Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a great essay on The Root this morning about one of the first American-born magicians.
Harry Potter was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts around 1783 just after the Revolutionary War on the plantation of the slave owner Sir Charles Henry Frankland. The slave owner may have been Mr. Potter’s father.
When he was just ten-years-old, Mr. Potter sailed to England as a cabin boy, met a Scottish magician and ventriloquist named John Rannie, and performed with him across Europe.
He returned to America in 1800 with Mr. Rannie and worked with a circus performing in both the North and South. Mr. Potter was able to travel safely in the South because, in his assistant’s role, he was seen as Mr. Rannie’s servant. By 1806, the duo settled in Boston and Mr. Rannie retired about five years later.
Mr. Potter continued in show business and advertised his performances as “An Evening’s Brush to Sweep Dull Care Away.”
According to Professor Gates, Mr. Potter’s shows were met with great commercial success. He earned as much as $250.00 a show. Professor Gates points out that in today’s money, that would be more than $3,000 a show. Actually, $250.00 a show is pretty good money in our book even today.
Check out Dr. Gates’ full essay here. He even gives a shout out to Inside Magic Favorite and Society of American Magicians President Kenrick “Ice” McDonald.
We wonder if this history influenced J. K. Rowling’s selection of “Harry Potter” as the titular name for her young-adult novels. Dr. Gates does not mention this coincidence but one does wonder.