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William Speakman Potts, the son of David Potts and Rebecca Speakman Smith, according to census and family records, was born on May 5, 1838 in Isabella Furnace, Chester County, Pennsylvania. He had one older brother, Joseph D., born on December 4, 1829 at Springton Forge, Pennsylvania. William’s family owned and operated a number of textile mills in Pennsylvania and owned large tracts of land near Valley Gorge. His family ancestors established the town of Pottstown, Pennsylvania and constructed its first dwellings. John Potts who married Ruth Savage was the individual who laid out the plan of Pottsgrove, which belonged to the district of Douglas, now known as Pottstown, in the 1750’s. An Historic site is “Pottsgrove Manor” where they once lived.

John Potts was commissioned Justice of the Peace in 1745, 1749, and 1752.   Pottsgrove was laid out, after the manner of Germantown, in one long street, one hundred feet wide, named after the English custom, High Street. The lots were sixty feet on the front, extending back three hundred feet. At the end nearest the river was situated the mansion of the founder; looking down on the town. The houses erected by John and his sons are large solid stone buildings, intended for succeeding generations as well as their own.

The mansion of John Potts, the ancestor of the Potts family of Pottstown, formerly known as Pottsgrove after whom the borough was named, is one of the oldest, best constructed and best preserved buildings around, not only in the immediate locality, but in the whole valley of the Schuylkill between Philadelphia and Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Pottstown is in Montgomery County, while Pottsville, yet another town, is in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. William’s family ancestors established Pottstown.  Potts‘VILLE’  is in Schuylkill County and was also founded by a Potts family member; Benjamin Potts.

There is a bio on a John Potts Hobart from Potts‘VILLE’, who was born in
Potts‘TOWN’. His mother was a member of the Potts family after whom Pottstown was named and curiously enough, married a Joanna Potts of Virginia, who belonged to the family which founded Pottstown. The site of Pottsville was originally located in Chester County, Pennsylvania, subsequently becoming a part of Lancaster County, later Berks County and ultimately Schuylkill County in 1811. The borough of Pottsville became Schuylkill County's seat in 1851.

The 1850 census records for West Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania, Roll 765, records William as being 12 years old, his father David Potts Jr. at 50 or 57 and working as an Iron Master, Rebecca Potts is recorded as being age 39 and Joseph Potts, at age 12 working as a clerk. Also listed in the household were Emiline Woodward age 22 and Margaret Emery age 18. In the 1860 census William was recorded as being age 22 and working as a civil engineer living at the home of assistant marshal Owen Evans and his wife, Mary, together with the couple’s three young sons, Edwin, Llewellyn and William, at Wallace, in Chester County.  

At the outbreak of the American Civil War William enlisted as a private, at Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, for three months service, in Company “C” of the 4th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; being mustered in on April 20, 1861.

The Fourth volunteer Pennsylvania Regiment, into which William enrolled, was originated in the First regiment, 2d Brigade, 2d Division, of the State militia, organized under the militia act of 1858 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on November 7, 1861. It was recruited from the counties of Chester, Montgomery, Blair, Huntingdon, Northumberland, Juniata and Westmoreland and consisted of six companies, with a full regimental organization; the officers holding State commissions. In response to the call of the President, a public meeting was held at Norristown, Montgomery County, on the 16th of April, at which time the feeling of patriotic devotion to the cause of the Government was emphatically displayed and resolutions were passed pledging assistance to the families of those that volunteered. On the following day, the services of the Militia Regiment were tendered to the Governor for a term of three months, and were accepted, on the condition that the command would report in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania within four days.

When the call was sent out that Lincoln needed men to launch a war against the south, constitutionally illegal as it was, inhabitants of Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania quickly pledged their assistance. Self appointed officers quickly began a furious recruitment of men and by the time allotted, had raised 600 able bodied men ready to move.

Company C was recruited at Pottstown and twenty-three year old William S. Potts as a private mustered into service on April 20, 1861 in unit number 2297. That done, the regiment moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 21st and the occupation of Perryville, Maryland on April 22nd. The Right Wing then moved by boat to Annapolis, Maryland on April 23rd while the rest of the Regiment moved to Washington, D. C.; on May 8th and camped near Bladensburg. They then moved to Shutter's Hill, near Alexandria on June 24th; where Co. "E" participated in a Picket attack on Shutter's Hill on July 1st.

On Saturday, July 20, 1861 the men of Company C found themselves facing the Army of the Confederacy in the vicinity of Centerville, Virginia and though they were facing an imminent battle; their three months of military service had expired.

Under such consequences, the 4th. Pennsylvania picked up their weapons and marched away from Virginia, returning to Harrisburg to be mustered out of service. They now realized this was going to be no “gentleman’s week-end war”, won in a few weeks and the foe they faced was not to be underestimated. Regimental histories reveal General McDowell placed a good deal of blame for his defeat at Manassas on the regiment, for refusing to reenlist prior to the battle. By that time they perhaps felt discretion was the better part of valour. Potts was Mustered Out on July 27, 1861 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Captain John R. Brooke of Company C, who had commanded Potts, at the conclusion of the 4th’ Pennsylvania Regiment’s three month service period was commissioned Colonel of the 53rd Pennsylvania, and on August 17, 1861 Potts followed his Captain and reenlisted into Company B of the 4th. Pennsylvania, unit number 2306; being promoted, to a full Captain himself, on August 17, 1861. 

The 53rd then moved out for Washington, camping north of the Capitol, then crossed the Potomac where they were assigned to a Brigade of General William H. French. Subsequently the regiment saw action at Alexandria, participated in the advance of the Army of the Potomac in March 1862 and arrived at Manassas Junction which had already been abandoned by the Confederate Army. After conducting reconnaissance, they marched back to Alexandria, Virginia. The 53rd was eventually transferred to McClellan’s Army of the Peninsula, on April 3, 1862, to form part of the reserve division during the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia; and William was among those participating.

Company Muster Rolls reveal from August 19th through October 31, 1861 Potts was recorded as being “absent on leave” and again reported absent due to being bed ridden with typhoid fever, from March 25, 1862 until his resignation on April 26, 1862; witnessed in a report of the 53rd Surgeon, John H. Fromberger.

After the war William was engaged in business in the British Asiatic possessions and practiced the profession of civil engineering from 1855 for some years; on the Pittsburg and Connellsville, Lackawanna and Lanesboro' and East Brandywine Railroads.

Five months later, October 14, 1865, found Potts aboard the ship Coringa, leaving New York, for Australia.   It was small vessel took with accommodations for less than twenty passengers, and, sharing a cabin with Potts and five others, was Frederick Otto Gustav Fincke; another American Civil War veteran. After one hundred and eight days at sea they arrived in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria on January 29, 1866. In December of that year Potts applied for and accepted a job with the Victorian Police Force, being appointed as a third-class constable detective during the latter part of the month; registration number 2190. Five month later, in May 1868, Potts received a promotion to second-class detective, but largely performing clerical duties for the Melbourne office, Potts became dissatisfied and left the force.

After that Potts found employment as a share-broker agent with Gavin C. Brown at the Melbourne Hall of Commerce and while working in Sandhurst he embezzled some 115£. A notice was immediately run in the Melbourne Argus newspaper in December 1869 which read:

“William Speakman Potts, who was acting as agent for Mr. Gavin G. Brown, share broker, at the Hall of Commerce, Melbourne, absconded on Thursday last, the 2nd inst., from Sandhurst, with [pounds] 115, which had been entrusted to him by Mr. Brown.   He is an American, aged 31, 5ft. 7in. high, thin build and face, with pale complexion, and was formerly clerk at the Melbourne Detective office, from which he was discharged in 1868.   He is also said to have served in the Confederate army during the American war, and to have quitted that line of business in a very unexpected manner.”  

The following day a Melbourne resident in response to the notice ran one of his own in a letter to the editor; exposing Potts even further. It read;


“Sir, - I noticed in your issue of this morning a paragraph, wherein it is stated that William Speakman Potts, who absconded from Sandhurst on the 2nd inst., with [pounds] 115 belonging to Mr. Gavin Brown, was in the Confederate army, and that he had to leave there unexpectedly.   Now, Sir, allow me, on behalf of the Southern portion of the Americans residing in Victoria, to state that Mr. Potts is not a Southerner, but came from the North, and is a thorough black Republican, and was born in the state of Pennsylvania, U.S., and that to my certain knowledge he was acting as a spy, but held a lieutenant’s commission, in the army of the Potomac, under General McClellan.   Why he had to leave is best told as he told it to me.   It appears that when the Northern army was defeated at the battle of Bull’s Run, he, like many others, skedaddled, and never stopped until he found himself safe in a foreign county.   By giving publicity to this you will confer a kindness, which will be appreciated by all Southerners.”                         D.C.

Such a slander upon the Potts name brought forth yet another notice, rebuking the writer of ‘Absconder Potts’. It read;

“Sir, - I notice in your issue of this morning that ‘D.C.’ speaks in rather strong terms against William Speakman Potts, in which he states that Potts was ‘a spy for the Northern Army.’   This I deny, I knowing Mr. Potts this number of years, he holding a respectable position in Philadelphia, U.S., of which I am a native; and since his arrival in Melbourne he has been respected by every one that knew him.   The Melbourne Omnibus Company could speak as to his character.   He held a lieutenant’s commission in the army of the Potomac, but he did not leave it in disgrace, nor did he skedaddle, and never stop till he found himself safe in a foreign country, he having remained at home for more than 12 months after the battle of Bull’s Run, so that this shows that ‘D.C.’ is wrong there again; and I wonder that a countryman would speak so disrespectfully of another when he has no real foundation to stand upon, though he is a Northerner.   With regard to his absconding with [pounds] 115 belonging to Mr. Gavin Brown, perhaps when the truth becomes known he will not turn out such a rough as you have taken him to be, and though a Northerner, he is no black Republican, as you call him.   By giving this publicity you will confer a kindness upon all true Northerners.”                          W.W.

An investigation into the matter, however, revealed Potts was guilty of embezzlement and a warrant for his arrest was issued on December 7th, 1869; and he was arrested two weeks later. Appearing before the Melbourne City Courts on December 24, 1869, Potts was sent back to Sandhurst where the embezzlement occurred and on February 11, 1870 faced the charge of “larceny as a bailee” before Judge Williams in a Sandhurst courtroom. Having no defense, Potts pled guilty and was sentenced “to be imprisoned in H.M. Gaol at Sandhurst or such other Gaol of Victoria as may be by Law appointed for a period of six months with hard labor.”   He incarcerated in a prison on a hill overlooking the town of Castlemaine, Victoria, but only served some four months, before being released on June 20, 1870.  

Disgraced in his community Potts moved to New South Wales where records reveal he married a 36-year-old woman named Matilda Elizabeth Pembroke at Albury, New South Wales on November 19, 1873, at age 20; and he was employed as a book-keeper/accountant. Matilda Elizabeth Pembroke, his wife, was born on February 13, 1858 in Little Hartley, New South Wales, Australia. William and Matilda had five children; William born on December 14, 1874 in Albury, New South Wales; Lucy McKim born on March 31, 1876 in Albury; Cuthbert born on January 6, 1878 in Grenfell; Pembroke born December 10, 1879 in Orange and Mary Siebert born on August 5, 1881.

With his health failing, Potts moved with his family to a small settlement called Pembroke Terrace in Blayney, New South Wales and worked as a book keeper for the firm of Heaton Brothers. His health took a turn for the worse, however, on July 25, 1881 and he was forced to bed, unable to work. On August 1st a Dr. Codrington was sent for from the nearby town of Orange, but he was unable to help. William Speakman Potts died at the small town of Pembroke Terrace, Blayney, New South Wales of “general prostration and debility” on August 4, 1881; and was buried in the local Blayney cemetery. William was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.


Argus, newspaper, Melbourne, Victoria,

“Army Register of the United States for One Hundred Years 1779-1879”, Thomas H. S. Hamersly

Bendigo Advertiser,newpaper,  Bendigo, Victoria

Betty Burdan, Pennsylvania, USA

Bill Luke, Pennsylvania, USA

Carcoar Chronicle, Carcoar, New South Wales

Diana Quinoes, Pelham, descendant, Alabama

"Historical Collections relating to the Potts Family in Great Britain
       and America", Thomas Maxwell Potts, 1901,  Canonsburg, Pa.

“History of Pennsylvania Volunteers”, Samuel P. Bates

“Memorial of Thomas Potts, Jr”,  Mrs. Thomas Potts James, 1874

Military Service Records, National Archives Microfilm Collection

National Archives, Regimental Histories, Microfilm M554, roll 97

New South Wales BMD Records

“Official Army Register for 1861”, Adj. Gen. Off., Washington, 1861

Pamela Whiting, World Family Tree

Paul R. Potts, Pennsylvania, USA

Victorian Police Gazette, Melbourne, Victoria


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