Archive for June, 2011

A Happy Ending

June 19, 2011

Our social safety network is shredded in the name of “fiscal responsibility” while untold billions go uncollected from the wealthy and powerful (who proxy write our tax laws).  The USA badly needs a civics lesson.

In the good old days there was no safety network.  If family couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take you in, it was debtors prison (with attendant disease), the poor farm (if they’d take you) or deportation to the town of your birth even if you were only born there (just to get rid of you).

But on November 26, 1754, Newburyport, MA potter Clement Kent took in Ebenezer Morrsion, a destitute orphaned waif.  Ebenezer’s indenture contract is a rare example of a formal pottery apprenticeship agreement.

The indenture “…put and Bound one Ebenezer Morrison one of this town’s Poor To be an Apprentice, to Clement Kent of Newbury afresd Potter, to learn his Art, Trade, or Mystery” for seven years.  Ebenezer had to obey his master and mistress and “keep their secrets.”  He was “not to commit fornication nor to contract matrimony within the said terms… at cards, or Dice, or any other unlawful Game he shall not play…” nor “haunt taverns, alehouses, or playhouses.”  The Kent’s would feed and clothe him, teach him English and “to Cypher as far as the Rule of three or so.”  When the apprenticeship ended Ebenezer was to get two suits “of apparel for all parts of his body…one of them to be new & Decent fit for the Lord’s Day, & the other fit for Working Days.”

Ebenezer fulfilled the contract, marrying Sarah Nowell the moment it ended.  Hmmm.  On March 15, 1775 Ebenezer was granted “liberty to set up a Potter’s Kiln at or near the North West Side of Burying Hill to be under the Direction of the Selectmen for the time being.”  He did well – or used lots of clay – because on August 11, 1784 his access to a clay pit next to Burying Hill was questioned.  A finding of  March 16, 1785, declared “no person whatsoever be suffered to dig any clay or gravel upon the town’s land near the burying ground.”

Still he prospered, eventually acquiring his former master’s estate.  Sarah Ann Emery’s 1879 “Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian” described his shop as “quite an extensive pottery for the manufacture of brown glazed earthenware.”

In 1803 Ebenezer was laid to rest on Burying Hill near his house, shop and the old clay pit.

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