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Collection Overview

Potter, William E., 1905-1988
William E. Potter Diary
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
1 box
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1


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."

Collection Description & Creator Information


The diary, a single volume comprised of approximately 100 handwritten pages, is inscribed "Diary of Wm E. Potter/Monday Sept. 5, 1859." The first page of the diary contains what appears to be grades most likely from his final year at Harvard. The last page contains subjects for prize debates. The diary itself begins with Sept. 5, 1859 and concludes on June 28, 1862. There are entries for every day between September 1859 and mid-July 1861. Thereafter are occasional periods when weeks and entire months are combined into a single entry.

The diary consists of Potter's days at Harvard (Sept. 5, 1859 to Jan. 8, 1861), a law practice commencing on Feb 4, 1861, his entry into Princeton (Aug. 14, 1861) and his final entry, "Enlisted," on June 28th, 1862.

Many of the entries indicate Potter's simple day-to-day activities. There are lengthy descriptions and comments on Potter's professors including Russell Lowell at Harvard and Lyman Atwater at Princeton.

Potter also provides thoughtful comments on the public figures and events of this period. Of interest is how abolitionist, secession, and war events begin to take up a greater portion of Potter's entries, especially after the election of Lincoln in November 1860. In addition to the entries describing Lincoln's election and inauguration, there are descriptions of the Women's Rights Convention in Boston in 1860, speeches by Edward Everett, secessionist William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, abolitionists Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison, Lincoln's appearance and speeches in Trenton and Philadelphia, the surrender of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Bull Run, the "pumping" (dunking) of Princeton students favoring secession, and the fall of Fort Donelson. However, after Potter's religious awakening on February 28, 1862, little note is made of war events. The momentous battles of Shiloh, Williamsburg and Seven Pines are not even mentioned.

Collection Creator Biography:

Potter, William E., 1905-1988

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.

Collection History


The diary was donated to the Princeton Archives by Frederic Fox, an ancestor of Potter, in 1977 .


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

Described by John S. Riddle, February, 1994.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. If copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers will not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with non-commercial use of materials from the Mudd Library. For materials where the copyright is not held by the University, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Credit this material:

William E. Potter Diary; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1