Potter, Robert (1799–1842)

By: Joe E. Ericson

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: April 30, 2019

Robert Potter, legislator, cabinet member, and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, was born in June 1799 in Granville County, North Carolina. He joined the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1815 and resigned in 1821 to study law. By 1826 he had been admitted to the bar and had begun to practice law in Halifax, North Carolina. He soon transferred his law practice to Oxford, North Carolina, where in 1826 he was elected to the state House of Commons. In April 1828 he married Isabel A. Taylor, with whom he had two children. That same year he was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the United States House of Representatives, where he served two terms, from March 4, 1829, to November 1831. He resigned after an incident that occurred on August 28, 1831, in which Potter, in a jealous rage, maimed his wife's cousin and another man. For the attacks he was tried in a Granville County court in September 1831, found guilty, sentenced to six months in prison, and fined $2,000. His wife divorced him in 1834. After his release from prison Potter was again elected to the North Carolina House of Commons; he took his seat in 1834. In January 1835, however, he was expelled from the House for "cheating at cards," but the real motivation was probably the maiming.

His domestic, legal, and political troubles in North Carolina caused Potter to decide upon Texas as a place for a new beginning. He arrived in Nacogdoches on July 1, 1835, and almost immediately became embroiled in Texas political and military affairs. On October 9, 1835, he enrolled in Thomas J. Rusk's Nacogdoches Independent Volunteers to assist in equipping men for the siege of Bexar, but he decided to resign on November 21 to offer his services to the fledgling Texas Navy. Also in 1835 Potter was selected as a delegate to the Consultation, which met at San Felipe, but he did not attend. The next year he was elected as one of four delegates to represent Nacogdoches Municipality at the Convention of 1836. There he voted for independence from Mexico, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, assisted president Richard Ellis when questions of parliamentary procedure were raised, and served on the committee appointed to draft the Constitution of the Republic of Texas.

Before being appointed secretary of the Texas Navy and commander of the port of Galveston in 1836, Potter participated in the battle of San Jacinto, refused to sign the treaty afterwards negotiated with Antonio López de Santa Anna, and joined those advocating the execution of the Mexican president. In September 1836 he entered into a marriage of dubious legality with Harriet A. M. Ames. The couple had a daughter and a son. In 1837, after Sam Houston was elected to the Texas presidency, Potter retired first to a residence in Harrison County and then to a home built on his headright grant on Soda (now Caddo) Lake in what is now Marion County. Potter's new neighbors elected him their senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas; he served from November 2, 1840, until his death. He became involved in the Regulator-Moderator War in Harrison County, where he quickly became a Moderator leader. A Regulator band surrounded his home and killed him on March 2, 1842, as he attempted to escape. He was initially buried at Potter's Point near his home, but on October 9, 1928, he was reinterred in the State Cemetery in Austin. Potter County in the Texas Panhandle, established on August 21, 1876, was named in his honor.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress (Washington: GPO, 1859-). Ernest G. Fischer, Robert Potter: Founder of the Texas Navy (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican, 1976). Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones, 1944; rpt. 1959). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joe E. Ericson, “Potter, Robert,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/potter-robert.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 30, 2019