Sunday, April 20, 2014

52 Ancestor's Challenge - Week 16 - Eva Sabrina Porter...Daughter of French Nobility and Ex-Fiance of President James K. Polk???

This week for the 52 Ancestor's Challenge, I'm going to focus on my 3rd great grandmother, Eva Sabrina Porter.  Here is a perfect example of double checking your sources, and double checking your sources sources.

There is a book called The Holcombes, Nation Builders...Their Biographies, Genealogies, and Pedigrees, by Hannah Elizabeth Weir McPhereson, published in 1947.  It is a wonderful book with thousands of names and tons of stories about the genealogy of the Holcomb(e) family.  You can view a copy of it online, for free, at  Just put the title in the search box and you can download it to your computer.  Or, if you have an subscription, you can view it there.  I find it easier to view on

My line of Holcombs are listed in the book.  My grandfather, Benton Rogers Holcomb and his wife Mamie Locke are mentioned in it (nothing more then their names).  Benton's father Thomas William Holcomb and his wife Jane Coburn are shown too, and listed with their children.  Then you come to Thomas' parents, William Alfred Holcomb and Eva Sabrina Porter.  This is where things get interesting!!  It states the following on page 350:

"This Porter family was of the French nobility, who escaped extermination by fleeing from France across the English Channel en route to N. America, bringing only such property as could hastily convert into money and jewels and carry on their persons."

"Eva Sabrina (Porter) Holcombe's parents knew they were marked to be beheaded as part of the nobility. This Porter family entered N. America through the port of New Orleans, La.; took boat up Mississippi River; then traveled inland. They bought and equipped a plantation on the old Post Road between Columbia and Nashville, Tenn. , -in Maury Co., Tenn., and there had as neighbors families named Payne, Pillar, Post.  The Polk families of Tenn. were their warm friends."

The story goes on to say the following about Eva:

"As a young lady Eva Sebrina Porter 'spent her summers on the home plantation and winters in Washington, D.C. where she entertained and was entertained in diplomatic circles and at the White House. She was engaged to marry President, James Knox Polk and led many grand marches at balls with him. They quarrelled and their former relations were not restored.'"

The quote from the book is in quotation marks which leads me to believe it was taken from one of the sources the writer corresponded to.  She lists the sources for William Alfred Holcomb and Eva Sabrina Porter as:
  • Family Records of Alfred and Sabrina Porter Holcomb
  • Their granddaughter, Nancy Sabrina Holcomb Carpenter (1869-1955). 
  • Mrs. R.H. (Lillie Cater) Creitzberg
  • T.K. Jones of Lubbock
  • Mrs. Arthur G. (Bob Holcombe Carter) Watson
  • Mrs. Oscar Waldo (Gaynell Martin) Williams
I recognize Nancy Sabrina Holcomb Carpenter, but not the other names.  Could these have been stories passed down??  A brief look into the life of Eva through records seems to contradict some of this.

What The Records State...

French Nobility??
First, lets deal with the issue of "French Nobility."  We know from probate records that Eva was not the daughter of James Porter, as the book suggested.  That may have been a guess on the part of the author.  A will dated May 6, 1841 for William Porter** of Maury County, TN, lists one of his daughters as Sabrina Holcomb.  Looking into his probate papers (which can be seen on Page 1852 on, TN Probate Court Files 1795-1927, Maury Co., Pigg, George W. - Reams, Joshua Henry), we can see an Alfred Holcomb purchasing several items from the sale of the estate.  This William Porter was the husband of Sabrina, or Sebra, Goodrum.  Sebra Goodrum Porter is living next door to Alfred and Sebrina Holcomb on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, in District 11, Maury County, TN.  I'm fairly certain that this William Porter is Eva's father.

Gravestone of William Porter found in Porter Family Cemetery, Maury County, TN
Photo found on
But who is William Porter?  Was he the "French Nobility" they were speaking of??  He certainly owned a large plantation in Maury County at his death.  The story says her parents emigrated during the French Revolution, which would have been sometime around 1789.  According to his gravestone, he was born October 15, 1766, so he would have been about 23.  But his wife is said to have been Sebra Goodrum, daughter of Revolutionary War vet Thomas Goodrum.  She would have been born in South Carolina, so they couldn't have traveled together.

Only 3 of William Porter and Sebra Goodrum's 8 children lived until the 1880 Federal census, which is where, for the first time, people were asked about their parents birth.  Two of them list their father's birthplace as North Carolina, and the other lists it as South Carolina.  Many other individuals who have researched this line suggest William is the son of Hugh Porter from North Carolina, who died in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1808.  The will of Hugh Porter does name a son William.  However, there were several William Porters at this time, it's hard to say it is our William.

It's my belief, our Eva Sabrina Porter is not from parents of "French nobility" who escaped during the French Revolution.  I believe her parents were born in the United States.  However, there is a line of Porters who descend from Thomas Porter (1685-1767) of Manakin Town, Goochland County, VA.  He is listed on the "Registered Lineage list" as a "founder of the Huguenot colony at Manakin or Huguenots settling in early colonial Virginia."  This is found on the website for The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia.

Thomas Porter himself was not a Huguenot, but was married to Elizabeth Dutoy (or Dutois), who is said to have been born to parents who were French Huguenots.  The book To be Useful to the World, Women in Revolutionary America 1740-1790, by Joan R. Gundersen, 2006, can be found on Google Books.  On page 18, it relays the story of how Elizabeth Dutoy's mother, Barbara de Bonnet Dutoy escaped France with her parents and sister:   

"...travels began as an infant when her parents hid Barbara and her sister in saddlebags to cross the French border.  One of the children was wounded when a soldier thrust a sword into the bags.  The de Bonnetts were among the 200,000 Huguenots who chose to leave France rather than convert to Catholicism after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.  In 1700/01 the de Bonnetts joined an organized, publicly financed expedition of Huguenots who had received a grant of land in Virginia from the English Crown."

This is all speculation, but, could Eva's story originally been similar to the story above, about Barbara?  Maybe Eva's story that was told to Hannah Elizabeth Weir McPhereson was one that was altered through the generations?  It could have been about the Porter family, or maybe another relation to Eva.  This is something I'm currently researching, but as of now, don't have the answers.  Maybe in the future I'll have another post about this subject.  But until then, lets look at the other interesting comment about Eva.

Engaged To A Future President?
Did Eva really spend her winters in Washington DC?  Entertaining in the political circle?  Her father did have a large plantation in Maury County, TN, but I'm not sure how much he was involved with politics.  What would take him to D.C. anyway?  The Polk family did live in Maury County the same time as Eva's family.  I do find it possible that the Porters and the Polks could have been acquainted, however, I haven't seen any hard proof that they were family friends.

According to, James K. Polk married Sarah Childress on New Years Day, 1824.  That would have put Eva at a very young age.  According to my records, Eva was born March 1, 1815, however, 1850 federal census says she was born in 1812, and the 1860 federal census says she was born in 1814.  Either way, if we assume she was born in 1812 (the earliest date per our documents), then she would have been only 12 years old in 1824.  I know women back in the early 1800s married young, but to be entertaining people at the young age of 12, or younger...I find that a bit hard to believe.

It would be more plausible that one of Eva's older sisters was engaged to President Polk.  Or possibly a friend of the family.  But I do not believe that she was the one who was. 

Overall, I believe these are great stories that were probably altered in some form from generation to generation.  People could have been changed and dates could have been altered unknowingly, making the facts a little skewed.  Still, it was fun to read that we may be descendants of the French elite, even if it may not be true!

Timeline for Eva Sabrina Porter's Life
Here is just a brief timeline of the facts I have in my files on Eva Sabrina Porter.
  • 1815 - March 1 - born in Tennessee to William Porter and Sebra/Sebrina Goodrum (information provided to me by a family source).
    • She was the youngest of 8 children.  Her siblings were:
      • Delphia Porter Hall (1792-1859)
      • James R. Porter (1794-1857)
      • Elizabeth Porter Helms (1797-1880)
      • Nancy Porter Eddleman Turner (1798-after 1880)
      • William Wesley Porter (1800-1872)
      • Sarah Porter Bogard (1803-????)
      • John Nelson Porter (1810-1896)
  • 1831 - February 12 - Eva marries William Alfred Holcomb in Maury County, Tennessee.  William Alfred Holcomb is the son of Kinchen Holcomb and Nancy ?? (Tennessee State Marriages 1780-2002, found on
  • 1832 - June 27 - son John William Porter Holcomb was born in Tennessee (birth information on all of the children was provided to me by a family source).
  • 1834 - September 24 - son Nelson Holcomb was born in Tennessee.
  • 1835 - April 11 - son Nelson Holcomb died in Tennessee.
  • 1836 - October 27 - daughter Parolee S. Holcomb was born in Mississippi (birthplace according to 1850 Federal Census).
  • 1839 - October 18 - son James Alfred Holcomb was born in Tennessee.
  • 1840 - Family living in Maury County, Tennessee (1840 Federal Census), next to Eva's father and mother.
  • 1841 - May 26 - Eva Holcomb listed on the Last Will and Testament of William Porter.
  • 1842 - September 11 - daughter Nancy Evaline was born in Tennessee.
  • 1845 - April 14 - son Francis Newton Holcomb was born in Maury County, Tennessee.
  • 1846 - October 6 - son Thomas William Holcomb was born in Tennessee (my great, great grandfather).
  • 1850 - January 17 - Wesley Houston Holcomb was born in Tennessee.
  • 1850 - Family living in District 11, Maury County, Tennessee (1850 Federal Census), next to Eva's brother John, her mother Sebra, and her brother James' son James W. Porter.
  • 1851 - July 30 - Eva's mother Sebra Goodrum Porter died and was buried in Porter Family Cemetery near her husband.
  • 1852 - August 15 - daughter Roxyanna/Roxanna Holcomb was born in Tennessee.
  • 1854 - January 26 - daughter Roxyanna/Roxanna Holcomb died in Tennessee, and is buried in Porter Family Cemetery, in Maury County, TN (gravestone found on
  • 1860 - Family living in Bell County, Texas (1860 Federal Census).
  • 1869 - March 17 - Eva Sabrina Porter Holcomb died and is said to have been buried in Carpenter's Cemetery, also known as Eulogy Cemetery in Temple, Bell County, Texas.
  • 1869 - June 16 - Eva's husband William Alfred Holcomb died and is said to have been buried near Eva.
If you have any questions, or concerns, about the information in this post, please leave me a comment. I'd be happy to answer any questions, or share what information I have on the individuals listed above. Thanks for reading!!

**Side Note
Doing research on other southern families, I've noticed the first male child is usually named after the wife's father as a sign of respect.  William Alfred Holcomb and Eva Sabrina Porter's first son was named John William Porter Holcomb.  I'm wondering if Eva's father was not just William Porter, but John William Porter?  It seems many people in this line went by their middle names, and not their first names.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy Porter married John Eddeman. Widow Nancy Porter married the Turner. I am a decendent of John, the son of John Eddleman and Nancy Porter. Sherida Helms