Dave, the African American Slave Potter

“Give me silver or give me gold/though they are dangerous to our soul /27 July 1840” – Dave (slave potter) Edgefield, SC

Pot, thrown by Dave, the slave, Edgefield, SC

photo by Gavin Ashworth /for Ceramics in America

Living in South Carolina, with an ear open to authentic local craft and art, one hears often of the Edgefield District, known for its distinctive traditional stoneware. South Carolina is rightfully proud of her two native crafts, the carefully woven Sea Grass baskets, made in the traditional style by the Gullah people, African Americans, who were formerly enslaved on the coastal Sea Islands, and also for its stoneware pottery, which is most significantly, tied to a slave named Dave who inscribed his massive pots with poetry. Dave’s legacy has grown not only because of his superlative technical skill but also because he dared to write poetic couplets on his pots, and to sign his name, which was bold, brave, and daring. His pots now fetch six figures in the antiques market.

The Charleston Museum, was, in 1919, given the first inscribed jar by Dave, by a contributor named Stoney. The massive forty gallon jar so inspired the director at the time, Paul Rea, that he wrote, a few months after it arrived, that “the jars should be collected…to prepare a history of the old potteries.” That did not happen until Laura Bragg, subsequent director of the Charleston Museum, visited the Edgefield area in 1930, learning about the one legged potter who worked in the area all his life, from 1834 to about 1870. The Edgefield pottery collection at the Charleston Museum is a testament to Bragg as a preservationist. Bragg offered an article about the history of the South Carolina jug and pottery for International Studio, which had previously printed her work, but the pottery piece was never published.

Dave they say, lay on the railroad tracks when he learned he was to be sold and relocated to a plantation to the west. The train severed his leg, making him less valuable to the buyer who then refused him. Dave, now one legged, continued his work as a potter, working with am able bodied companion, named ‘Baddler”: the latter works, which can be seen at the Charleston Museum, were signed “Dave and Bladdler”. The great potter stayed and worked in South Carolina all the days of his life. He continued to produce pots – large, great pots, inscribed with short phrases of poetic wisdom, and bravely inscribed in his hand and signed with his name, a testament to an undaunted spirit.

The following couplets are some of the poetic inscriptions, on the pots of Dave, the slave potter, of Edgefield, South Carolina.

I made this jar for cash
Though it is called lucre trash
22 August 1857

I made this for our Sott
it will never – never – rott
31 March 1858

This noble jar will hold 20
fill it with silver then you’ll have plenty
8 April, 1858

When you fill this jar with pork or beef
Scot will be there to get a peace
(on the other side)

This jar is to Mr. Seglir
who keeps the bar in orangeburg
for Mr Edwards a gentle man
who formerly kept Mr Thos bacons horses
21 April 1858

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I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in art, Arts & Culture, creativity, Gullah, Poetry, religion, South Carolina History, Writing
2 comments on “Dave, the African American Slave Potter
  1. Cork Hutson says:

    Nice piece Charlotte. I remember seeing a book about Dave last year while in Augusta and told myself I needed to get it. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Samuel Hardman says:

    Many thanks for talking about Dave and his excellent work. Yes, indeed, we owe much to Laura Bragg’s early work. In 2001, I published my first reading of Dave’s poems. I am now about to publish my second reading his poems. Here I speak about the meaning of his poetry as well as his technique. Dave was indeed a gifted and highly skilled poet. Those interested by Dave and his work may send a note to hardman2828@yahoo.com or a letter to Samuel J. Hardman, 200 Barnes Circle, Commerce, Georgia 30530. A copy of my new work on Dave is absolutely free of charge, as is a copy of my paper on Dave’s known marks. I wish to do all that I can to bring Dave and his poetry to the attention of the public.

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What’s this?

Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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