Before Missouri had achieved statehood, Beverly Porter was born a slave in Culpepper County, Virginia. Although it is unclear how (or when) Beverly was moved to Lincoln County, MO, it is likely that he was moved here by his owners, the Porters, sometime before 1850. (1) Although Beverly’s military record claims John D. Porter as his owner, he originally belonged to John’s mother, Polly. (2) By 1860, Dr. Porter owned five slaves. (3) Although the ages do not match Beverly’s, one of the unnamed men in the Federal Slave Schedule was Beverly Porter. (4)
On May 22, 1863, The War Department issued General Order 143, which created the United States Colored Troops. African Americans throughout the United States heard the call and made their ways to the nearest recruitment offices. One such office was established in Troy, MO. Before the war was over, more than 350 African Americans from Lincoln and surrounding counties agreed to put their lives and their family’s safety on the line to fight for the Union. Statewide, that number was in the thousands. Among those volunteers was Beverly Porter, a 5’ 7”, hazel-eyed, copper-skinned, 44-year-old slave. (5)
Beverly Porter signed up to serve his nation on 11/23/1863. (6) After an initial enlistment in the 1st Missouri Colored Infantry, in January 1864, the regiment was rebranded as the 62nd United States Colored Infantry. Specific records could not be located regarding Beverly’s participation in military engagements, however, several portions of the 62nd fought in one of the last battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Palmito Ranch, TX. Since Beverly eventually mustered out on February 19, 1866, as a Corporal at Ft. McIntosh, TX, it is possible that he took an active role in the last battle of the Civil War.
The 62nd USCT may not have altered the shape of the war, but they did have a lasting impact in Missouri. According to General Order No. 31 (July 3rd, 1864), “non-commissioned officers of this command who shall fail to learn to read by or before the 1st day of January 1865 will be reduced to the ranks and their places filled by persons who can read. “ As this order suggests, the members of the 62nd understood the importance of education, but they also knew that a formal education was not likely when they returned to Missouri. As such, they started collecting money to create an institution of higher education for African Americans. The 62nd USCT was able to raise roughly $5,000. Combined with the money donated by the 65th USCT, the seed money climbed to nearly $7,000. (7) The money was used to help provide the seed money for Lincoln Institute, a traditionally all-black institute in Jefferson City, MO.
According to the 1900 Census, Beverly Porter was married in 1859-1860. (8) Following the war, he made his way back to his wife, Julia, and settled in Louisiana, MO. Census records suggest that Beverly had taken advantage of the 62nd’s devotion to education. Under the heading “cannot read” and “cannot write” are noticeably absent checkmarks for Beverly. Living in Pike County, which was the 7th largest slave-holding county in Missouri, Beverly ended up as a laborer until he was physically unable to perform the work. (9)
By 1900, Beverly’s health was failing. The Census listed Beverly as an “invalid.” A few years later, Beverly was admitted to the United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Danville, IL, which listed his condition as “paralyzed.” (10) After a tough life, Beverly Porter succumbed to “old age” on September 6th, 1903. Since his family did not have much money, they opted for a government burial. Instead of locating a local cemetery for veterans, the U.S. government shipped his body to Washington, D.C., where he was buried at a "House for Insane.” (11)
Like many former slaves, Beverly Porter’s life before the Civil War was marked by anonymity. Only his age, gender, and race were listed so the Porters could pay appropriate taxes on their property. Beverly placed his life on the line to defend a country that had not defended him. Instead of burying him at a nearby government cemetery, Beverly’s contributions were recognized by moving his body away from his wife, halfway across the country, only to be buried at a “House for Insane.” Although the country made a lot of moves in positive directions during Beverly’s lifetime, his burial symbolized the need for more changes.
1. The 1850 Census has John D. Porter living with his mother in Troy, MO in 1850.
2. The 1850 Slave Schedule did not list John as a slaveholder, but it did show that Polly M. Porter owned 16 slaves in Troy, MO. Two of the slaves closely match the ages of Beverly. John D. Porter’s Slave Claim Certificate acknowledged that he received Beverly in 1855 from his mother’s estate.
3. 1860 Federal Slave Schedule
4. According to the Slave Claim Certificate in Beverly Porter’s military file, John D. Porter received Beverly from the split estate of William and Polly M. Porter (deceased) on February 27, 1855.
5. US Provost Marshal Records, Missouri Secretary of State, Roll F1897.8, Frame 171.
6. It is not known if Beverly Porter joined voluntarily or was pushed into service. U.S. Army. General Order 329 was issued a month earlier. In an effort to fill the ranks of the USCT as well as provide manumission in border states, it offered slave owners who signed a loyalty pledge up to $300 as long as they could prove their claim to the slave and promise manumission once his service was complete. The Slave Claim Certificate that was filed suggests Dr. John D. Porter was compensated to some degree, but I was unable to locate an exact amount.
8. The 1900 Census claims he had been married 41 years. An Ancestry.com search returned a marriage license from Pike County between Beverly Porter and Julia Douglas on Sept 29, 1868. It is possible that they were married prior to this. Many slave marriages were not recognized until after the war. That does not mean, however, that Beverly and Julia would ignore the 10 previous years.
9. This information is collected from a series of Census records.
10. "United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZ3M-C56 : 12 March 2018), Beverly P Porter, 1903; citing p. 5284, Danville, Illinois, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1749 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 86; FHL microfilm 1,548,687.
11. "District of Columbia Deaths and Burials, 1840-1964," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F7Y5-WQH : 9 March 2018), Beverly P. Porter, 06 Sep 1903; citing District Of Columbia, reference 150650; FHL microfilm 2,115,157.