This is the transcript of the first program in our YouTube series on the stoneware potteries of the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina (Link)
Stoneware pots…might not sound interesting to many people…but then when you consider pots that are the most collectable in America, pots that are the most rare and valuable…pots that are considered an early American art form…pots that connect us directly to the magic and pathos of Western Africa in the 19th Century, and even spring from industrial secrets stolen from ancient China…then you have some stories you might want to hear.
My name is Mark Newell. I have searched, collected and excavated stoneware potteries for more than thirty years. Over the next few programs I will introduce you to the fascinating story of stonewares made in the potteries of the Old Edgefield District in South Carolina.
In each program I will introduce you to the major potteries and show you a range of the wares they produced. We will look at the features that distinguish one pottery from another, talk about the richly colored glazes, the pottery marks, capacity marks and more. The programs will give you a basic overview of the Edgefield potteries, the men – and women – behind the pots – and the stories that make these unique vessels sing to us about the rich traditions of Edgefield’s chapter in the story of Southern Pottery.
Landrumsville – also known as Pottersville on the outskirts of Edgefield
The first stoneware pottery was built in an area called Pottersville doubtless to meet the growing need for utilitarian storage vessels for everything from whiskey to turpentine, preserves and even bear meat. In those days this was the American frontier and finished goods from Europe were hard to come by.
Typical storage jar from Landrum’s pottery.
That first pottery I mentioned was started by Abner Landrum around 1800 just outside the town of Edgefield . When the site was finally excavated recently it was discovered that Landrum had built a 100 foot long Chinese style ‘dragon’ kiln.
Image showing the footprint of Landrum’s kiln at Pottersville (Christopher Fennell)
Chinese dragon kiln in Jingdezhen Province China (Agavarts.com)
Loading a Dragon Kiln (Pinterest)
Prior to this excavation there had been much debate about how Chinese style ash glazes came to be used in South Carolina in the 1800s.
Chinese ash Glaze (Pinterest)
Many collectors liked to believe it was American co-invention. In fact a Jesuit priest in China, Father d’Entrecolles sent highly detailed information about porcelain manufacturing back to Europe in 1722.
d’Entrecolles letter published in France 1722.
The English trade directory that reproduced a translation of d’Entrecolle’s letter in 1755.
That information was published in an English dictionary of trade of commerce – and this almost certainly was the source of Landrum’s knowledge.[Insert trade Dict picture]. Landrum was initially interested in producing porcelain – but does not appear to have ever been successful at it with his Dragon Kiln. He respond to the demand for utilitarian stoneware though – and so started the expansion of the pottery industry in South Carolina. Within a short while of the start of the Pottersville operation, Landum’s brothers Amos and John started their own operations on Edgefield’s Horse Creek – the remains of finely bricked waterways can still be found at these sites.
Landrum’s first pottery also saw the beginning of unique vessels created by an enslaved potter by the name of David Drake, known to most of us as simply ‘Dave.”
Inscribe pot thrown by Dave in 1858
Dave may have worked at Landrum’s Edgefield newspaper “The Hive” and it is thought that it was here that he learned to read and write – supposedly an illegal activity for slaves at the time. We know his story because he often wrote dates, his owner names and even short poems on many of his pots. Some of them were very large – up to 40 gallons.
Large storage jar made by Dave and inscribed with a couplet.
They are among the most highly prized vessels by collectors and museums. We will devote an entire program to Dave later on in this series. Landrum. it is clear, was very liberal in his views..something that made him unpopular in The Old Edgefield District which was firmly committed to the institution of slavery. As a result, Landrum moved to Columbia, South Carolina in 1830 and started a new pottery and brick operation – and a newspaper there. His most famous potter, Dave, remained in Edgefield, becoming the property of Landrum’s son-in-law, Lewis Miles – the next Edgefield Potter we will discuss.
There are many Landrum Potterville pots to be found. They are most often large ovoid posts with a rich, runny glaze and a double collared neck. Some pots, such as this storage Jarappeared to be crude, even made by inexperienced hands. This pot is attributed to Dave and may be one of his earliest pieces.
Next program, Lewis Miles – and the loss of two of his pottery sites to pots hunters and bad archaeological judgment.