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
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
- 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.