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Early Black History in Hopkinton

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As a community, we are indebted to two Hopkinton women who have spent much time and energy documenting and sharing the Black history of our town; Jazz Dottin and Linda Connelly.

Dottin, a Hopkinton High class of 2007 graduate, was honored last year by the Hopkinton Historical Society for her YouTube series Black Gems Unearthed. Of particular interest to townspeople is Exploring Black Lives in MetroWest, MA in the 1700s. The video begins in the familiar shadow of the Doughboy Statue in front of the Town Common where the engaging Dottin introduces viewers to this long unrecognized part of our past.  

A broadside advertising one of Richard Potter’s shows in Boston in 1811.

With a nod to the other researcher of Hopkinton’s Black history librarian Connelly, Dottin shares (among other stories) a brief biography of Richard Potter, known in the 19th century as America’s first celebrity ventriloquist and magician. Potter was the son of Dinah, a worker on Sir Harry Frankland’s 400 acre Hopkinton estate, now part of Ashland (Ashland was part of Hopkinton until 1751).  Guinea-born Dinah was one of at least 15 enslaved people in the town prior to Massachusetts outlawing the practice in 1783, the same year Richard was born.

Potter lived a remarkable life, learning his craft in Europe and entertaining throughout settled post-revolutionary America.  With his tour earnings he was able to purchase 175 acres in Anderson, NH where the land is now known as Potter Place. He died in 1835 and is buried on the property.

An excellent biography of Potter by John A. Hodgson was published in 2018 and a paperback edition is due out later this year. This second edition will include an acknowledgment of Connelly’s contributions from her research at the Hopkinton Historical Society and the Hopkinton Public Library.

As always, feel free to stop by the Hopkinton Historical Society Mondays, 2:00 – 5:00 pm to visit our museum, find out more about the town’s history and perhaps your own genealogy!

Anne Mattina is a Board Member and Vice President at the Hopkinton Historical Society

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