Pottersville: Where Edgefield pottery tradition began

Stoneware artifacts still found in area

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 8:12 PM
Last updated Sunday, April 21, 2013 9:40 PM
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It’s easy for Mark Newell to imagine what the isolated crossroads in South Carolina’s Edgefield County must have looked like 200 years ago.

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Face jugs' origins have been traced to some of the last African slaves.   SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Face jugs' origins have been traced to some of the last African slaves.

“See the mound over in that field? That’s the kiln,” he said. “And just a half-mile further was the clay mine.”

Pottersville,the community that once thrived there, was established in 1810 by Dr. Abner Landrum, whose slave artisans turned out hundreds of thousands of stoneware vessels.

“It was his manufactory that started what we call the Edgefield pottery tradition,” said Newell, an archaeologist who has studied South Carolina’s famous potteries for three decades.

In its heyday, Pottersville was the origin of food storage jars of all sizes, along with other vessels that played a role in food preservation during the early days of the U.S.

“The average passer-by would never even know what was here,” Newell said, gazing at overgrown fields and occasional homes along U.S. Highway 25. “There is still a lot to be learned here, mostly underground.”

A nearby pond, for example, holds valuable knowledge beneath the dark water. “At the bottom, there are the remains of a brick flume, from the pottery,” he said.

Edgefield pottery is widely appreciated for its beauty and durability and is collected as utilitarian art.

In 2011, University of Illinois research archaeologist George Calfas and his student colleagues conducted a dig at the kiln site that yielded about 30,000 artifacts – mostly shards of pottery – and valuable knowledge about the processes used to make the vessels.

The Pottersville area holds just a few of the sites of antebellum stoneware factories.

In all, nearly two-dozen potteries thrived in the region, turning out storage jars and thousands of other vessels, including the famous “face jugs” that have been traced to some of the last African slaves brought to North America.

One of the area’s best-known slave potters was a man named Dave, whose strength and talent enabled him to create some of the largest Edgefield jars ever found.

It wasn’t just vessels of clay that made Dave special, however. He was also a poet who somehow taught himself to read and write – and inscribed insightful verses on some of his jars.

His later vessels, often signed and dated, can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution, Philadelphia Museum, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina, Atlanta’s High Museum, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Detroit’s African-American Museum.

Pottersville’s decline began around 1830. Today, the area is considered a part of the town of Edgefield, just a few
miles away.

THE SERIES

MONDAY: The demise of Pinetucky, a tranquil settlement southwest of Augusta, began with the creation of Fort Gordon.

TUESDAY: Dunbarton was dismantled and evacuated to make way for Savannah River Site.

WEDNESDAY: Hamburg was built across the Savannah River with the hope of ruining Augusta as a trading center.

TODAY: Slave artisans created hundreds of thousands of stoneware vessels in Edgefield County’s Pottersville.

FRIDAY: Residents of Ellenton were forced to surrender their land to make way for the government’s “bomb plant.”

SATURDAY: The decline of tobacco and commerce along the river led to the extinction of Vienna, whose remnants lie beneath Thurmond Lake.

SUNDAY: With the planning of Clarks Hill reservoir, Petersburg was within the area inundated when the dam flooded 70,000 acres.

POTTERSVILLE POTTERY PRODUCTION

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Pottersville kiln site, built in 1810 by Abner Landrum, was in existence until the Civil War when it was abandoned. The importance of this site lies in the production and distribution of the alkaline glazed wares. This type of glazing had been in existence since Egyptian times in the form of low fired wares. However, in the South, at kilns such as Pottersville, the technique was applied to high fired, or stoneware, vessels. This high firing made the vessels less porous and more serviceable. The pieces attributed to the potters of Pottersville were in their own right fine examples of alkaline glazed stoneware and were decorated in imaginative ways. There appears to have been a migration of these potters and their ideas westward at the middle of the eighteenth century. This site is important as an example in the history of South Carolina pottery as there are no longer potters in the state making this type of ware. The Pottersville kiln site is now a large mound in a grassy field atop a hill. An adjoining depression may have been the kiln itself with the waster dumps now the mound. Listed in the National Register January 17, 1975.

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oldredneckman96
5115
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oldredneckman96 04/11/13 - 01:07 am
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Pottery
Unpublished

Dave did not "somehow" teach himself how to read and write. He, like many who wanted to and showed an ability to were taught by the people who were so "mean" to them.

BamaMan
2533
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BamaMan 04/11/13 - 08:40 am
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Pottersville?

Makes me think of "It's a Wonderful Life"

Riverman1
87009
Points
Riverman1 04/11/13 - 09:34 am
1
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Edgefield pottery is world

Edgefield pottery is world renowned. Everyone should take a trip over there to some of the shops.

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