The Aug. 8 edition of the Beacon featured a story delving into the details of some of Warwick’s founders and famous residents in celebration of the 375th anniversary of the founding of Warwick.
However, only three of the four founding members that were discussed in depth during a presentation given by the Warwick Commission on Historical Cemeteries on Aug. 2 at Warwick Public Library were included in the piece.
Unfortunately, the omitted founder was Robert Potter, who happened to have two 12th-generation descendants in the audience that night – Lorraine Potter-Cooper and Trish Harmon, who are the descendants of Potter’s only surviving son, John, and only surviving daughter, Deliverance, respectively. They are also members of the Warwick Historical Society.
Robert Potter sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630. When he discovered, like so many others, that the religious tolerance he was seeking could not be found in Massachusetts, he went south with Roger Williams to a new settlement, known as Providence.
Potter was one of the original group of 12 men that signed the Shawomet Purchase, the land deed purchased from Miantonomi Sachem of the Narragansett tribe in 1642 which would later become Warwick and its surrounding territories.
Interestingly enough, Potter-Cooper discovered through her research that, although her distant relative’s name appears on the original, handwritten document laying out the terms of the purchase, Potter’s name is mysteriously missing from transcriptions of the document. An act of shoddy transcribing, she believes.
Potter would later be pursued, captured and jailed for the better part of a year by magistrates from Massachusetts Bay, in what was officially a land dispute but ultimately stemmed from the strong religious differences, which led Potter to flee the colony in the first place.
While he was imprisoned in the dead of a New England winter, his wife, Isabel, and most of his family perished. He was able to get out of prison but found himself without many of his loved ones and without any notable material belongings – because he was forced to pay for his own imprisonment.
The only tangible thing of value that Potter had left was his plot of land near what we know today as Warwick Neck – unbelievably just a stone’s throw from where Potter-Cooper now lives. Potter opened up a tavern on the land, which would become a meeting place for the Warwick Town Council.
Potter’s contribution to the founding of Warwick is significant, and he should have been mentioned alongside the other historical figures mentioned in the article earlier this month.
Additionally, the names of the presenters from the Warwick Historical Cemeteries Commission should be noted, as they put a lot of hard work into piecing together the presentation. They include Pegee Malcolm (chair), Bob Darigan, Mark Brown, Maria Pease, Michelle Place, Cindy Corkum and Lids DeMay.
The original 12 founders of Warwick are: Samuel Gorton, John Wickes, John Greene, Robert Potter, Richard Carder, Randall Holden, Nicholas Power, Samson Shotten, John Warner, Richard Waterman, Francis Weston and William Wodell.
Potter-Cooper’s home sits just a short walk from the Surgeon John Greene historical cemetery. Greene is also one of the founding members of Warwick. His son, James Greene, married Deliverance Potter, meaning that Harmon is also a direct descendant of another founder of Warwick. In fact, she can trace her roots to eight out of 12 of the original founders.
History is ingrained into both Potter-Cooper and Harmon, and they take that legacy very seriously. It provides them perspective and strength even when dealing with macabre subjects such as their unavoidable deaths one day – because even after they are gone, they know their long line of history will remain, and that their descendants will be able to trace back to them, just as they have done to Robert Potter.
“I’m sitting on ancestral land,” said Potter-Cooper. “I didn’t inherit it but I’m here...I’ve watched a sunset some days thinking, ‘My ancestors could have been watching that same sunset, in that same spot.’”