Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Paine’

The Poor Potter is Dead, Part Two.

September 29, 2009

A generation after the poor potter of Yorktown died, Benjamin Franklin advised his son William, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, to downplay local manufacture of consumer goods to William’s superiors in England.  Writing from London, Ben said that depreciative accounts of coarse, poor quality local production “are very satisfactory here, and induce the parliament to despise and take no notice of the Boston resolutions…”

This was the heyday of American redware pottery production.  It was also open rebellion.  There was a widespread feeling that the colonies could and should be self-sufficient.  They wanted autonomy.  It took Thomas Paine’s radical pamphlet “Common Sense” to finally push the colonists to completely sever all ties with England.  (Why is common sense always the hardest thing to swallow?)

American potters set out to prove they could equal the wares imported from England.  As this feeling grew, so did the number of potters.  Many greatly expanded their repertoire beyond the “potts and panns” of their forebearers.  Some modern observers believe all this activity didn’t necessarily result in an increase in quality, though.  Many new potteries went belly up within a short space of time.  But in Charlestown, MA, a major New England pottery center,  many potters consistently ranked in the top five percent of tax payers.  Somebody was doing something right.

Boycotts against anything imported caught on.  But people still needed things to put things in.  Redware fit the bill.  It was cheap and it was local.

So, potters as “local heroes?”  An interesting idea.  It might sound strange now, but once upon a time, making mugs was an act of rebellion in this country.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed. Academic Press/New York.  1985.

Unearthing New England’s Past: The Ceramic Evidence.  Exhibition Catalogue. Museum of Our National Heritage/Lexington, MA.  1984.

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