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Ceramics in America 2017

A Book Review

Robert Hunter dedicated Ceramics in America 2017 to the life and legacy of archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, who passed away on February 4, 2017, at the age of 89. Noël, as he was known, mentored many in the archaeological profession. His 1969 book A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America is considered the bible on the subject of historical artifacts encountered in North American archaeological sites.

In 2000 Hume and his first wife, Audrey, gave to the Chipstone Foundation their collection of antique ceramics that reflect the range of things archaeologists find in the ground. In 2001 the collection was published in Hume’s If These Pots Could Talk: Collecting 2,000 Years of British Household Pottery.



Ceramics in America 2017
Edited by Robert Hunter and Angelika R. Kuettner
Chipstone Foundation, distributed by University Press of New England,
2017, 275 pages, hardbound, $65 plus S/H from University Press of
New England (www.upne.com) or 1- 800-421-1561.


Hunter begins Ceramics in America 2017 with Hume’s final article for this journal, “A Devil in the Details,” one of more than a dozen articles Hume contributed over the 16 years of the journal’s existence.

Hume’s focus was on the evolution of English brown stonewares. Inherited from the Rhineland in the latter years of the 17th century, they would remain standard kitchen and tavern wares into the 20th century. The distinctive lettering and embellishments on these mugs and bottles discouraged thievery while capturing political slogans, victorious admirals, and monarchical patriotism from the second half of the 18th century through the reign of Queen Victoria. They were made at factories first at Fulham and then in Lambeth, Vauxhall, Mortlake, Bristol, and north into Scotland, and identifying them depends heavily on the applied (sprigged) decoration. When Hunter, at a birthday dinner at a poorly lit bistro, showed Hume a large sprig-decorated tavern mug reputedly from London, Hume knew in a moment that the glaze was too new, the sprigging too robust. A careful inspection showed that where there should have been hounds chasing a stag there was a basset hound sitting at somebody’s feet, and closer inspection revealed that the somebody was Hume. Potter Michelle Erickson, using techniques employed in making 18th-century tavern mugs, had made Hume an 88th birthday present. It had been commissioned by Hume’s wife, Carol, and the sprigs reflected the shared interests of Hume and his wife.

In addition to Hume’s final contribution, this volume contains 14 articles highlighting noteworthy discoveries from long-studied archaeological contexts in Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. It was hard to pick for this review just one discovery from each location to whet the reader’s appetite—they are all revelatory—but the ones discussed here give some idea of the huge amount of history that continues to be learned from ceramics.

Barbara H. Magid writes about Alexandria, Virginia. By 1790 Alexandria was the principal port on the Potomac and the seventh-largest port in the United States. George Washington was Alexandria’s illustrious neighbor; he dined and danced and attended meetings at Alexandria taverns. In 1791 Alexandria, along with Georgetown and Washington City, was incorporated into the District of Columbia. This, the Jefferson Embargo of 1807, and the War of 1812 had a devastating effect on Alexandria’s economy. In the 1840s its recovery was helped by the opening of the Alexandria Canal and Alexandria’s retrocession to Virginia, but it was not long before the Civil War and the Union occupation dealt it another heavy blow.

City archaeologists curate a collection of over two million artifacts from more than 55 years of research and excavations of sites ranging from prehistoric settlements and tool-making sites to 19th-century free black and slave households, slave-trading sites, a canal, and Civil War fortifications. One of Barbara Magid’s favorite discoveries is a Staffordshire creamware punch bowl with the words “Thus Happy with / My Bowl & Friend / May I in pleasure / Every evening spend” enameled on the bottom. It was found at Arell’s Tavern. George Washington dined there frequently between 1764 and 1774 and met there with George Mason to discuss the Fairfax Resolves, the precursor to the Bill of Rights. Perhaps those illustrious patrons drank from this punch bowl, one of 50 punch bowls of various sizes excavated from this site.

Seven archaeologists collaborated with Martha A. Zierden on the entry for Charleston, South Carolina, the birthplace of the historic preservation movement and the center of the Gullah culture that developed among enslaved Africans. The port city with a diverse population developed along with the plantation economy. The commercial success of rice and indigo, introduced in the 1680s, led to the growth of the city known at the time as Charles Town. After the Revolution, Sea Island cotton became profitable. The national depression of 1819 caused Charleston’s economy to decline, rail bypassed Charleston, and by the 1850s the fourth-largest Colonial city had dropped to 22nd. Emancipation of slaves and international trade ended profitable rice production. Not until the mid-20th century did Charleston’s economy rebound. Economic stagnation preserved much of the city’s architectural heritage. Archaeological excavations span five decades. The Charleston Museum, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, Historic Charleston Foundation, and South Carolina State Parks all have large archaeological collections. Along with black delftware and Chinese export punch bowls, utilitarian earthenwares have been recovered, many of them imported from Philadelphia. Wares with trailed lines of white slip, combed wares with bands of white slip combed into wavy lines, clouded wares with lead glaze on the exterior and sloshed slip filling the interior, and unglazed earthenware pitchers bowls and cooking pots are illustrated.

Robert Hunter writes about Hampton, Virginia, a natural harbor and one of the earliest sites visited by Spanish and English explorers. A custom house established Hampton as an official port in 1708. By 1740 the custom house was relocated to Norfolk, which had become the preferred port as sand bars developed near Hampton and prevented larger ships from docking. Hampton remained a quiet village serving as a hub for the agrarian economy of the outlying area for the last part of the 18th century. The British invaded Hampton during the Revolution and again during the War of 1812, and the town was obliterated by fire at the outset of the Civil War. It has been the focus of intensive archaeological investigations since the 1960s that have recovered evidence of Native American settlements, 17th-century plantations, and 18th- and 19th-century urban dwellings and taverns. Hunter illustrates a 1640 Portuguese majolica dish. Portuguese tin-glazed earthenware was widely used in New England during most of the 17th century and is routinely encountered by archaeologists in Virginia’s tidewater region but had remained an unstudied area of ceramic history. Tin-glazed motifs were largely copied from Chinese porcelain “Kraak” wares with patterns derived from late Ming porcelain (1552-1620). This piece’s decoration includes an unusual sun face that has not been seen previously on American archaeological examples.

Silas Hurry writes about St. Mary’s City, the founding site in 1634 and first capital of Maryland. The ownership of the colony passed down through one family, the Calvert family, the Lords Baltimore. Archaeology has gone on in St. Mary’s City for 50 years and has yielded remarkable examples of stoneware potters from the Rhine Valley in Germany. More significant is the discovery of Maryland’s first recorded potter, Morgan Jones, an indentured servant to Robert Slye, a successful merchant whose plantation was on the Wicomico River in St. Mary’s County. After Slye died in 1671 Jones migrated to Westmoreland County, Virginia. Pitchers, cups, pans, and small bowls of lead-glazed earthenware are common styles found on sites in the area of St. Mary’s City.

Joseph M. Bagley and Jennifer L. Poulsen write about Boston. Among the items they highlight is Grace Parker’s porringer. Isaac and Grace Parker founded a pottery works in Boston in 1714. After Isaac’s untimely death in 1742, Grace and her son John continued the business, experimenting with stoneware production until she died in 1754. Josiah Harris took over the operations at the pottery until it was destroyed during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Thousands of vessels were recovered from waste deposited in the docks adjacent to the Parker pier. A nearly complete porringer was found in a mid-18th-century privy deposit at the Three Cranes Tavern, located across the street from the Parker pottery. It matches fragments from the Parker pottery, and the style of slip decorations is found on pans, mugs, and chamber pots made during Grace Parker’s tenure as owner.

Kathleen Deagan and Carl Halbirt write about St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565. It has been occupied ever since. It had a strategic position guarding shipping lanes and later as a buffer against English incursions in America. Spanish economic expansion in St. Augustine ended abruptly in 1763 when Florida was traded to England. Nearly the entire population—3104 Africans, Christian Native Americans, and Spaniards—left St. Augustine and went to Cuba rather than live under British Protestant rule. St. Augustine was a stronghold for British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Florida was returned to Spain in 1784. In 1821 Florida became a territory of the United States. Archaeology has been underway there since the 1930s.

Deagan and Halbirt chose their top ten featured objects from the first Spanish occupation, 1565-1763. Their last pick is a fluted and molded creamware serving dish with a feather-edge rim recovered from a circa 1770 refuse pit. In 1762 Josiah Wedgwood patented cream-colored earthenware. Because of its known date of introduction and rapid popularity, it is one of the best markers for the British period in St. Augustine. Even after Spain regained Florida in 1784 and many of the former Spanish residents returned, creamware remained the dominant tableware, eclipsing the role majolica formerly held.

Steven R. Pendery and Marley R. Brown III find the eve of the 400th anniversary of the English settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts, an appropriate time to reflect on the history and meaning of ceramics. Plymouth, 35 miles south of Boston, was founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims. A rare English delft salt cellar, an all-white example associated with the family of Mayflower passenger Edward Fuller, seems sophisticated. Ascribed to the Rotherhithe Pothouse in Southwark during the period of 1638-84, it is not at all common. It was copied from a silver form, and the authors say it was used in individual and communal 17th-century dining settings.

D. Ryan Gray writes about New Orleans, which was first settled in 1718. In its French era, lasting until 1769, New Orleans remained an underdeveloped backwater, the product of continual cultural negotiations between European-American settlers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans. In the era of Spanish colonial rule, the city’s population of free people of color grew rapidly as a consequence of liberal manumission policies of the Spanish crown. Fires in 1788 and 1794 destroyed most of the city. At the time of the first census in 1810 there were 6000 free whites, nearly 6000 slaves, and 5000 free people of color. One of the most important markets for slave traders, New Orleans also was home to a vibrant Creole culture expressed in food, music, visual arts, performance, and architecture, blending something from Europe, Africa, and America into something new. Ceramics tell its story. Gray’s most surprising selection is a collection of whiteware with a transfer print known as “The Residence of the Late Richard Jordan, New Jersey,” attributed to the pottery of Joseph Heath and Company (circa 1828-41) of Tunstall, Staffordshire, England. The decoration is based on an engraving of the eponymous widely traveled abolitionist Quaker minister (1756-1826), and the pieces were commissioned before his death. While the design was very popular in the Northeast because of antislavery sentiments, its ubiquity in slaveholding households shows that abolition was not likely its primary message in New Orleans.

Deborah L. Miller and Jed Levin write about Phila-delphia. Settlers went to Philadelphia from England, France, and Germany, enslaved Africans arrived in chains, and indentured servants went under duress for a chance at a better life. By the late 18th century there were 30,000 inhabitants, and goods flooded the shelves of merchants offering imports. At the same time, Philadelphia established an unequaled earthenware industry and also experimented with stoneware and porcelain. By the mid-18th century, Philadelphia led the country in domestic ceramic manufacture, and it remained in that position until the rise of Trenton, New Jersey, and East Liverpool, Ohio, a century later. Excavations at Independence National Historical Park in the early 1950s demonstrated the rich archaeology of the city. By 1700 three English-born potters were operating their own shops using local red clay and lead, manganese, and copper for glaze. Two decades later German immigrants brought with them colorful slip-decorated birds, flowers, and geometric designs. In 1726 Michael and George Peter Hillegas, French Huguenots who had resettled in Germany before coming to America, established a European-style pottery on what is now Elfreth’s Alley. Excavations at the back of the Second Street lot where wasters were discarded make it possible to firmly attribute Hillegas wares. By mid-century, English, French, and German pottery traditions had melded into one that is now commonly referred to as the “Philadelphia style,” which is defined by a blending of slip decorations and splashes of copper oxide across a multitude of durable, high-quality forms common on archaeological sites across the Eastern Seaboard. It was hard to choose among an early example of slipware similar to English Staffordshire combed slipware, a bowl from the Hillegas rubbish pit, and stoneware by Anthony Duché, who established a stoneware pottery on Chestnut Street between 4th and 5th Streets in the early 1720s. Duché was not a potter himself, but his three sons were; he provided the financial backing. Most surprising of all, Miller and Levin mention an undecorated small punch bowl found during excavations for the new Museum of the American Revolution, which they say was likely made by Bonnin and Morris experimenting with Cherokee clay that was sent to them in 1772 by Henry Laurens from Charleston, South Carolina. The punch bowl was exhibited at the New York Ceramics and Glass Fair in New York City in 2017 and called “the holy grail.” However, Miller and Levin may no longer stand by their attribution. At the 2018 New York Ceramics and Glass Fair, along with examples of Philadelphia red earthenware with slip decoration, a recently identified cobalt-decorated porcelain teapot, the second-known American-made hard-paste porcelain piece, was exhibited. Robert Hunter and Deborah Miller suggest that this porcelain was being made during 1765-68, earlier than the previously known porcelain produced by the Bonnin and Morris factory, which began manufacturing in 1770. “This new discovery changes the complexion of the history of porcelain making both in Philadelphia and the larger American context,” they wrote in a press release. We may have to wait for the next Ceramics in America to find out more about the record of occupation—from the earliest settlement of Philadelphia through the mid-20th century—that the Commonwealth Heritage Group unearthed at Third and Chestnut Streets in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Another revelation in Miller and Levin’s chapter is that Philadelphia queensware became an established industry in 1808 when the Jefferson Embargo Act interrupted trade between Britain and America. The first queensware manufactory in Philadelphia was the Columbian Pottery, where yellow-and-red tea sets were made by master potter Alexander Trotter. By 1810 John Mullowny was making queensware at his Washington Pottery and claimed to have introduced press molding. He advertised turned and pressed ware, possibly meaning engine-turned ceramics. Philadelphia queensware bears little resemblance to British creamware. The bodies are buff-colored, although later examples are made from refined white clay coated with a clear lead glaze, as illustrated in an 1810 still life by Raphaelle Peale that includes a queensware plate and pitcher. The end of the War of 1812 meant the resumption of trade and the end of queensware manufacture in the city.

Unlike Philadelphia and Boston, New York City did not have a thriving local earthenware industry for much of the 18th century. Meta F. Janowitz and Diana diZerega Wall say British-made slip-decorated coarse earthenwares were more common in Colonial archaeological assemblages in New York. The British occupied New York from 1776 until 1783. Patriots left, and Loyalists from other American Colonies arrived for protection of the Crown. Officers were quartered in abandoned houses and in barracks on the Common. On the site of the barracks a “chintz” painted creamware teapot, a style of decoration rarely found on archaeological sites in America, was found almost intact. It is thought to have been made at the factory of William Greatbatch in Staffordshire or the Leeds pottery in Yorkshire, England. Ceramic historians have attributed the style of decoration to the London decorating shop of David Rhodes, but it was copied by other enamelers who worked at Staffordshire and Yorkshire potteries.

Life was hard and uncertain in Jamestown, Virginia, throughout the years the Virginia Company held control of the colony, 1607-24. The upper echelon of Jamestown society afforded themselves material luxuries that were made accessible by visiting Dutch merchant ships and English supply ships that arrived by way of the Caribbean. Bly Straube quotes a paper by Taft Kiser, who said, “An Englishman in the Virginia wilderness could eat Spanish raisins from Italian dishes, drink his water from French flasks, and pour German wines from Belgian jugs into Chinese cups.” Among the most common vessels in the early James Fort context are stoneware jugs made in Frechen, Germany. It is estimated that ten million of these vessels were imported through London in the early 17th century. England had not yet developed stoneware or glass bottle industries, and these jugs were used for storing and shipping liquids, particularly beer and wine. The jug that Straube discusses is known as a Bartmann (bearded man) jug or Bellarmine; it is dated 1604 and has the face of a bearded man on its neck and three large medallions on its body, heraldic emblems of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. Its fragments were found in Jamestown in a 1611-17 well. Straube writes that one of the biggest disappointments of the Jamestown colonists was that once they consumed their stores of beer, aqua vitae, and sack, there was nothing but water to drink. They tried to make their own beer but found the extreme heat spoiled their malted grains. The lucky ones traded for beer with each arriving ship, which Captain John Smith called “floating taverns,” reporting that mariners were happy “to sell, give or exchange with us for money, Saxefras, furres, or love.”

Al Luckenbach writes about London Town and Annapolis, Maryland. London Town was once the most important tobacco port in Maryland, but by the time of the Revolution, it had become a ghost town. In 1695 Annapolis became the capital of Maryland, and Baltimore was the busy port. Annapolis was first settled on the northern bank, and then the urban population moved to the southern bank, where 18th-century artifacts were recovered and are now on display in the hotel lobby of the Calvert House. One of the ten important examples illustrated is a 6½" high salt-glazed tankard, circa 1720, by John Dwight, Fulham, London, England, with a brown wash applied to its rim. Found at the site of the Rumney/WestTavern in London Town, it is one of the earliest examples of Fulham white salt-glazed stoneware in this country. At least 11 salt-glazed vessels were recovered, including seven tavern mugs, a pitcher, and three teabowls, one with a saucer. Sherds have been found of a 1700-10 conical stoneware coffeepot, the upper half dipped in an iron wash, attributed to John Dwight’s son Samuel at Fulham.

Suzanne Findlen Hood, curator of ceramics and glass at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, writes about Williamsburg’s settlement in 1633. The founding of William and Mary College and the burning of the Jamestown statehouse helped shift the focus of political and economic power from Jamestown to Williamsburg, and it became the capital of the largest and most populous American Colony during the 18th century. In 1780 the capital was moved to Richmond, and Williamsburg became “dull, forsaken, and melancholy.” From 1800 to the 20th century the College of William and Mary and the Public Hospital were the two pillars of this small town. In 1926 the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, shared his dream of preserving Williamsburg’s 18th-century buildings with John D. Rockefeller Jr., who made it happen. In the 1950s Ivor Noël Hume established a scientific archaeology program in Williamsburg. Curator John Austin arrived in 1959 and began acquiring decorative arts for the collection based on what Hume found in the ground. After 85 years of trenching, it is estimated that only 15% to 20% of the historic area’s 301 acres have been fully excavated.

There are fine examples of Chinese porcelain, English pottery, and porcelain German stoneware found in Williamsburg. Since the 1960s thousands of tourists have left Williamsburg with reproduction earthenware bird bottles designed to serve as nesting boxes for birds. An early example of this form used since the 16th century was excavated in the Netherlands, and several appear under the eaves in a Pieter Breughel painting. A European bird bottle was excavated in Philadelphia, but the ones in Williamsburg found at various sites are locally made martin pots, one of the kinds of pottery advertised for sale in the Virginia Gazette in 1752 “at a store near the church in Williamsburg.” They are also listed as “Bird Bottles” in the estate inventory of tavern keeper John Burdett in 1746. Based on archaeological evidence, the martin pots found at Williamsburg sites were all made at William Rogers’s pottery in Yorktown, 13 miles away. Beginning in the 1720s William Rogers owned and operated an earthenware and stoneware manufactory, where he made English-style vessels, including milk pans, cream pots, jugs, and bottles. When he died he had four dozen bird bottles in his inventory. Hood writes that songbirds were a food source in Williamsburg.

Merry Outlaw writes about Jamestown and Governor’s Land, Virginia. When the Virginia Company was dissolved in June 1624, Virginia became a royal colony, and acreage on Governor’s Land was leased to the colony’s elite throughout the 17th century. Excavations yielded smoking pipes, Chinese wine cups, and the Jamestown cup made by Thomas Ward, the first named English potter in the New World. He worked in the 1620s in Martin’s Hundred, a settlement downriver from Jamestown. Ward arrived as an indentured servant in 1619, and he may have been an itinerant potter working on Jamestown Island during 1619 to 1635. His work has been found throughout Virginia’s tidewater region, from as far away as the Northern Neck to the lower south side of the James River.

In addition to providing a refresher course on the history of 14 regions, many entries in the 2017 edition of Ceramics in America focus on black history, discoveries from sites where free blacks lived, and slave households and slave-trading sites. There is discussion of colonoware, a term used by archaeologists to describe a category of low-fired, unglazed earthenware found on almost every plantation in coastal South Carolina, particularly in slave quarters, where it accounts for more than half the recovered ceramic fragments. It is also part of all urban site collections. First identified as Colono-Indian ware by Ivor Noël Hume and attributed since the 1970s to trade with Native Americans, it has more recently been thought to be the work of African American potters. It was common throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Some may have been made for sale either in Charleston markets or to individual plantations, and some was made on plantations where it was used and discarded. It was kitchenware for white slave-owning families and used in the cabins of the enslaved.

Ceramics in America 2017 presents the latest historical ceramic scholarship on a diversity of ceramic forms. It also features little-known facts, such as that John Bartlam, a Staffordshire potter who relocated to South Carolina, produced green-glazed plates of the same pattern as Staffordshire green-glazed sherds found on the site of Henry Wetherburns’s Tavern in Williamsburg.


Originally published in the October 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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