The Potters                                           


he Potters of Rhode Island were among the first settlers of Yates County, some members of the family being among the pioneers of the Society of Universal Friends in 1788. All those who came here were descendants of William Potter and his wife Penelope Hazard of Little Rest. Penelope adhered to the Friend's teachings for the rest of her life, but never came west; her husband came, went back to Rhode Island and finally returned. He outlived most of his children but reconciled with the Friend before his death at the age of 83 in 1814.

William had nine children (out of thirteen) who reached adult age, and they all came with him to the Genesee Country. Only five of these had issue:

  • Alice Potter was born 20 April 1756, and married Arnold Hazard in Rhode Island. She was usually known as Alcy Hazard, and was a fervent follower of the Universal Friend, dressing like her and preaching in public. She came permanently to City Hill after her husband's death in 1802, and raised two children, a son and a daughter. She died in 1822.
  • Benedict Arnold Potter, known after the Revolution by his middle name, was born 4 September 1761, and married Sarah Brown. He was the purchaser, in 1789, of all the land in what are now the towns of Middlesex and Potter (which was of course named for him). He was part of the group that split early from the Friend, and pursued his own interests after that. He built his mansion in the southeast corner of Potter in 1790, and encouraged many of his former Rhode Island neighbors to settle near him. He died returning from a trip to Philadelphia to sell cattle, 7 January 1810 near Harrisburg, Pa. He left his widow and three children, two sons and a daughter.
  • Edward Potter was born in February 1768 and married Ann Johnson. A tract of land in Milo (afterwards Torrey) was given him by his father. A century later this land was still in the hands of the family. He had five children, including Francis M. Potter, who lived in Penn Yan.

Francis M. Potter went to New York City in his youth to study medicine under the direction of Dr. Valentine Mott. He married Ann Ryerson of Brooklyn, and then came to Penn Yan to practice his profession. He still owned a great deal of property in New York, and he lost much of it to a disastrous fire. His wife died in Penn Yan in 1846, and he returned to Brooklyn after her death. He died there on 1 April 1865, leaving two daughters.

  • Only one of Judge William Potter's children had a large number of descendants, and that was his oldest son, Thomas Hazard Potter, born 8 December 1753. He married Patience Wilkinson, sister of the Universal Friend. He came to the town of Potter with his family in 1790, and settled there next to his brother Arnold. They both died on their farm, he in 1807 and she in 1849. Their daughters Susan and Eliza married and had children, the former to Job Briggs, and the latter to Baxter Hobart.

Thomas H. and Patience's only son John married his cousin Nancy Wilkinson of Cumberland, Rhode Island, at Potter in 1808. She was the daughter of Jeptha Wilkinson, brother of the Friend and of his mother Patience Wilkinson Potter. Jeptha took part in the explorations of the Genesee Country that led to the Society's settling here, though he never came here himself. He went to New York City and practiced medicine there until his death in 1803 during an epidemic of the plague. John and Nancy had nine children, seven of whom reached adult age. One was the celebrated physician Dr. Hazard A. Potter, born in 1810, whose inspiration to turn to the profession occurred as a result of a farm accident, when his leg was amputated by Dr. Joshua Lee.

Another son of John and Nancy was Jeptha A. Potter, who was born in 1813 and married Sarah Davis of Benton in 1840. They had no children of their own. Jeptha worked his grandfather's homestead and gained a reputation as a successful and prosperous farmer, buying his own place at the age of 26, at about the same time he married. Then in 1870 he and his wife moved to Penn Yan and lived in Morris F. Sheppard's old stone mansion on Main Street. Sarah died in 1884, and Jeptha in 1907 having been a member of the Methodist Church for more than 50 years, and a resident of Morris Sheppard's stone house for so long that it was usually called the Potter house afterwards.

Jeptha A. and Sarah Potter adopted a son called by them Edson Potter, who was born in Chemung County in 1854. He was raised by them in their household, and later married one of James Brown Jr.'s daughters. Brown had been the steward of the Friend's property, and after the death of the Malin sisters became the administrator of her estate. Much of it was distributed in Rachel Malin's will to her relatives, and one of these was a girl named Mary Ann Clark. Brown married her when she was a teenager and he in his 60s, and of this union were born four daughters. When Brown died his widow remarried, to Peter S. Oliver, who at that time lived at 158 Main Street in his uncle's old house. When Edson Potter married Elizabeth Friend Brown they continued to live there, and then in the 1880s built their own house next door. It is through this couple and their children that the village of Penn Yan and the Historical Society came into possession of so many of the Friend's papers and belongings.


Far right: A portrait of Jeptha A. Potter, from the collection of the Oliver House Museum.

The Potter family was associated  with:


    158 Main Street
    160 Main Street
 215 Main Street
    338 Main Street
    342 Main Street
    344 Main Street
 The southeast corner