Monday, November 16, 2009

Col. Thomas J. Davies' Palmetto Fire Brick Works

Of all of the 19th Century Old Edgefield District potteries in South Carolina, the Col. Thomas Davies pottery site is one of the lesser known. In 1862, a carpenter and mechanic named Anson Peeler from Bennington, VT talked local cotton planter Col. Thomas Davies into establishing a firebrick factory in Bath, SC on the South Carolina Railroad. Davies provided the capital and slave laborers while Peeler built and managed the operation.

Peeler had been in the Bath, SC area since arriving with William Farrar in 1856 to build the nearby Southern Porcelain Manufacturing Company. Peeler served as head carpenter and built the mold house, ware shed, steam engine shed, woodsheds and all of the other buildings at Southern Porcelain Co.

William Farrar's residence was located at the Southern Porcelain site and was described in an Augusta, GA native's diary entry as quite elegant. Peeler probably built this structure and the workman's houses that sprouted up in the now vanished town of Kaolin, SC. Peeler had worked alongside Farrar while he was at the United States Pottery Company in Bennington before coming south. Peeler obviously possessed or gained a working knowledge of refractory and the kaolin clays surrounding both Bath, SC sites in the 6 years he had been around. Southern Porcelain Manufacturing Company also made firebrick in the short years they were in operation, including the incuse, stamped bricks that have been found, so Peeler had knowledge of the process. He brought the Palmetto Fire Brick Works into successful operation.

Recently, two brick have been found that seem to be a product of the company Peeler and Davies started. The incuse embossing on both brick is identical:



Records show that the Palmetto Fire Brick Works was pressed into service during the Civil War years making crude utilitarian wares including jugs, jars and cups for the Confederate hospitals. Ceramics historian and author Edwin Atlee Barber interviewed Col. Davies at his home and saw examples of the wares made at Palmetto Fire Brick Works. Barber notes in his 1898 book Pottery and Porcelain of the United States that Davies' bricks were marked "Bath, S.C. Firebricks" and that they were equal in quality to any that had been imported". Barber notes the bricks were used extensively in the great furnaces of the south in manufacturing ordnance and in powder works, the closest being the Confederate Powder works a few miles away on the Augusta Canal.
Augusta Powder Works, Augusta, GA
Barber also states the company grew quickly and manufactured crucibles and tiles for gas works. Barber talked at length with Col. Davies about the face jugs that the African slave workers began to produce there. He noted the kickwheels and long, horizontal kilns used in ceramic production at the works. He described the glaze on the pottery as a mixture of sand and ashes, which were black or brown, clumsy, but strong and admirably adapted for the needs of the time. Barber notes that production was suspended at the end of the war and that Davies then engaged in mining kaolin and china clays. The clay beds used by Davies and Southern Porcelain Company were some of the finest of the area's kaolin belt. Today, it is known as McNamee Clay and is prized in the manufacturing of numerous items, from porcelain to tires.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mysterious Face Jug

a slave-made face jug, circa 1860's

I think I've heard potters from at least 20 states claiming the face jug first appeared in their state. I live and make pots in what was called the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina. What is known as fact is that face jugs were made at the Col. Thomas Davies Factory near Bath, SC, at the Miles Mill stoneware factory and the B.F. Landrum Factory at Sunnybrooke near Vaucluse, SC in present day Aiken County.

Most of these early Edgefield District stoneware factories used slaves in the production of wares. Some of the last slaves to enter the United States came on the ship Wanderer to Savannah, GA in 1858. The importation of slaves had been illegal since 1808, but the institution of slavery was stilll legal.These slaves were then sent up to the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, one half mile below the mouth of Horse Creek, to the planters around Augusta, GA, Aiken and Edgefield. These slaves were from the Congo River area in West Africa and most likely played an important role in the evolution of the face jug.

It is believed that the slaves at some of the SC stoneware factories were allowed to make objects of their choosing during time when they were not working. Edwin Atlee Barber in his 1898 volume on Porcelain and Ceramics in America actually interviewed Col. Thomas J. Davies, owner of Palmetto Firebrick Works. Davies describes some of the slaves making these face vessels. Davies business ledgers show he owned 23 of the Wanderer slaves. I do believe the slaves were the makers and originators of these early crude face jugs. These early pieces had emphasis on the wite kaolin eyes and teeth. The glaze was wiped off of them before firing.

Ceramic historians debate whether the slaves were duplicating in clay symbolic icons of their African culture or whether they may have seen the popular Toby-mugs of that period which were made at Bennington Vermont. Affluent plantation masters were probably in possession of these Toby mugs since they were the latest rage. Also, and most importantly, the owners of the United States Pottery Company in Bennington, VT folded and moved to South Carolina to start a new porcelain works in 1856. This concern was called the Southern Porcelain Manufacturing Company and was located in Kaolin, SC (near Bath, SC) next door to Col. Thomas Davies pottery. There are publications where eye-witness accounts are given of English Toby figures which were incorporated into graves in the West African Congo Region in the 19th C. The Toby figure in England came to popularity in the 1760's as Staffordshire potters started producing these figures in 18th Century dress, i.e., tri-corn hats as mugs, jugs and pitchers.
At about the same time Southern Porcelain was in operation (late1850's), Col. Thomas Davies set up his factory (1862), the Palmetto Fire Brick Company next door making refractory fire brick and, later, ceramic items for use in Confederate hospitals. Slaves working for him may have been exposed to the Toby or face-style mugs and pitchers. I've done extensive research at the Southern Porcelain site and have found other spooky-looking satyrs on the porcelain molded pieces which were made there and could also have influenced slaves (see photo of shard) The slaves who worked in these potteries at various tasks, were considered more valuable than average slaves and were often "rented" out to neighboring potteries to settle debts or to generate additional income for their master. Numerous records in existence show this to be fact.

The Edgefield area and present day Aiken County had around 25 or so of these early stoneware factories operating from 1810 until about 1930. They produced millions of gallons of utilitarian items such as jugs, churns, jars, etc. This area was a proving ground. Many potters, black and white, learned their skills here and later migrated on to all of the southern states and as far west as Texas and even to Ohio. Most likely they carried the notion of the face jug with them.

The most famous of these potters was the enslaved African potter known as "Dave the Slave" or Dave Drake. Several fragments of face jugs were found at the long lost site called Stoney Bluff in Aiken County where Dave worked for many years. It is not known whether he might have made any face jugs. Ceramic historians seem to agree that the crude face jug, as we now know it, most likely came from these early SC factories.

Face jugs/pitchers/mugs have been made prior to the Edgefield face jugs. Even in ancient Egypt. Most of them are highly modeled and finished. It appears the Edgefield-style of crude face jugs, which is the subject of this piece, appeared about the same time (late 1850's) as the slaves from the Wanderer slave ship. The slaves were transported up the Savannah River to the Augusta, GA/ Edgefield, SC area from the Congo River in Western Africa. Some of these Wanderer slaves, i.e. "Romeo", Ward Lee and Tucker Henderson (pictured here after freedom) lived their lives out around the Miles Mill and the BF Landrum potteries near Eureka and Vaucluse, SC (present Aiken County) where these face jugs were found (from census records).

These 3 slaves, as well as the other Wanderer slaves achieved somewhat of a celebrity status throughout the country. The Wanderer's owner, Charles Lamar, had secretly smuggled these Congo-born African Americans into this country and violated the laws against slave importation which had been in effect for many years, making them some of the last captured humans pressed into slavery in the USA. They were the only group of slaves known collectively by the name of their ship of arrival. This triggered a congessional investigation and preceeding trial of the owner and captain of the ship. The trial, held in South Carolina, ended with a slap on the wrist for Lamar and was a mockery of justice carried forth by those who's interests were served by perpetuation of slavery. Lamar was allowed to serve his brief "time" in his luxury apartment in Savannah under house arrest.

The other pottery where face jugs were found was at the Col. Thomas Davies' Palmetto Firebrick Factory near Kaolin, SC. Some 137 of the Wanderer slaves disembarked from the steamboat Augusta at a wood yard near the Davies Factory on the SC side of the Savannah River. Charles Lamar, who owned the slave ship Wanderer, owned lands around Davies' pottery and also had interests in the Southern Porcelain Company at Kaolin, SC. Interestingly, Lamar was one of the last casualties of the war as he foolishly made a target of himself in a feined cavalry charge in Columbus, GA.

Upon examination, the crude Edgefield face jugs share many similarities with the reliquary objects from the area around western equatorial Africa where the Wanderer slaves came from, especially the fang peoples. These ceremonial wood carvings often had repeated applications of kaolin applied to the eyes

and teeth, much as kaolin was added to the face jugs for eyes and teeth in the Edgefield area potteries as a prominent feature. (Kaolin is a white china clay which is mined in South Carolina and Georgia on a large scale) Almost every decision and event, from crop planting to war, in the West African cultures involved the consultation of ancestoral spirits through these carved faces and masks in ceremonies and rituals. Fragments of ancestoral skulls, teeth and bone were stored in lidded bark baskets. The carved wooden heads and statues, called "byeri", were mounted on top of these sacred bone holding baskets.

It is easy to see that the Wanderer slaves who settled in and worked the potteries of the Edgefield area along Horse Creek would have been devastated without the single most important cultural item which they had to leave behind in Africa. Without concrete evidence, we can only visually compare these two different mediums for similarities, while realizing this crude style of face jug was not made prior to the Wanderer slaves arrival. Face jugs did spread across many parts of the USA after the 1860's, as potters migrated from the proving grounds of the Edgefield potteries. Take time to look at these byeri. The location and placement of facial features is remarkably similar to the Edgefield face jugs now in collections. It was also common in this region of West Africa to make ceramic effigies with human traits. Only certain tribal members could "blow" life into these vessels, giving them powers.

These 3 photos are carved-wood byeri from the Congo area, Central West Africa, circa 18oo’s

Following are several face jugs which are attributed to the BF Landrum, Miles Mill and Col. Thomas Davies pottery and are suspected to be slave-made.