The Potter’s Examiner; “Wisconsin Or Bust”

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  As when the Dragoons were called out to encircle the town of Berslem, Staffordshire, in January 1837.  Their mission – to keep the “Great Strike” of the recently formed National Union of Operative Potters from spreading to the other 5 towns of Stoke-on-Trent.

The potters’ organizing effort had been, as usual, a long painful journey.  (For details just follow any current labor struggle, which you should do anyway.)  In the end, a splintered Potters Union collapsed after extracting some weak half-measures from factory owners.

William Evans ran a radical, pro union Stoke-on-Trent newspaper called “The Potter’s Examiner.”  When the strike failed he began pushing an idea that had been gurgling around the edges of the issue.  To hell with this place!  Let’s all move to Wisconsin where we can make pots in peace:

“Fly to the most liberal institution of present man; to the untaxed plains, rivers, and lakes of a free country…”

The territory of Wisconsin (present day Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa) was America’s frontier.  The outer fringe of civilization.  But America was marching westward.  Individual potters had been emigrating to the promised land for over a century.  Then came the union wars.  Enough was enough!

The Potters’ Joint Stock Emigration Society and Savings Fund was set up in 1844.  In a tizzy over the idea of emigration, newborn children were named “America” and “Freedom.”  Potters renamed their streets “America,” “Madison” and “Washington.”   In 1847 the first group made it to Wisconsin.  Their raw, undeveloped tract was dubbed “Pottersville.”  They had to start from scratch – and ultimately ended up with as much.  The last vestiges of Pottersville, northeast of Pardeeville, WI., were torn down in 1989.

Those that stayed home eventually did get their union.  Just as demand began dropping precipitously.  Just as a gazillion ex-patriot factories started up in America…

Readings:

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries.  John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History.  Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride Nast & Co./New York & London.  1913.

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2 Responses to “The Potter’s Examiner; “Wisconsin Or Bust””

  1. Charly Says:

    “Bernslem” ….. there is no “n” in Berslem.

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