DANSVILLE — Imagine embarking on a journey with your entire family, friends, and strangers in a wagon pulled by a strong-willed horse to some unknown destination in hopes of a better life.
Captain Nathaniel Porter had survived the Revolutionary War after being a prisoner in two of the worst prison camps in New Jersey for 18 months. Porter found love with Charity Lane and together they had 11 children. A year after Porter followed his son-in-law Daniel Faulkner (Dansville is named after him) down to this sleepy little valley he succumbed to an illness in a log cabin known as the "Castle." It stood a little west of the German Lutheran church in Dansville village; making him the first death and burial at the Old Village Cemetery in 1797. He was 54 years old.
This war hero left behind a legacy in Dansville. Porter fought bravely for his country, loved and protected his family, and was laid to rest in a place he called home.
However, in 1888 the village had forgotten about the Revolutionary War hero and his sacred oath he made to his family. They wanted a beautiful park for their community and thus removed the stones from the ground. Nobody knows how many were buried at the old cemetery, how many stones and bodies were moved, and how many remain. The best estimate is that up to 500 may have been buried at the old cemetery, 16 tombstones have been found that were discarded at Greenmount (there likely were more that were discarded but have not been found), about 150 tombstones have been found on family plots at Greenmount but were not originally buried there as they pre-date Greenmount’s 1847 opening (of these some but probably not all of the bodies were also moved). We know from old articles that many wooden stones were simply plowed under. So there may be 300 or so bodies in the ground at the old cemetery.
After many long years of hard work and determination a father and son would bring some justice to those left behind. Robert Glover and his father Ross became very dedicated to keeping the first settlers stories alive.
On Aug. 30 a lovely ceremony was put on by Robert Glover, Colonel Grant Porter ( Cpt. Nathaniel Porter’s fourth great-grandson) of Portland, Oregon, Deanne Knapp, and the Dansville American Legion Post 87 Honor Guard.
This was a team effort to make this possible for the honor of one of our first settlers.
Col. Porter is a member of one of the oldest veteran’s associations in the country known as the 80th Division Veterans Association. The 80th Division formed in 1917 and is celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year. Shortly after World War I, the 80th Division Veterans Association formed and still exists today. Porter was their National Commander in 2012 and served for 30 years in the U.S. Army before retiring in September, 2015.
“This is really special for me and my family. Nathaniel Porter was a great American patriot and he is my fourth great-grandfather. I would like to thank a few key individuals here in your town for their commitment and dedication to bringing this about. Deanne Knapp worked really hard behind the scenes, and if it weren't for her efforts and the efforts of Ross and Bob Glover, none of this would have happened," he said. "In 2012, I brought my Mom and Dad to Dansville as they had spoken with Bob and they were all very interested in genealogy. Bob couldn't be there but we met Ross and he took us to the old cemetery site, now the beautiful Pioneer Park, and also over to see Nathaniel Porter's stone by Greenmount cemetery. That's when we really got interested in doing something about taking care of our ancestor's gravestone. Both my Dad and Ross Glover have since passed away but Bob Glover and I can now rest easy because we know our fathers really wanted this to happen."
Nathaniel Porter was born in Hunterdon County New Jersey in 1743, He married Charity Lane and together they had 11 children. One of his children was Richard N. Porter who is buried in Nunda at Oakwood Cemetery. Col. Porter is related to Nathaniel through Richard N. Porter.
Col. Porter was amazed his ancestor’s stone had remained in such good shape after over two centuries.
Glover told Genesee Country Express the story of how this all began. In 1954 a couple of Dansville town historians kept inventory of all the stones that had been discarded. The Dansville Boy Scouts had done a description of all the stones in great detail.
In about 1954, town historian Wutz Rauber assisted by the Boy Scouts wrote a detailed transcription of several tombstones that were found discarded at Greenmount and came from the old cemetery. That included the exact wording on the stones of Nathaniel Porter and his wife; and his brother William Porter and his wife. William Porter’s stone has not yet been “re-found.
Greenmount Cemetery was erected in 1847, so anyone who passed on before that was buried in the Old Village Cemetery. These stones were taken and dumped in the woods at the new cemetery on Greenmount Avenue. The Glover Family made it their mission to find, clean, and preserve these stones. They wanted to honor those who came and settled our community. There were many incredible pillars of the community that were abandoned in the woods.
“They put all these stones in a horse drawn wagon and dumped them on the hill. The bodies were left unmarked at the park,” Glover said. “The old cemetery fell apart so they leveled it. We decided to have a meeting and start a fundraising campaign. Grant (Porter) paid for the plot and approved the (Nathaniel Porter’s stone) moved here.”
Col. Porter said there are still about 20 stones still left behind. William Porter, Nathaniel’s brother also came up in 1796 and his stone has not been found yet.
Elizabeth Porter, daughter of Matthew (died in 1901) purchased some land in Greenmount Cemetery for her family to be buried there. Beside her are her parents Matthew Porter and his wife Sally, Nathaniel’s son who fought in the War of 1812, Mehitable Fairchild Porter, second wife of Nathaniel Porter, nephew of Capt. Nathaniel Porter, and now Capt. Nathaniel Porter with his wife Charity Lane.
Col. Porter had to get a notified document allowing the town to mount his ancestor’s stone in Greenmount Cemetery since he is a direct descendant of Capt. Porter.
“I am extremely pleased with what the village has done to memorialize Pioneer Park,” Col. Porter said. “The Dansville Honor Guard made the day very special. It was a great tribute to my (fourth great) grandfather. My father James and mother Denali came out in 2012 and they didn’t get to see the stone, because it was still buried in the weeds.”
Glover is very grateful to the village and the town for making all of this possible.
"We are grateful for the village’s role in the project at Pioneer Park, and the town’s role in moving the stone to the Porter family plot," he said. "The key person behind the fundraising and moving the project forward at Pioneer Park was Jane Schryver. Dad was a key person in initiating the movement to recognize those forgotten. As a WWII Vet and former Commander and Historian of the Ameircan Legion in Dansville he was especially driven to properly honor Rev War soldier Nathaniel Porter."
Glover reached out to the Porter family in 2010 and has kept in touch with them. He wanted them to know he was doing all he could to bring justice to the long forgotten members of our community.
“I got the plaque made, because I don’t know how long they will be able to read the stone,” Glover said. “I had to brush at it for a long time to find the words. My dad and I were on on hands and knees for a long time to clean it. The Snyder Brothers Cemetery Service helped dig it up and mount it on a base with the plaque.”
Col. Porter is happy that his fourth great-grandfather is now where he belongs with his family.