Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Patriotism & Pottery: Archaeological evidence from the Paca House

Discovered during the archaeological excavation of the Paca House gardens, this interesting ceramic fragment has recently been brought to our attention. It was excavated from a kitchen midden (heap of domestic waste) alongside late 18th century pottery sherds and discarded oyster shells.[1] On this basis it can be dated to the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the period in which William Paca sold his house on Prince George Street to the lawyer Thomas Jenings.[2]

Fragment found in the Paca House gardens. South 1967, plate 85.

Patriotic Imagery
All that remains of the transfer printed image are two intertwining rings labelled “Delaware and Maryla[nd]”. These surround a figured design of which only an arm and a fallen crown remains. Fortunately, a complete example of this design exists in the form of a creamware pitcher. This preserved pitcher shows us how Jenings’ version would have looked when on display in the Paca house. It depicts the Arms of Virginia in the center with the names of the thirteen colonies around the outside and the words:

“Sic Semper Tyrannis”[3]
Thus always to tyrants

Creamware Pitcher with 'Arms of Virginia' design. McCauley 1942, plate XXXI.

The pitcher’s imagery celebrates the new and hard-bought independence of the colonies and denounces the tyranny of British rule. It is exactly the type of decorative object that one would expect to find in the home of the well-to-do American such as Jenings at the close of the 18th century. However, its place of production is at odds with its revolutionary imagery.

British Potters, American Designs
This piece of ceramic would have been made, printed, glazed and fired in the British port and pottery center of Liverpool.[4] This commercial agreement between American consumers and British producers is at first puzzling. Why would Americans wish to become patrons of British ceramics after nearly a decade of trade embargoes and war? Why would British potters print with such readiness designs that flaunt their recent defeat? This pitcher represents just one of many patriotic American designs produced and shipped in great quantities to America by British potters.[5] Other examples include a series of creamware blue plates that were created by Staffordshire potters in the 1790s in celebration of George Washington’s presidency.[6]

George Washington commemorative creamware plate. American Historical Staffordshire 2014a.

The zeal with which British potters created patriotic designs for the American market continued even when hostilities resumed between the United States and Great Britain during the War of 1812.[7] During the aftermath of this war, a new transfer-printed ceramic series was created which closely paralleled the Jenings pitcher in both design and theme.[8] Made by the Clew brothers in Staffordshire, the “States border series” adapted the pitcher’s decorative scheme of a patriotic scene celebrating independence encircled by the names of the states.[9]

States Series Border creamware platter. American Historical Staffordshire 2014b.

The success of this transatlantic commercial endeavor can be explained by the ingenuity of British potters responding to a burgeoning market. Thanks to industrialization and the innovative development of creamware (a cheaper alternative to Chinese porcelain) by Josiah Wedgwood, English ceramics were desirable imports across the pond.[10] It was however, the marketing skills and good business sense of British potters that enabled them to capitalize on a variety of markets and patrons ranging from European royalty, the British middle classes to the newly independent and patriotic citizens of the United States.[11] Thomas Jenings of Annapolis was just one such customer who expressed his patriotism through the ingenuity of the British ceramics industry.

Written by OUIIP intern, Florence Douglas

If you want to hear more about colonial and federalist pottery from the Paca House, be sure to attend Florence's evening talk on the 28th of August. See our website for more details.

American Historical Staffordshire 2014a. A rare early American themed plate. Available at: http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/pottery/ceramics/rare-early-american-themed-plate. Last accessed 8/5/2014.
American Historical Staffordshire 2014b. America and Independence #04. Available at: http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/pottery/printed-designs/patterns/america-independence-04.  Last accessed 8/5/2014.
McCauley, R. 1942. Liverpool Transfer Designs on Anglo-American Pottery. The Southworth-Anthoensen Press.
Miller, G. 1984. Marketing Ceramics in North America: An introduction. Winterthur Portfolio 19 (1): 1-5.
Nelson, C. 1980. Transfer-printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American market. Winterthur Portfolio 15 (2): 93-115.
South, S. 1967. The Paca House: A Historical Archaeology Study. Contract Archaeology Inc, Alexandria, Va.

[1] South 1967, 140
[2] South 1967, 38
[3] McCauley 1942, 129
[4] McCauley 1942, 129
[5] Nelson 1980, 94
[6] American Historical Staffordshire 2014a
[7] Nelson 1980, 99
[8] American Historical Staffordshire 2014b
[9] American Historical Staffordshire 2014b
[10] Miller 1984
[11] Miller 1984, 2


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