Today, in honor of Black History Month, we celebrate an African-American performer with a special New Hampshire connection — Richard Potter (1783–1835).
Potter was born in Hopkinton, MA, as the son of Sir Charles Henry Frankland, a tax collector for the Port of Boston, and his mother Dinah, a slave in Frankland’s household. He attended school in Massachusetts and then moved to Europe to apprentice with a Scottish magician.
In post-Revolutionary America, an era when successful magicians were exclusively white and mostly European-born, Richard Potter broke the color barrier by becoming both the first American-born and the first black professional stage illusionist.
Potter performed up and down the East Coast and as far south as Alabama. His performances offered a mixture of magic, fire-eating, comedy, and ventriloquism. His act enjoyed a highly successful career that spanned a quarter century.
In 1814, Potter moved to New Hampshire where he purchased about 200 acres in the village of Andover in Merrimack county, near what is now Mt Kearsarge State Forest Park. Potter built a large mansion on his estate. Legend has it that “the Potter Place,” as it was called, served as the inspiration for the design of the New Hampshire state house in Concord which was built in 1819.
Potter is widely considered the first African-American celebrity. If you go to Andover, you can visit the Potter Place Railroad Station and Museum. To this day, there is a portion of the town of Andover that continues to be called “Potter Place.”