Philip Potter, born 1729, worked 1756 - 1775


cabinetmaker; shop joiner; merchant; yeoman


Providence, Rhode Island, Johnston, Rhode Island

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Philip Potter was born in August, 1729, in Providence to joiner Fisher Potter (1706–1789) and Mary (Winsor) Potter.(1) Mary (Winsor) Potter was born in Providence in 1707 to Samuel Winsor, Jr., and Mercy Winsor. She married Fisher Potter in November, 1728.(2) Philip's paternal grandparents were John Potter (1668–1711) and Jane (Burlingame) Potter. His paternal great-grandparents were John Potter (died 1694) and Ruth (Fisher) Potter, daughter of Edward Fisher of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His paternal great-great-grandfather Robert Potter emigrated from England to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1628, removed to Aquidneck Island by 1638, and was of Warwick, Rhode Island, by 1642.(3)

In February, 1756, Potter was among the six Providence cabinetmakers to sign a price-fixing agreement.(4)

When his father was judged non compos mentis(5) by the Town Council of Scituate in June, 1756, Philip became his father's legal guardian.(6) In December of that year, Philip was identified as a Providence joiner when Scituate blacksmith William Salisbury sued to recover a debt owed by Fisher.(7)

Philip was married to Lucretia (Eddy) Potter by March, 1757, when their son Asaph was born in Providence.(8) In May of that year, Philip was judged incapable of managing his father's affairs. Jonathan Cole became Fisher's legal guardian.(9) Throughout the following years, Potter was often identified as a shop joiner when he bought and sold land in Providence.

Potter was involved in the Providence furniture trade in these same years, establishing a

long-standing relationship with Joseph Crawford. In 1762, he billed Captain Joseph Crawford three hundred fifty seven pounds for chairs and tables. In 1763, he billed Captain Crawford for maple and walnut desks, and maple, mahogany, and cherry tables. In 1764, he sold maple, walnut, and mahogany tables, "Joyners' chairs," and desks. In 1767, he billed Crawford for two small mahogany tables, and a set of ball-and-claw feet.(10) These early trade ventures must have been successful, inspiring Philip to engage more directly in trade. By 1768, for example, he was identified as a "shop joiner alias shop keeper alias yeoman," when sued by Cranston yeoman John Burton, Jr., for failure to pay an eleven pound debt.(11)

In the next two years, Potter was brought before the courts of common pleas in Providence and Bristol counties dozens of times for failure to pay debts. His fortunes had evidently turned, culminating with his 1770 insolvency. A public vendue, or auction, was held to settle the accounts of his creditors. The items for sale included his farm in Johnston, Rhode Island, half ownership of a new ship, "about Seventy Tons Burthen, launched, but unfinished," alongside, "Some Maple, Pine, Oak, Mahogany and Black-Walnut Boards and Plank.-Sundry Pieces of Joiners Work unfinished-and five Riding-Chairs, partly finished."(12)

The later years of his life are only ambiguously documented, though the 1865 obituary of his grandson Moses Potter provides the following outline, He failed in business, owing to severe losses at sea. After making an honorable settlement, he gathered what little he had left, and migrated to the wilds of Vermont, settling at Putney, in that State, where, after years of struggling with adversity, he died.(13)

His date of death remains to be ascertained.

Benjamin W. Colman and Patricia E. Kane

1. Vital Record of Rhode, Island, 1636-1850,

2. Alphabetical Index of the Births, Marriages and Deaths Recorded in Providence, Rhode Island,

3. Albert Potter and Isaac M. Potter, Genealogy of the Family of John and Wait Potter (Providence, R.I.: Rhode Island Printing Company, 1885), 3-5.

4. Eleanore Bradford Monahon, "Providence Cabinetmakers of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," Antiques 87:5 (May 1965); 573.

5. The eighteenth century legal definition of an unsound mind leaves much room for interpretation. According to the sixth edition of Giles Jacob's New Law Dictionary (London: Henry Lintot, Law Printer, 1750), there were four legal categories of a non compos mentis; "An Ideot or natural fool," "A Madman, or one who was of Sane Memory, but hath lost his Understanding by Sickness, Accident, or Misfortune," "A Lunatick, sometimes of Sane memory, and at other Times not so," and "A Drunkard that deprives himself of his Memory and Understanding." Fisher Potter's condition remains unclear.

6. Scituate Town Council Meeting, June 7, 1756, Scituate Probate vol. 1, p. 261, North Scituate Town Hall, R.I.

7. William Salisbury v. Philip Potter, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Providence County, Record Book, vol. 4, p. 55, December term 1756, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

8. Alphabetical Index of the Births, Marriages and Deaths Recorded in Providence, Rhode Island,

9. Scituate Town Council Meeting, May 14, 1757, Scituate Probate, vol. 1, p. 277, North Scituate Town Hall, R.I.

10. Monahon, 573.

11. John Burton, Jr., v. Philip Potter, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Providence County, Record Book, vol. 5, p. 727, June 1768, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

12. The Providence Gazette; And Country Journal, "To Be Sold," September 22, 1770.

13. George M. Adams, ed., Memorial Biographies of the New-England Historic Genealogical Society vol. 6 (1864-1871) (Boston: New-England Historic Genealogical Society, 1905), 85.