Biography and History

William Elmer Potter was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey in 1840 to James Boyd Potter (1796-1865) and Jane Harper Barron (1798-1855). He reversed the now usual order of higher education and received his law degree from Harvard in 1861 and his B.A. from Princeton in 1863. (He entered Princeton as a junior.) He enlisted in the 12th New Jersey Volunteers, Company C, in June 1862 as a private and rose to the rank of Brevet Major by war's end. Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6th, 1864, Potter recovered to see action in all of his regiment's major engagements for the rest of the war. He was one of five officers elected to escort the Confederate flags captured at Appomattox to Secretary of War Stanton.

Following the war, Potter served on the staff of New Jersey Governor Marcus Wood. He later became a successful lawyer and prosecutor in Cape May and Atlantic counties and senior partner of the firm Potter and Nixon of Bridgeton. Active in Republican politics, Potter was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1868 and 1876 and was an elector of the Presidential Electoral College in 1880.

Potter married Alice Augusta Eddy in 1869, and together they had five children. Their third son, David, graduated from Princeton in 1896. William Potter died in 1896 in Bridgeton.

Source: From the finding aid for AC323

  • William E. Potter Diary. 1859-1862 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC323

    This diary was written by William E. Potter during his years at Harvard (law degree, 1861) and Princeton (B.A., 1863). For the most part the entries are daily with astute and observant comments on many of the public figures and events of this time. Among the more interesting entries are comments and descriptions of the Women's Rights Convention in Boston in 1860, the Massachusetts state prison; the election and inauguration of Abraham Lincoln; the surrender of Fort Sumter; the Battle of Bull Run; "pumping" (dunking) of Princeton students favoring secession; his religious awakening; and a final entry that reads simply "Enlisted."