Archive for the ‘John Betts Gregory’ Category

Behold the Potter

August 15, 2010

“A potter’s potter” is an odd description, but perhaps redware potter John Betts Gregory was just that.  He was originally from Norwalk, CT.  But in 1808 he moved to Clinton, NY to set up the earliest pottery west of the Hudson River valley.  Before leaving Connecticut he trained Absalom Day who went on to found the long-lived Day/Smith Pottery in Norwalk.

New York state was an active place for potters.  Particularly salt-fired stoneware makers.  During colonial times and into the early Federalist Era lead glazed redware was the norm for most American potters – despite challenges to come up with alternatives to lead glazing.  But the secret of leadless frits remained locked away in a select few English potteries.  And in America stoneware was limited to the few areas that had stoneware clays.  Particularly the Cheesequake area of the Amboy’s in New Jersey.  There, the family of Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan sat atop a particularly large and pure seam.  Barge loads of Morgan’s clay could be shipped to any pottery with access to a major waterway – like the Hudson.

Anyway, there was John Gregory way out in Clinton.  Folk said he was a bit of a recluse, only because he was rarely seen away from his house and shop.  If you visited him, you’d find a genial, humorous potter.  John was known to sing while throwing.   Mostly he made up his own tunes, like:

“Behold the potter and the clay,
He forms his vessels as he pleases.”

Canals and trains burst on the scene in the 1820’s and 30’s.  Potters could now order Morgan’s stoneware clay from almost any location.  A sturdy, non-leaded alternative swept the country.  Redware potters had to choose: switch to stoneware, make the kind of earthenware that people still wanted (sewer pipes, bricks, and flower pots), or move to Ohio Territory…

John took a different route.  In 1831, he and his wife moved back to Norwalk, CT.  They bought an island on which John built a small pottery.  He continued making his own pots there until 1840, passing away two years later.

Post Script: In February, 2005, an eagle-decorated redware jug by John Betts Gregory fetched $65,000 at an Antiques Road Show event in New York City.

Early Potters and Potteries of New York State. William Ketchum.  Funk & Wagnalls/New York.  1970.