Essay Writing (or Ad Copy) Rule #1: Start with an attention grabbing headline. Hyperbole with an ironic twist works well. So it is with this title: pure ironic hyperbole.
Unless you actually lived through it.
The Quakers were a powerhouse force in the pottery world of colonial Boston. They weren’t the only potters in town (Charleston across the bay, actually), but they comprised a substantial proportion of them. Pottery may not have been regarded as anything more, or less, than a job a person might do. But it certainly was an integral part of everyday life. Just look around your kitchen today. How many things do you have whose sole purpose is to keep things in? Much of these would have been ceramic during Colonial times. Continuous hard use meant breakage. And, as the saying went, “…when it breaks, the potter laughs.”
Tax roles indicate colonial Boston-area potters were solidly middle class, and sometimes even in the upper percentages of income earners. Yet after the Revolution, Quakers faded from the pottery making record. Why?
The burning of Charleston by the British Navy in 1776 was a huge blow. The Quakers lost everything. They and their businesses were scattered to the hinterlands of New England. But the same troubles befell all of Charleston’s potters. Many of these others managed to continue quite well.
A darker force was at work: the approbation of their neighbors during the war. Quakers held very strong beliefs about remaining aloof from temporal authority. They refused to take sides in the Revolution. Because polarization – ‘with us or agin us’ – so easily comes to dominate most conflicts, the Quakers were hated. They were persecuted. Boycotted.
As they were during the Civil War. And during WWI. And WWII. Richard Nixon (a Quaker himself) put the Quakers on his infamous “Enemies List” for their anti-Viet Nam war stance. The American Friends Service Committee was practically an enemy of state during Ronald Reagan’s incursions into Nicaragua…
It isn’t that Quakers were commies, or hippies, or draft dodgers, or rebel sympathizers, or Tories. The history of Quakerism in the U.S. only serves to remind us that polarizing discussions of religion and politics really have no place in a harmless little essay about colonial pottery.
Except when these issues converge to destroy the livelihoods of a group of talented, successful potters who just wanted to do their own thing.
Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins. Harvard University Press/Cambridge MA. 1968.
Many Identities, One Nation, The Revolution and It’s Legacy in the Mid-Atlantic. Liam Riordan. University of Pennsylvania Press/Philadelphia. 2007.
Rules for Radicals. Saul Alinski. Vintage Press/New York. 1989.