Potter Family History  

POTTER:   The name and family of Potter are supposed to be Norman in origin.  Ferguson says:

"It has been remarked that names derived from trades are more common in France than England.  I should rather say it is the termination --er which is more common, and that among the multitude of names with this termination there are many which accidentally coincide with names of trades.  We have in almost all cases both in France and England, names which contain the roots and names which form other compounds.  Regarded from this point of view French and English names mutually throw great light on each other.  When I doubt whether Potter means a maker of pots it very much strengthens my suspicion to find not only a French Pottier, but also Potiere with a corroborative termination."

If the various families of Potter who settled in the country were connected at all, it must have been very remotely in their ancestry, coming, as they did, from widely distant localities.  The census of 1774 shows in Rhode Island Potters, five hundred and eight-nine (probably many of these were slaves) in a total population of fifty-four thousand four hundred and sixty.

   ( I )  Robert Potter, the founder and immigrant ancestor of the Potter family in America here dealt with, came from Coventry, England, in 1634.  He was made a freeman of the Massachusetts Plantation, September 3, 1634.  He is mentioned first as being a farmer at Lynn, Massachusetts, and as removing, probably to Roxbury, soon after being made a freeman of the colony.  The records mention his first trouble with his church at Roxbury, which finally resulted in the necessity of his leaving the colony, which he did, and settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  At this time Robert Potter had become a follower and friend of Samuel Gorton, the great religious disturber, and they together with their associates purchased the tract of land called the Shawomett Purchase, in Rhode Island, but afterwards named by them "Warwick," in honor of the Earl of Warwick, who had so much befriended them in their troubles with the Plantation of Massachusetts.

In 1638 Robert Potter appeared again before the court and was admitted an inhabitant of the island of Aquidneck, Rhode Island, the same year.  Gorton, Potter and their associates seem to have been religious agitators.  They agreed with the sect of Quakers in the rejection of church ordinances and in some few other points: they, however, differed from them in may points deemed the most essential.  From the records it appears that they did not get on very peaceably at Portsmouth.  In the following proceedings of the colony of Rhode Island, March 10, 1642, it was ordered that "Robert Potter and Richard Carden, Randall Houlden and Sampson Shotton be disfranchised of the privileges and prerogatives belonging to the body of this state and their names canceled from the records."  On the day following it was ordered by the colony of Rhode Island:  "That if Robert Potter, John Wickes, Randall Houlden, Richard Carden or Sampson Shotton, shall come upon this island armed, they shall be, by the constable calling to himself sufficient aid, disarmed and carried before the magistrate and there find sureties for their good behavior; and further be it established, and if that course shall not regulate them or any of them, then a further due and lawful course of law already begun with John Wickes."

In 1642 Robert Potter sold his house and land in Portsmouth to his brother-in-law, John Anthony.  In 1643 he, with others of the Shawomett purchasers, was notified to appear at the general court at Boston to hear complaint of Pomham and Socconocco has to "some unjust and unjurious deals toward them by yourselves."  This summons they declined to obey, so they were all carried to Boston and sentenced to be confined in different town, their wives betaking themselves to the woods, suffering hardships that resulted in the deaths of at least three of the women, one of them being the wife of Robert Potter.  In the same year Robert Potter was also excommunicated from his church, as appears in the records of the First Church of Roxbury, by the Rev. John Eliot.  There is no record of the exact date of Robert Potter's coming to this country on the ship in which he was a passenger, excepting that he was a passenger with the Rev. Nathan Ward, afterwards a minister of Ispwich, Massachusetts, who left a written account of his visit to Robert Potter in prison.

Robert Potter married (first) in 1643, Isabel -----------; (second) in 1686, Sarah ----------, who after his death married (second) John Sanford, of Boston.  Children by first wife:

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1. Elizabeth, married Richard Harcutt.  2. Deliverance, married James Greene.  3. Isabel, died August 24, 1724; married (first) -------------- Moss, (second) Willian Burton.  4. John, mentioned below.

  ( II )   John, son of Robert and Isabel Potter, was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1639, died in 1694.  He was enrolled a freeman in 1660.  February 6, 1660, he testified that in his conscious that he did believe his father sold a certain house, etc., in Portsmouth to his uncle, Anthony, and engaged that when he came of age he would confirm the sale.  On August 24, 1676, he was a member of the court martial held at Newport for the trial of certain Indians charged with being implicated in King Philip's designs.  Three years later he was granted on his petition by the assembly thirty-six shillings due him for service some years since, being constable, in securing and sending Indians to Newport.  On June 15, 1687, the petition of Sarah Potter, of Warwick, to court was deferred to justices of the peace of Providence, Warwick and Rochester, and three months later, John deeded to his eldest son Robert two hundred acres for love, etc.  John Potter married (first) June 2, 1664, Ruth, daughter of Edward and Judith Fisher; (second) Sarah (Wright) Collins.  Children by first wife: 1. Robert, born at Warwick, Rhode Island, March 5, 1665.  2. Fisher, July 12, 1667.  3. John, mentioned below.  4. William, May 23, 1671.  5. Samuel, January 10, 1672.  6. Isabella, October 17, 1674; married John Budlong, son of Francis and Rebecca (Lippit) Budlong.  7. Ruth, November 29, 1676.  8. Edward, November 25, 1678; married , December 27, 1711, Jane (Burlingham) Potter, widow of John Potter.  9. Content, October 2, 1686, died in 1703;  married,  June 1, 1703, Sarah Wright.

  ( III ) John (2), son of John (1) and Ruth (Fisher) Potter, was born at Warwick, Rhode Island, November 21, 1669, died February 5, 1711, being killed by the fall of a tree.  The jury of inquest on his death judged him "to be axedentolly excesery to his own death occasioned by the fall of a tree." He married Jane, daughter of Roger and Mary Burlingham.  His widow married, December 27, 1711, his brother, Edward, and it is a very singular fact relating to these two brothers that they each had a son named John, who grew to maturity having the same mother, namely, Jane (Burlingham) Potter.  The children of John, all born at Cranston, Rhode Island were:  1.  John, mentioned below;  2. Fisher, died April 28, 1789; married, November 10, 1728, Mary, daughter of Samuel and Mercy (Harding) Winsor.  3. Mary, married, in 1721, Robert Knight.  4.  William, married February 19, 1721, Martha Tillinghast.  5. Amy, married John Holmya.  6. Alice.

  ( IV )  John (3), son of John (2) and Jane (Burlingham) Potter, was born at Cranston, Rhode Island, before 1695.  He lived on the Rivulet Farm, one mile from the Quaker meeting house at Cranston. This house was built by his grandfather, who was born in 1639.  John Potter married, December 12, 1717, Phebe, born in 1693, daughter of Thomas and Ann Grunce.  Children, all born at Cranston, Rhode Island:  1. John, born December 8, 1718; married, May 24, 1739, Hannah, daughter of James and Elizabeth Baker.  2. Joseph, born July 10, 1720, died before 1762, married, January 1, 1747;  Mary, daughter of John and Frances (Holden) Low.  3. Mary, born June 20,1722; married December 19, 1739, Joseph Edwards, Jr.  4. Robley, born February 15, 1724; married, December 29, 1742, Timothy, son of John and Rebecca Russet.  5. Caleb, born October 31, 1725.  6. Stephen, born August 14, 1727, died November 29, 1796, married (first) October 31, 1749, Mary Freeborn, (second) Ruth Freeborn, two sisters, daughters of Gideon and Ruth Freeborn.  7.  Naomi, born May 18, 1729, died January 27, 1806; married, January 14, 1749, Captain Randall Holden.  8. Ruth, born May 18, 1731; married Ezekiel Searles.  9. William, born June 19, 1733.  10. Thomas, mentioned below.   11.  Sarah, born March 1, 1736; married Mahalie Hammett. 

  ( V )  Thomas, youngest son of John (3) and Phebe (Grunce) Potter, was born at Cranston, Rhode Island, March 25, 1735, died November 13, 1795.  He married, October 16, 1755.  Esther, born 1738, died 1800, daughter of Ebenezer and Mary (Hust) Sheldon.  Children:  1. Mary, born July 31, 1756, died May 13, 1757.  2.  Joseph, mentioned below.  3.  Rhodes, April 3, 1759, died August 9, 1760;  4. Sylvester,. 5. Phebe.  6. Rebecca.  7. Thomas.  8. Amy.  9. Clarke T. B. B., born October 28, 1778.

  ( VI )  Joseph, eldest son of Thomas and Esther (Sheldon) Potter, was born August 12, 1757,

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died November 23, 1824.  He removed with his family in 1792 to Beekman (now La Grange), Dutchess County, New York.  He married, December 27, 1781, Anne Knight, born in 1760, died 1833.  Children:  Philadelphia, born 1782;  Paraclete, 1784;  Joseph, 1787;  Sheldon, 1789;  Robert Knight, 1791;  Egbert Benson, 1797;  Alonzo, mentioned below;  Horatio (right Rev.) 1802.

not mentioned above is another son Beekman born 1794 Note - from Part 10 page 11 of Robert Potter of Warwick RI and His Descendants also mentioned is a son  Beekman born 1794.

  ( VII )  Right Rev. Alonzo Potter, D. D., LL. D., bishop of the Protestant episcopal Church of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, son of Joseph and Anne (Knight) Potter, was born at Beekman, New York, July 10, 1800, died July 4, 1865, on board the steamship "Colorado," in the harbor of San Francisco, California.  He was first sent to the district schools of his native hamlet, and was there favored with the instruction of a Mr. Thompson, a man capable of appreciating him.  At the age of twelve he entered the academy at Poughkeepsie, and having secured a scholarship later went to Union College.  He was confirmed at Christ Church, Philadelphia, by the venerable Bishop White, and began his theological studies at the General Theological Seminary.  He was called to be a tutor at the Union College at twenty and within a year was advanced to the professorship of mathematics.  He was made a priest by Bishop Bonnell, and after a period as rector at Boston was made Bishop of Pennsylvania.  His biographer says of him:  "He lived more in his three score years than most of those who stretch to the utmost limit of early continuance do in their larger span."  He married (first) Sarah Maria Knott s/b Nott;  (second) Sarah Benedict; (third) Frances Seton.  Children, all born at Schenectady, New York:  Hon. N. Clarkson s/b Clarkson Nott, born April 25, 1825;  Howard, July 8, 1826;  Robert Brown, mentioned below;  Edward Tuckerman, September 25, 1831;  Henry C., (right Rev.) May 25, 1835;   Rev. Eliphalet, 1837 s/b September 20, 1836;  Maria, 1839 s/b March 19 1839;  by second wife Sarah Benedict Potter children:  James Neilson, 1841 s/b  August 1841;   William Appleton, 1842 s/b December 10, 1842;  Frank Hunter, 1851 s/b December 28, 1851.

  ( VIII ) General Robert Brown Potter, son of the Right Rev. Alonzo and Sarah Maria (Nott) Potter, was born July 16, 1829, died at Newport, Rhode Island, February 19, 1887.  His military career began in New York City, and he was intimately connected with the ninth Army corps, whose chief was General Ambrose E. Burnside, of Rhode island, and therefore it can be said as of Homer in ancient days that three cities can claim the honor of his well-earned fame. After his college course at Union College, under the care of his grandfather, young Potter established himself in New York as a lawyer, and at the beginning of the Civil War was in successful practice in New York City.  After the war broke out, having no immediate ties, his wife having died in 1858, a year after their marriage, he determined to go to the front, and immediately prepared himself by study and drill to take the position of which his ambition called him.

On the organization of the Fifty-fist Regiment in New York he received the commission of lieutenant-colonel.  His superior was Colonel Ferrero, and Charles W. Le Gendre was major.  The regiment was moved to Annapolis and soon after was attached to Burnside's little army at Annapolis, and brigaded under General Reno.  They had their baptisms of fire at Roanoke Island, where Potter led three companies of his regiment to the assault of the batteries and was the first to enter the works.  At Newbern the Fifty-first had again the post of honor and stormed the entrenchments on the left of the rebel lines.  Here Major Le Gendre was shot through the mouth, and Lieutenant-Colonel Potter received a ball in the groin, which passed through this body, and here Potter showed that cool courage in which he was not excelled, not even by Grant.  He remained on the field, in spite of his wound, until the close of the memorable day, and his judgment in pointing the line of attack decided the victory in favor of the Union troops.  From Newbern the Fifty-first was soon after General Pope in what is known as the second Bull Run campaign.  Here they held the left of the Federal lines, covering Pope's retreat, and here again, at the critical point of the day, the Union lines broken, Reno's brigade was called to retrieve the disaster, and Colonel Potter led the gallant Fifty-first in full view of the remainder of the army, and broke the rebel lines.  At South Mountain, where the lamented Reno fell, the Fifty-first was again in the post of honor, and at Antietam, Potter achieved for himself an almost romantic fame.  The Union troops were disordered and the bridge over Antietam Creek, the key to the Federal position, lay in front of the enemy's lines, and under the full fire of their artillery. Potter, seizing the flag

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of his regiment, crossed the bridge, calling on his men to follow him, and thus secured the position, and in the words of McClellan at the time, "he saved the day."  Some day, it has been said, this action will be as noted in history as is the similar dash of Napoleon over the bridge at Arcolo, or over the bridge at Lodi.  At Antietam, again, Potter was slightly wounded.  The Fifty-first, of which, after the promotion of Ferrero to be brigadier-general, Potter had sole command, was sent with General Burnside, his old commanders and life-long personal friend, to take part in the western campaign; Potter took a place on Burnside's staff, and by General Grant's special order received an independent command.  During the siege of Knoxville, Potter commanded the division in front of the lines, and with a greatly inferior force so maneuvered for seven trying days as to check the advance of General Longstreet (detached to the capture of the beleaguered city from General Hood's army) and to admit of the relief and re-enforcement of that port.  It will be remembered that the final assaults of the rebels were defeated on the entrenchments in an almost hand-to-hand fight.  Potter had now reached his true position as a commander of large bodies.  In the Wilderness campaign he was constantly under fire, and unusually active in his division.  Here Major Le Gendre, now colonel of his old regiment, the Fifty-first, was finally disabled, losing an eye.  The assault, after the explosion of the memorable mine at Petersburg, fell to General Burnside's command.  Unfortunately this officer (General Burnside), of but too facile a nature, left to lot the choice of the officer who should lead the assault, and that fell to an incompetent officer.  General Grant in his memoir says: "In fact, Potter and Wilcox were the only division commanders General Burnside had who were equal to the occasion."  Neither of them was chosen.  The eventful history of the mine explosion needs no further reference.  An intimate friend of General Potter states that he had matured a plan for destroying the bridge over the Appomattox, which would have confined General Lee's army and saved further fighting.  A touching incident is related by a friend of General Potter.  He had mounted his horse in front of Fort Sedgwick, called "Fort Hell" by his men, to lead his regiment to battle, when he was struck by a ball and wounded in the groin, as stated above.  While he lay desperately wounded on the field he was visited by President Lincoln, who spoke tenderly to him and cheered him with some of his characteristic words.  After the war he was assigned by he secretary of State to the command of Rhode Island and Connecticut district of the military department of the East, with headquarters in Newport, and in the autumn of the same year he married his second wife.  A graceful compliment was paid to Mrs. Potter, who was in receipt of a novel but acceptable wedding present in the form of a full major general's commission for her husband, sent under the seal of the war department of Secretary Stanton, the general's brevet having already been received.  In 1866 he was appointed colonel of the Forty-first United State Infantry (colored), but never assumed command.  This closed his brilliant military career.  General Hancock said of him that he was one of the twelve best officers (West Point graduates not excepted) in the army, and with his well-known modesty he (General Potter) was wont to say that he might have made a first-rate officer with the advantages of an early education at West Point.

After the gigantic failure of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad Company he was appointed receiver, a position of labor and trust, and for three years he lived in a car on the line of the railroad. Later, in the hope of improving his somewhat shattered health, he went to England, residing in Warwick county, following the hounds, and maintaining his generous hospitality the credit of his native land and a true American gentleman.  On his return he purchased "the Rocks," which he made his residence, and during the summer season he entertained in a liberal manner.  He spent his winters in Washington, making common household with his brother, Congressman Potter, General Potter had a good deal to bear in his latter days in the way of bodily pain, and not a little of it may have been occasioned, it may be presumed, by the rigors of the Civil War, endured by him with immense patience and courage.  A memorial was erected to his memory at the place of his burial, referring to his services to his country, and testifying to the sincere admiration in which he was held by his countrymen.

He married (first) April 14, 1857, Frances

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Tileston; (second) Abby Austin Stevens, daughter of John A. Stevens, a distinguished financier, and president of the Bank of Commerce.  Children: 1. Robert Burnside, mentioned below.  2. Warwick, born October 31, 1871, died October 11, 1893.  3.  Austin, born in New York, January 16, 1873.  4.  Frances Tileston married James L. Breese.

  ( IX ) Robert Burnside, son of General Robert Brown and Abby Austin (Stevens) Potter, was born at New York, January 29, 1869.  He was educated at Groton School, Harvard, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris.  He is by profession an architect and was a member of the firm of Robertson & Potter, architects, 160 Fifth Avenue, New York, from 1900 to 1910.  He was graduated from Harvard in 1891 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and has a diploma as architect from the French government.  He is a member of the American Institute of Architects and is well known in his profession.  Mr. Potter is a member of several prominent clubs and societies, among them, the Knickerbocker Club, the County Club, the New York Yacht Club, the Architectural League, the Society of Beaux Arts, Architects, and the Societe des Architectes Diplomes par le Gouvernement, Paris. His permanent address is Antietam Farm, Smithtown, New York.

Book - Genealogy and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley - Volume I

New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company 1914