My question: were people and was society back in the 1600s really much different than it is today???
Monday, August 11, 2014
"Notorious" William Potter, 1608 (England) to 1662 (Connecticut)
A good friend here in Spokane recently discovered that she can take her Potter line back to this William Potter, the "notorious" William Potter accused of bestiality. Besides checking into the online issues of my Potter Profiles she did some Internet searching and came up with this. This was new information to me and was not included in any issue of Potter Profiles.
Found at: http://www.todrobbins.com/robbins/people/william-potter.html, 11 Aug 2013
A review of extant source materials by Sara Robbins Hoffman (12 Jan 2011)
William Potter is probably the most notorious ancestor in the family of Daniel & Hope Potter Robins. The name of William Potter first appears on the manifest of the ship Abigail. The ship left Plymouth, England destined for Boston in New England on June 4, 1635, among the passengers were William Potter age 27, wife Frances age 26 & 4 month old son Joseph Potter. However, what is known about the life & death of William Potter is found primarily in the Records of the Court of New Haven Colony. The records indicate William Potter was an educated Puritan & a fairly well to-do land owner. William first settled at Watertown, MA then moved on to New Haven Colony around 1639. He purchased land at New Haven & was occupied there as a “planter” until his death. William’s mother Hannah & his younger brother John Potter also settled at New Haven. The New Haven Court records show he was fined one shilling in 1643 for being late to a militia meeting & later fined for having a defective firearm & lack of ammunition. The records show these offenses were not uncommon ones among the citizens of the Colony. In 1648, William Potter advertises to pick up & deliver grain to the grist mill & return it to homes for a fee. He appears to have been a good citizen, respected & an upstanding member of the First Church of Christ at New Haven. William & Frances Potter had six children, Joseph, Sarah, Mary, Hope, Rebecca & Nathaniel. William Potter witnessed the will of Richard Mansfield in 1654 & appraised Mr. Mansfield’s estate in 1655. William Potter served as executor of his mother Hannah Potter Beecher’s estate in 1657. On May 31, 1658, William Potter was a witness for the plaintiff in the court case of Thomas Wheaton vs John Meigs. On May 19, 1662, William Potter wrote his will leaving his estate to his youngest son, eighteen year old Nathaniel Potter. Frances Potter served as administratrix & was in charge Nathaniel’s inheritance until he reached age 21. The will stated when Nathaniel was of age he was to care for his mother as long as she remained a widow. The oldest son Joseph was to receive 30 pounds to be paid within six years from the date of the will. Daughters Hope & Rebecca were to receive 20 pounds each.
It appears around May 16, 1662 or shortly before William Potter wrote his will his wife Frances & one of his sons accused him of bestiality. The name of his son is not given in the records. On May 26, 1662, William Potter age 54 was called before the court to answer to the accusation. When William Potter was first examined by the magistrates the records indicate he answered with “distinction.” He appeared to be shocked by the accusation & denied it. The records show the magistrates Benjamin Fenn, Robert Treat & Jasper Crane said they were not able to charge him. However, they were not satisfied because his accusers were close family members. It was their decision to turn William Potter over to the church authorities & Deputy Governor Matthew Gilbert for further examination. They stated that “God would bring the truth to light.” The event that followed was an interrogation of William Potter as indicated by the record. The amount of time devoted to this examination was not revealed. The end result was a lengthy, rambling confession, where William Potter said his sin began at age 11, he names numerous animals involved & that he “hath nothing but his sin left upon him & is discouraged, & his sins affright him from God”. An observation made by the court regarding his confession reads “much was said by him by the way of acknowledgement of his euill (evil) but in a confused way, as that sometimes he was filled with horror.” At the end of his confession, he portrays a confused man without hope who believes his sin was so great that God had forsaken him. Before sentencing, Governor William Leete read the law to William Potter & asked if he had anything to say as to why the court should not judge him according to the law. William Potter answered “No” & was sentenced to death by hanging on June 6, 1662.
Frances Potter, according the manifest of the ship Abigail Frances Potter, was born 1609. No reliable documentation has been presented to prove her maiden name. Frances was 53 years old in 1662 when she accused her husband William of bestiality. They had been married approximately 28 years. Frances most likely was aware of the penalty of the crime of bestially when she accused her husband. William Potter stated before the court that he had seen others “put to death for these acts.” Widow Frances Potter appeared in court when William’s will was probated & stated she agreed with the terms of the will. However, she was either not truthful to the court or she later changed her mind afterwards by giving her daughters’ legacies to her son Joseph. This resulted in Frances Potter being summoned to the court of New Haven again where she was instructed to give her daughters their inheritance. The court records states Frances Potter “paid so much to her son Joseph Potter contrary to the Will whereby she was disenabled to pay just debts.”
Joseph Potter, the oldest son, was born 1635 in England. He was 27 years old when his father was executed. William Potter’s legacy to his son Joseph was 30 pounds to be distributed over a period of six years. Joseph appeared with his mother Frances on October 15, 1662 when the will was presented "to the New Haven court for ye proofing of it." After the reading of the will, Frances Potter was asked by the court if anyone had anything to say against it. She answered “Yes” her son Joseph. The records show Frances & Joseph had conversation between the two of them. Then Joseph replied to the court that his mother & he had agreed & they were satisfied the will should stand.
Thomas Wheaton, executioner of William Potter. Mr. Wheaton charged William Bassett & his wife on June 25, 1662 for slandering him. Mr. Wheaton had been given immunity prior to the execution of William Potter by Deputy Governor Matthew Gilbert for any charges of slander made regarding his service as executioner. The Bassetts were neighbors of the Potters & came to New England on the ship Abigail at the same time as the Potters. Mr. & Mrs. Bassett began speaking to others after William Potter’s execution saying they believed Thomas Wheaton served as the executioner for gain They also said the magistrates were “impudent” in selecting Thomas Wheaton for this service because he was a good friend & neighbor of the Potters & at one time had lived at the Potter home. William Potter had also testified on the behalf of Mr. Wheaton in 1658 regarding a dispute Thomas Wheaton had against John Meigs regarding his indentureship with Mr. Meigs. One Sunday on their way to church, Mrs. Bassett told Frances Potter & Mrs. Foote her thoughts on Thomas Wheaton. Apparently, Frances Potter objected to Mrs. Bassett’s statements & Mrs. Foote agreed. Mrs. Bassett told them “the truth was to be knowne on ye Sabbath day as well as at other times.” The Bassetts were summoned to court & reprimanded. They apologized & paid a fine of 40 shillings. William Bassett indicated in his testimony that Joseph Mansfield didn’t think the sentence against William Potter was just. Nothing more was recorded about Joseph Mansfield. Mary Potter, daughter of William & Frances Potter married Joseph Mansfield. It is not known if this was the same man.
1. Was the confession of William Potter coerced?
2. Why did Frances Potter wait 28 years to make charges?
3. Why did William Potter leave his estate to his younger son Nathaniel & not the oldest son Joseph?
4. Did a family dispute or disputes cause Frances & son to make accusations against William?
5. Was Frances Potter truthful when she told the court she agreed with William’s will?
6. Why did Frances Potter give her daughters’ legacies & other funds to her son Joseph?