Lottie Porter: A strong woman of color, who despite hardships, persevered
Fortune teller. The Spokane Press, Nov. 12, 1910, newspapers.com.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In 1901, there stood a small, square frame house on the South Side of Market Street, nearby to Hannibal’s old West School. Within the confines of this dwelling lived the mother of 11 children (six of whom were still living) who typically earned her meagre income in the domestic trades, cleaning and washing for the white women of Hannibal.
This particular woman of color, Lottie Porter, professed to have a special calling, and in Hannibal’s 1901 city directory, listed herself as such. She was a fortune teller.
To be differentiated from the suspect fortune tellers associated with traveling gypsy troupes which roamed the country’s mid-section at the time, Lottie Porter was someone well known and respected in the community in which she lived.
Her residency in Hannibal dated back at least to the 1880 census, when she lived with her husband, Leonard Porter, and two young children, Mollie Porter, age 5, and John Porter, age 3.
Born circa 1857, according to this census, and most likely into slavery, she was married to Leonard Porter, born about 1856.
In 1875 Leonard Porter was a drayman, residency on the south side of Hope Street, west of Griffith. Two years later, still working as a drayman, he lived on the east side of Parson, north of the MK&T Railroad yards. In 1881, Leonard was working as a laborer for the BSL Co., and residing two doors west of Hayden Street.
As is true of many people of color during this era, written data, typically compiled by white men, is scarce; members of the race relying instead upon oral history to preserve data. But as generations die, their stories fade.
By carefully identifying and subsequently piecing together available resources, the story emerges of a strong woman of color who bore many hardships in her life, but who persevered.
Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain wrote about the art of fortune telling.
“The mind exercises a powerful influence over the body. From the beginning of time, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist have made use of the client’s imagination to help them in their work. They have all recognized the potency and availability of that force.” 1907 Christian Science, www.marktwainquotes.com
A city directory posting suggests that Leonard Porter passed prior to 1897, leaving Lottie a widow. * That same year she was living at 216 Heuston, near the West School.
The 1900 census finds her living at 225 Walnut Street. She would have been but 43 years old.
And then, as previously mentioned, in 1901 she was living at 225 Market Street, near the old West School.
The house where she lived in 1901, when she identified as a fortune teller, numbered at the time 225 Market, which was within the neighborhood described in last week’s story: The same block, and to the east, of where Julius DeLaPorte, a white businessman, operated a tin shop, second hand store and a shoe repair shop.
This frame dwelling was across Market Street from the Civil War-era Dr. Robert H. Griffith house, which was demolished in order to make way for the construction of Levering Hospital.
The house in which Lottie lived would soon be torn down, and replaced by a two-story story brick building originally designated as a grocery store. (In 1907, Franklin and Claud C. Scott operated a grocery store at this location.)
Families previously living at 225 Market:
1888-1892: Mrs. Maggie Atkins and Richard Atkins, a carriage trimmer
1894-1895: Utton, Mrs. Marguerite and Richard
1897: Mrs. Emma Gardner
One by one, members of this large Hannibal family migrated to Springfield, Ill., and the newspapers there started to pick up mentions of the family. In November 1905, Laura Hutchinson of Hannibal, wife of Green Hutchinson, made a trip to Springfield to visit Lottie. Laura and Lottie were likely sisters. Laura, back in Hannibal, died April 15, 1911, of a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 60, and is buried at Hannibal’s Old Baptist Cemetery.
Piecing together a list of her children, based upon newspaper articles, census records, and obituaries, results in the following:
Mollie Laura Porter Bell Thomas, born 1875. She was first married to George Bell, who served with the F 172 Ohio Infantry during the Civil War. She later married Milton Thomas, a stone quarryman when they lived in Hannibal. By 1920 they were living in Springfield, Ill., with her two children, John Louis Bell, 23, and Lillian, 15. Mollie died April 19, 1923, at the approximate age of 48, and is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Ill. John Louis Bell, born 1892, died Dec. 13, 1943, at the age 48 years.
John Porter, 1877-1897, worked as a porter at the Marion House, located at 160-162 Market in 1901. While hunting, he was shot in the stomach with his own rifle, according to a newspaper account. He was taken to his mother’s house on Sims’ Row, Hannibal’s West End. Drs. Richard Schmidt, Stephen Smith and Thomas Chowning came to his assistance, but were unable to save his life. He died at the age of 19.
William Porter (1882-1933) worked as a miner at the Spring Creek Coal Co., near Springfield, Ill. During his tenure at the mine, he was involved in one non-life-threatening accident. He was a short man, of medium build. At the time of his death on Nov. 19, 1933, he was a 51-year-old widower. His wife, Rosie Porter, died in 1924 at the age of 32. He lived in Springfield, Ill., for 35 years. He was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield.
Eugene Porter (1885-1913) died Sept. 16, 1913, and the funeral took place at the residence of his mother, Mrs. Lottie Porter, 1110 E. Mason St., Springfield, Ill. Interment was in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield. He was about 28 years old at the time of death.
Louis Porter, (1887-1957) the last of the Porter children to pass, died March 22, 1957, at his home, 1225 E. Jefferson, Springfield, Ill. He was survived by his wife, Emma Porter; four nieces, Gladys Washington, Gary, Ind., Beatrice Washington Baker of Chicago, Bernice Washington Combs of Detroit, Mich., and Mrs. Lillian Lee Gray, Springfield, Ill.
Doc Y Porter (1888-1910) lived at 1540 Broadway extension, Hannibal, in 1910, where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 22. A note on his death certificate indicated he likely caught the fatal illness when hauling wet sand.
Roy Porter (1888-1907) died at the age of 19 at the home of his mother, Lottie Porter, in Springfield. His death notice described his survivors as two adopted sisters and four adopted brothers, all of whom were living in Springfield. He was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.
Frank Porter. In 1905, Frank Porter, was a porter for the Fitze and Westenberg furniture store, and boarded at 1222 E. Mason, Springfield, Ill.
Anna Porter Washington lived at 1212 East Mason St., Springfield, Ill., in 1909. She had four children, Berniece and Beatrice Washington, Wilbur Washington and Gladys Washington McHill.
At rest in Hannibal
Lottie Porter died at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1919, at her home, 117 West Jefferson St., Springfield, Ill. Cause of death was pneumonia.
Funeral services were at her residence, lead by the Rev. George Shaw, pastor of St. Paul’s AME Church in Springfield. Her remains were brought back to Hannibal by rail at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 1919, on the Wabash route. Surviving were her two daughters, Mollie Porter Thomas and Anna Porter Washington, and two sons, William and Louis Porter.
Note: During research, three spellings were found for Lottie Porter’s maiden name: Venerable, Vaniver and Vandiers. Her given name was Charlotte. Also, there were a number of variations on the dates listed in this story; when at all possible, the dates listed on tombstones or death records were used.
Note: Len Porter died in a house fire in January 1904, and his remains were buried at the Old Baptist Cemetery. While no age was given for Mr. Porter, is might be assumed that he was husband to Lottie Porter, and that they may have been estranged at the time. She began listing herself in official documents as a widow as early as 1897.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com