Slave's Pottery Endures `Dave' Worked in S.C., Then Vanished

The Florida Times Union, May 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Slave's Pottery Endures `Dave' Worked in S.C., Then Vanished


AUGUSTA -- About 10 years ago, Jimmy and Mary Smith bought an 1840 pottery jug with the name "Dave" inscribed just below the neck. They became fascinated with the story of Dave, a slave who made jars and jugs in South Carolina for 40 years before vanishing during the Civil War.

His works are the most prized examples of the alkaline-glazed pottery found in South Carolina's plantation-strewn Edgefield District, north and west of Augusta, where dozens of potteries operated during the 1800s.

Dave's pottery is sometimes inscribed with insightful verses, such as a piece in the Smiths' collection that says: "Give me silver or either gold; though they are both dangerous to our soul."

"For the people of that era, the pottery was Tupperware," said Mary Smith, an Augusta resident and avid pottery collector. "You would buy it for your household, to store milk and food in. But it was also art and literature. And it's right here in our back yard."

Today, Dave's works can be found at the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina, Atlanta's High Museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and Detroit's African-American Museum.

Smith said the 28 known verses on his pottery show that Dave read the Bible, that he possessed a keen wit and that he understood the hopeless predicament of slavery.

"The poems are moral and philosophical; some are religious, all the things that poetry is," she said. "They're wonderful. And he was a wise man."

Scholars think Dave was musing about his family and his African heritage when he wrote, "I wonder where is all my relations; Friendship to all -- and every Nation."

Dave inscribed his poetry on jars as early as 1834. But it's believed that he was making pottery before that. The last known jars with Dave's signature are dated 1864.

Some think Dave learned to write while working as a typesetter for a newspaper published by one of his owners, Jimmy Smith said. And some speculate that Dave used the verses to communicate with other slaves. …

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