Drinkers, Dunkards, Kettles and a Robin.

Throughout the history of polite conversation, the spouting off of unorthodox religious ideas has sometimes led to awkward moments where eyes stray to other parts of the room.  Likewise, any reference to obscure religious heresies while discussing pottery making ought to be, well, irrelevant.  Except when those topics crossed paths in 17th century Puritan Massachusetts.

Case in point; Phillip Drinker.  Phillip was the first recorded potter in the Massachusetts Bay Colony town of Charlestown, across the bay from Boston.  He arrived in 1635 on the ship “Abigail” when he was 39 years old.  Being the only local potter at the time, his services were needed.  Eventually, Phillip’s son Edward joined the business.  The Drinker Pottery thrived.

Edward’s apprentice James Kettle proved talented.  So much so that James’ own pottery became a sort of finishing school.  Charleston soon became the single most important center for redware production in the New England colonies.  Included in the Kettle roster was Ann MacDugale, the first documented woman potter in colonial America.  Also in that roster was James’ nephew Samuel who boasted another first: probate records made at his death included the earliest known reference of a slave in New England owned specifically for use as a potter.  The slave’s name was Robin.

Later, in Goshen, CT, another scion of the Kettle family trained Jonathan Norton.  Young Jonathan promptly left for Vermont and war.  Norton’s eventual return to pottery forever changed the face of ceramics in America.

But what about the Drinkers?  Edward and his dad made the mistake of believing in the wrong kind of religious freedom.  Their kind didn’t include infant baptism.  Despite the Drinker’s position in town, they were labeled “Anabaptists” by a local chapter of the Dunkards.  This diehard little band of total submersion baptismal fanatics even got Phillip jailed for a time.  They eventually chased the Drinker family out of Charlestown.

All because of a disagreement over when people should be baptized.

So during the Drinkers’ ditching by the Dunkards, the Kettles kept their cool and cleaned up with Robin.  Go figure.

The Art of the Potter. Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York. 1977.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

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2 Responses to “Drinkers, Dunkards, Kettles and a Robin.”

  1. Michael Kline Says:

    Really interesting, (no surprise on this blog!). Do you think Robin was a woman or do we know? This makes me think that there were more women involved with early pottery than I had thought. In NC there is a lot of evidence that women contributed to 19/early 20th c. kilns in the production of molded smoking pipes, among other objects. This, of course, mirrored the Cherokee pottery tradition where women made the pottery and pipes.

  2. Steve Earp Says:

    The source I had for Robin didn’t specify male or female, but elsewhere I’ve seen mention that male slaves were used as throwers while female slaves could be decorators. Who knows? And I agree completely about women potters all through the potting history of the early days. No reason why not. So many authors cite male potters when many of these were just the pottery owner, not the thrower(s). And there are other citations of women potters out there. The way people were catagorized in tax and census roles back then could leave quite a bit up for speculation. But historians are fairly shy that word. Mostly for good reason, but not, I believe, in this case.

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