Posts Tagged ‘apprenticeship’

Letters From A Neutral Packet

November 25, 2012

Hervey Brooks (Goshen CT, b.1779 – d.1873) loved the Sacred Harp.  He named his two sons Isaac and Watts in honor of Isaac Watts, an 18th century publisher of Sacred Harp music.  Hervey also loved to make redware.  He continued the trade long after most others in the neighborhood had quit.

Hervey must have had high hopes for at least one of his sons to inherit the shop.  Isaac was, in fact, his apprentice.  As such Isaac shared the entire enterprise including selling clams, trading rags, logging, road repair, and of course farming, along with his potting duties.  At one point Hervey had a wagon load of clocks to trade in Georgia.  Isaac was tasked with the journey.  Isaac made it to Georgia and promptly sent word that he would never return home!

History does not record Hervey’s initial reaction to Isaac’s letter.  But an indication of Hervey’s ire appeared in his ledger: “Due from Isaac Brooks – 1 load clocks, 1 wagon, two years apprenticeship training.”  Isaac owed him big!  This entry stayed in Hervey’s ledger for years.

Isaac would never set foot on New England soil again.  One wonders why.  But years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Isaac’s daughter began sending Hervey letters via neutral packets that sailed between Charleston SC and New Haven CT.  Her letters apparently softened Hervey’s wrath enough to cancel the debt.  After the war, with Hervey widowed and aging, she moved up to Goshen to tend to him in his twilight years.

This bittersweet tale hardly rates a footnote in the trajectory of pottery making in America.  But it does suggest a picture of someone, Hervey, so engrossed in his work that for years he was unable to see the interests of others, especially those closest to him.  Ever a danger to the self employed.

Yet redemption is still possible.

Readings:
Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860.  Paul Lynn.  State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York.  1969.

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

 

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The Dutch and The Deacon

March 18, 2012

Since 1653 the settlers of Huntington, Long Island struggled to establish a pottery.  But their clay was no good.  In the mid 1700’s Adam Staats, a newly emigrated Dutch stoneware potter, identified the ungainly local clay as stoneware, useless for lead glazed redware.  On October 22, 1751 the town agreed to let Staats dig, at one shilling per cord, “…from a walnut sapling on ye side of ye bank to the eastward of Jehiel Seamer’s northerly to a rock near low water mark to carry away as much as he can gitt to ye west of said bounds…”

Staats moved to Norwich, CT in 1772 with fellow potter Christopher Leffingwell.  But his move to Greenwich, CT shortly thereafter resulted in the first sustained stoneware pottery in New England (Grace Parker was the first stoneware potter in New England, but her shop failed soon after her passing).  Wherever he went, Staats imported clay from his Long Island deposits.  He Anglicized his name to Adam States as business grew, but he was always known as “the Dutch Potter.”

One of the Dutch Potter’s many apprentices was a lad named Abraham Mead.  Apparently Abraham soaked up his lessons like a sponge.  As legend has it, early on in his apprenticeship young Abraham took advantage of a prolonged absence by his master to fire a kiln all by himself.  Adam came home early (of course) just as Abraham was salting the kiln at the end of the firing.  Rather than punish the lad, Adam proudly exclaimed “He’s got it!  He’s got it!”

Abraham Mead eventually took over the shop.  Being in a port city, Mead, like Staats before him, was able to thrive by shipping his wares far and wide along the coast in his own barges.  But being in a port city also meant that business ground to a halt during the blockade years of the Revolutionary War.  Afterward, Mead picked up the pieces and kept the shop going.

Mead was active in Greenwich society.  He was town treasurer for many years.  He also took great interest in the local Congregational Church.  At one point he paid the church’s outstanding mortgage by donating an entire boatload of pottery for the purpose.  People called him “the Deacon Potter.” 

The only question is, was this Deacon-hood bestowed before or after the mortgage settlement?

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

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

 

Squanamagonic; Land of Clay Hills.

January 22, 2012

Gonic New Hampshire got it’s name, like countless other New England towns, by mangling the original inhabitants name for the place.  There are many indigenous place names referring to pottery across the Americas.  Gonic, known to the local Pennacook Indians as “land of the clay hills,” is particularly interesting because European colonists and their progeny continued the namesake tradition.

19th century pottery making in Gonic was synonymous with the Osborne family.  They were a branch of the Quaker clan from Danvers, MA whose pottery dynasty reached back into the previous century.  In those days, trades like pottery tended to stay within certain families.  Some historians today believe this was due to the particularly long apprenticeship required to become a master.  It made a certain sense as a natural extension of family ties to incorporate relations as they came of age (to get a Master of Fine Arts Degree today takes only two years and parental co-signing of $50,000 in loans).  But another argument (probably from those with teen aged sons) considers the benefits of consigning a strapping young boy to a relative’s household so they can feed him for his teen years…

We can’t know what the Gonic Osbornes’ ulterior motives towards their teenagers were.  But we do know that their mottled green glaze rivaled that of the Tauton, MA potteries who went through positively scandalous amounts of copper.  And apparently the Gonic Osborne’s did a good trade in shaving mugs, or at least many of these have survived.

At some point, brick making must also have been part of the Osborne resume.  Their rectangular corbel arched kilns were akin to brick makers’ scove kilns.  The Osborne’s even used the so called “brick maker’s method” of clay preparation designed to wash out soluble salts before production.  Hillsides were scraped to expose clay seams.  They were plowed and harrowed before a rain, then sun dried.  The clay lumps were broken up and carted off to the pottery.

Labor intensive?  Perhaps.  But that’s what teen aged apprentices were for.

Readings

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

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

Slipped and Glazed: Regional American Redware.  Brian Cullity.  Heritage Plantation of Sandwich/Sandwich MA.  1991.

A Bad Ending

November 14, 2011

One cent reward – runaway from the service of the subscriber on the 7th ult. An indented apprentice to the Potting Business by the name of Jason Merrills, about 17 years of age.  Rather large of his age, stocky built, has a large head, large blue eyes, and lightish hair.  Had on when he went away a blue surtout coat, a blue undercoat, blue mixt satinett pantaloons, and is supposed to have had some other clothes with him.  Whoever will return said apprentice shall be entitled to the above reward and no charges.  All persons are forbid harboring or trusting said apprentice on penalty of the law.
Absalom Day
Norwalk March 10, 1824.

“Apprenticeship” is a vague term.  Some believe swapping a few lessons in exchange for studio space counts.  Others consider an in-depth immersion into the daily grunt work of a shop for an extended time to be closer to the mark.  Today, of course, if you pay someone it’s called “employment” (withholding taxes, insurance, overtime, workman’s comp, etc.).

Two centuries ago being an apprentice meant more than just working for someone.  An apprentice became part of the family.  They slept with the kids – usually in the same bed.  They ate at the table.  They worked the farm.  They ‘kept the family secrets.’  They shared the entire life.

Such proximity resulted in all sorts of outcomes.  Some people hit it off.  Some tolerated the situation.  And some hated it.  A fair few of these later sorts, Jason Merrills evidently included, performed some variation of a ‘disappearing act.’

Reading the above Norwalk (CT) Gazette ad one can almost feel the anger Absalom Day felt toward the ‘large headed’ Merrills.  “All persons are forbid harboring or trusting said apprentice…”  This kid was rotten.  He was a lump.  He’ll probably turn out no good.  You’ll see.  As like as not spend all his time in ale houses and watching plays.  A sure sign of a bad character.

Despite Day’s threats, potters had few legal options when a badly needed apprentice disappeared, or disappeared at a badly needed time.  The ad was intended as much to malign Jason Merrills publically as anything.

So if Merrills was that bad, why would Day want him back?

Of course, Absalom Day gives us his answer in the first line of the ad.  Bounty hunters, think about it.

Readings:

Norwalk Potteries.  Andrew and Kate Winton.  Phoenix Publishing/Canaan, NH.  1981.