William Potter was baptized at St. Thomas, Leese, Sussex, England on 28 August 1608, the son of William and Ann (Langford) Potter. (Note: An article on he Potter origins was published in The American Genealogist 79:29-33 in 2004 by Patricia Law Hatcher.)
He married Frances (MNU) c1634, probably in Sussex, England. On 1 July 1635, William, Frances and their 20 month old son, Joseph, were enrolled on the list of the Abigail, which set sail for New England.
The Potter family became one of the founding families of New Haven, Connecticut, first appearing in the records there on 6 September 1643 for William not attending military training. He continued to make social waves with several more court appearances until 1652 for the same issue.
- Joseph, born February 1635 (20 weeks old on 1 July 1635); married Phebe Ives, c1660
- Mary, born c1637, but baptized 22 August 1641, New Haven, Connecticut; married Joseph Mansfield, c1657
- Sarah, born c1639, but baptized 22 August 1641, New Haven, Connecticut; married (1) Robert Foote, c1659 (2) Aaron Blachley, before 23 August 1706, when Sarah is called Sarah Blachley in a court record.
- Hope, baptized 3 October 1641, New Haven, Connecticut; married Daniel Robinson, 3 February 1663/64, New Haven, Connecticut
- Rebecca, baptized January 1643/44, New Haven, Connecticut; married Thomas Adams, 27 November 1667, New Haven, Connecticut
- Nathaniel, baptized 22 December 1644, New Haven, Connecticut; married Elizabeth Howes, 1 April 1675, New Haven, Connecticut
However, in the spring of 1662, the lives of this family were turned upside down. Frances Potter and her eldest son, Joseph, made complaint to the court that their husband and father, William, was guilty of bestiality with “sundrie creatures.” William was called to court, examined and eventually confessed his guilt.
He was excommunicated from the church and sentenced to death, hung on 6 June 1662 in New Haven. Family members were divided over whether the sentence was just or not, taking sides.
On top of the family stress over his conviction, William wrote a will on 16 May 1662 in which he bequeathed his real property to son Nathaniel when he reached the age of 21 (c1665) and left only £30 to Joseph. Joseph, as the eldest, should have received much more.
Source: Great Migration Study
After William’s execution, the court fights dragged on for years – all the way to 1717, when grandchildren were acknowledging receipt of their portions of the estate.
In the summer of 1662, Frances Potter went to court and questioned the validity of her husband’s will and asked if it should be allowed to stand and be proved, as she was clearly unhappy that her husband had cut down Joseph’s inheritance. The court allowed the will to stand as is, but Frances and her daughters, including Hope, were back in court on 7 April 1663, when Frances was reprimanded for having given so much to Joseph, in spite of the conditions of the will, and so not having monies to disburse to her daughters.
Source: Great Migration Study
This family was literally torn apart over William’s execution and I have to wonder if daughter Hope, her husband, Daniel Robins, and her children moved to New Jersey to escape the scandal and rancor among her family members.
A side note – During the colonial era, it was tradition to name one’s children after their grandparents. Although William and Frances had six children who married and left many descendants, not one of their grandchildren was named William or Frances. That speaks volumes as to the effect that William’s conviction and the part that Frances played in reporting him to the authorities had on their children.
This has to be one of the saddest stories in my husband’s family tree.