Richard Potter (1783 - September 20, 1835), born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts is credited as the first successful stage magician born in the United States and as the first black magician.
Reportedly, Potter was the son of an English baronet, Charles Henry Frankland, and an African American woman (some say "slave"). Frankland, however, died years before Potter was born. Church records from Hopkinton, MA, list his father as George Simpson. His mother's name was Dinah, who was a slave on the Frankland estate. Potter went to England around 1798. There is no record of his actual education. He returned to the United States around 1801, probably with John Rannie, a professional magician whom he started out working for as an assistant in 1802.
One of The earliest records of Potter advertising a show was in Boston, November 2nd, 1811 at the Columbian Museum. He advertised his show as, "An Evening's Brush to Sweep Away Care, or a Medley to Please."
Effects and show features that he performed included (from surviving printed Potter broadsides):
- Frying Eggs in a Hat.
- Rising Cards.
- Breaking Borrowed Watches and Restoring them.
- Handling and Swallowing Molten Lead.
- Going into an oven with raw meat and remain until the meat was cooked.
- Dancing on Eggs without breaking them.
- Trouble Wit.
- Shadow Puppets, with the play, The Broken Bridge.
- Passing coins through a table.
Casual descriptions of some effects, written by people who may have never seen him perform include "Crawling through a Log" and the "Hindu Rope Trick". There is no evidence that he ever performed these, and may be just legends.
Potter could also throw his voice, especially using bird sounds, with great skill.
Potter purchased land in Andover, New Hampshire and built a mansion referred to as Potter Place.
Honors and Tributues
The IBM Ring 166 in New Hampshire is known as the Black Richard Ring.
Robert A. Olson, from Putnam CT, does a tribute show of Potter's magic, performing as Potter.
- Conjure Times: Black Magicians in America by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson.