Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr. Papers
Lawyer and politician of South Kingstown, R.I.
Size: 2 lin. ft.
Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 2
Processed by: Robin Flynn, May 1999
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr. (1764-1835) was born in South Kingstown in 1764, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Reynolds) Potter. Elizabeth was the daughter of Elisha Reynolds (see SG 1) and Susannah (Potter). Elisha's paternal grandparents were Ichabod and Margaret (Helme) Potter.
Elisha's first occupation was that of blacksmithing. He obtained formal education at Plainfield Academy, and instruction in law under Matthew Robinson. According to the Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island, Potter was admitted to the bar around 1789, and was admitted to practice in the United States Circuit Court in December, 1790. He married the widow Mary (Gardiner) Perkins in November, 1790. Mary was the daughter of Caleb Gardiner, and had first married goldsmith and merchant Joseph Perkins (see SG 10), through whom she had acquired wealth and land. There were no children by either of her marriages.
Potter became involved in Rhode Island politics in 1793, when he was elected a representative to the General Assembly, and the focus of his life turned more to politics than law. The bulk of his political career was spent on the state level: he served in the General Assembly from 1793 to 1796; 1798 to 1809; and 1816 to 1835 (except in 1818, when he ran for governor as a Federalist). He was elected a Representative to U.S. Congress in 1796, replacing Benjamin Bourne, but resigned 1797. He was again elected U.S. Representative in 1809, and served until 1815, when he declined another term. In 1824, he was president of the convention for a Rhode Island constitution; from 1821 to 1835, he served as the second president of the Landholder's Bank. In both 1833 and 1835, Potter was nominated to run for the United States Senate, but was defeated.
His first wife, Mary (Gardiner) Perkins Potter, died in 1809. In 1810, Potter married her 31-year-old niece, Mary Mawney, the daughter of Pardon Mawney. Elisha and Mary (Mawney) Potter had five children: Elisha Reynolds Jr., born 1811; Thomas Mawney, born 1814; William Henry, born 1816; James Brown Mason, born 1818; and Mary Elizabeth, born 1820.
Mary (Mawney) Potter died in July, 1835 at the house of her brother-in-law, Jeffery Davis. Elisha died in September, 1835 at the age of seventy.
Canfield, Rosemary. Some Rhode Island Descendants of Nathaniel Potter (Pacific Grove, Ca., 1989).
Cole, J.R. History of Washington and Kent Counties (New York, W. W. Preston & Co., 1889), pp. 169, 171.
McBurney, Christian M. Kingston: A Forgotten History (Kingston, Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, 1975), pp. 52 and 65.
Biographic Encyclopedia of Connecticut and Rhode Island of the 19th Century (Providence, National Biographic Publishing Co., 1881), p. 156.
Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island (Chicago, J. H. Beers & Co., 1908), v. 1, pp. 53-55.
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Scope and content:
Incoming correspondence to Potter begins around the year 1787 and continues until the year of his death, 1835. The letters address legal, agricultural, family, business, financial, and political topics. Many letters between 1787 and 1805 are from Potter's brother Asa concerning his businesses and investments in Rhinebeck, New York, where he resided. Asa died suddenly in New York in October 1805, and many letters from that point up to about 1808 concern Asa's estate settlement, for which Potter was the administrator. A letter dated February 8, 1804 from George Champlin to Potter describes a duel between two men named Rutledge and Senter, taking place in Georgia; the "Senter" is probably Dr. Horace Senter, son of Isaac, who died at age 24, January 1804, in Savannah, Georgia (see RI Cemetery Database).
Beginning in 1825 are letters from many prominent Rhode Island men discussing politics, both local and national. These letters pick up in frequency and intensity in the late 1820s. Correspondents include John Brown Francis (frequent letters begin 1829), John Carter Brown, Josiah Quincy, Thomas P. Ives, Dutee J. Pearce, and James and William D'Wolf. Interestingly, one of Francis's letters introduces the political topic of free suffrage as early as April, 1829.
Letters from Potter's oldest son Elisha, Jr. are full of details concerning political events in Washington, such as the Nullificaton Crisis of 1832-1833. Prominent national political figures, such as Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, and “the General”, President Jackson, are frequently discussed in these letters, which often outline speeches made on important and controversial issues before Congress.
Notes and a brief from Potter's 1831 U.S. Supreme Court case concerning South Ferry can be found in series 3.
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Most of the papers in this subgroup came from the collection of historian William Davis Miller, whose ancestors were cousins to Elisha Potter, Jr. Miller died in 1959 and, by bequest, left some of his papers to the RIHS. A larger portion, over 2000 documents, went to the University of Rhode Island. In 1968, the university transferred their portion to the RIHS. The Miller gifts received directly by the Society in 1959 are: letters from Josiah Quincy to ERP Sr. dated between 1813 and 1831; a copy of a letter from Quincy to Potter and vica versa, 1829; five letters between Potter and his wife, 1811-1815; and two letters from ERP Jr. to his father, 1829 and 1830. There is also a letter from Sarah B. Mason to Mrs. E. R. Potter (Sr.), and ERP Sr.'s statement concerning the legality of Asher Robbins as senator, dated 1833.
Miller also donated, in 1947, letters from John Brown Francis, though it is not clear if the letters are to Elisha Sr. or Jr. In 1985, the Society purchased from Cohasco, Inc. a letter signed by Elisha Reynolds Potter, but it is again unclear whether the signer was ERP Sr. or Jr.; nor is the writer known.
Several items were transferred to this collection from the Shepley Collection (MSS 9006), which came to the Society intact from the Shepley Library in 1938. These items are:
Deed from Samuel Brayton for Beriah Waite land, to ERP Sr., 1821 (formerly Shepley v. 7, p. 58)
Deed from Nathaniel Mumford, 1823 (formerly v. 7, p. 52)
Deed to ERP Sr. from Samuel Potter, 1793 (formerly v. 7, p. 59)
Oath of office as commissioner of 2nd div RI, direct tax 1798, ERP Sr (formerly v. 9 p. 47)
Mortgage deed, Ezekiel Holley to ERP Sr., 1829 (formerly v. 6 p. 82)
Deed, Henry Reynolds to ERP Sr., 1795 (formerly v. 6 p. 81)
Any other items are most likely part of the 1968 transfer of URI's gift from William Davis Miller.
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The documents in this collection had been mingled in chronological arrangement with the papers of other South Kingstown families and individuals in a collection known as the "Potter Papers". In 1998, the papers in that collection were sorted into several related family subgroups, the largest of which remained those of Elisha Reynolds Potter Sr. and his son, Elisha Reynolds Jr. After separation from the rest of the collection, they were arranged by type and re-housed in acid-free folders and boxes.
The correspondence series includes outgoing letters written by Potter which are interfiled chronologically with letters he received. There is also one folder of correspondence received by Potter's second wife, Mary (Mawney) Potter, filed directly after Potter's correspondence.
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Series 1. Correspondence.
Box 1, folder 1. 1787-1805.
Box 1, folder 2. 1806-1811.
Box 1, folder 3. 1812-1818.
Box 1, folder 4. 1819-1825.
Box 1, folder 5. 1826-1829.
Box 1, folder 6. 1830-1831.
Box 1, folder 7. 1832.
Box 1, folder 8. 1833.
Box 1, folder 9. 1834.
Box 1, folder 10. 1835 and undated.
Box 1, folder 11. Mary (Mawney) Potter, 1826-1835 and undated.
Series 2. Political.
Box 1, folder 12. Constitutional Convention, 1824
Box 1, folder 13. Depositions re: accusations against ERP Sr.'s buying votes, 1818, 1826.
Box 1, folder 14. Direct Tax commission documents, 1798.
Box 1, folder 15. "ERP on Asher Robbins", copied by William Hunter, ca. 1833.
Box 1, folder 16. Letter (copy) from Nicholas Easton to _____ re: ERP's influence on division of Glocester, 1799 (copied of Samuel J. Potter)
Box 1, folder 17. Town valuations (R.I.), 1822-1824.
Box 1, folder 18. Voter lists, 1820, 1828 and undated.
Box 1, folder 19. Miscellaneous. The folder contains
Meeting of Federal Republicans, acknowledgment to ERP Sr. and Richard Jackson Jr. for their stance on the war, 1812
ERP Sr.'s appointment to Baltimore Convention, 1832
"E R Potter account of Fenner", undated
Series 3. Legal.
Loose volume, "Bills of cost, Court of Common Pleas", 1788-1824.
Box 1, folder 20. Benjamin Maxson vs. Abel Larkin, 1795.
Box 1, folder 21. E.R. Potter Sr. vs. Case, interrogatory of William H. Case, 1832.
Box 1, folder 22. Potter vs. Gardiner re: South Ferry ("Ferry Farm"), ca. 1821-1831.
Box 1, folder 23. Potter vs. Gardiner brief by ERP Sr., 1831.
Box 1, folder 24. ERP Sr., miscellaneous legal, 1795-1810 and undated. The folder contains
Appointment of ERP Sr. as attorney for Lawton and Susannah Gardner, 1798.
Judgement, John Segar vs. Daniel Shearman, 1799.
ERP Sr., "Indian cases", 1807-1810.
ERP Sr., undated legal notes.
"Answer to Robbins statement by SW" (title is handwriting of ERP Jr.), undated.
Series 4. Deeds, indentures, bonds, and agreements.
Box 1, folder 25. Agreements, 1796-1829.
Box 1, folder 26. Agreements concerning estate and children of ERP's brother Asa Potter, 1809.
Box 1, folder 27. "Case land at or near Little Rest, Knowles land 1786 and later"
Oversized storage: Certificate, membership to American Antiquarian Society, ERP,1815.
Box 1, folder 28. Deeds, 1791-1813.
Box 1, folder 29. Deeds, 1814-1826 (nothing between 1809 and 1818).
Box 1, folder 30. Deeds, 1827-1835 and undated.
Box 1, folder 31. Deeds, notes re: Judge William Potter farm in New York, ca. 1806-1835.
Oversize storage: Deed to ERP Sr for Robinson property, 1797.
Series 5. Landholder's Bank.
Box 2, folder 1. "Accounts, Vol. 1", February 1, 1839 - October 17, 1842.
Box 2, folder 2. "Accounts, Vol. 2", July 1, 1844 - March 20, 1848.
Box 2, folder 3. Register of dollar bills, various denominations, August 20, 1846 - October 27, 1862.
Box 2, folder 4. Weekly reports, October 20, 1828 - March 5, 1832.
Series 6. Loose accounts.
Box 2, folder 5. Account books, 1788-1791; 1796-1797; ca. 1813.
Box 2, folder 6. Accounts, 1788-1800.
Box 2, folder 7. Accounts, 1801-1809.
Box 2, folder 8. Accounts, 1810-1815.
Box 2, folder 9. ERP's account of his real and personal estate, 1816.
Box 2, folder 10. Accounts, 1816-1823.
Box 2, folder 11. Accounts, 1824-1835 and undated.
Box 2, folder 12. Accounts with John L. Boss, 1790-1836.
Box 2, folder 13. Carriage duties (certificates of payment), 1815-1817.
Box 2, folder 14. Receipts from Samuel Perry, 1791-1825.
Box 2, folder 15. Receipt book, 1794-1822.
Box 2, folder 16. Receipts, Rhode Island Advocate, 1831-1832.
Box 2, folder 7. Receipts, 1788-1810.
Box 2, folder 18. Receipts, 1811-1818.
Box 2, folder 19. Receipts, 1819-1835 and undated.
Series 7. Estate of ERP Sr.
Box 2, folder 20. Drafts and copies of will, circa 1835; 1903, 1909.
Box 2, folder 21. Receipts and account settlements, 1835-1840.
Box 2, folder 22. Wills, 1805, 1835 and administration papers, R.I. and N.Y., 1835-1838.
Series 8. Potter family.
Box 2, folder 23. Pardon Mawney (father of Mary Mawney, ERP's 2nd wife), papers, 1774-1799.
Box 2, folder 24. Asa Potter, Sr. (1766-1805) - deeds, agreements, 1802 - February 1805. (Brother of ERP Sr.)
Oversized storage: Deed, Asa and Ann (Hannah) Potter to Benjamin Bogardus, 1802
Box 2, folder 25. Asa Potter, Sr. - estate papers, will, circa 1805-1808.
Box 2, folder 26. Asa Potter, Jr. (1802-1872) - correspondence, 1819-1832 and undated. (Son of Asa Sr.)
Box 2, folder 27. Asa Potter, Jr. - agreements, indentures, 1829-1833.
Box 2, folder 28. Asa Potter, Jr. - miscellaneous. The folder contains
Accounts, 1813-1829 (3)
School exercise, undated
Printed lecture by William E. Channing, 1839
Box 2, folder 29. Elizabeth (Reynolds) Potter (1737-1806) - accounts, 1800, 1805. (Mother of ERP Sr.)
Box 2, folder 30. Elizabeth ("Betsey") Potter (1770-1845) - accounts, 1809-1834. (Sister of ERP Sr.)
Box 2, folder 31. Hannah (Ann) (Hagadorn) Potter - papers, 1807-1815. (Wife of Asa Sr.)
Box 2, folder 32. Robert (1732-1810) and Abigail (Gardiner) Potter - deeds, receipts, 1775-1789. (Relation to ERP Sr. unknown.)
Box 2, folder 33. Thomas Potter ("Col.", "Jr.", 1738-1793), papers, 1766-1792. (Father of ERP Sr.)
Box 2, folder 34. Thomas Potter (probably brother of ERP Sr., born 1762) - deed, 1796.
Box 2, folder 35. Miscellaneous Potters. The folder contains
Typescript of death sentence for burglars of Joseph Potter home, 1791
Deed, sale of Enoch Hazard estate to Samuel J. Potter, 1793
Account, William R. Potter, 1795
Deed, Elizabeth Gardner et al to Samuel R. Potter, 1824
Box 2, folder 36. Miscellaneous from ERP papers. The folder contains
Set of St. Paul's Church (Narragansett) lottery tickets, 1792
Biographical sketch of Benjamin Franklin Hallett, author unknown, circa 1827?
Extract from will of George Tillinghast of East Greenwich, undated
ERP Sr., memoranda book, undated
Diagram of ERP meeting house pews, undated
Newspaper clipping re: accusation of corruption against "Mr. Crawford", newspaper unknown, undated
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Adams, John (1735-1826) (U.S. President)
Banks and banking - Rhode Island
Bowen, Ephraim (1753-1841)
Brown, John (1736-1803)
Brown, John Carter (1797-1874)
Brown & Ives
D'Wolf, James (1764-1837)
D'Wolf, William (1762-1829)
Danforth, Walter R. (1767-1861)
Direct Tax, 1798
Fenner, Arthur (1745-1805)
Francis, John Brown (1791-1864)
Hallett, Benjamin Franklin
Ives, Thomas Poynton (1769-1835)
Pearce, Dutee Jerauld (1789-1849)
Potter, Asa Sr. (1766-1805)
Potter, Asa Jr. (1802-1872)
Potter, Elisha R. (1764-1835)
Potter, Elisha R. (1811-1882)
Quincy, Josiah (1774-1864)
Rhode Island - politics and government -- 1825-1835
Senter, Horace (d. 1804)
South Ferry - South Kingstown, R.I.
South Kingstown, R.I. - Land records
South Kingstown, R.I. - Social life and customs
United States - History -- War of 1812
United States - Politics and government -- 1825-1835
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