The Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, 1821-1915
2 boxes or 1 linear ft.
Horatio Potter (1802-1887), Bishop of New York 1854-1887, younger brother of Alonzo Potter (Bishop of Pennsylvania 1845-1865), and uncle of Henry Codman Potter, who succeeded him as Bishop of New York, led the diocese during a troubled period for the Episcopal Church, the nation, and the city. He became provisional bishop in 1854, in the wake of the suspension of Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk, and became diocesan bishop upon Onderdonk’s death in 1861, serving until his own death in 1887. His leadership was during years of national division, ecclesiastical tensions between high and low church factions, and momentous economic and social changes in New York.
Potter was born in 1802 to Quaker parents Joseph and Anne Potter. He followed his older brother Alonzo into the Episcopal faith when he was confirmed and ordained in his 20s. In 1833 he was called to the rectorate of St. Peter’s Church, Albany, where he remained for 21 years, during which time he modernized the church both spiritually and physically. Potter remained at St. Peter’s until his election as provisional bishop of New York in 1854.
Potter was married to Mary Jane Tomlinson, with whom he had six children. Tomlinson died in 1847, and in 1853 he remarried. Potter’s children, all from his first marriage, included Horatio Potter Jr., Anna, Mary Jane, David, and Phebe.
Scope and Content Note:
A small (1 linear ft.) but illuminating collection of personal and church-related papers, 1821-1915, documents Potter’s rectorate at St. Peter’s Church in Albany, his tenure as Bishop of New York, as well as his relationship with his family, particularly his children. The material is divided into three series: Ecclesiastical, Personal/Family, and Scrapbook.
Family correspondence reveals the personal character of Potter and his family. The series contains letters sent within the Potter family, not necessarily to or from Potter himself, a large portion being letters written by his children to one another. Also included among Potter’s personal papers is a folder of manuscripts on various topics in physical science such as “descriptive astronomy.”
Much of the ecclesiastical papers represent routine elements of Potter’s duties, including a large number of transfers of priests from one diocese to another, but much is also an enlightening window into the Episcopal Church at the time, and to Potter’s professional relationships. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church, is a primary correspondent, and the correspondence, all incoming, reveals a warm professional friendship. Several outgoing letters to the Rev. Dr. Herman Dyer in the 1870s are characterized by very candid admissions.
In addition to the loose papers, the collection contained a disintegrating scrapbook filled with a variety of material, all of which has been removed from the scrapbook in the interest of preservation, but is grouped together to respect original order. The first section of the scrapbook contained several telegrams, the majority of which are from friends and family to Anna expressing their regret over Bishop Potter’s death. There is a small segment of personal and family papers including papers relating his son Horatio Potter Jr.’s military service, and Potter’s passport, bearing the signature of then Secretary of State and later President, James Buchanan. The remainder of the material is ecclesiastical in nature and similar to the material in the ecclesiastical series. Particularly well documented is the 1883 General Convention, which Potter did not attend, but had agents, including his daughter Anna who in many cases acted as his secretary, and the Rev. Morgan Dix, send letters making known his desire to retire from active duty. A small amount of material relating to the formation of a “Cathedral Church of the Diocese,” (later St. John the Divine), is present as well.
The material appears to have been collected and maintained by family members, likely his daughters, and as such contains papers created by them, including one folder of genealogical research of the Chauncey family (daughter Mary Jane married Elihu Chauncey, Vestryman at Trinity Church 1885-1916) and a folder of miscellaneous items belonging to Anna Potter, such as tax information. The notion that the papers were collected by his daughters is supported by a 1901 note from Henry Codman Potter to “Minnie,” explaining that he was enclosing letters written by her father, given to him by the correspondent’s (Dyer) daughter.