Peter Buell Porter

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Peter Buell Porter
Peter Buell Porter.jpg
11th Secretary of State of New York
In office
February 16, 1815 – February 12, 1816
Governor Daniel D. Tompkins
Preceded by Jacob R. Van Rensselaer
Succeeded by Robert L. Tillotson
12th United States Secretary of War
In office
May 23, 1828 – March 9, 1829
President John Quincy Adams
Preceded by James Barbour
Succeeded by John Henry Eaton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 15th district
In office
March 4, 1809 – March 3, 1813
Preceded by William Kirkpatrick
Succeeded by John M. Bowers
Joel Thompson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1815 – January 23, 1816
Preceded by Samuel M. Hopkins,
Nathaniel W. Howell
Succeeded by Archibald S. Clarke,
Micah Brooks
Personal details
Born (1773-08-14)August 14, 1773
Salisbury, Connecticut
Died March 20, 1844(1844-03-20) (aged 70)
Niagara Falls, New York
Political party Democratic-Republican, Whig
Spouse(s) Letitia Breckinridge Porter
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
 New York
Service/branch New York New York State Militia
Years of service 1812-1815
Rank Major General
Battles/wars War of 1812

Peter Buell Porter (August 14, 1773 – March 20, 1844) was an American lawyer, soldier and politician who served as United States Secretary of War from 1828 to 1829.


He graduated from Yale College in 1791, studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut, was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice in Canandaigua, New York in 1793. He was Clerk of Ontario County from 1797 to 1804, and was a member of the New York State Assembly (Ontario and Steuben Co.) in 1802.

In the fall of 1809, Porter moved to Black Rock, New York and was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the 11th and 12th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1809, to March 3, 1813. During his service in Congress, he was a leading figure among Congressional "war hawks" and Chairman of the Committee that recommended preparation for war with Great Britain. At the same time, from 1810 to 1816, he was a member of the Erie Canal Commission, a commission on inland navigation established in 1810 by the New York State Legislature to survey a canal route from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes.

During the War of 1812, Porter was initially quartermaster general of the New York State Militia from May to October 1812. He participated in and criticized General Alexander Smyth’s abortive operations against British Canada in 1812, culminating in a bloodless duel between the two. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating "Unfortunately, both missed."[1] He later raised and commanded a brigade of New York militia that incorporated a Six Nations Indian contingent and led his command with distinction. For his actions, he was presented a gold medal under joint resolution of Congress dated November 3, 1814 "for gallantry and good conduct" during the Battle of Chippewa, the Battle of Niagara, and the Battle of Erie.

Porter was Secretary of State of New York from February 1815 to February 1816. He was also elected to the 14th United States Congress. Although his term in Congress began on March 4, 1815, the actual Session began only in December, and he took his seat on December 11, 1815. On January 23, 1816, he resigned, having been appointed a Commissioner under the Treaty of Ghent, which caused a controversy as to the constitutionality of sitting in Congress and holding this commissionership at the same time.[2]

In 1817, his political friends of Tammany Hall printed ballots with his name and distributed them among their followers to vote for Porter for Governor of New York at the special election which was held after the resignation of Governor Daniel D. Tompkins. DeWitt Clinton, the otherwise unopposed candidate, was fiercely hated by the Tammany organization, and Porter received about 1,300 votes although he was not really running for the office. Porter became a regent of the University of the State of New York in 1824, and served in that capacity until 1830.

He was again a member of the State Assembly (Erie Co.) in 1828, but vacated his seat when he was appointed to the Cabinet. From May 16, 1828, to March 9, 1829, Porter served as U.S. Secretary of War under President John Quincy Adams, and was an advocate for the removal of Eastern Indians beyond the Mississippi. He moved to Niagara Falls in 1836 and was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1840. He died at Niagara Falls in 1844, and was interred in Oakwood Cemetery. Fort Porter and Porter Avenue at Buffalo were named in his honor.

Porter married Letitia Breckinridge of the prominent Breckinridge family in 1818 and their son, Colonel Peter A. Porter, became a Civil War hero who bravely died in the bloody Battle of Cold Harbor. He was also the grandfather of Peter Augustus Porter and uncle of Augustus Seymour Porter and Peter B. Porter, Jr.

Porter's letters and papers survive in the library collections of the Buffalo History Museum.[3] General Porter is buried in Oakwood Cemetery (Niagara Falls, New York) along with brother Augustus.


A paddle-steamer named the General Porter was launched in 1834.[4]

Porter Road in Niagara Falls, New York, Porter Avenue in Buffalo, New York and Porter Township in Niagara County are named for Porter.[5]

In 1834 a paddle steamer named the General Porter was launched, on Lake Erie.[4] She sailed out of Buffalo, New York, until 1838, when she was sold to the Royal Navy, which renamed her the HMS Toronto. The Royal Navy employed her patrolling Lake Erie, the St Clair River, and the upper Niagara River.


  1. Elting, John R. (1991). Amateurs, to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. p. 51. ISBN 0-306-80653-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Google Book: Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 page 585
  3. "Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Peter B. Porter Papers" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "GENERAL PORTER; 1834; Steamer; AMERICAN". Great Lakes Maritime Database. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Kirkpatrick
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 15th congressional district

Succeeded by
John M. Bowers,
Joel Thompson
Preceded by
Samuel M. Hopkins,
Nathaniel W. Howell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st congressional district

with Micah Brooks
Succeeded by
Archibald S. Clarke,
Micah Brooks
Political offices
Preceded by
Jacob R. Van Rensselaer
Secretary of State of New York
Succeeded by
Robert L. Tillotson
Preceded by
James Barbour
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: John Quincy Adams

Succeeded by
John Henry Eaton