Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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POTTER, Israel ralph, patriot, born in Cranston, Rhode Island, 1 August, 1744; died there about 1826. He early left home and became a farmer in New Hampshire, after which he was associated with a party of surveyors as assistant chain-bearer. He next became a sailor on a ship that was burned at sea, but he was rescued by a Dutch vessel and continued his roving career for nearly two years. In 1774 he returned home, and after working on a farm for several months enlisted in a regiment that was raised by Colonel John Patterson. The battle of Lexington found him ploughing, and, after deliberately finishing the work, he joined his regiment at Charlestown. He fought with bravery at the battle of Bunker Hill, and, when his ammunition was exhausted, seized a sword from a wounded officer and continued the contest until the close, when, having received two musket-ball wounds, he found his way to the hospital. On his recovery he volunteered as a seaman on the "Washington," one of the blockading fleet in front of Boston. Soon afterward his vessel was captured, and he was sent to England. On the voyage he formed a scheme to take the frigate, but was betrayed and put in irons. When he arrived in England he was conveyed to Spithead and put on board of a hulk. but he escaped, and, in the garb of a beggar, found his way to London, where he engaged in gardening and at one time was employed in Kew gardens, where the king held a conversation with him. After various experiences he was sent on a mission by friends of the colonies to Paris, where he met Benjamin Franklin, by whom he was sent back with replies. On reaching England he sought employment in London, where he was married and gained a bare livelihood until 1823, when, through the influence of the American consul, he was able to return to Boston. He visited his former home, but the memory of his name had long since faded away. His application for a pension was refused, owing to his absence from the country when the pension law was passed; and so, after dictating an account of his experiences, he passed away. His memoirs, published in Providence, in 1824, were sold by peddlers, and finally were entirely lost until a tattered copy fell into the hands of Herman Melville and was made the basis of his "Israel Potter : His Fifty Years of Exile" (New York, 1855).
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