Who were Henry's owners?
Henry Porter was born around 1804 and belonged to a slaveholder also named Henry Porter. Sometime in the 1810s, Henry was gifted to Bolling H. Barnes, but he eventually was returned to the Porter farm around the late 1820s. By that point Henry Porter the slaveholder was already dead, and Richard Porter most likely became Henry’s new master. Since documentation is sparse, though, it is possible that Richard’s younger brother Thomas was actually Henry’s master. Both men lived in the same household in 1831.
"The petition of Richard Porter of the county of Southampton respectfully represents – that during the late insurrection of the slaves in this county two of his to wit, Jacob aged 22 and Moses aged 19 and one belonging to his ward Jasper J. Porter named Aaron were killed as will more fully appear by the annexed affidavits as also that the said slaves were all actually engaged in open insurrection and rebellion and [were] destroyed by those employed in suppressing them."
[It is interesting to note that Henry Porter was not mentioned in this petition. It is possible this is evidence that Henry was owned by Richard's brother. The issue is up for debate.]
- Petition of Richard Porter, December 12, 1831
What did Henry do during the revolt?
Henry Porter and Nat Turner had most likely known each other since childhood. Henry was one of the four men Nat Turner told about his idea for a revolt after the eclipse in February 1831. On the morning of Saturday, August 20, Henry brought brandy for the pre-rebellion feast at Cabin Pond.
The newspapers of the day would call Henry “The Paymaster,” which referred to his skill to count and read numbers. They also suggested other rebels called him "General."
“Henry Porter, the paymaster, was to receive five dollars a day, and each private one dollar”
- John W. Cromwell, “The Aftermath of Nat Turner’s Insurrection,” 1920.
After the rebels had departed from the Travis farm and realized they had left an infant alive, Henry went back with Will and killed the child.
What happened to Henry?
According to newspapers at the time, Henry Porter died fighting at Cross Keys two days after the final major skirmish.
“Nelson killed and Porter (Gen. so-called) killed”
- The American Beacon, August 29, 1831
“It is said they had so far organized themselves as to fix the pay of the General, say $10 a day, 5 to the paymaster, Henry, whose skull is in the possession of one of the surgeons of the detachments who visited Jerusalem, and $1 to each private per day.”
- The Richmond Compiler, September 3, 1831
For more information about Henry Porter, see David F. Allmendinger, Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2014).