JAMES DAVIS PORTER was born in Paris, Tennessee and received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Nashville in 1846. He went on to study law under his future father-in-law, as well as to serve in the Tennessee House of Representatives until the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, Governor Isham Harris appointed him Assistant Adjutant-General in the Provisional Army of Tennessee, and he continued to serve when the state’s forces were transferred to the Confederacy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After the war ended, he returned to his law practice and then served as Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit of Tennessee for four years before undertaking a successful campaign for governor. A strong advocate of education, Porter played a key role in establishing the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville and during his administration the first black medical school-Meharry Medical College-was founded. Porter was less successful in resolving the problem of the state’s debt. After leaving office, he became president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad Company. He served as Assistant Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland from 1885 until 1887. In 1893 President Cleveland made him Minister to Chile, a post that he held for two years. Having already been chosen president of the Board of Trustees of the University of Nashville, he became the university’s Chancellor in 1901, and in 1902 he was chosen to serve as president of Peabody Normal College. When the two schools merged, he became President of the new George Peabody College, serving until 1909.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 7. New York: James T. White & Company.
Past Governors of Tennessee
Philips, Margaret I. The Governors of Tennessee. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
White, Robert H. Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1869-1883. Nashville: The Tennessee Historical Commission, Vol. 6, 1952.