The Founding Years
The saga of this lovely home begins with an Irishman
named Alexander Porter. Porter arrived in the United Sates
in 1801 at the young age of 16, having fled Ireland after
his father's execution by the English during the Irish
Rebellion of 1798.
With his uncle and his brother James, Porter originally
settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he studied law and
was admitted to the Tennessee Bar in 1807. For two years, he
served as a practicing attorney in Nashville. During that
time, General Andrew Jackson, a family friend, advised
Porter to move farther south to the territories of Louisiana
or Mississippi. It was there, claimed the general, that
Porter would find great success; for young men such an
education would be in high demand.
In 1809, taking General Jackson's advice,
Alexander Porter found his new home in the Teche Country of
Louisiana and quickly won the trust and friendship of the
people there. Two years later, he was elected as a
representative of Attakapas Parish to serve on the committee
overseeing the creation of the Louisiana State Constitution.
His public career prospered. After Louisiana was
admitted into the Union in 1812, Porter served in the lower
house of the State Legislature for tow years and then as an
Associate Justice for the Louisiana Supreme Court for twelve
During the early years of Porter's public
life he began his work on Oaklawn Manor. In 1812 he
began purchasing property along the Bayou Teche in St. Mary
Parish until he owned thousands of acres along both sides of
the Bayou. His sugar plantation grew immensely
successful, and by 1840 Porter owned additional assets
valued at roughly $100,000.
He married Evalina Baker, the daughter of
Joshua Baker, in Franklin during the month of July 1815.
The records of his marriage are housed in volume 1, No. 69
at the St. Mary Parish Courthouse. Unfortunately,
Porter's beloved Evalina died shortly after the birth of
their second daughter, Anne, in 1819, and the couple's first
daughter, also named Evalina, lived but for a short while.
They were buried in the Porter family plot of the Old City
Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. Porter's maiden
sister assumed the responsibilities of caring for the young
Anne and the household.
Despite the tragedies of his personal
life, Porter continued to thrive in his political career.
A great accomplishment for him during this time was helping
to establish the Whig party in Louisiana. In addition,
he forged a personal friendship with Henry Clay, a
friendship that would last his lifetime. In 1834, at
the age of forty-nine, Alexander Porter, the man who
emigrated from Ireland to escape persecution, became a
United States Senator. Two years later, however, he
left his senate seat due to poor health and dedicated much
of his time and energy to bu9lding the Manor House and
cultivating the lands of Oaklawn.
Not one to remain sedentary, Porter set
his sights on traveling abroad. Accompanied by his
daughter, Anne, he visited Cuba in 1838 and then briefly
returned to his native Ireland in 1840. His domestic
travels included excursions to the fashionable racetracks of
Louisville and New Orleans, as well as frequent stays at
prestigious health resorts in Virginia. When not
traveling, Porter and Oaklawn Manor played host to many
important and distinguished guests who visited the area.
Following a trip to New Orleans in 1843, Henry Clay spent
some time at Oaklawn where his room became popularly known
as the "Henry Clay Room."
Poor health plagued the Porter family and
saw an end to happier days. Porter's daughter Anne, no
longer able to travel, passed away shortly after her
marriage to Mr. Alston of South Carolina, leaving no heirs.
Her father's death was not long in coming. Alexander
Porter, the visionary of Oaklawn and popular statesman, died
in 1844 at the age of 59.
President John Quincy Adams noted the
passing of Alexander Porter in his diary, "He was a man of
fine talents, amiable disposition, pleasant temper
benevolent heart, elegant taste and classical requirements.
His death is a grievous loss to the Country."
Alexander Porter was laid to rest in the
family plot in Nashville, Tennessee, with a monument marking
his grave. James Porter inherited his brother's estate
and moved his family from a smaller plantation in West Baton
Rouge Parish. James, much like his brother, succumbed
to poor health. He died in 1849, bequeathing Oaklawn
to his wife, Mary Walton Porter. At the time of
James's death, the plantation and its remaining assets were
valued at over $260,000.
Following the Civil War, the house was
solely attended by Mrs. Walton Porter and her two daughters.
With no slaves and few servants, the Porter women were
unable to continue raising the fields of sugar cane, the
only cash crop of the area: consequently, when a wealthy New
Yorker offered to buy the plantation, the ladies had little
choice but to accept.