This letter was written by Samuel Hartshorn Potter (1809-1895), a merchant of Terre Haute, Vigo county, Indiana. An obituary for Samuel was found in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, 12 January 1895.
Unusual Mortality. A familiar figure will from this time forth forever be missed from our streets. The figure of a man who had spent the best years of a useful life in the Prairie City, had seen it grow from a hamlet to a thrifty commercial city, and had been identified with its growth, and participated in the efforts that made it possible for such growth. Samuel Hartshorn Potter—”Captain” Potter as he was familiarly known—died at his home on south Sixth street last Tuesday evening, at the advanced age of eighty-six years. He had long been subject to attacks of illness for which simple remedies “had heretofore brought relief.” But this attack was beyond remedy, and while seated in his room on the day named, the end came suddenly and unexpected, his daughter, Miss Frances E. Potter, being present when the final call came.
In the historic town of Cooperstown, N. Y., Mr. Potter was born on November 11, 1808, of a family noted for its longevity. He began life as a farm boy, afterwards engaged in the dry goods business, and later took up the hardware business in Utica, N. Y. He was engaged in the latter business in Cleveland, Ohio, and in May 1844, became a resident of Terre Haute. He was joined here by his brothers-in-law, Lucius Ryce, A. O. Potwin and P. R. Whipple, whose names are inseparably connected with the early history of the town. He continued in the hardware business until 1865, when be disposed of it to C. W. Mancourt and Simeon Cory, of which firm the first named is the survivor. Since then he had not actively engaged in business, his entire attention being devoted to his property interests here and in Clay county, and to other business connections elsewhere.
In years gone by Mr. Potter’s name was familiar to the newspaper readers, for it was well known that “P.” was the only disguise he pretended to assume when he expressed his well known views in public print. It was a well known fact that when an article appeared in public print signed “P.” there was sure to be something said that was directly to the point. He had views of his own, and the courage of his convictions, and he never hesitated to express them in his own pointed way. An Express writer who knew him well describes his characteristic pointedly when he says: “He possessed by nature and inheritance marked characteristics. What he believed, he believed with his whole soul, and he never shrank from saying or doing what he believed ought to be said or done. He was naturally high-spirited and of impulsive temper. How much more so he was than he showed none could know but himself, for he thought that he had restrained and subdued himself to a great extent.” He was the kind of a man who leaves his impress on a community. When be believed he was right he cared not if the whole world was against him. He made friends by it, too, for besides loving a lover, all the world admires a fighter.
Mr. Potter was married three times. His first wife was Miss Emily Van Buren, of Newark, N. J., whose brothers were Messrs. Whipple, Ryee and Potwin. She died in 1868. His second wife was Miss Louise Freeman, a sister of Stephen R. and John R. Freeman, who were also well known in Terre Haute’s business circles. She died after a few years’ residence here. Later Mr. Potter was married to Miss Gloriana Eldridge, of Lafayette, who has been dead many years. For many years Mr. Potter’s daughter, Mrs. Hannah Tutt, wife of Jas. P. Tutt, once a well-known shoe merchant, kept house for him, and in recent years that duty had fallen on his youngest daughter, Miss Frances E. Potter. One brother survives, Wm. M. Potter, of Lafayette, Ind. Besides Mrs. Tutt and Miss Frances Potter his surviving children are Mrs. Helen M. Beach, of Watertown, N. Y., and Mrs. Susan R. Smith, of Peoria, III. The deceased had been connected for many years with the Congregational church, and exercises appropriate to his memory will be held there next Wednesday evening.
From Samuel’s letter we can infer that he was a volunteer in a soldier’s aid society—probably the Terre Haute Sanitary Committee—attending to the wounded soldiers in hospitals in and around Evansville, Indiana, still arriving from the Shiloh battlefield. C. Russell Bement is mentioned in this letter and he was a member of the Evansville Sanitary Commission’s Board of Directors. Samuel wrote the letter to J. O. Jones who served as the Post Master in Terre Haute, Indiana.
April 15, 1862
J. O. Jones, Esq.
I arrived all safe last evening at 8 o’clock. Visited one of the hospitals before I went to bed. Saw many cases needing some of our stores & clothing. The sights were pitiful in the extreme and calculated to inspire sympathy of the strongest kind.
Early this morning I had all the stores in a good, spacious room arranged for opening. To Mr. Russell Bement 1 and others of the committee here I was under special obligations for furnishing the room and drays to haul them. I have distributed freely in two hospitals. Mr. Bement and myself visited the Marine Hospital 2 this forenoon and there found the poor wounded soldiers greatly in want of clothing, surgical attention, and nurses. What surgeons were there were busily engaged in performing capital operations, leaving 50 to 100 with wounds needing surgical attention badly. Also nurses to assist them to wash up and get on a clean shirt and drawers. Many had not washed since the battle and were still in their dirty and bloody clothing.
We returned after dinner with a dray load of stores, some more surgeons and nurses. I have worked hard all the afternoon distributing shirts, drawers, pollows, pads, handkerchiefs, and towels, and in some cases a little wine to strengthen and revive the weakened pulse. The S. B. Adams arrived this evening with many more of the Indiana wounded, among them some of the 31st [Indiana Infantry]. A portion of them will go on to New Albany.
I shall remain here tomorrow. Will send shirts and pillows to Paducah as per request of your dispatch. I have requested Mr. Crawford to see you or Bement, and have purchased 50 pair of slippers and sent immediately.
In haste with poor pen, paper and ink. Yours, — S. H. Potter
1 Charles Russell Bement (1828-1893) was a wholesale grocer in Evansville. He died at the age of 65 of Bright’s Disease.
2 The Evansville area had four hospitals during the Civil War. The largest of the four was Marine Hospital which was located on the bank of the Ohio River and Ohio Street. When occupancy was exceeded there, makeshift tents were set up on the grounds outside. This occurred in April 1862 when wounded soldiers arrived from the Battle of Shiloh.