Who Was David Porterfield, Sr.?


Who Were His Parents?
Where Did They Come From?

Written by Diane Carrington Bradford
4th great granddaughter of David Porterfield, Sr.
of Madison County, Georgia, and
Webmaster of Leaves From Our Tree

This article was researched and documented in accordance
with the elements of the "Genealogical Proof Standard" [GPS]
developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.


So, who was David Porterfield, Sr.? Research completed in early 2001 by 4th great granddaughter Diane Carrington Bradford of Georgia, with the able and generous assistance of a Maxwell descendant from Utah*, uncovered evidence that David Porterfield, Sr., was the brother of John Maxwell as documented by the will of John Maxwell probated September 5, 1809 in Wilkes County, Georgia. That will reads in part, "…bequeath to my brother David Porterfield Fifty dollars…." The balance of his estate John left to three of his other brothers, Robert, Thomas and Francis Maxwell, who also had settled in Wilkes County, Georgia before 1800. (Source: Wilkes County Record of Wills 1810-1816, p 25 [LDS Library Film #163,529])

Maxwell, one might reasonably ask? Did this will refer to OUR David Porterfield, Sr.? Yes, it did. All records extant for Wilkes, Elbert and Madison Counties from 1787 until the 1820 Census listed only one David Porterfield living in and owning lands in the Wilkes/Elbert/Madison area. The 1820 Madison County Census included David Porterfield, Jr., for the first time.

Okay, so who was John Maxwell and what reason did he have to call David Porterfield his brother? It’s a long story so please be patient.

John Maxwell was one of the seven children of Robert and Catherine Maxwell of Drumore Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Robert Maxwell died in Lancaster County August 6, 1752 at age 39, leaving Catherine Maxwell a widow with seven minor children. Robert Maxwell left a will in which he named his wife and his oldest son, James Maxwell, to whom he left the family farm and the bulk of his estate, and mentioned that he had seven children. A record dated March 7, 1755 from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Orphans Court reads,

"Samuel Boys [sic - Boyd], Robert McElhenney and William Montgomery are appointed guardians over the estates of James, Samuel, Robert, Margaret, John, Thomas and Francis Maxwell, orphan and minor children of Robert Maxwell deceased during their minority." (Source: Miscellaneous Books for 1742-1760 Part 3, p 34 [LDS Library Film #21,370])

Between 1752 and 1761, the widow Catherine Maxwell married a JAMES PORTERFIELD in Drumore Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. No official documentation of their wedding was ever found, so one must rely on other available evidence. One might speculate that James and Catherine did not marry until late 1754 or early 1755. Otherwise the court would not have waited nearly three years after Robert Maxwell’s death to appoint guardians over the estates of his seven minor orphan children. The court record did not state who instigated the guardianship appointment in March of 1755, but Robert Maxwell’s lawyer or relatives might have done it to protect the estate he left to his wife and minor children from an outsider, said outsider being Katherine’s new husband, James Porterfield.

The marriage between Catherine Maxwell and James Porterfield was documented in two other Orphans Court actions pertaining to the final settlement of Robert Maxwell’s estate once his oldest son, James Maxwell, reached his majority in 1761. The first action on March 3, 1761 reads in part,

"On Motion of Mr. Mather in behalf of James Porterfield and Catherine his wife, late Catherine Maxwell Widow and Relict of Robt Maxwell deceased to have persons appointed to Value and appraise the Real Estate plantation or tract of land of the said deceased whereof he died possessed and Jas. Maxwell his son, is now possessed that distribution may be made according to the Will of the deced…." (Source: Miscellaneous Books for 1760-1763, p 23 [LDS Library Film #21,370])

The second action dated June 2, 1761, restated the motion on behalf of James Porterfield and Catherine his wife, recorded the report from the men appointed to appraise the tract of land and directed the eldest son, James Maxwell, to pay James Porterfield two pounds for certain expenses, to pay one shilling and six pence in court expenses, to divide the remainder of the appraised value into eight equal parts and to "…pay the said divisions to Jas. Porterfield and the several children or their guardians in one year without interest, giving security if required." (Source: Miscellaneous Books for 1760-1763, p 29 [LDS Library Film #21,370])

Another action dated June 2, 1761 reads, "James Porterfield is appointed Guardian over the Person and Estate of Francis Maxwell Minor son of Robert Maxwell deceased during his minority." (Source: Miscellaneous Books for 1760-1763, p 37 [LDS Library Film #21,370])

James and Catherine Porterfield and the seven Maxwell children continued to live on the Maxwell farm until after 1763. One might reasonably assume that James Porterfield managed and worked the Maxwell farm while the children were minors. That assumption is supported by the 1759 Tax List for Drumore Township, which listed for the first time "James Maxwell (with land, 4 horses, 3 cows and 9 sheep)" and "James Porterfield at James Maxwell (with no land, 1 horse and 2 sheep)." (Source: 1759 Tax List, Drumore Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, p 3-4)

The 1763 Drumore Township Tax List included among the married men and land owners James Maxwell (this entry was later scratched through) and James Porterfield, as well as Samuel Maxwell and a David Porterfield (more about him later) among the "Freemen," i.e., single men without land. (Source: 1763 Tax List, Drumore Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, p 2-4) Surviving tax lists after 1763 do not list any of the Maxwell brothers or James Porterfield.

However, the 1768 List of Taxables in Rowan County, North Carolina (Haw River area, Thomas Donnell, Justice, now Guilford County) listed James Porterfield, Samuel Maxwell, and Francis Maxwell. (Source: Linn, Jo White. Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions – Rowan County, North Carolina, 1763-1774, Vol. II. 1979, p 82-83) [Note: The entire 1768 List of Taxables was reprinted in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal (NCGSJ), Vol 9, Nov 1983.]

In addition, Thomas Maxwell received State grants in 1779 and 1787 in Guilford County for land adjacent to Samuel Maxwell. (Source: Guilford County, North Carolina Deed Book 2, p 85; Book 4, p 397-98) Thomas sold the land in 1790 to James Doak, who sold it in 1793 to Samuel Maxwell. (Source: Ibid; Book 5, p 230-31 and p 436-37) These various records document this family’s migration from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and their tendency to live and work in close proximity wherever they happened to settle.

Francis was the youngest of the seven Maxwell children. If he was a baby in 1752 when his father died, he would have been 16 in 1768—old enough to be included on tax lists for the first time. By the same token, Catherine Maxwell was still of child-bearing age when she was widowed. Therefore, she and James Porterfield most probably produced children together, one of whom could have been our David Porterfield, Sr.

To support that supposition one must consider David Porterfield, Sr.’s possible birth date, another vital statistic for which no official records existed in Lancaster County. We do know that David Porterfield, Sr., and his wife were enumerated in the 1830 Madison County, Georgia Census as 1 M 70-80 and 1 F 60-70. That meant David was born between 1750 and 1760 and Sarah Nunn was born between 1760 and 1770. That also meant Sarah married at age 8-18 and David Porterfield at age 18-28 in Guilford Co., North Carolina in 1778.

Most likely, however, Sarah would have been 15-18 when she married, meaning she was born 1760 to 1763, and David was most likely 17-22, meaning he was born 1755-1760, a birth date range that tallied very well with the estimated marriage date for Catherine Maxwell and James Porterfield. Consideration of the ages and dates, along with the evidence presented in the will of John Maxwell, must lead one to conclude that David Porterfield, Sr., was the son of James Porterfield of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Land records proved that David Porterfield, Sr., first appeared in Wilkes County in 1787. Therefore, David probably moved his family to Wilkes County in 1786 or early in 1787. Previously mentioned records demonstrated that the blended Porterfield-Maxwell family was a close family unit that lived, worked and moved together. Therefore, James and Catherine Porterfield and the four Maxwell sons might have moved to Georgia along with David and Sarah (Nunn) Porterfield, or shortly thereafter. Records showed that they definitely were all in Wilkes County before 1800. John Maxwell died there in 1809 unmarried and childless, and Thomas Maxwell died there about 1817.

John Maxwell personally wrote his will on August 25, 1807, and it was probated September 5, 1809. It reads:

In the name of God, Amen. Being of perfect mind, health and memory, calling to mind the mortality of the body that it is appointed one for all men to die, I constitute and ordain this my last will and testament. First and foremost I give my soul to God who gave it me and my body to be buried in a Christian like manner thereafter all my just debts and burial expenses paid. I give and bequeath to my Brother Robert Maxwell five hundred d [sic], give and bequeath to my Brother Francis Maxwell five dollars. I give and bequeath to my Brother David Porterfield [emphasis added] fifty dollars, the above mentioned sums to be paid out of my Estate by my Executor. I give and bequeath to my Brother Thomas Maxwell three hundred and fifty acres of land lying in Lincoln County on the waters of Fishing Creek joining Currys land, likewise all my other Estate both real and personal, likewise I appoint my Brother Thomas Maxwell my whole and sole Executor. This I acknowledge to be my last will and testament as witness my hand and seal this twenty-fifth day of August, one thousand eight hundred and seven.

Signed: John Maxwell Esq

Witness: Harris Colman
Mathew Phillips
Frankey Colman

John Maxwell took particular care to designate each of his beneficiaries as his "Brother." He obviously wanted it clearly understood that he considered David Porterfield to be as much his brother as either Robert, Thomas or Francis Maxwell. That very specificity provided very strong evidence that David was also the son of Catherine (Maxwell) Porterfield and was the younger HALF-BROTHER of John Maxwell and his six siblings. It also strongly suggested that had David Porterfield been James’ son from a previous marriage, John would have referred to David as my step-brother rather than my brother.

In summary, the wording of John Maxwell’s will provided clear documentation that James and Catherine (Maxwell) Porterfield were the parents of David Porterfield, Sr., who was most probably born in 1755 or 1756 on the Maxwell farm in Drumore Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and may have been their only child together, or at least the only male child who survived to adulthood. That conclusion was further supported by the fact that John Maxwell named no other Porterfield siblings in his will. Had there been any other children of James and Catherine Porterfield alive when John wrote his will, the male children and any unmarried female children would most likely have moved to Wilkes County with the rest of the family in the 1780s or 1790s. Since John named in his will all of his siblings known to have moved to Wilkes County with him but did not name his brothers James and Samuel Maxwell, who stayed in Pennsylvania and North Carolina respectively, or his sister Margaret about whom no records exist after she reached the age of 14, one must assume he would have named other Porterfield siblings in addition to David had there been any living close by. Also, since John did not mention either his mother or James Porterfield in his will, one might reasonably speculate that both were already deceased by the time John wrote his will in 1807.

With the mystery of David Porterfield, Sr.’s parentage resolved, researchers must now turn to the question: Who was James Porterfield? to "Who Were His Grandparents...?"

* Acknowledgment: This writer sincerely thanks Mr. Donald R. Simpson of Utah for his generous sharing with me of Maxwell family data and records during my research efforts. Mr. Simpson is a descendant of Samuel Maxwell (brother of John Maxwell and David Porterfield, Sr.), who in 1768 settled in the area of Rowan County, North Carolina that is today Guilford County, married there in 1769 and died there in 1799.


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