Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Henry Potts, Immigrant, Citizen, Soldier

Henry Potts was my Dad’s great-great-grandfather on his Mom’s side.   He was born in the environs of Manchester, England in 1824; He married Susan Lucas in 1843 at the Church of St George, Sutton, Chester, England.  He was a mill worker.  His arrival date in the United States can’t be pinned down to a single date.  His naturalization papers say he arrived in the US in 1840.  When he applied for naturalization, he probably wasn’t asked to provide proof of passage but it could be a typographical error.  If that arrival date is true, then he return to England once or many times more since three of his children were presumably conceived and born there.  I did find a ship’s list which contained his name (The Marmion, arrival 6 July 1848, New York) and there was another Potts listed named Robert , 24 years old.  Perhaps that’s his actual arrival date.  His family followed the year after since John Potts, Dad’s Great-grandfather, was born in January 1849 in England.   

By 1850, Henry was living in Fall River, Massachusetts, with his wife, Susan Lucas, 3 children:  Thomas (7 years old), George(4), and John(1); and his brother Robert who had 2 little daughters.  (George isn’t mentioned again. )  By 1860 he was living in Saco, Maine, with his wife Sarah and five children: Thomas (17), John(11), William(9), James(3), and Sarah Elizabeth(one month old).  In 1870, his widow Catherine was living on 18 Foss St, Saco, Maine, with Thomas, William, James(13)and Sarah E(10).  Well that was surprising.  Henry was dead;  Sarah Lucas was out of the family as was John;  and there was another wife, Catherine. 

I wish I could remember what I discovered first.  Early on, because of the publications of the Maine Old Cemetery Association, I was able to see that Henry Potts was a member of Company G, 8th Maine Infantry and his son Thomas was a member of Company H, 16th Maine.  I learned a great deal searching wikis and military history sites about the engagements of these units during the Civil War.  Then I learned that Catherine Collington Potts (married to Henry 18 May 1861) applied for a widow’s pension and child support, so Henry died in service or shortly after.  The pension files were the best find to-date.   I got to view them on-line and kept saying to myself “this is great, this is great.” His widow kept petitioning the Pension Board for more money for the upkeep of her husband’s children.

I could re-construct the timeline of Henry’s life by viewing documents included in the pension files.  There were vital records and affidavits; official applications and attestations that the notary public who witnessed all of the widow’s documentation was a credentialed notary.  One record, which I was very interested in, was an affidavit where John Potts swore he was born in England, which was corroborated by his brother Thomas who would have been six years old and could remember when his brother was born.  This was important because in every Census when John Potts was an adult , there was a different birth place reported.  His last enumeration just before his death was noted “born at sea.”  Not helpful to the genealogist in the family since I had tried to track down the corroborating birth certificates for each place mentioned in the various census reports.  I've never found any....he was born in England!

Henry Potts became a naturalized American citizen on 17 April 1858.  Sarah Elizabeth Potts, his last child, was born to Susan Lucas Potts 4 June 1860 in Biddeford, Maine.  Catherine Collington was married to Henry 18 May 1861 in Saco, Maine.  The children at that time were 18 years old, (Thomas), 12 (John); 9 (William) ; 5 (James Robert) and 10 months old (Sarah Elizabeth).  On August 28, 1862, Henry was mustered into service.  He was 38 years old.  I don’t know yet if he was drafted or enlisted for a bonus.  He died of typhoid fever, contracted in the line of duty, in a field hospital near Petersburg, Virginia, June 28, 1864.  This was during the Siege of Petersburg where trench warfare was used and more men died of disease than succumbed to combat injuries. 

According to the documents in the Pension File, Catherine Collington Potts’s request for widow’s pension and child support was received for processing on September 10, 1864.  She was asking for the child support since she had been left with Henry’s children.   Her widow’s pension was $8 per month.   The pension stipend for minor children was $2 per month per child under the age of 16.  Catherine obviously felt this wasn’t enough and started petitioning for more funds March 31, 1865.  In 1868, one of the documents submitted for another increase of funds was rejected and had to be re-written because John was noted as 13 years old when he clearly older than 16.  So the justification was also modified to say that the increase was necessary despite the fact that John was no longer eligible. 

As I read each document I was hoping to read something about his first wife, Susan Lucas.  I suppose the military didn’t care about a legal divorce if there was subsequently a legal marriage.  In an affidavit, two friends of Catherine Collington Potts, who attested that Catherine had no children of her own, emphasized that she was caring for Henry’s children.  They also attested that they saw Susan Lucas ‘around town from time to time’ so she didn’t die -- there should be divorce documents somewhere. 

Thomas Potts, Henry’s eldest, married Sarah Ann Harvey, February 1871.  By August 29th, 1871, he had sued and won guardianship for his last two siblings who were still under 16 years of age.  He was awarded the $2 per child per month from the Pension Board.  Catherine’s rights to that stipend were severed but she continued to receive her $8 per month widow's benefits until her death in 1881. 

Henry Potts was reinterred in the National Cemetery, City Point, Virginia presumably after it was opened in 1866.  His first burial place was probably at the graveyard of one of the seven military field hospitals in the area.  Thomas or a member of his family honored Henry’s memory by requesting a memorial stone on the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, Biddeford, Maine.   There is still a lot to learn about Henry and his family….this is only a beginning but what a stunning first step. 

1 comment:

  1. What a difficult set of threads to follow. Three wives? The first and last alive at the same time after he was dead? Finding the military records is definitely a big boost - and determining by process of elimination that he must have been born in England. Fascinating! Here's hoping for more big breaks!