Posts Tagged ‘Newburyport’

Failure

August 14, 2011

Thomas Toft.  Bernard Pallisy.  Daniel Bailey.  Everybody knows Toft and Pallisy. Two masters of their craft.  Bailey was a small time redware potter from Colonial Massachusetts.  But like Toft and Pallisy, Daniel Bailey was a trailblazer.

Daniel showed promise early, training at his father’s pottery shop.  By 16, he was a full fledged potter.  The potters around him in Newburyport north of Boston made the usual “potts and panns” of the day.  But Daniel tried his hand at tableware.  At teacups.  Plates.  Serving dishes.  Things you might use in the parlor with company.

Redware hadn’t been used this way.  It belonged in the barn and kitchen.  It was the ‘tupperware’ of the day.  The American Revolution’s goal of self sufficiency, showcasing native talent in the face of embargo and blockade, was about to begin.  Daniel Bailey saw the tide coming.

Like Toft and Paillsy, Bailey was swamped by events beyond his control.  Believing he saw a chance to make it on his own, Daniel moved to Gloucester in 1750.  James Gardner, the local potter there and friend of the Bailey family, had just passed away.  The town needed a potter.  Daniel married a Gloucester belle.  Then cholera hit.  Their son, Daniel Jr., died.  The cholera panic caused business to wither.  Daniel retreated to his dad’s shop in Newburyport, taking the reins when his father retired a couple years later.

Toft, Pallisy and Bailey.  Eventually others followed their lead.  A ‘Pallisy school’ assured periodic revivals of “Pallisy ware” for the next two centuries.  The slipware techniques pioneered by Toft spread throughout England, and even held their own against the Staffordshire factory ware tidal wave.  Several shires produced both slip and machine lathed ware for many years.  And on these shores, redware contributed to the cause of 1776…

They each, for a time and in their own unique ways, pushed the envelope.  But there’s an ironic catch to being at the cutting edge.  Toft and Paillisy made all the history books but died paupers.  Daniel Bailey faded to obscurity in relative comfort.

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.

A Happy Ending

June 19, 2011

Our social safety network is shredded in the name of “fiscal responsibility” while untold billions go uncollected from the wealthy and powerful (who proxy write our tax laws).  The USA badly needs a civics lesson.

In the good old days there was no safety network.  If family couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take you in, it was debtors prison (with attendant disease), the poor farm (if they’d take you) or deportation to the town of your birth even if you were only born there (just to get rid of you).

But on November 26, 1754, Newburyport, MA potter Clement Kent took in Ebenezer Morrsion, a destitute orphaned waif.  Ebenezer’s indenture contract is a rare example of a formal pottery apprenticeship agreement.

The indenture “…put and Bound one Ebenezer Morrison one of this town’s Poor To be an Apprentice, to Clement Kent of Newbury afresd Potter, to learn his Art, Trade, or Mystery” for seven years.  Ebenezer had to obey his master and mistress and “keep their secrets.”  He was “not to commit fornication nor to contract matrimony within the said terms… at cards, or Dice, or any other unlawful Game he shall not play…” nor “haunt taverns, alehouses, or playhouses.”  The Kent’s would feed and clothe him, teach him English and “to Cypher as far as the Rule of three or so.”  When the apprenticeship ended Ebenezer was to get two suits “of apparel for all parts of his body…one of them to be new & Decent fit for the Lord’s Day, & the other fit for Working Days.”

Ebenezer fulfilled the contract, marrying Sarah Nowell the moment it ended.  Hmmm.  On March 15, 1775 Ebenezer was granted “liberty to set up a Potter’s Kiln at or near the North West Side of Burying Hill to be under the Direction of the Selectmen for the time being.”  He did well – or used lots of clay – because on August 11, 1784 his access to a clay pit next to Burying Hill was questioned.  A finding of  March 16, 1785, declared “no person whatsoever be suffered to dig any clay or gravel upon the town’s land near the burying ground.”

Still he prospered, eventually acquiring his former master’s estate.  Sarah Ann Emery’s 1879 “Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian” described his shop as “quite an extensive pottery for the manufacture of brown glazed earthenware.”

In 1803 Ebenezer was laid to rest on Burying Hill near his house, shop and the old clay pit.

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