“…a small brown jug bears his name, in slightly uneven letters, W. Fives.” – M. Lelyn Branin.
In 1834, scions of Whately MA pottery families Orcutt and Crafts began a shop ultimately known as the Portland Stoneware Company of Portland, ME. They churned out huge amounts of ware, mostly 1 to 4 gallon jugs. Orcutt dropped out in 1837. Caleb Crafts took William Fives as a partner. Their partnership ended a few years later. Caleb left town. William stayed on, but never again as owner.
It seems William Fives had talent. Many potteries traded owners during the 19th century. But William continued at this shop through a succession of owners. Almost like a tacit agreement that he ‘come with the shop.’
He rented an apartment on Green Street with several fellow potters. William eventually married, bought a house and had children. He quietly passed away on Dec 5, 1849.
In the words of genealogist Susan Hoffman, William Fives “led a very quiet life.” Normally, that would be commendable – though somewhat dull. In William’s case “quiet” was amazing. His family had emigrated from Ireland in 1803. William was Irish in the mid 19th century northeastern United States.
The Irish were roundly despised even before a mid century deluge of ragged Irish immigrants broke on these shores. They were considered even lower than the black population at the time. After all, white folk ‘knew’ the blacks. Blacks spoke the same language, had the same religious beliefs, ate the same foods and, while often poor, they did not generally live in abject squalor. Gaelic speaking Irish arrived with absolutely nothing. They were starving, stinky, sickly and destitute. They tended to radicalism due to past experience. Worst of all, they were papists! Catholic! The Irish didn’t become ‘white’ until well after the Civil War.
William Five’s Green Street apartment seemed to be a focal point for Portland Stoneware Company potters. Their surnames suggest an eclectic work environment. Clough (Welsh), Aliff (Breton), Vankleek (Dutch). ‘Melting pot’ potteries might not have been rare, although it is known that some – the Norton’s of Bennington most notably – strictly favored local boys. The Portland roster indicated a fairly open-minded environment in the midst of wide spread xenophobia and anti-Irish sentiment.
Open minds are to be treasured even in the best of times. For that alone William Fives and his cohorts deserve notice.
The Early Potters and Potteries of Maine. M. Lelyn Branin. Wesleyan University Press/Middletown Ct. 1978.
Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins. Harvard University Press/Cambridge MA. 1968.
How the Irish Became White. Noel Ignatiev. Routledge/New York, London. 1995.