Any visitor to the Grand Canyon can appreciate the enormity of space confronting them. This expanse is as awe-inspiring to the eye as it is difficult for the mind to fully fathom.
Which, obviously, brings us to the complete redefinition of the ceramics scene during the era of England’s North American colonial adventure. European potters of the time had embarked on a series of transformational explorations rarely matched before or since. Every household aspired to own a piece of this ‘great leap forward.’ Marketing efforts by the likes of Josiah Wedgwood aimed to fulfill those aspirations. It was a race to the top motivated by status, technology, and money…
From this pinnacle of success one could look down, all the way down to the most marginalized, dispossessed communities in colonial society: indentured Irish and Scottish immigrants, decimated indigenous tribes, enslaved Africans.
These communities also marveled at the fancy new wares. But slaves, Indians, and indentured servants didn’t fit Staffordshire’s advertising profile. So they did what people had done since Paleolithic times. They dug up whatever local clay was available, hand-formed it into rudimentary but useable pottery, piled wood over it, and set the lot on fire. A small batch of what is now called "Colonoware" soon emerged from the ashes.
Colonoware is a unique pit-fired pottery type because much of it crudely but intentionally mimicked the Colonial era’s refined ceramics. It was, in fact, a mash-up of West African, Late Woodland, and early Irish/Scottish styles, flavored with the full force of Stoke-on-Trent.
Archeology tells us marginalized communities occasionally owned cast-away pieces of refined ceramics, chipped, broken, or otherwise conferred upon them by society’s betters. Archeology also tells us Colonoware was found in households at every level of colonial society, from the lowliest hovels to the kitchens of governor’s mansions.
And why not? Not every kitchen supply needed storing in fancy pottery. Many cooks would even assert that certain dishes were best prepared in these crude earthenware pots.
Nobody held Colonoware, or those who made it, to any standard of beauty or status. Nobody at the time even thought to give Colonoware a name. But it spanned the chasm between the Industrial Revolution and the Paleolithic. And it did so in the intimacy of colonial homes across all ethnic, social, and economic boundaries. Except for that, Colonoware would hardly be worth noting at all.
Catawba Indian Pottery. Thomas John Blumer. University of Alabama Press/Tuscaloosa AL. 2004.
Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins. Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA. 1968.
A New Face on the Countryside. Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests, 500-1800. Timothy Silver. Cambridge University Press. 1990.