or repine at our afflictions; but bow in submission with becoming fortitude, and Christian resignation to that chastening rod, beneath which we are now resting.

Resolved, That in testimony of our respect to the worth, merit and memory of our deceased pastor, the Church edifice be kept in suitable mourning for the next six months; that a copy of these resolutions be entered, with the minutes of the session upon the book. That a copy be transmitted by the clerk of the session to the afflicted and bereaved surviving partner of our lamented pastor; and also to the papers of the church requesting the insertion of the same.

       J. M. PROVINE,
       J. M. TATE,
       E. McDAVITT,                 Com.
       J. S. PEARSON,
MEMPHIS, TENN., Nov. 11, 1855.
                     Memphis Appeal.

[Source: The Banner of Peace and Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate [Nashville, Tennessee], December 15, 1855, page 4]


The Moderator announced the reception of a communication from Mrs. Martha A. Porter, widow of the late H. S. Porter, D.D., of Memphis, Tenn., tendering the unfinished history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church which Dr. Porter had begun to write; also, all the papers that he had collected for said history, to this Assembly for their disposal. Said communication, together with accompanying documents, was, on motion of Rev. W. S. Langdon, referred to a committee of five to be appointed by the Moderator.

The Moderator appointed E. B. Crisman, S. Dennis, W. L. Caskey, R. Burrow, Jr., and Dr. R. Beard, said commitee.[page 12]

A communication was read from Mrs. Martha A. Porter, widow of the late H. S. Porter, D.D., tendering a deed of the copy-rights of certain works which Dr. Porter had published, to the General Assembly. In response to this tender the following resolutions were offered by Rev. L. C. Taylor, and unanimously passed by the Assembly:

Resolved, That this General Assembly cordially accept from Mrs. M. A. Porter the gift of the copy rights of various works written by her husband, the Rev. H. S. Porter, D.D.

Resolved, That we appreciate with sentiments of high regard the interest manifested by Mrs. Porter in the prosperity of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and we tender her our thanks for her liberal donations, praying that the blessings of heaven may abide with her.
[page 27]

The majority of the select committee appointed to receive the overtures of Mrs. M. A. Porter, made their report. Dr. Cossitt moved its adoption.

Rev. S. Dennis offered in lieu thereof, the report of the minority signed by S. Dennis and R. Burrow, Jr., and moved its adoption. The vote was taken on it as an amendment to the motion of Dr. Cossitt and it was lost.

The question recurred on the original motion of Dr. Cossitt for the adoption of the majority report, which was carried in the affirmative, and is as follows:

The majority of the Committee to whom were referred the manuscripts of the late H. S. Porter, D.D., and the materials of a Church History by him, beg leave to make the following report:

We recommend that the Assembly receive the manuscripts and documents and appoint a committee of three or more who shall take immediate charge of them and engage as early as possible, the services of some suitable person to carry forward a work so important to the interests of the church.


On motion, Rev. David Lowry, Rev. T. C. Anderson, D.D., and Rev. W. S. Langdon, were appointed a committee to carry out the provisions of the above report.
[page 30]
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1856]


HERSCHEL S. PORTER was the son of Rev. Thomas Porter and Nancy Porter. His mother's family name was Lawrence. His paternal grandfather was Captain William Porter. Captain Porter was a Revolutionary soldier, and carried to his grave a large scar upon his face, left by a wound received from a British sword in the war of the Revolution. The Porter family were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The family of Dr. Porter's mother were Baptists. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Lawrence, was a deacon in the Baptist Church. He was also a Revolutionary soldier.

Captain Porter moved from Prince Edward county, Virginia, about the year 1794, and settled in what is now Butler county, Kentucky. The maternal grandfather emigrated from the same county in Virginia, but it is not known to the writer at what time. He also settled in Butler county. Rev. Thomas Porter, the father of the subject of this sketch, was raised in Butler county, and spent his life in that portion of Kentucky. Herschel S. Porter was born in Butler county, February 12, 1816.

He commenced going to school when seven years of age. His first instructor was Daniel L. Morrison, a worthy Christian gentleman, and a good instructor. After a while his father moved to Logan county, and taught school himself for two years, and of course the son was one of his pupils. In this school he commenced the study of History and Geography. The custom of boys in those day, at least in that portion of Kentucky, was to labor on the farm in the summer, and attend school in the winter. Young Porter was under the necessity of conforming to this custom. He divided the year between books and the plow. A surviving brother says of him, that "from a child he was a sober, thoughtful, plodding boy, of unbending energy and great fixedness of purpose--so much so, that when he once set his mind upon the accomplishment of an object, he never turned back." He seems to have been chiefly fond of history. An anecdote is told illustrative of this. He and his brother were at work one day in the field. They had both been reading ancient history. The subject of one of Hannibal's great battles came up in conversation. They differed in opinion as to what the facts were according to the history. After discussing the subject for some time, they made a boyish bet, and went to the house to determine the question from the history itself. This incident is of little importance certainly, but it shows that the boy's reading was of a solid kind, and that he was in the habit of thinking of what he read.

Mr. Porter's first Sunday-school instructor was James Stevenson, a pious man, and an elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Mr. Stevenson had no Sunday-school library. His principal reliance in that way was the Bible. From this he was accustomed to select plain passages, and expound them as well as he could. One of Mr. Stevenson's favorite maxims was, that men should labor for knowledge as the miner digs for his golden treasure. This maxim seems to have made a life-long impression upon the mind of young Porter. After he had reached eminence in the ministry, he was still in the habit of recurring to it as a principle of which he first began to feel the force in a retired country Sunday-school.

After leaving his father's school, young Porter continued his education under several successive instructors. The principal of them was a Mr. Read, who taught an academy near Russellville. There he studied Latin and the ordinary branches of science. With Rev. Mr. McAllen, an Episcopal minister, and graduate of Dublin University, he studied Greek and Mathematics. His education, as far as instruction received from others was concerned, was finished under the care of John D. Tyler, who taught with great success a select high-school, in Montgomery county, Tennessee. He considered Mr. Read, however, as having contributed more toward his education than any other individual.

In the fall of 1832 young Porter professed religion at a camp-meeting at Rock Spring Meeting-house, a few miles from Russellville. He had been serious through the meeting, and on Monday evening was deeply engaged in prayer, with a crowd of others, who had been called together to the mourners' benches. It was a time of deep interest. The Spirit of God was poured out in great abundance. Says a friend, in relation to the occasion: "He rose from his knees with a smile upon his countenance, embraced his friends, and although a modest boy, commenced immediately exhorting sinners to turn to God. This was the brightest day in his history."

In April of 1833 Mr. Porter was received as a candidate for the ministry by the Logan Presbytery. In May of 1835 he was licensed to preach, and in September of 1837 was set apart to the whole work of the ministry, at Glasgow, Kentucky, Rev. Granville Mansfield preaching the ordination-sermon, and Rev. William Harris delivering the charge.

After his ordination he spent three or four years as an itinerant preacher in his own State, traveling through Logan, Warren, Barren, Simpson, Monroe, Cumberland, Butler, and Adair counties. He traveled some time in addition as an agent for Cumberland College. He then spent a year in Fayetteville, Tennessee, preaching to the congregation there. After the close of his term of service in Fayetteville, he made quite an extensive Southern tour, passing through most of the Southern States, and preaching with great acceptance wherever he went. He visited New Orleans, spent some time in Alabama, and returned to Kentucky in 1843. At the General Assembly of that year, which met at Owensboro, Kentucky, the writer of this sketch first became acquainted with him. We were not very remotely related, but had never met before.

From the General Assembly of 1843 he went, in company with Rev. A. M. Bryan, to Western Pennsylvania, and after spending a few months in that country, he was encouraged to undertake the enterprise of collecting a Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in the city of Philadelphia. He accordingly made his first visit to that city in the fall of 1843, and commenced his work. Dr. Bryan is said also to have cooperated with him in his first labors there. He remained in Philadelphia to the spring or summer of 1851. In 1850 he visited the General Assembly, which held its session that year in Clarksville, Tennessee, for the purpose of procuring some assistance in paying for a house of worship which had been erected by his congregation in Philadelphia. Leaving the Assembly, he spent some time in Tennessee and Kentucky, and received very liberal contributions in aid of his object. His labors in his new charge were abundant, and his success greater, perhaps, than could have been expected. He collected a respectable congregation around him, and, as already intimated, through his influence a house of worship was built.

While in Philadelphia he delivered two or three course of scientific lectures, connecting them with his ministerial labors. His object was to set forth the relation of religion to some of the most popular branches of science. His lectures are said to have excited considerable attention, and were highly complimented by the secular press at the time of their delivery.

In 1851 he left Philadelphia, and in the fall of that year settled in Memphis, Tennessee, in compliance with a call of the congregation there. He continued his labors in Memphis to the fall of 1855. On the 5th of October of that year he died, after an illness of but a few days. He had just passed through the labors of an extensive revival in his congregation, in which near a hundred persons had made profession of religion. The most of the labor of the meeting had been performed by himself. The disease which terminated in his death is supposed to have been induced by his excessive exertion, anxiety, and watchfulness, during a series of services kept up two or three weeks. It may be said with truth, and with emphasis, too, that he died at his post, and with his armor on. This last was the most extensive revival which he had ever enjoyed in the prgress of his ministry.

The following is the notice of his death contained in the Memphis Eagle and Enquirer of October 6, 1855:

"With feelings of unfeigned grief we record the death of Rev. Herschel S. Porter, pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of this city. He died at his residence on Court street, yesterday morning, at four o'clock, of bilious fever, superinduced and aggravated by his exertions in the recent most successful revival at his church. Truly it may be said that Dr. Porter died in the service of his Divine Master, with his harness on. He was about thirty-nine years of age, and a native of Butler county, Kentucky. His early opportunities for acquiring an education were limited, and he was emphatically a self-made man. Since attaining to his majority he has been a close student, and, notwithstanding his few advantages, he had received the honorary degree of D.D. from the Cumberland University, and that of A.M. from Princeton College, Kentucky. He was devoted to science, and was a proficient in the mind-expanding studies of astronomy and geology. His fame as a revivalist is coextensive with the Union. In early life he went to Philadelphia, where he was pastor of a congregation for five years. He has resided in Memphis four years, and has endeared himself to the whole community by his able preaching of the Gospel of Christ, his unaffected piety, and his rare social qualities. His only child, a daughter, died a few weeks ago. He leaves a stricken wife-married in this county-to mourn his early departure to that better land, where we all should strive to follow him, and to which he ever earnestly and eloquently, both by precept and example, pointed the way. When such a man dies, it is like the going out of a great beacon to whose guidance we have been accustomed, and whose place we feel will not easily be supplied."

At the time of Dr. Porter's death, in addition to his pastorate, he held a connection with the Memphis Medical College, as Professor of Natural History. The following is an extract from a record of the proceedings of the Faculty in relation to his death:

"Whereas, in the dispensation of an inscrutable Providence, our much-beloved friend and colleague, Dr. Herschel S. Porter, Professor of Natural History, etc., has been suddenly removed from us by death, we feel that it is due to his many excellent traits of character to give utterance to our sincere and unfeigned sorrow, not only on account of the loss to our Institution, but tot he community at large; therefore,

"Resolved, That by the death of Dr. Porter, the Faculty feel that they have lost a member, not only endeared to them by his gentlemanly bearing and Christian deportment, but also important to the Institution as a learned, able, and popular teacher of the natural sciences.

"Resolved, That in their opinion, so many excellent qualities are to be found combined in so high a degree in but few individuals as were exhibited in the character of Dr. Porter, as a learned, liberal, and zealous minister of the gospel; as a promoter of science and all useful knowledge; as an advocate of temperance, order, and morality, and as a member of the community, not only social, kind, and benevolent, but always ready to aid in any and every proper movement or enterprise for the good of his fellow-beings."

Although, as it will be perceived from this sketch, Dr. Porter did not enjoy the advantages of a collegiate education, properly so called, his education was considered equivalent, and accordingly he received the first degree in the arts from Cumberland College in 1841. In 1848 he received the second degree from the same Institution. In 1850 he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Faculty and Trustees of Cumberland University. He was a scholar in the most practical and interesting sense of the word. In 1853 he was Moderator of the General Assembly, and in 1854 was married to Miss Martha A. Persons, of Shelby county, Tennessee.

Dr. Porter published several works-a series of "Astronomical Sermons;" a work on the "Atonement," and a work upon the "Foreknowledge and Decrees" of God. The first is a duodecimo volume of some four hundred pages; the two others are smaller works. At the time of his death he was engaged in preparing a history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church-a work to the completion of which his friends were looking forward with deep interest.

A few words may be added presenting an outline of the character of Dr. Porter. I mention, then--

1. His energy and perseverance. I combine these as they were combined in him. A poor boy, with little aid from others, he became, by patience, assiduity, and perseverance, a learned man. I say a learned man. He studied the works as well as the word of God, and from his uncommon proficiency in these, he placed himself in an eminent position of usefulness and respectability in society. His eminence was not the award of mere denominational partiality; it was felt and acknowledged by all classes of cultivated minds. His Astronomical Sermons, although every statement in them may not be mathematically correct, and although some of his views may be regarded as rather speculative than otherwise, still indicate a familiarity with the great science upon which they are founded, which is attained by few. And it is true, too, that notwithstanding the Scriptures are not intended to teach us Astronomy and Geology--they have a higher aim--yet, there are both Astronomy and Geology in the Scriptures. The teachings of true science and the teachings of revelation never come in conflict with each other. They originate from the same Divine source. And that is a noble mind which earnestly, and in any degree successfully, endeavors to understand their connection.

2. His piety. Without doubt he filled up in a high degree the measure ascribed to Barnabas-he "was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." It would seem a matter of course that a Christian minister should be a good man. Observation proves, however, that such men are not always good men. But the subject of this sketch was a pious man. He loved and feared God from his youth. Greatly flattered during his ministry, he still lived the life of an humble follower of Christ. I mention an incident connected with Dr. Porter's childhood. It is related on the best living authority, that when he was baptized in his infancy, the officiating minister [Rev. Alexander Chapman]--one of the holiest of men--made it a subject of special prayer that the child might, at a proper time, be called of God to the ministry of the gospel. The manner of the prayer was so earnest; there was such an expression of faith and power in it, that the narrator, who was present, received an impression from it which remains vivid to this day. It may be remarked, too, that nothing like raving and frantic enthusiasm was connected with the occasion. It was an earnest prayer of an earnest man for an object which lay near his heart. Possibly, I say, possibly, we may see the foreshadowings of Dr. Porter's humble piety, and great eminence and usefulness in that consecrating prayer. Why may we not, if it is indeed true that God hears and answers prayer?

3. His devotion to the Church of his fathers and of his own early choice. Other young men who have acquired some eminence have left us. Their reasons are known to themselves. We have no quarrel with them. For myself, I follow some of them with feelings above those of mere kindness. The world is wide enough for us all. But the subject of this sketch, I suppose, never faltered for a moment in his fidelity to the Communion into which he was baptized, and which when a youth of sixteen he chose for his own immediate Christian brotherhood. I recollect to have heard him remark to the members of the Assembly, in 1850, at Clarksville, that although he had been upon the outposts of the Church for some years, he was willing to go still farther out, if necessity required, to take any station, to engage in any service, which the Church might assign. It is very evident that the single purpose of his life was the promotion, as far as he was able, of the great interests of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Still, he was no mere stringent sectarian. He loved his own Church, received its doctrines in good faith, conformed to its order, and labored for its advancement. Still, according to the testimony already given, he was always ready to unite with good and earnest men in any measure for the promotion of the happiness of his race.

4. His modesty and unobtrusiveness were conspicuous. Whilst his pulpit performances were always popular, and his attainments were obviously superior to those of many of his brethren, he never manifested a disposition to present claims to any preference. He had been sixteen years in the ministry before he was a member of the General Assembly; but on the first occasion upon which he was a member, he was elected the Moderator of that body. The dignity and urbanity with which he presided over the Assembly were subjects of remark. He was again a member of the General Assembly in 1855--the last Assembly which met before his death. On that occasion he was appointed to deliver a sermon in reference to the death of two of the fathers of the Church, which had recently occurred. [Rev. Thomas Calhoon and Rev. James B. Porter] The sermon was appropriate and impressive. On the same occasion he delivered, by request, a sermon to the young men of Cumberland University. Still, no claims to preeminence were presented.

5. Dr. Porter was, in the most expressive sense of the phrase, a Christian gentleman. His general bearing, his conversation, his whole intercourse with society, indicated his intellectual, social, and moral culture. There was nothing low, coarse, or vulgar in his conversation or deportment. His character, both public and private, was such as one loves to contemplate. His example was a beautiful model. The memory of such men is to be cherished. They are God's noblest gifts to the Church-she should not be unmindful of their value.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1867, pages 307-319]


Porter, H. S. Astronomical Sermons, in Two Parts. Louisville: Hull and Brother, 1854. [2 copies in archives]

Porter, H. S. Astronomical Sermons, in Two Parts. Louisville: J. Anderson, 1855. [1 copy in archives]

Porter, H. S. Atonement: A Doctrinal Tract. Louisville: Hull & Brother, Printers, 1855. [1 copy in archives]

Porter, H. S. Foreknowledge and Decrees, in Two Parts. Louisville: Morton & Griswold, Printers, 1842. [2 copies in archives]

Porter, H. S. Foreknowledge and Decrees, in Two Parts. Second Edition, Revised and Corrected. Louisville: Morton & Griswold, Printers, 1853. [1 copy in archives]

Porter, H. S. "Sermon XII. The Resurrection of Christ." Chap. in A Collection of Original Sermons, Contributed by Ministers of Different Denominations, To Raise Means for the Erection of a Protestant Female College, in Greensburg, Kentucky. Louisville: Morton & Griswold, 1851.

Porter Family Information

Updated March 5, 2009

Please Send Additions/Corrections to the Archivist