U. S. Navy surgeon, Kingston, Rhode Island.
Size: .25 lin. ft.
Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 4
Processed by: Robin Flynn, April 1999
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Thomas Mawney Potter was born in Kingston in 1814, the second son of Elisha Reynolds and Mary (Mawney) Potter. He was a surgeon for the United States Navy. He received his primary school education in Kingston, then attended Brown University, from which he graduated in 1834. He studied medicine in Providence under Dr. Usher Parsons, then graduated from the University of Pennsylvania medical school in 1838.
Potter was appointed as a United States Navy assistant surgeon in October, 1839. Except for periods of leave, he served continuously from September, 1840, to 1847, sailing to the East Indies on the sloop-of-war Boston in 1840, then practicing on the Vandalia from 1842 to 1843; the Raritan from 1843 to 1846; and the Cumberland from1846 to1847. Aboard the steamer Scorpion in 1847, Potter contracted yellow fever and was sent home. In October, 1848, he was ordered to the sloop-of-war Yorktown. He was promoted to the position of Passed Assistant Surgeon in 1849. He served on the Yorktown until 1850, when the vessel was shipwrecked off the Cape Verde Islands.
Potter's next service came in August of 1851. During the remainder of the 1850s, his assignments were both domestic and foreign. During the Civil War, he was assigned to the frigates Santee (1861) and Niagara (1861, 1864-1865), and was surgeon of the Niagara when she was sent in pursuit of the Confederate ram Stonewall. He was promoted to Medical Director in 1871. He served in various assignments for the Navy, including the naval hospital at New York, until 1876, when he retired and returned to Kingston. He died at the Potter homestead in Kingston in April, 1890, at the age of seventy-five.
Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island (Chicago, J. H. Beers & Co., 1908).
Navy Department Record of Service, 1890 (in collection)
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Scope and content:
This subgroup is comprised mostly of correspondence, along with some legal documents including Potter's will, and receipts. Thomas received most of the letters when he was serving on the Raritan. Not much can be gathered from the correspondence about Thomas's medical career; details about his navy life are limited to the names of the vessels on which he served, his location at various times, and the types of articles he sent home to his family.
However, the correspondence is interesting given that most of it is from Thomas's brother Elisha Jr., who kept his brother updated on all the political and social news of the day. The researcher, therefore, can obtain a glimpse into Elisha's opinions and activities that cannot be so directly gathered from his papers (subgroup 3). Since the bulk of the letters date between 1841 and 1846, many of Elisha's comments revolve around the Dorr crisis. Additionally, the correspondence reveals much about the social activities (or the lack thereof) of the villagers in Kingston; in this regard the few letters to Thomas from his sister Mary ("Molly") are revealing. The letters also give insight into the relationships between the Potter siblings, who appeared to be close, and into Elisha's farming activity. An 1846 letter from Elisha mentions a problem with the Kingston potato crop.
An appendix containing some correspondence extracts follows this finding aid.
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The papers in this subgroup were probably part of a 1968 transfer from the University of Rhode Island Library to the RIHS, comprised of over 2000 documents from several Washington County families, the foremost of which are the Reynolds, Potter, Gardiner, Hagadorn, Wells, and Davis families. The papers had formerly been in the private collection of historian William Davis Miller, a descendant of the Davises (see subgroup 11), and were given through bequest to the university upon Miller's death in 1959.
A smaller portion of his collection had gone to the RIHS the same year, but most of that gift was the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter and his son, Elisha Jr. (see subgroups 2 and 3).
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The documents in this collection had been mingled in chronological arrangement with the papers of other South Kingstown families in a collection known as the "Potter Papers", which was a merging of William Davis Miller's 1959 gift to the RIHS and the 1968 University of Rhode Island transfer, along with several other smaller gifts from various parties. In 1998, the Potter Papers were sorted into several family subgroups under a single collection number. The largest subgroups are numbers 2 and 3, the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter Sr. and Jr., respectively.
After separation from the rest of the collection, the papers of Thomas Mawney Potter were arranged by type, and re-housed in acid-free boxes and folders.
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Box, folder 1. Accounts and receipts, 1835-1871.
Box, folder 2. Correspondence, 1833-1844.
Box, folder 3. Correspondence, 1845-1869 and undated.
Box, folder 4. Leases, agreements, 1839-1870.
Box, folder 5. Record of service from Navy Department, April 29, 1890.
Box, folder 7. Wills, 1869, 1889.
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Dorr Rebellion, 1842
Potter, Elisha Reynolds (1882-1811)
Potter, Thomas Mawney (1814-1890)
Rhode Island - Politics and government, 1841-1845
South Kingstown, R.I. - Agriculture
South Kingstown, R.I. - Social life and customs
United States - Politics and government, 1841-1845
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