Andrew Giles Potter (image above) is “the man who never was”, say some. But material available at one web site, Neff-Guttridge Collection of the Lincoln Era, suggests otherwise.
“Neff-Guttridge” signifies Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge, authors of a fascinating book on the Abraham Lincoln assassination, Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators That Led to Lincoln’s Death. I was sorry to learn from the web site that Ray Neff, whose work I have followed through the years, passed away on Sept. 29, 2011 in Marshall, Illinois. (Leonard Guttridge, 90, passed away on June 7, 2009.)
The existence or non-existence of Andrew Giles Potter is central to the question of the accuracy of the best-selling book from 1977, The Lincoln Conspiracy. In an article from the Idaho State Journal newspaper (Pocatello, Idaho) of Nov. 4, 1977, author Vaughan Shelton (Mask For Treason) theorized that Potter was a fictitious person. Consulting what “amounts to a roster of all [Lafayette] Baker detectives involved in the Lincoln case”, Shelton could find no “Potter” on the list. And yet Andrew Potter is supposed to have been involved in the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.
Reportedly, Edward Steers Jr., author of Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President, called Andrew Giles Potter “the man who never was” who had been created by a “clever hoax.”
The “Google Books” quotes Steers as saying brothers Earl and Andrew Potter “were completely unknown to historians until [Ray] Neff found them in the 1960s. It was amazing that these two important Civil War figures escaped detection by every historian who had conducted research in the Civil War field since records of that terrible conflict became available.”
To this, the Neff-Guttridge web site responded, in part, “In a recent book, Lincoln Legends, it has been alleged, among other things, that Andrew Potter never existed and that the Potter Papers are therefore fraudulent. The following letter dated January 7, 1930, from lawyer and later Indiana judge Robert Stewart to Elizabeth Bossom, daughter of John Wilkes of Terre Haute, indicates that Andrew Potter was a real person very much involved in matters addressed in Dark Union, a book on the Lincoln assassination and related matters by Leonard Guttridge and Ray Neff. The content of the letter was validated in the presence of both Guttridge and Neff by Stewart’s widow during at least three separate conversations at which both Dark Union authors were present.”
The letter of Robert Stewart to Elizabeth Bossom is quite startling. Mentioned is the possibility that a “Mr. John Wilkes” who died in Terre Haute in 1916 “was the same man who was reported to have died in Assam, India in October of 1883. The claim is made that the alleged death in 1883 was some sort of Machiavallean [sic] conspiracy to allow Mr. Wilkes and his family to utilize funds held by the government of the United States.” The death in India had allegedly been faked so that a will could be probated and monies previously frozen could be released. Further down, the lawyer Stewart asserts a Mr. Andrew Potter had assisted General Lew Wallace “in the investigation of the circumstances of the death of Mr. Wilkes of India and now resides in Virginia.”
In her 1937 book, This One Mad Act, Izola Forrester, who claimed she was the grand-daughter of John Wilkes Booth, wrote that her grandfather had escaped to Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka). (Background: “This One Mad Act”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of March 1, 2013)
The Neff-Guttridge web site, responding to claims of Andrew Giles Potter being “the man who never was”, also cites travel passes for Andrew Potter, William B. Earle, and Captain James W. Boyd, presumed not to exist or to be misidentified, which were issued by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, re: Passes Issued by the Secretary of War, January 1864-May 1865, Volumes 373 & 375 (National Archives & Records Administration Group 107)