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David Porter

PORTER, David, naval officer, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 1 February, 1780; died in Pera, near Constantinople, Turkey, 3 March, 1843. Five generations of this family have served in the navy. His grandfather, Alexander, commanded a Boston merchant-ship, giving his aid to the colonies, and his father, Captain David, with his brother Samuel, commanded vessels commissioned by General Washington in the Continental navy for the capture of ships carrying stores to the British army, which was a perilous service, the patriots often fighting their way to escape from the foe. In 1778 Captain David Porter commanded the sloop "Delight," of 6 guns, fitted out in Maryland, and was active against the enemy, and in 1780 commanded the "Aurora," of 10 guns, equipped in Massachusetts, but was captured by the British and confined in the "Jersey" prison-ship, where he suffered many hardships. Escaping, he fought throughout the Revolutionary war, after which he resided in Boston until he was appointed by General Washington a sailing-master in the navy, having charge of the signal-station on Federal Hill, Baltimore, Maryland One of his two sons, John, entered the naval service in 1806, and died in 1831, having attained the rank of commander. His other son, David, made voyages to the West Indies, and was twice impressed by British ships-of-war, but escaped and worked his passage home. On 16 April, 1798, he was appointed midshipman in the United States frigate "Constellation," and participated in her action with the French frigate "Insurgente," on 9 February, 1799, receiving a prize for his service. He became lieutenant on 8 October, 1799, and served on the West India station. In January, 1800, his schooner, the "Experiment," while becalmed off the coast of Santo Domingo, with several merchantmen under her protection, was attacked by ten picaroon barges, but after a conflict of seven hours, in which Lieutenant Porter was wounded, they withdrew. Subsequently this vessel had several successful affairs with privateers and captured the French schooner " Diane," of 14 guns and 60 men. In August, 1801, the schooner "Enterprise," of 12 guns, to which Porter was attached, fell in, off Malta, with a "Tripolitan cruiser of 14 guns, which surrendered after an engagement of three hours. While attached to the frigate " New York" he commanded a boat expedition which destroyed several feluccas in the harbor of Tripoli, and was again wounded. In October, 1803, he was captured in the frigate " Philadelphia" and imprisoned in Tripoli until peace was proclaimed. On 20 April, 1806, he became master-commandant, and he was made captain on 2 July, 1812. At the beginning of the war of 1812 he sailed from New York in command of the frigate "Essex," of 32 guns, carrying a flag with the words "Free-Trade and Sailors' Rights," and in a short cruise captured several British merchantmen and a transport that was bearing troops to Halifax. On 13 August, 1812, he was attacked by the British armed ship "Alert," which, after an action of eight minutes, surrendered in a sinking condition. This was the first British war-vessel that was captured in the conflict. On 11 December he also took, near the equator, the British government packet " Norton," with $50,000 in specie on board. He cruised in the South Atlantic and upon the coast of Brazil until January, 1813, when he determined to destroy the English whale-fishery in the Pacific, and sailed for Valparaiso, where he learned that Chili had become an independent state, and that the viceroy of Peru had sent out cruisers against those of the Americans. After refitting he went to sea, and on 25 March captured the Peruvian privateer "Mercy-da," of 19 guns, which had taken two American whale-ships and had their crews on board as prisoners. The latter were transferred to the "Essex," and the armament and ammunition of the "Mercy-da" were thrown overboard, when she was released. One of her prizes was recaptured shortly afterward and restored to her commander. After this Captain Porter cruised about ten months in the Pacific, capturing a large number of British whaling-ships. The British loss was about $2,500,000, with 400 prisoners, and for the time the British whale-fisheries in the Pacific were destroyed. The captured " Georgiana" was converted into a vessel of war called the "Essex Jr.," and cruised with the "Essex," under the command of Lieutenant John Downes. Having heard that the British government had sent out vessels under Captain James Hillyar, with orders to take the " Essex," Captain Porter sailed to the Marquesas islands to refit, and on his way captured other English vessels. He anchored in the Bay of Nukahivah, where the "Essex" was the first to carry the American flag, and named it Massachusetts bay. He assisted in subduing the hostile natives, and on 19 November, 1813, took possession of the island in the name of the United States. On 3 February, 1814, the "Essex" and the " Essex Jr." arrived at Valparaiso. On 8 February the British frigate "Phoebe," commanded by Captain James Hillyar, a personal friend of Captain Porter, and her consort the "Cherub," also arrived and anchored near the "Essex," and, after obtaining supplies, cruised off Valparaiso for six weeks. Porter determined to escape, and made sail for the open sea; but a heavy squall disabled the "Essex," which was forced to return to harbor. The enemy, disregarding the neutrality of the harbor, followed, took position under her stern, and opened fire on 28 March, 1814. The "Essex" was of 860 tons, mounting 32 guns, with a crew of 255, while the "Phoebe" was of 960 tons, mounting 53 guns, and had a crew of 320, and her consort, the "Cherub," which attacked the "Essex" on her starboard bow, carried 28 guns, 18 thirty-two-pound carronades, and 2 long nines on the quarter-deck and forecastle, and a crew of 180. Both ships had picked crews and were sent to the Pacific to destroy the "Essex." Their flags bore the motto "God and country, British sailors' best rights; traitors offend both." In reply Captain Porter wrote at his mizzen, "God, our country, and liberty ; tyrants offend them." The "Essex Jr." took no part in the action, her armament being too light to be of service. The engagement, which was one of the most desperate and remarkable in naval history, lasted two hours and thirty minutes, and, except the few minutes they were repairing damages, the firing was incessant. The "Essex" ran out three long guns at the stern ports, which in half an hour forced her antagonist to retire for repairs. The "Phoebe" was armed with guns of long range, while those of the" Essex" were mostly carronades. Captain Hillyar therefore drew off to a distance where he was beyond the fire of the "Essex," and then kept his guns steadily at work till the "Essex" became a helpless wreck and surrendered, having suffered a heavy loss of men. Captain Porter and Lieutenant Stephen Decatur MacKnight were the only commissioned officers that remained unhurt. The latter, who was exchanged with others for a part of the "Sir Andrew Hammond's" crew, sailed in a Swedish brig, bound for England, and was lost at sea. Porter wrote to the secretary of the navy: " We have been unfortunate, but not disgraced." From the "Tagus," which arrived a few days after Porter's capture, he learned that other ships were cruising in search of the "Essex." to possess which cost the British government nearly $2,000,000. The "Essex Jr." brought the survivors to the United States. At Sandy Hook they fell in with the British ship-of-war "The Saturn," under Captain Nash, who at first treated the crew with civility, but afterward examined their passport and detained the "Essex Jr.," declaring Captain Porter a prisoner and no longer under parole to Captain Hillyar. Early on the following day Captain Porter escaped, leaving a message that "most British officers were not only destitute of honor, but regardless of the honor of each other; that he was armed, and prepared to defend himself against his boats, if sent in pursuit of him; and that he must be met, if met at all, by an enemy." With much difficulty he reached Babylon, L. I., and on arriving in New York was received with distinction, and was given the thanks of congress and of several state legislatures. The "Essex Jr." was condemned and sold on her arrival in New York. From April, 1815, till December, 1823, Captain Porter was a member of the board of navy commissioners, which post he resigned to command the expedition called the Mosquito fleet that was fitted out against pirates in the West Indies. A depot was established at Thompson island, near Key West, and a system of cruising was arranged. In October, 1824, upon evidence that valuable goods had been stored by pirates at Foxardo, Porto Rico, Commander Porter despatched the "Beagle" to investigate the matter; but the commanding officer, on landing, was arrested and thrown into prison on the charge of being a pirate. Commander Porter then sailed for the island, landed a force of 200 men, and demanded an apology, which was promptly given. The government, deeming that he had exceeded his powers, brought him before a court-martial, and he was sentenced to suspension for six months. He resigned his commission on 18 August, 1826, and entered the service of Mexico as commander-in-chief of the naval forces of that country. He remained in this service until 1829, when he returned to the United States, having been treated treacherously by the Mexican officials. He was afterward appointed consul-general to the Barbary states, from which post he was transferred to Constantinople as charge d'affaires, and was made minister resident there in 1831, which office he held until his death. He was buried in the grounds of the naval asylum in Philadelphia. It is a singular fact that the two most distinguished officers of the United States navy fought their first battles under his command --his son, David D., and David G. Parragut (q. v.), the latter of whom he adopted in 1809. Commander Porter was the author of "Journal of a Cruise made to the Pacifick Ocean in the United States Frigate ' Essex' in 1812-'13-'14," illustrated with his own drawings (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1815 ; 2d ed., New York, 1822), and "Constantinople and its Environs," by an American long resident (2 vols., 1835). See "Trial of Commodore David Porter before a Court-Martial " (Washington, 1825). His life was written by his son (Albany, 1875).--His son, William David, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, 10 March, 1809; died in New York city, 1 May, 1864, was educated in Philadelphia, and appointed to the United States navy from Massachusetts as midshipman on 1 January, 1823. He became lieutenant on 31 December, 1833, served on the "Franklin," " Brandywine," "Natchez," "Experiment," "United States," and " Mississippi," and in 1843 was assigned to the home squadron. He commanded the store-ship "Erie" in 1849, and, in 1851, the "Waterwitch." On 13 September, 1855, he was placed on the reserved list, but he was restored to active duty as commander on 14 September, 1859. At the beginning of the civil war he was serving on the United States sloop "St. Mary's," in the Pacific. He was ordered to the Mississippi to assist in fitting out the gun-boat flotilla with which he accompanied Commander Andrew H. Foote up Tennessee river, and, commanded the "Essex," which he had named for his father's ship, in the attack on Fort Henry, 6 February, 1862, during which engagement he was scalded and temporarily blinded by steam from a boiler that had been pierced by shot. He also commanded the "Essex" in the battle of Fort Donelson, 14 February, 1862, and fought in the same vessel past the batteries on the Mississippi to join the fleet at Vicksburg. He attacked the Confederate ram " Arkansas" above Baton Rouge, 15 July, 1862, and disabled her, and her magazine shortly afterward exploded. He was made commodore on 16 July, 1862, and then bombarded Natchez, and attacked the Vicksburg batteries and Port Hudson. Subsequently he served but little, owing to impaired health. He had two sons in the Confederate service.--Another soil, David Dixon, naval officer, born in Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, 8 June, 1813, studied in Columbian college, Washington, D. C., in 1824, accompanied his father in the "John Adams" to suppress piracy in the West Indies, was appointed midshipman in the Mexican navy, and served under his cousin, Captain David HI. Porter, in the "Guerrero," which sailed from Vera Cruz in 1827, and had a rough experience with a Spanish frigate, "La Lealtad," Captain Porter being killed in the action. David D. entered the United States navy as midshipman on 2 February, 1829, cruised in the Mediterranean, and then served on the coast survey until he was promoted to lieutenant, 27 February, 1841. He was in the Mediterranean and Brazilian waters until 1845, when he was appointed to the naval observatory in Washington, and in 1846 he was sent by the government on a secret mission to Hayti, and reported on the condition of affairs there. He served during the entire Mexican war, had charge of the naval rendezvous in New Orleans, and was engaged in every action on the coast, first as lieutenant and afterward as commanding officer of the "Spitfire." Subsequently he returned to the coast survey, and, on the discovery of gold in California, obtained a furlough and commanded the California mail-steamers " Panama" and "Georgia" between New York and the Isthmus of Panama. At the beginning of the civil war he was ordered to command the steam frigate "Powhatan," which was despatched to join the Gulf blockading squadron at Pensacola, and to aid in re-enforcing Fort Pickens. On 22 April, 1861, he was appointed commander, and subsequently he was placed in command of the mortar fleet, consisting of 21 schooners, each carrying a 13-inch mortar, and, with 5 steamers as convoys, joined Farragut's fleet in March, 1862, and bombarded Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, below New Orleans, from 18 till 24 April, 1862, during which engagement 20,000 bombs were exploded in the Confederate works. Farragut, having destroyed the enemy's fleet of fifteen vessels, left the reduction of these forts to Porter, and they surrendered on 28 April, 1862. He assisted Farragut in all the latter's operations between New Orleans and Vicksburg, where he effectively bombarded the forts and enabled the fleet to pass in safety. Informing the secretary of the navy of the surrender of Vicksburg, Admiral Porter writes: "The navy has necessarily performed a less conspicuous part in the capture of Vicksburg than the army; still it has been employed in a manner highly creditable to all concerned. The gun-boats have been constantly below Vicksburg in shelling the works, and with success co-operating heartily with the left wing of the army. The mortar-boats have been at work for forty-two days without intermission, throwing shells into all parts of the city, even reaching the works in the rear of Vicksburg and in front of our troops, a distance of three miles .... I stationed the smaller class of gun-boats to keep the banks of the Mississippi clear of guerillas, who were assembling in force and with a large number of cannon to block up the river and cut off the transports bringing down supplies, re-enforcements, and ammunition for the army. Though the rebels on several occasions built batteries, and with a large force attempted to sink or capture the transports, they never succeeded, but were defeated by the gunboats with severe loss on all occasions." While the Confederates were making efforts to repair the "Indianola," which they had captured, Commander Porter fitted an old scow to look like one of his "turtle" gun-boats, with two canoes for quarter-boats, a smoke-stack of pork-barrels, and mud furnaces in which fire was kindled. This was called the "Turreted Monster" and set adrift with no one on board. A tremendous cannonade from the Confederate batteries failed to stop her, and the authorities at Vicksburg hastily destroyed the "Indianola," while the supposed monitor drifted for an hour amid a rain of shot before the enemy discovered the trick. In July, Commander Porter was ordered with his mortar flotilla to Fort Monroe, where he resigned charge of it, and was ordered to command the Mississippi squadron, as acting rear-admiral, in September, 1862. He improvised a navy-yard at Mound City, increased the number of his squadron, which consisted of 125 vessels, and, in co-operation with General Sherman's army, captured Arkansas Post in January, 1863. For his services at Vicksburg Porter received the thanks of congress and the commission of rear-admiral, dated 4 July, 1863. Soon afterward he ran past the batteries of Vicksburg and captured the Confederate forts at Grand Gulf, which put him into communication with General Grant, who, on 18 May, by means of the fleet, placed himself in the rear of Vicksburg, and from that time the energies of the army and navy were united to capture that stronghold, which was accomplished on 4 July, 1863. On 1 August, 1863, he arrived in New Orleans in his flag-ship "Black Hawk," accompanied by the gun-boat "Tuscumbia," and during the remainder of 1863 his squadron was employed to keep the Mississippi river open. In the spring of 1864 he co-operated with General Nathaniel P. Banks in the unsuccessful Red river expedition, and through the skill of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey (q. v.) the fleet was saved. In October, 1864, he was transferred to the North Atlantic squadron, which embraced within its limits the Cape Fear river and the port of Wilmington, North Carolina He appeared at Fort Fisher on 24 December, 1864, with 35 regular cruisers, 5 iron-clads, and a reserve of 19 vessels, and began to bombard the forts at the mouth of Cape Fear river. "In one hour and fifteen minutes after the first shot was fired," says Admiral Porter, "not a shot came from the fort. Two magazines had been blown up by our shells, and the fort set on fire in several places, and such a torrent of missiles was falling into and bursting over it that it was impossible for any human being to stand it. Finding that the batteries were silenced completely, I directed the ships to keep up a moderate fire, in hope of attracting the attention of the transports and bringing them in." After a reconnoissance, General Benjamin F. Butler, who commanded the military force, decided that Fort Fisher was substantially uninjured and could not be taken by assault, and returned with his command to Hampton Roads, Virginia Admiral Porter requested that the enterprise should not be abandoned, and a second military force of about 8,500 men, commanded by General Alfred H. Terry (q. v.), arrived off Fort Fisher on 13 January, 1865. This fleet was increased during the bombardment by additional land and naval forces, and, after seven hours of desperate fighting, the works were captured on 15 January, 1865, by a combined body of soldiers, sailors, and marines. According to General Grant, "this was the most formidable armada ever collected for concentration upon one given point." Rear-Admiral Porter received a vote of thanks from congress, which was the fourth that he received during the war, including the general one for the capture of New Orleans. He was promoted vice-admiral on 25 July, 1866, and served as superintendent of the United States naval academy till 1869, when he was detailed for duty in the navy department in Washington. On 15 August, 1870, he was appointed admiral of the navy, which rank he now (1888) holds. He is the author of a " Life of Commodore David Porter" (Albany, 1875); a romance entitled "Allan Dare and Robert le Diable" (New York, 1885), which has been dramatized, and was produced in New York in 1887; "Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War" (1885) ; "Harry Marline" (1886); and "History of the Navy in the War of the Rebellion" (New York, 1887).--Another son, Theodoric Henry, soldier, born in Washington, D. C., 10 August, 1817; died in Texas in March, 1846, was appointed a cadet at West Point, resigning after two years. He was appointed by President Jackson 2d lieutenant in the 4th infantry, served under General Zachary Taylor at the beginning of the war with Mexico, and was the first American officer killed in the conflict, having been sent with twelve men on a scouting expedition near Fort Brown on the Rio Grande, where he was surrounded by a large force of Mexican cavalry. [Pile commanding officer called upon Lieutenant Porter to surrender, which be refused, and was cut to pieces, only one of his escort escaping.--Another son, Henry Ogden, naval officer, born in Washington, D. C., in 1823 ; died in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1872, was appointed midshipman in 1840, resigning in 1847. He served in one of Walker's expeditions to Central America, where he fought bravely, and was wounded several times. Afterward he was appointed lieutenant in the United States revenue marine, and during the civil war was made acting master in the navy, 24 April, 1862, serving as executive officer on the "Hatteras" when that vessel was sunk by the Confederate steamer "Alabama." He died from the effect of his wounds.--Commander David's nephew, David H., naval officer, born in New Castle, Delaware, in 1804 ; died near Havana, Cuba, in March, 1828, entered the United States navy as midshipman on 4 August, 1814, became lieutenant on 13 January, 1825, and resigned on 26 July, 1826. He joined his uncle while commander-in-chief of the Mexican navy, and in 1827 sailed in command of the brig "Guerrero," built by Henry Eckford, of New York, taking this vessel to Vera Cruz. He fell in with a fleet of 50 merchant vessels, fifteen miles below Havana, sailing under convoy of two Spanish war-vessels, carrying together 29 guns. Driving them into the port of Little Mariel, after a conflict of two hours he silenced the fire of the two brigs, cutting them severely, and sunk a number of the convoy. A twenty-four-pound shot from a battery on shore cut the cable of the "Guerrero," and the vessel drifted on shore, and went afterward to sea to repair damages. In the mean time she was attacked by the "Lealtad," of 64 guns, and after a very severe engagement, lasting two hours and a quarter, in which Captain Porter was killed, eighty of his officers and men being either killed or wounded, the masts and sails of the "Guerrero" all shot away and the hull riddled, the "Guerrero" was surrendered and taken into Havana.--David Dixon's cousin, Fitz-John, soldier, born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 13 June, 1822, is the son of Commander John Porter, of the United States navy. He studied at Phillips Exeter academy, was graduated at the United States military academy in 1845, and assigned to the 4th artillery, in which he became 2d lieutenant, 18 June, 1846. He served in the Mexican war, was commissioned 1st lieutenant on 29 May, and received the brevet of captain on 8 September, 1847, for services at Molino del Rey, and that of major for Chapultepec. During the assault on the city of Mexico he was wounded at Belen gate. Afterward he was on garrison duty until 9 July, 1849, when he was appointed assistant instructor of artillery at West Point. He became adjutant there in 1853-'4, and was instructor of artillery and cavalry from 1 May, 1854, till 11 September, 1855. In 1856 he was appointed assistant adjutant-general with the rank of captain, and he served under General Albert Sidney Johnston in the Utah expedition of 1857-'60. In 1860 he became assistant inspector-general, with headquarters in New York city, and superintended the protection of the railroad between Baltimore and Harrisburg during the Baltimore riots. When communication was interrupted with Washington at the breaking out of the civil war, he assumed the responsibility of replying in the affirmative to telegrams from Missouri asking permission to muster troops for the protection of that state. His act was approved by the war department. During this period he also organized volunteers in Pennsylvania. On 14 May, 1861, he became colonel of the 15th infantry, a new regiment, and on 17 May, 1861, he was made brigadier-general of volunteers, and assigned to duty in Washington. In 1862 he participated in the Virginia peninsular campaign, served during the siege of Yorktown from 5 April till 4 May, 1862, and upon its evacuation was governor of that place for a short time. He was given command of the 5th corps, which formed the right wing of the army and fought the battles of Mechanicsville, 26 June, 1862, and Gaines's Mills, 27 June, 1862. At Malvern Hill, 1 July, 1862, he commanded the left. flank, which mainly resisted the assaults of that day. He received the brevet of brigadier-general in the regular army for gallant and meritorious conduct at the battle of Chickahominy, Virginia, 27 June, 1862. He was made major-general of volunteers, 4 July, 1862, and temporarily attached to General John Pope's Army of Virginia. His corps, although ordered to advance, was unable to move forward at the second battle of Bull Run, 29 August, 1862, but in the afternoon of the 30th it was actively engaged, and to its obstinate resistance it is mainly due that the defeat was not a total rout. Charges were brought against him for his inaction on the first day, and he was deprived of his command, but was restored to duty at the request of General George B. McClellan, and took part in the Maryland campaign. On 27 November, 1862, General Porter was arraigned before a court-martial in Washington, charged with disobeying orders at the second battle of Bull Run, and on 21 January, 1863, he was cashiered, "and forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the government of the United States, for violation of the 9th and 52d articles of war." The justice of this verdict has been the subject of much controversy. General Porter made several appeals for a reversal of the decision of the court-martial, and numerous petitions to open the case were addressed to the president during the succeeding eighteen years, as well as memorials from various legislatures, and on 28 December, 1882, a bill for his relief was presented in the senate, under the action of an advisory board appointed by President Haves, consisting of General John M. Schofield, General Alfred H. Terry, and General George W. Getty. On 4 May, 1882, the president remitted so much of the sentence of the court-martial as forever disqualified General Porter from holding any office of trust or profit under the government; but the bill for his relief failed in its passage. A technical objection caused President Arthur to veto a similar bill that was passed by the 48th congress, but another was passed subsequently which was signed by President Cleveland, and he was restored to the United States army as colonel on 7 August, 1886. General Grant, after his term of service as president had ended, though he had refused many petitions to open the case, studied it more thoroughly, and published his conclusions in December, 1882, in an article entitled "An Undeserved Stigma," in which he said that he was convinced of General Porter's innocence. After leaving the army, General Porter engaged in business in New York city, was subsequently superintendent of the New Jersey asylum for the insane, and in February, 1875, was made commissioner of public works. In 1884 he became police commissioner, which office he held until 1888. In 1869 the khedive of Egypt offered him the post of commander of his army, with the rank of major-general, which he declined.

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