The mounted officer charged the enemy. Or rallied the troops. Or maybe just smoked a pipe while out on a joy ride. Whatever his intentions, they were important (or interesting) enough to merit eternal commemoration. His ride was depicted several times on earthenware plates made in southeastern Pennsylvania between the mid 1770′s and 1849.
So who was this rider? A Philadelphia Light Horse Dragoon? He often wielded saber in one hand, pistol in another. A dragoon on the attack. His attire suggests this, and the earliest plates date from the Revolutionary War. But the rider probably morphed into George Washington soon after the General’s death in 1799. Commemorative prints of Washington were widely popular then. The rider sometimes blew a bugle, with pistol or saber accompanying, as if George were urging his forces forward. Here was a known pattern ready to fulfill demand for memorabilia.
Possible references to intention and identity were inscribed around the rim of the plates – when one was present, the earliest plates have none. From 1805: “I have ridden over hill and dale and have found disloyalty everywhere.” This saying was associated with Washington’s doubts when the going was rough.
But things quickly degenerated: “I have ridden over hill and dale and everywhere have found pretty girls.” The ride soured: “I have ridden many hours and days and yet no girl will have me.” The rider became desperate: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his money with the girls.” Then fed up: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his dollar in a butcher shop.” Hope fades: “I have traveled up and down the street and yet my purse was empty.” By ride’s end, around 1849, he was delirious: “I am a horseman like a bear, I would that I in heaven were.”
The ride reads like a decades long game of telephone. If many potters took part, why not? Attribution isn’t always clear, but most of these plates made after 1805 seem to be by Johannes Neesz. If it was just old Johannes taking us for a ride, well, I’ll leave the final word to him (found on another of his plates):
“In olden times it was so, that an old man’s words were taken as true.”
Lead Glazed Pottery. Edward Atlee Barber. Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia. 1907.
Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters. Edwin Atlee Barber. Dover Publications/New York. 1926.