America's First Black Celebrity: The Grave of Magician Richard Potter

[Reprinted from my Live Free and/or Weird column for New Hampshire Magazine]



April 29, 2020 — Hi, I’m J.W. Ocker, and I’m … not a New Hampshire native. I’m from Maryland. But I’ve lived in New Hampshire for 12 years. More than that, I chose to live in New Hampshire. And I’ve explored the heck out of it.

My wife and I moved to New England because we loved its history, its autumns, its snow. We chose New Hampshire because it’s the New England state with the least baggage, a tabula rasa. Mostly without reputation. Like Iowa. When someone hears you’re from New Hampshire, you get a noncommittal nod.

In this column, I want to explore what makes New Hampshire unique. To fill that tabula rasa with weird artifacts and monuments, strange sites and sights. Things you can visit and see for yourself.

For instance, the grave of the first American-born magician? That’s in New Hampshire. He was also a ventriloquist. And black. The country’s first black celebrity entertainer. This guy was a steamroller, he paved so many roads. And now he’s New Hampshire soil.

His name was Richard Potter. He became rich and famous for resurrecting chickens, dancing on eggs without breaking them, and throwing his voice into various objects.

Potter was born in Massachusetts in 1783 but, like my wife and I, chose New Hampshire as his home. In 1814, he bought 175 acres in Andover that would become Potter Place. Today, his magnificent estate is no more, with his and his wife’s graves are all that’s left of it. His epitaph states, “In memory of the celebrated ventriloquist.” Epitaphs always undersell. To learn more, try “Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity” by John Hodgson. Or visit Potter’s grave yourself. It’s inside a short picket fence across from Potter’s Place Railroad Station near the intersection of Depot Street and Cillyeville Road.

Then, every Wednesday, come back here for more New Hampshire oddity. And if you know any strange pieces of this stone-faced state, send me an email at ockerjw@gmail.com, because I want to visit it. We’ll stop all those noncommittal nods together.