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The Potters

The story of the Potter line begins in Lewes, the county town of East Sussex in England. Lewes began as a Saxon village. The Saxons invaded East Sussex in the 5th century and Lewes was probably founded in the 6th century. Later the Saxons made Lewes a town. The place-name 'Lewes' is first attested in an Anglo-Saxon charter circa 961 AD, where it appears as Læwe.

Saxon Lewes was a busy little town. Lewes had weekly markets. In the 10th century, it also had 2 mints, showing it was a place of some importance. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 Lewes probably had less than 2,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, by Medieval standards, Lewes was a fair-sized town. It appears as Lewes in the Domesday Book of 1086 (a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales by order of King William the Conqueror.

William Potter was born in 1582 and baptized on 3 October 1582 at St Clement Danes, London, Westminster, England. Danish settlers who had married English wives were allowed to settle in the area, taking over a small church dedicated to St Clement, the patron saint of mariners. The church became known as 'St Clement-of-the-danes.' William the conqueror rebuilt the church in the 11th century. William's father was listed as John. No mother is listed and there are multiple questions about who his parents are (or even this is the William Potter in the tree. That is why I am not including them on the tree at the bottom).

Regardless, what is a fact, is that on 6 October 1607, William Potter married Ann "Hannah" Langford in the St. Thomas à Becket Church, an ancient and peaceful church, located in Lewes.

St. Thomas à Becket Church

William and Ann would have 4 children, all of whom were baptized at St. Thomas:

  1. William, Jr., baptized 28 August 1608

  2. John, baptized 18 Feb 1609

  3. Mary, baptized 21 March 1611 or 1612

  4. Steven, baptized 1 August 1614

There are currently no further records about Mary or Steven.

William Potter, Sr. would die and be buried on 14 August 1619, leaving Ann with four small children. She would marry John Beecher in January 1620 and have a son, Isaac, born about 1623.

In March 1632, William Potter, Jr. married Frances Childs (Childe). At age 27, William, accompanied by his wife Frances, age 26, and their son, Joseph, age twenty weeks, boarded the Abigail. They sailed from Plymouth, Devon, England on 4 June 1635 with Master Robert Hackwell. There about 220 passengers aboard, along with livestock. During the crossing, there was an outbreak of smallpox on the ship. It finally arrived in Boston Harbor on 8 October 1635. William and his family survived the voyage and settled in either Roxbury or Watertown, Massachusetts.

His brother John married Elizabeth Wood on 14 April 1630 in and they had two children by 1638. John and his family arrived in New England in June 1638. His mother Ann, stepfather John Beecher and stepbrother Isaac also made the trip to New England around that time.

In 1637, a group of London merchants and their families moved to Boston with the intention of creating a new settlement. The leaders were John Davenport, a Puritan minister, and Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy merchant who brought £3000 to the venture. Both had experience in fitting out vessels for the Massachusetts Bay Company. The two ships that they chartered arrived in Boston on 26 June 1637.

At that time, the colony was being shaken by the Anne Hutchinson blasphemy controversy caused by her strong religious convictions being at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area. There was also a rumor that Charles I was going to revoke the colony's charter. As they faced the tense and uncertain climate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the new arrivals felt that the land offered to them was not suitable for farming, nor was it suitable for development as a trading post due to its location too far inland from adequate access to the water for trading. In the face of this adversity, the new settlers were told of the rich lands of the Quinnipiack by Captain John Underhill, an officer of the Army operating against the Pequot Indians, who had served in the present day New Haven area and extolled the "rich and goodly meadows of Quinnipiack."

On 30 August 1637, Eaton left Boston with an exploratory party. The group sailed down the coast to a place on the north shore of Long Island Sound. There they found a satisfactory harbor and decided to locate their settlement there. Seven men spent the first winter at the site, maintaining possession of the land until the rest of the colonists could come down from Massachusetts the following spring. One of these men was John Beecher. However, he failed to survive the rigors of his first New England winter because he and his companions had such inadequate shelter.

Eaton and Davenport made their company ready for the removal to the "new harbor", and set sail on 30 March 1638. The party reached its destination two weeks later. About 500 hundred colonists were present for the start of the new community on 24 April 1638. When Ann Beecher and her son Isaac arrived that spring, they found John had already been buried in an unmarked grave. Since Hannah Beecher was the only midwife among them, she was given her husband's allotment of land upon which she and her son settled. From then on, she would be referred to interchangeably as "the Widow Potter" and "the Widow Beecher."

Davenport and Eaton purchased the land area from the local natives, known as the Quinnipiacks, who resided in small villages around the harbor where they grew and harvested food and hunted with bow and arrow. In a series of transactions in November and December 1638, and in May 1645, the land was purchased in exchange for "twelve coats of English trucking cloth, twelve alcumy spoons, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, and two dozen knives." This arrangement was agreed upon and signed by the Sachem of the Quinnipiacks, Momauguin. With this agreement, Momauquin also sought the settlers' protection against raiding Pequot and Mohawks.

This agreement provided the English settlers with land on which to develop their new Puritan community shaped largely by the Bible. By the summer of 1638, under the direction of John Brockett, the settlers staked out a town plan in the form of nine symmetrical squares. The central section of this plot was reserved for a market place (known today as the New Haven Green). The other eight sections of land were allotted to the principal planters of the settlement for home building. By June 1639, the settlers had accomplished much in the way of physical foundations and now could focus on the establishment of their Bible commonwealth. A major dilemma which faced them was that of the roles of church and state. These leaders were not attempting to transplant an English form of government, nor did they envision a democracy. Their objective was to establish a Bible commonwealth, in a sense a theocracy. Church membership determined privileges of franchise and office holding.

On 6 June 1639, seventy proprietors met in Robert Newman's barn and signed the Fundamental Agreement, one of which was William Potter. William’s brother John also signed the document, shortly afterwards. The agreement stipulated that only church members would ever be allowed to vote or hold public office. The proprietors chose 11 worthy men, who then chose seven of their own number to create a church in the new settlement. The church was established 22 August 1639. These seven men were referred to as the Seven Pillars, and once they had established the church, the Seven Pillars were expected to initiate a civil government.

Potter lots, light blue on the left

William received at least twelve acres in the first division of land in 1640, as a head of a household of four people. His name appears several times in the early records of the New Haven colony. William joined the First Church in New Haven, probably in 1641. He was enumerated in the tax list of 1643. After that, he was fined for carrying defective arms. He took the Oath of Allegiance in July 1644. His name was recorded in the seatings of the meetinghouse in 1647, 1655, and 1661. His brother John died on 10 August 1644.

William was a husbandman, or "one who breeds and raises livestock," and may also have been a miller. In December 1645, "Brother Potter" offered “to carry every man’s grist from their hawse to the mill & bring it back againe to their hawse for 2d pr. bushell."

In 1647, William Potter acquired land along the Quinnipiac River and in 1651 he purchased the farm house of Robert Newman. William Potter removed from his town-lot, if he ever built a house on it, to his farm on the west side of the Quinnipiac River. He also owned 27 1/2 acres "in the east meadows between Mr. Crayne and Bro. Punderson as well as 32 upland acres."

Life in the New World appeared to be going well for William Potter and his family. In addition to Joseph, he had four daughters (Mary, Sarah, Hope, and Rebecca) and another son (Nathaniel). However, appearances could be deceiving and his luck was about to take a sinister turn.

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