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John L. Porter (1813 - December 14, 1893), whose father was a shipwright at Portsmouth, Virginia, was born in 1813. He became a United States Navy civilian employee during the 1840s and a Naval Constructor in 1859. After resigning from the U.S. Navy in May 1861, he began working for the Confederate States Navy at the Gosport (Norfolk) Navy Yard, at Portsmouth. He played an important role in the conversion of the scuttled and burned steam frigate USS Merrimack to an ironclad, which became CSS Virginia when commissioned in February 1862.
After the Confederates abandoned the Norfolk area in May 1862, Porter became a Naval Constructor at Richmond, Virginia and later at Wilmington, North Carolina. He was promoted to Chief Naval Constructor in January 1864 and served in that capacity to the end of the U.S. Civil War, designing many of the South's domestically-built warships. Following the conflict, Porter worked in civilian shipbuilding, industry and ferry operations. He died on December 14, 1893.