Digital North Carolina Blog

Digital North Carolina Blog

This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from institutions across North Carolina.

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“Strange Saga of Misdirected Star” Among Several Volumes Added to Hays Collection


Headline from the Durham Herald-Sun from the Robert Potter Scrapbook, Page 7

Seven new volumes from the Granville County Public Library’s Francis B. Hays collection have been added to DigitalNC.

Among Francis B. Hays’ many scrapbooks documenting the history of Granville County is his research on the infamous politician, Robert Potter. Born around 1800 in Oxford, N.C., Potter quickly became well known for his charisma and intelligence. According to the Durham Herald-Sun, he began practicing law in Granville county in 1821. Although he acquired a reputation filled with campaign brawls and duels, he was elected to the state legislature and served from 1825-1834.

Potter was not the typical member of the legislature. Unlike most politicians, he was elected to his second term while serving time in the county jail. Potter served a six month sentence for castrating two preachers whom he thought were having affairs with his wife. This short prison sentence reflected the fact that no law against castration existed in North Carolina prior to the incident. One year later, the state legislature passed a law officially making castration, or “Potterizing” as it was locally known, illegal.

After he was released from prison and finished his term in the state senate, he moved to Texas. There he continued in politics, serving in the state assembly and even becoming secretary of state of the Republic of Texas. Although he found renewed success there, his violent past foreshadowed the rest of his life. In 1842 he was killed in another brawl, which may have happened in or near the Red River.

Robert Potter may not be one of Granville County’s proudest sons in all aspects; however, he was a staunch advocate for labor and education before his dramatic end. You can read more about Potter’s politics and life in the Robert Potter Scrapbook. Along with contemporary newspaper articles outlining the story, Hays collected numerous primary sources and documents including, speeches and scholarly articles. Another unique feature of the scrapbook is the organized documentation of Hays’ research process, including his letters and notes to libraries in the area as he sought information about Potter’s life in North Carolina. This scrapbook in the Francis B. Hays Collection is an excellent resource for researchers interested in the “strange saga” of Robert Potter or in the processes and workflows of historical researchers prior to the digital age.

The other recently added volumes also offer many opportunities for research. The four Obituaries volumes are full of newspaper obituaries that could be used for genealogical data. Buses, Oxford, N.C. contains bus timetables for charter companies in North Carolina and the continental United States, many from Greyhound Lines, Inc. The other scrapbooks also give glimpses of the business and social history of Granville county during the early-mid twentieth century.

To view all of the Granville County scrapbooks, please see the Hays Collection Digital Exhibit page. To see more contributions from Granville County Public Library, please visit their contributor page.

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