Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity, with John Hodgson

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018, 5:30 p.m.

A piece of local history, in time to round out Black History Month: Richard Potter (1783-1835) was the most famous American entertainer of the early nineteenth century.  A ventriloquist and magician, he was always based in New England but performed nationwide, even making an extended tour of the entire country in the 1819-24 period.  Remarkably, he was also a black man – the son of a black woman (who had been captured in Africa and sold in Boston as a slave) and a white American father.

Richard Potter moved his family to Andover, NH in 1815 and made his home there for most of the rest of his life.  His and his wife’s graves lie quite close to the Andover Historical Society Museum in Andover (this was formerly the Potter Place Railroad Station, named in the 1840s in Potter’s honor); the site is about to be incorporated into the new Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.  Potter performed in Concord, NH frequently, was closely followed in the Concord press, and was always very popular here, as indeed he was throughout all of New England.

Richard Potter's performances were enjoyed by an enormous public, but his life off stage has always remained hidden and unknown. Now, for the first time, John A. Hodgson tells the remarkable, compelling--and ultimately heartbreaking--story of Potter's life, a tale of professional success and celebrity counterbalanced by racial vulnerability in an increasingly hostile world, in Richard Potter: America's First Black Celebrity.

Event date: 
Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - 5:30pm
Event address: 
45 South Main St
Concord, NH 03301
Richard Potter: America's First Black Celebrity Cover Image
ISBN: 9780813941042
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: University of Virginia Press - February 13th, 2018

Apart from a handful of exotic--and almost completely unreliable--tales surrounding his life, Richard Potter is almost unknown today. Two hundred years ago, however, he was the most popular entertainer in America--the first showman, in fact, to win truly nationwide fame.