The American China Manufactory that Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris established in colonial Philadelphia has long been a subject attracting scholarly study and interpretation. As early as 1830 the historical significance of their enterprise was recognized by John Fanning Watson, Philadelphia’s respected antiquarian and historian. He made a brief mention of the factory in his Annals of Philadelphia:
The desire to encourage domestic fabrics gave rise, in 1771, to the erection of a flint glass manufactory near Lancaster, by which they hoped to save 30,000£. to the province. A china factory, too, was also erected on Prime Street, near the present navy yard, intended to make china at a savings of 15,000£.
He went on the explain that “This long row of wooden houses afterwards became famous as a sailor’s brothel and riot house on a large scale. The former frail ware proved an abortive scheme.” Watson’s account offers little more than an acknowledgment of the factory’s existence and, ironically, provides almost as much information about the buildings’ modification and bawdy operations during their later tenure as it does about the period in which the porcelain was in production. As a result, Watson, while credited for recognizing and recording the factory’s importance, left most of the subject to later generations of scholars for research and elucidation.
At the end of the nineteenth century Edwin AtLee Barber, the pioneering American ceramics scholar, began the first in-depth study of Bonnin and Morris’s company and its place in and contribution to the history of American ceramics production. Barber located a fruit basket known to have been made at their factory, as well as a ticket from a lottery held to generate funds to support their fledgling enterprise. He also gleaned information from a number of notices that appeared in the Philadelphia newspapers, and discovered the partnership’s petition to the colonial assembly for financial assistance. He incorporated this information in his landmark volume The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States.
Subsequent decorative arts scholars have continued their investigations into the American China Manufactory’s history and production, among them Graham Hood, whose methodical research on the subject resulted in his comprehensive book Bonnin and Morris of Philadelphia. In the process of expanding on the published work of his predecessors, Hood also initiated the first archaeological and scientific investigations of the factory’s site as well as an analytical study of the few known surviving objects. Since the publication of Bonnin and Morris of Philadelphia, a small number of additional objects and further insightful documentation have come to light, providing a more complete picture of the American China Manufactory.
On December 25, 1769, Gousse Bonnin, who had recently immigrated to America from England, and George Anthony Morris, a native Philadelphian, placed their first advertisement in the Philadelphia newspapers, announcing that they “have proved to a certainty, that the clays of America are productive of as good porcelain as any heretofore manufactured at the famous factory in Bow, near London.” They went on to explain that as a result of their discovery they planned to establish a business and “propose going largely into this manufacture, as soon as the works are compleated....” Remarkably, within a mere thirteen months the factory buildings had been constructed, and equipped, in a district of the city known as Southwark. European-trained craftsmen, indentured servants, and apprentices had been recruited and already were hard at work, so that by January 1771 the partners could triumphantly announce that they had produced “their first Emission of Porcelain....”
The swiftness with which Bonnin and Morris were able to organize their manufactory was an extraordinary accomplishment by eighteenth-century standards. However, the realization of their plans must be credited in large part to the receptive political, economic, and scientific climate that was being propagated in Philadelphia by a growing number of influential colonists. In a letter written in April 1768 to Thomas Bradford—who with his father, William Bradford, published the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Weekly Advertiser—the brilliant physican and ardent patriot Dr. Benjamin Rush (fig. 1) advanced the concept of establishing an American porcelain factory, predating Bonnin and Morris’s December 1769 announcement by as much as twenty months.
By the time of his letter, Rush had graduated from Princeton University and was completing his M.D. at the University of Edinburgh. Although he was away from Philadelphia for almost three years, he followed the deteriorating relationship between England and her thirteen colonies in America. In his letter to Bradford, Rush urged his fellow colonists to launch and support domestic industries as a means to reduce colonial dependence on Great Britain:
Go on in encouraging American manufactures. I have many schemes in view with regard to these things. I have made those mechanical arts which are connected with chemistry the particular objects of my study, and not without hopes of seeing a china manufactory established in Philadelphia in the course of a few years. Yes, we will be revenged of the mother country. For my part, I am resolved to devote my head, my heart, and my pen entirely to the service of America, and promise myself much assistance from you in everything of this kind that I shall attempt through life.
Rush’s powerful call for patriotic support of American industrial and economic independence was an idea that was receiving greater and greater support throughout the colonial populace. At a town meeting in Boston in October 1767, the town’s political radicals persuaded attendees to adopt a policy of nonimportation as a peaceful means of expressing their opposition to the Townshend Acts, recently passed by British Parliament, which taxed colonial imports of glass, lead, painters’ colors, printers’ paper, and tea in an attempt to recover some of the substantial costs the government had incurred during the French and Indian Wars. The acts were also intended to help fund the patrolling and protection of northern colonial borders, which were menaced by Indians and French-supported troops. By the spring of 1768 small towns and cities not only in Massachusetts but as far away as South Carolina were participating in nonimportation agreements.
Concurrently, a second movement was initiated, one that Rush had also called for, which was intended to encourage the formation and development of American manufactories. By galvanizing the colonists’ support for their fledgling industries, American reliance on taxed imports—and, ultimately, its need for other English goods as well—was reduced, thereby giving the colonies greater economic and political independence.
Benjamin Rush remained one of the principal advocates of these policies and endeavored to convince his fellow colonists of the inherent advantages in a boycott. In January 1769 he wrote from London, probably to his younger brother Jacob, encouraging the financial sacrifices necessary to support domestic industries. Shortly thereafter his letter was published anonymously in the Bradfords’ Pennsylvania Journal, and the Weekly Advertiser:
There is but one expedient left whereby we can save our sinking country, and that is by encouraging American manufactures. Unless we do this, we shall be undone forever. There is scarce a necessary article or even a luxury of life but what might be raised and brought to perfection in some of our provinces....Mulberry trees are so plenty among us that we might raise silkworms in a few years to supply us with all the silks we want, as oak leaves (when those of the mulberry are not to be had) have been found in China to afford a food to the worms. We have all the materials for making china or porcelain ware in our province and in New-Castle county. As for bohea and green tea, let them be banished forever from our tables and buffets: a bowl of sage and baum tea is worth an ocean of both of them. The grand complaint with laborers among us is that we do not pay them sufficient prices for their work. A plain reason may be assigned for this; we consume too little of their manufactures to keep them employed the whole year round; their wages therefore must of consequence be proportionably higher during the few months they do work; but as soon as American manufactures become general, this complaint will have no foundation, and hundreds of artificers of every kind would be invited to come over from England and settle among us.
It had become clear even to less radical colonists that a successful boycott of English goods would encourage the production of domestic goods and the establishment of a workforce of skilled craftsmen, ultimately strengthening the American economy.
Before long, support for nonimportation agreements was widespread. In Philadelphia the inherent advantages of these policies ensured political and economic backing from several of the city’s most influential citizens. By February 1769 Philadelphians embarked on what was to become one of the colonies’ best-organized boycotts, a dissent in which institutions and organizations also participated. The American Philosophical Society, which had already assumed a prominent and influential role in the nonimportation movement, began to offer more tangible encouragement in the form of fiscal awards to newly established manufacturers. One of those recognized was Henry William Stiegel, for the large glass factory he had established at Manheim, just outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1771 Stiegel exhibited several “specimens of Flint-Glass” at one of the Philosophical Society’s meetings in an effort to demonstrate that the Americans were capable of producing glass comparable to their counterparts in England. The local newspapers reported on the occasion and praised Stiegel’s craftsmanship, proclaiming that the glass “was judged equal in beauty and quality to the generality of Flint-Glass imported from England; and entitles the ingenious and public spirited Manufacturer to the particular encouragement of this Province and country.”
During this period the American Philosophical Society actively encouraged other research that it felt would contribute toward building a stronger foundation for domestic manufacturers. The minutes of a meeting of the society’s membership on October 6, 1769, record that “Upon a motion made and seconded [the membership] agreed to publish an Advertisement for specimens of the different clays to be sent to the Society,” presumably to determine whether local materials could be utilized in the manufacture of porcelain. However, when they next met, there must have been some difference of opinion on whether to proceed with the project. The members discussed the plan whereupon it was “Agreed that ye Advertisement concerning different Specimens of Clay, which was ordered to be published at the last Meeting, be deferred for some time.” Perhaps the society postponed any further action on the proposal because by this date it had learned of Gousse Bonnin’s intention to establish a porcelain factory in the city. Earlier, on October 9, Bonnin had advertised his plan to produce black lead crucibles, presumably to be used in the manufacture of porcelain. By the beginning of December, within a month of the society’s meeting, he had entered into a partnership with George Anthony Morris. Unfortunately, the society’s minutes do not offer further explanation for the decision to defer the proposal. Assuming that its members knew of the plans for establishing a porcelain factory, they may have simply decided that there was no longer any reason for them to encourage the testing of clays.
Bonnin and Morris had first publicly announced their plans, in December 1769, and slightly more than a year passed before their enterprise was in operation. Their timing, following the colonists’ subscription to the nonimportation agreements, seemed opportune. Yet even by then it was apparent to Parliament that the Townshend Acts were not going to generate the revenue it had anticipated; in fact, the duties collected fell far short. Colonists were purchasing fewer and fewer English goods, significantly reducing the volume of England’s mercantile exports. The severity of these economic impacts, combined with the colonists’ growing resentment of Britain’s policies, convinced Parliament that the duties, a serious political mistake, had failed.
By March 1770, when the Townshend Acts were repealed, England’s exports to the colonies had dropped to an all-time low. American merchants who retailed the imported goods were as anxious as their British counterparts to see the boycott concluded and trade resumed. The patriots rigorously objected and, undoubtedly as a means of maintaining anti-British sentiments, urged colonial legislatures, town officials, and the general population to continue supporting the nonimportation policy. The success of their tactics varied; in Philadelphia, the colonists were convinced to sustain the boycott through the latter part of September.
By the fall of 1770, as trade relations between the mother country and the colonies began to resume, the commitment to uphold the newly developing American manufactures began to lessen. Philadelphia’s merchants were now concerned with more practical considerations of goods—their availability, quality, and cost—rather than whether they were produced domestically or carried a small tax.
A series of notices reveals that the Bonnin and Morris factory attracted the attention of the English press, and undoubtedly their manufacturing competition as well. An account of the American China Manufactory’s organization and production appeared in several British newspapers in January 1771: “Articles of Intelligence from the other Daily Papers of Yesterday. Extract of a letter from Philadelphia, Dec. 5. By a late letter from Philadelphia we are informed, that a large china manufactory is established there, and that better china cups and saucers are made there than at Bow or Stratford.”
The published claim that the American China Manufactory had produced cups and saucers of a quality finer than those manufactured at Bow and Stratford is overly ambitious and must have been intended as something of a commercial enticement to attract customers. Late in February 1771, the second month of actual operation, Joseph Shippen Jr., Secretary of the Provincial Council, visited the factory’s shop to purchase china. In a letter to his father, he registers his impressions:
I have been at the American China Shop, to procure some of the China which Mammy has an inclination for; and find they have none left of the same kind of cups and saucers bought by Mrs. Penn, which were tea cups with handles and not coffee cups; they are guilted [quilted] china, and have a border round the edges in immitation of Nanking China. There were only one dozen of that sort made, all of which Mrs. Penn bought; but I am told by the seller that more of it will be finished at the factory next week; and Jenny promises herself the pleasure of being one of the first at the shop, when the next kiln of china is sent there, in order to choose out a good set for Mammy; for there is often a great deal of difference among the cups and saucers, as well as other articles, as to the goodness of painting and glazing.
This china is in general esteemed preferable to that made in England, as to its fineness, or quality; but as yet it has rather too yellowish a cast, owing to the want of a particular ingredient used in the composition for glazing; which could not hitherto be imported from England on account of the Non-Importation agreement; but the owners of the factory expect a quantity of that article in the first spring vessels; and then they are in hopes of making a great improvment in that particular.
Shippen’s observations regarding difficulties with production quality are substantiated by an examination of the surviving examples of the factory’s work. Nevertheless, he reported that the factory was enjoying a successful start. The “Mrs. Penn” to whom he refers is probably Mrs. John Penn, whose husband was the colony’s governor and a grandson of William Penn. It seems that even though it had just commenced operation, the American China Manufactory was already attracting notable clientele, which surely enhanced its reputation and fostered business.
Other prominent Philadelphians placed orders for porcelains. Benjamin Franklin—who at this time was living in London, acting as an agent on behalf of the Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania governments—maintained a keen interest in the young enterprise. Late in 1771 his wife, Deborah Franklin, obtained some examples of the factory’s work and sent them to him in London. He responded, “I thank you for the Sauceboats, and am pleasd to find so good a Progress made in the China Manufactury. I wish it Success most heartily.” Unfortunately, these sauceboats are not known to have survived; however, a small, shell-shaped pickle dish that originally might have belonged to Benjamin Rush has been identified (fig. 2). The dish was intended for serving sweetmeats or perhaps the cucumber, mushroom, nasturtium, and barberry pickles so popular at the time. It is the sole surviving American China Manufactory example of this particular form.
John Cadwalader, who through his successful dry-goods business and a propitious marriage had assembled a great fortune, must have been among the first to acquire some of the china produced by Bonnin and Morris. The itemized bill made out to him by Archibald McElroy, an independent merchant engaged by Bonnin and Morris to retail their wares, records the transaction: “John Cadwalader bt. of Arch. McElroy....1770 paid Jany. 1771,” a date concurrent with the Philadelphia newspapers’ announcement of the factory’s first production. Thomas Wharton, another of Philadelphia’s prosperous merchants, is known to have placed orders with McElroy in March 1771, and again in May of that year. Cadwalader’s cousin John Dickinson, Pennsylvania’s respected statesman and political essayist, made a large purchase in January 1772. Although Dickinson’s receipt is not itemized, it appears to have been an extensive order, as it totaled £75. His patronage, along with that of Cadwalader and Wharton, certainly had political overtones, as all three men actively supported the nonimportation agreements.
These records are also central to reconstituting something of the full range of ceramic forms that the factory produced, augmented with the vessels listed in the partners’ published notices. “Compleat sets of Dressing Boxes for the toilet” are mentioned, as are “sets for the dining and tea table together, or dining singly.” Many of the forms intended for these specific purposes are identified in more detail. The tea wares included “cups” (“plain,” “handled,” and “quitted,” undoubtedly referring to their quilted or textured sides) and saucers (figs. 3, 4), “tea pots,” “Shugar Dishes,” and “Cream Ewers.” The dining forms include “plates,” “pint and half pint basons,” “bowls” in pint, four-quart, and six-quart sizes, “sauce boats” (fig. 5) and “small sauce boats” (fig. 6), “path pans” (probably meaning patty pans for tarts), fruit baskets (fig. 7), and pickle stands (fig. 8). Based on these bills the pickle stand, at fifteen shillings, was the most costly item the factory offered. The list of forms can be expanded to include objects that have been identified from fragments unearthed during the archaeological investigations initiated by Graham Hood at the factory site. Related to these sherds are the few vessels to have survived more or less intact, specifically the Rush pickle dish (see fig. 2) discussed previously and an unusual reticulated covered basket (fig. 9).
Philadelphia and British newspaper accounts likening the American China Manufactory’s work to the production of the Bow factory are particularly intriguing. Bonnin and Morris specified Bow’s porcelain as being comparable to theirs, implying a standard of quality that Philadelphians would readily understand. Other, more terse references suggest that some form of relationship might have existed between the two factories. Perhaps some of the master workmen that Bonnin and Morris recruited in England had been employed at Bow. Bernard Watney has noted a possible connection between the American China Factory’s announcement that nine master workers had arrived aboard Captain Osborne’s ship and a bowl, possibly made at Bow, that was inscribed “Success to the Frances/Captain Osborne from Colchester.” Watney is also convinced that an unidentified Bow painter, working about 1765, decorated some of the Bonnin and Morris fruit baskets. The American China Manufactory’s use of bone-ash in their porcelain formula, as well as the employment of transfer prints similar to some found on Bow’s work, also suggests some sort of technical relationship. A specific though inconclusive connection is found in the Pennsylvania Journal, in which one of the factory’s notices describes a runaway apprentice: “Thomas Frye, about sixteen years of age...five feet five inches high, [with] short light brown hair, [and] of a fair complexion. ...” The delinquent apprentice has been identified by Elizabeth Adams and David Redstone as the nephew and namesake of Thomas Frye, the Irish portraitist and noted mezzotint engraver, who was also one of the principal founders of the factory at Bow.
Similarities in shape and in the painted and transfer-printed patterns employed on the porcelains can be seen in the vessel shapes produced by the Bonnin and Morris factory and those from Bow, as they can be for the Lowestoft, Worcester, and other contemporary English factories. Yet, a thorough analysis of the American examples reveals distinct differences. The individual English porcelain factories produced vessels that are similar although almost never identical in appearance. They are simply variations based on a particular design or group of designs. The objects from each manufactory remain distinctive, being derived from molds seemingly unique to their factory. An analysis of Bonnin and Morris’s porcelains reveals two exceptions to this practice. The first is a rococo-style sauceboat (see fig. 5) in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection that represents the only known instance of the factory actually duplicating a design derived from an English factory. The sauceboat’s overall shape and molded rococo decoration is identical to that found on a small group of hard-paste porcelain examples produced at William Cookworthy’s Plymouth and Bristol manufactories (fig. 10). For some time Cookworthy had been experimenting with the production of porcelain, and his Plymouth factory achieved the distinction of being the first in England to produce hard-paste porcelain. He registered a patent on March 17, 1768, although it is now generally acknowledged by ceramics scholars that his factory was already established and in operation by this date.
The fact that one of Cookworthy’s sauceboat designs was being produced at virtually the same time by the American China Manufactory is informative as well as provocative. The Cookworthy sauceboat cannot date any earlier than 1767, when he first set up his factory at Plymouth and approximately three years before Bonnin and Morris embarked on their enterprise. How this design entered into the American China Manufactory’s oeuvre is not clear. Perhaps the pattern was derived from a Plymouth or Bristol sauceboat exported to the American colonies. Another explanation could be that the design was obtained from an émigré craftsman—perhaps one who was leaving England in 1770 when Cookworthy moved his manufactory from Plymouth to Bristol, which was also about the same time that Bonnin and Morris were recruiting workmen to come to America. While these scenarios are supposition, the American China Manufactory clearly had access to and, in at least this one instance, replicated a design that concurrently was being produced by one of the English factories. Furthermore, the American sauceboat identifies a significant relationship between the fledgling colonial factory and one of the most innovative English manufactories of the period.
Most of the other porcelain forms interpreted by the American China Manufactory, although not actually reproducing contemporary English designs, are consciously patterned after them. Bonnin and Morris’s reticulated covered basket (see fig. 9), however, represents an exception to this design relationship. So distinct is this form from mid-eighteenth-century English porcelains that neither its period name nor its intended function has been positively identified. Some of its individual details, such as its openwork sides and lid, relate it to an element frequently employed by the English factories, as well as by Bonnin and Morris on fruit baskets (see fig. 7). Its painted decorative motifs are reminiscent of the patterns employed to decorate a variety of other porcelain forms. An examination of the contemporary published and manuscript accounts previously discussed does not oVer a more exact identification. Although a precise understanding of the basket’s original function has eluded ceramic scholars, its very existence demonstrates that the American China Manufactory was not slavishly copying designs, but possessed a degree of creativity and was capable of expressing its originality. Moreover, its intended use must be interpreted as a reflection of the needs and tastes of its clientele. With this vessel the American China Manufactory has handsomely combined uniqueness and innovation with utility and aesthetics.
The American China Manufactory was noted for its level of quality and broad range of production, while successfully cultivating the patriotic encouragement and fiscal support of prominent patrons. Yet in spite of these accomplishments a number of factors threatened the factory’s future. Foremost was the chronic difficulty of securing and maintaining experienced craftsmen. In order to persuade skilled English workmen to leave their jobs and immigrate to Philadelphia, Bonnin and Morris had promised to assume the costs of their passage over and to pay higher wages than what the English factories were offering. Another major obstacle to the factory’s success was, of course, competition from the English manufactories that exported large quantities of their wares to the colonies. Parliament’s repeal of the Townshend Acts just a few months after the American China Manufactory was organized set in motion an intense competition between the young American factory and its English contemporaries. The colonists, having persuaded the British government to repeal the duties, began to question the benefit of encouraging domestic manufactures when English-made goods, of finer quality, less expensive, and no longer carrying a tax, were so easily obtained. If their enterprise was to compete effectively, Bonnin and Morris would require an even greater commitment from the colonists and the colonial government.
In January 1771 the partners addressed the Pennsylvania General Assembly in an effort to secure financial assistance: “We have expended great Sums in bringing from London Workmen of acknowledged Abilities, have established them there, erected spacious Buildings, Mills, Kilns, and various Requisites, and brought the Work, we flatter ourselves, into no contemptable Train of Perfection.” The address was carefully timed to coincide with their announcement in the Philadelphia newspapers that they had succeeded in producing porcelain. Furthermore, they declared that their enterprise was “actuated as strongly by the sincerest Attachment to the Interest of the Public as to our private Emolument, [we] have at our sole Risque and Expence introduced into this Province a Manufacture of Porcelain or China Earthen Ware....” The legislature’s records show that when the house next met, five weeks later, the proposal was discussed. It decided to defer action, however, and the legislative minutes indicate that the subject was never reintroduced.
With their proposal to the colonial government tabled, Bonnin and Morris had to devise another method for generating the financial assistance so desperately needed. The most viable means was to conduct a lottery, an immensely popular means to generate funds for public and private ventures during the colonial period. An organization named the Friends of the American China Manufactory was formed with the specific goal of raising one thousand pounds “Towards the Encouragement of the said Manufactory.” The New Castle Lottery, probably so named in reference to the factory’s source of its clay in neighboring Delaware, was announced and the public was notified that the names of the winners would be drawn on August 12, 1771 (fig. 11). At first the promotion appears to have experienced difficulty raising the necessary funds, as Bonnin explained in a letter to his mother dated November 9, 1771, three months after the lottery was to have been held. It can be inferred, however, that with time the New Castle Lottery proved to be both popular and profitable, so much so that a “second New Castle Lottery” is recorded for August 1772.
Concurrent with their eVorts to generate additional fiscal support, Bonnin and Morris continued to refine the quality of their porcelain. In August 1772, at the same time that the second lottery was to be drawn, they announced through the Philadelphia newspapers that they had “lately made experiments with some clay presented to them by a Gentleman of Charlestown, South-Carolina, which produces China superior to any brought from the East-Indies....” Regrettably, there are no other articles to elaborate on this development.
Despite these efforts to accrue additional financial support for their costly undertaking and to endeavor to refine the quality of their production, it became evident that Bonnin and Morris could not sustain operation of the American China Manufactory much longer. By November 1772 the factory workmen, complaining about broken promises and poor working conditions, rebelled against the partners. Bonnin urged the public, through an advertisement, to refrain from forming an opinion about the tense situation until an official statement fully explaining the matter could be prepared and published. Before that report could be completed, however, Bonnin decided to close the factory, publicizing his intention to sell “the CHINA MANUFACTORY with all the buildings, kilns, mills and other implements . . . by Public Auction, to the highest bidder....”
Although the sale was well advertised in the Philadelphia newspapers, no interested parties came forward. Undoubtedly the papers’ reports of the factory’s difficulties, combined with the local resumption of trade with England and decreasing support for domestic manufactures in general, contributed to dissuading any potential entrepreneurs. Six months later, in May 1773, Bonnin advertised the property again, explaining that the manufactory was enjoying a more favorable situation:
Any Gentleman inclining to engage in the China Business, may now enter on very advantageous terms, as these works are completely fitted, and a young man of sobriety and integrity in town, from Germany, who is completely skilled in the whole process of compounding the materials, upon a plan fully equal to the best in England, and who would readily undertake the management, upon reasonable terms, either on partnership or otherwise.
He concluded with the further enticement that a “clear and indisputable title will be made to the whole, and the purchaser may enter into possession within three days after sale.” Perhaps he was sensitive to the frequency with which the property had been offered previously, for he concluded: “N.B., The public may be positively assured this is a real sale.” Once again there was no interest. Benjamin Franklin, writing from London in November 1773, commented on the situation to Peter Burdett, who had recently developed a process of transferring aquatint engravings to ceramics: “I understand the China Work in Philadelphia is declined by the first Owners. Whether any others will take it up and continue, I know not.”
In spite of Bonnin’s inducements, no one was interested in what must have been perceived as a risky proposition at best. Later that year he left Philadelphia for good and returned to his native England. Morris had previously vacated the city, moving to North Carolina in the spring of 1772. In October 1773 the Philadelphia newspapers record his sudden death there:
North-Carolina, October 12, 1773. A bilious fever prevails very much here: Of which disorder died, on the 5th instant, after five days’ illness, Mr. GEORGE ANTHONY MORRIS, in the prime of life. This gentleman resided amongst us eighteen months; and acquired a very general acquaintance with our most respectable inhabitants: An easy, affiable deportment, joined to much good sense, candour and integrity, have rendered his death a very heavy loss to all who knew him here, as well as to his friends in Philadelphia, of which he was a native.
That Bonnin was bankrupt and had forfeited the property became apparent in April 1774, when another auction advertisement for the factory site was published:
By virtue of a writ to me directed, will be sold by public vendue, on Wednesday, the 4th day of May next, at the London Coffee-house, at 7 o’clock in the evening, one moiety or equal half part (the whole into two equal parts to be divided) of and in certain messuages, tenements and workshops, commonly called and known by the name of the China Manufactory, and the like moiety of a lot or piece of ground, whereon the same works are erected, situate on the west side of Front-street continued southward beyond the city of Philadelphia, containing in breadth, on Front-street aforesaid, 232 feet, and in rear or depth on Wicacoa Lane, 319 feet, containing by computation one acre and an half; together with the like moiety of sundry implements used in the business of China-making; which moiety is subject to a groundrent of 17:15:6, currency, per annum; late estate of Gouse Bonnin; seized and taken in execution by
WILLIAM DEWEES, Sheriff.
On July 21, 1774, the property, comprising one and a half acres, complete with buildings and equipment, was purchased by Joseph Morris, George Anthony Morris’s father. By August the tract was bisected by a new street, appropriately named China Street, and the lot subdivided into a number of parcels. That same month Morris conveyed sections of the real estate to George Jacob Houseman, Edward Lithgow, John Riddle, and the majority of it to the partnership of Matthew Clarkson and Edward Bonsall. Evidently the latter individuals acquired it as an investment, for in that same month they advertised through the “Office for the Sale of Real Estates” the “articles made use of in the China Factory. . . .” Later that year they subdivided the property and listed it for sale: “On the south side of this lot is erected a three-story frame building, the whole width of the lot and about 16 feet in depth . . . In this house the principal branches of the China manufactory were carried on, and is very convenient for establishing almost any manufactory that may be undertaken; or it can, at small expense, be converted into four or five tenements.” Of the second property, Clarkson and Bonsall explained that “it would answer many purposes; either as an addition to the above described building, or for the carrying on of a manufactory, or for a livery-stable &c.”
The china factory would indeed answer many purposes in the turbulent years ahead. John Adams, who continued to serve as a member of the Continental Congress, visited the site in late March 1777, as recounted in a letter to his young son, Charles:
I then went to the Foundery of Brass Cannon. It is in Front Street in Southwark, nearly opposite to the Sweedes Church. This Building was formerly a China Manufactory, but is now converted into a Foundery, under the Direction of Mr. Biers [Byers], late of New York...
Thus you see, that a Foundation is laying, in Arts and Manufactures, of a rising State. May you enjoy the Fruits of it, in greater Tranquility of Mind, than your Father has enjoyed, while it is laying.
Although the porcelain factory had not succeeded, in its place was established a brass foundry that, like its predecessor, challenged Britain’s manufacturers and ultimately contributed to the winning of American independence.
Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris’s establishment of the American China Manufactory was an ambitious and complex undertaking. While neither of the partners is known to have been actively opposed to Parliament’s policies toward the American colonies, their decision to organize the factory surely was influenced, and undoubtedly bolstered, by the political differences that existed between England and her American colonies. As Benjamin Rush’s insightful letters document, the colonists’ increasing support for the nonimportation agreements and concurrently their encouragement of newly developing American manufactures created a set of circumstances favorable for the establishment of a porcelain manufactory in Philadelphia. The enterprise’s innovation, as well as the potential competition that it represented to the English factories, attracted the attention of Britain’s populace and its press. A significant indicator of both the design and production relationships that existed between the Philadelphia and English factories is the rococo-style sauceboat, derived from a design identified with William Cookworthy’s Plymouth factory. At the same time, Bonnin and Morris’s unique covered basket demonstrates an individuality that sets it apart from the production of the contemporary English factories. Although the enterprise was short-lived, Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris’s American China Manufactory testifies not only that the Americans were capable of establishing their own industry and producing fine-quality and original goods, but that they were ready to be independent of England.
The author would like to acknowledge David B. Warren’s support in undertaking this research. Several other colleagues’ assistance helped to bring the manuscript to its final form. These include John C. Austin, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Phillip Curtis; Trixie L. Faffington and Andrew Wilton, The Clore Gallery; Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert L. Giannini iii, Independence National Historical Park; Camilla Hampshire, City of Plymouth Museums and Art Gallery; Hugh Tait, The British Museum; Raymond Pledger; and Bernard Watney. Graham Hood reviewed the manuscript and made constructive suggestions, and Crad Duren oVered ongoing enthusiasm and encouragement for the project.
Benjamin Rush, Charles Willson Peale, 1783. Oil on canvas. 49 7/8" x 39 7/8". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, gift of Mrs. Julia B. Henry.)
Pickle shell, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. W. 4 1/2". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Benjamin Rush; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Saucer, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. D. 4 5/8". (Courtesy, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.)
Saucer, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. D. 5 1/8". (Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Sauceboat, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. H. 4", W. 3 1/2", L. 7 3/8". (Courtesy, Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Daniel Berry Austin; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Sauceboat, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. H. 2 3/8", L. 4 7/8". (Courtesy, The Bayou Bend Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase with funds provided by the Friends of Bayou Bend; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Openwork fruit basket, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. H. 2 3/16", D. 6 3/4". (Courtesy, Kaufman Americana Collection, on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Pickle stand, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. H. 5 1/4", W. 7 1/4". (Courtesy, Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Covered basket, American China Manufactory, 1770–1772. Soft-paste porcelain. H. 3 15/16", D. 3 3/4". (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Rumford II; photo, Hans Lorenz.)
Sauceboat, William Cookworthy, Plymouth Porcelain Works, Devon, England, ca. 1768–1770. Hard-paste porcelain. L. 6 1/8". (Courtesy, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Frances and Emory Cocke Collection.)
Lottery Ticket No 430, 1771. Laid paper. 1 1/2" x 3 1/4". (Courtesy, The Bayou Bend Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase with funds provided by the Friends of Bayou Bend.) Samuel Patterson, whose name appears on this ticket, was a manager of the lottery.
John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia: Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and Its Inhabitants from the Days of the Pilgrim Founders.... (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey and A. Hart, 1830), p. 680. Hood credits Dr. James Mease with making the earliest historical reference to the American China Manufactory (Picture of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1811], p. 75), and says that Watson repeated that information in his Annals of Philadelphia. In this instance Hood appears to be mistaken. An examination of page 75 of Picture of Philadelphia failed to uncover the quote, the only reference to ceramics being: “Experiments show that ware equal to that of Staffordshire might be manufactured here, if WORKMEN COULD BE PROCURED.” American Philosophical Society Proceedings 133, no. 4 (1989).
Edwin AtLee Barber, The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States: An Historical Review of American Ceramic Art from the Earliest Times to the Present Day; to Which Is Appended a Chapter on the Pottery of Mexico; Combined with Marks of American Potters (N.p.: Feingold and Lewis; New York: dist. by J. & J. Publishing, 1976), pp. 93–100. Reprint of The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States (3rd ed., 1909) and Marks of American Potters (1904).
Graham Hood, Bonnin and Morris of Philadelphia: The First American Porcelain Factory, 1770–1772 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972).
Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser (Philadelphia) 3, no. 49 (December 25, 1769–January 1, 1770), p. 402. Previously this advertisement has been cited with the latter date, even though, given the dates of the publication, it had to have been placed in December. It encourages experienced workmen to apply to Edward Lightwood, a Charleston merchant, who would make the necessary arrangements for their passage to Philadelphia. In Charleston the notice appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal of March 13, 1770, and in the April 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.
Pennsylvania Journal, and the Weekly Advertiser (Philadelphia), no. 1466 (January 10, 1771), in Alfred Coxe Prime, comp., The Arts and Crafts in Philadelphia, Maryland and South Carolina, 1721–1785: Gleanings from Newspapers ([Topsfield, Mass.]: Walpole Society, 1929), p. 117.
Benjamin Rush to Thomas Bradford, April 15, 1768, in L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), 1:54. Rush also referred to the concept of establishing a china factory in another letter to Bradford: “How do American Manufactures go on? I long to be engaged in serving my country in this most important respect. From late intelligence I have had from America, I am now fully convinced of the possibility of setting up a china manufactory in Philadelphia.” Benjamin Rush to Thomas Bradford, June 3, 1768, in Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush, 1:60–61.
Rush’s interest in the production of porcelain stimulated a lecture on the subject: “At the REQUEST of a number of his FELLOW CITIZENS, DOCTOR RUSH will deliver eight lectures on such parts of CHEMISTRY as abound with the greatest variety of the most useful and entertaining facts and experiments, in the College of this city. The subjects of these Lectures will be as follow: . . . of the manufactories of glass and porcelane. . . .” Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet, or, the General Advertiser 4, no. 164 (December 12, 1774).
Benjamin Rush probably to Jacob Rush, January 26, 1769, in Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush, 1:74–75. Pennsylvania Journal, no. 1374 (April 6, 1769).
Benjamin Franklin to Humphrey Marshall, March 18, 1770, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 38 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973), vol. 17: January 1–December 31, 1770 (1973), edited by William B. Willcox, pp. 109–10. Humphrey Marshall to Benjamin Franklin, November 27, 1771, in ibid., vol. 18: January 1–December 31, 1771 (1974), edited by William B. Willcox, p. 254. Marshall specifically mentions Bonnin and Morris’s American China Manufactory, writing: “Our Collonies is Gone into the Importation of Goods by accounts more Largely than Ever. However I hope their remains Such a Sprerit to promote Industry and frugallity among the ablest of the farmers that they Will Purchase But as few of their Goods and they Can Well avoid. Our China Manefactury I hope will Improve and the Making of Derible (?) flint Glass Seems to make noise among us.”
Franklin seems to have maintained an ongoing interest in the production of porcelains. In February 1758 he wrote to his wife that he was sending her a variety of English china: “To show the Difference of Workmanship there is something from all the China Works in England....” Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin, February 19, 1758, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 38 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959–2006), vol. 7: October 1, 1756–March 31, 1758 (1963), edited by Leonard W. Labaree, p. 381.
Another of Franklin’s letters, this one written to Humphrey Marshall, enumerates on his interest in porcelain: “I show’d the Specimens you sent me to an ingenious skilful French Chemist, who has the Direction of the Royal Porcellane Manufacture at Seve near Paris, and he assured me that one of those white Earths would make a good ingredient in that kind of Ware.” The French chemist that Franklin refers to was Pierre Joseph Macquer, who was director of the Royal Porcelain Factory at Sèvres. Benjamin Franklin to Humphrey Marshall, March 18, 1770, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 17: January 1–December 31, 1770 (1974), edited by William B. Willcox, p. 109.
Pennsylvania Journal, no. 1490 (June 27, 1771), in Prime, Arts and Crafts of Philadelphia, p. 146.
Minutes of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge, October 6, 1769, American Philosophical Society, 1769–1774, p. 78, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia. It seems plausible that two of the society’s members—Benjamin Rush, who had recently returned to Philadelphia, and Benjamin Franklin, who remained in London at this time—would have fully supported this concept, if they were the ones responsible for actually initiating it in the first place. See also Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 70.
American Philosophical Society, November 3, 1769, p. 80.
Hood, Bonnin and Morris, pp. 10–11.
Gazetter and New Daily Advertiser (London), no. 13,062 (January 10, 1771). The same story appeared in the Craftsman; or Say’s Weekly Journal (London), no. 650 (January 12, 1771). A slightly different version of the letter was published in the Westminister Journal: and London Political Miscellany, no. 1,349 (January 12, 1771) and the Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement (January 17, 1771), the latter being previously quoted by William Chaffers, Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain, 14th ed. (Los Angeles: Borden Publishing Co., 1946), p. 969. A different story, which also mentions the attempts being made in Philadelphia to produce silk, appeared in the General Evening Post (London), no. 5,812 (January 8–10, 1771), and Bingley’s Weekly Journal; or, The Universal Gazette (London), no. 32 (January 12, 1771): “A letter from Philadelphia mentions, that a public filature is established there by a society of gentlemen, who are promoting the culture of silk in that province. And that a large china manufactory is also established there.”
Joseph Shippen Jr. to Edward Shippen Esq., February 26, 1771 (typescript letter, original manuscript unlocated), Shippen Papers, Manuscript Group 375, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark. A portion of this letter is quoted in John C. Milley, ed., Treasures of Independence: Independence National Historical Park and Its Collections (New York: Main Street Press, 1980), pp. 73, 175. A second letter from Joseph Shippen Jr. to his father, dated March 15, 1771, also refers to the American China Manufactory. The pertinent section is quoted by Hood, Bonnin and Morris, pp. 16–17, 73.
Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin, January 28, 1772, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 38 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973), vol. 19: January 1–December 31, 1772 (1976), edited by William B. Willcox, p. 43.
Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), pp. 108–9.
Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 55. John Cadwalader also supported the Newcastle Lottery by purchasing ninety tickets for £135 in November 1771. Ibid., p. 73.
“Copy of Bill for American China, 1771,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 33, no. 2 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1909), p. 253. See also Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 55.
Cadwalader and Samuel C. Morris Receipt Book 1769–1781, Joseph Downs Manuscript and Microfilm Collection, 65x520, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware. The receipt states: “Reced January 6. 1772 of Cadwr & Saml C. Morris seventy five pounds in full for John Dickinson’s order of 14th Decemr last. £75. Bonnin & Morris.”
Bernard Watney, English Blue and White Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1973), pp. 25–26; Hood, Bonnin and Morris, pp. 29–31.
Pennsylvania Journal, no. 1505 (October 10, 1771), in Prime, Arts and Crafts of Philadelphia, pp. 118–19.
Elizabeth Adams and David Redstone, Bow Porcelain (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 78–79. Adams and Redstone convincingly link the Thomas Frye referred to in the Pennsylvania Journal to Thomas Frye’s nephew and namesake. The two boys would have both been sixteen years old at the time. Thomas Frye’s nephew’s baptismal register from West Ham, England, dated October 27, 1754, reads, “Thomas Frye, son of Henry and Jane.”
In addition to the sauceboat illustrated from the City of Plymouth Museums and Art Gallery collection, another sauceboat was published by F. Severne Mackenna, Cookworthy’s Plymouth and Bristol Porcelain (Leigh-on-Sea, Eng.: F. Lewis Publishers, 1946), fig. 23. In 1946 that sauceboat was in the Frank Arnold Collection; its current location is unknown. The Plymouth museum’s collection includes two other related examples. The first (1922.22) is a sauceboat that bears the Plymouth mark, has identical molding, and a plain strap handle. A somewhat later example (1963.31), with the same molding and the same C-scroll handle, is decorated in polychrome and bears a Bristol mark. Coincidentally, after returning to England in 1773, Bonnin first settled in Bristol. Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 21. Also see Watney, English Blue and White Porcelain, pl. 95a.
Charles F. Hoban, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, ser. 8, vol. 8 (January 7, 1771–September 26, 1776) (1935), pp. 6616–17. See also Hood, Bonnin and Morris, pp. 53–54, and, in this volume, Appendix 6, pp. 56–57.
Hoban, Pennsylvania Archives, p. 6659.
Hood, Bonnin and Morris, fig. 17.
Ibid., p. 52. A receipt for lottery tickets is in the Gillingham Lottery Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The collection also includes two of the 1771 lottery tickets, nos. 431 and 773. Two other tickets, nos. 430 and 2257, are in the respective collections of The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (fig. 11), and the Brooklyn Museum.
Cadwalader and Morris Receipt Book, “Reced Aug.t 20.th 1772 of Cadwr. & Saml. C. Morris five Pounds twelve shillings & 6d in full for five Tickets in the second New Castle Lottery. 1776 signed Nichs. Van Dyke £5:12:6 Stephen Bayard.”
Pennsylvania Packet, no. 41 (August 3, 1772), in Prime, Arts and Crafts in Philadelphia, 1:120. This notice was first published by the South Carolina Gazette (Charleston), no. 1902, on July 9, 1772, and also appeared in the August 13, 1772, edition of the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), no. 1405.
Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), no. 2289 (November 4, 1772), in Prime, Arts and Crafts of Philadelphia, p. 120.
Pennsylvania Chronicle, vol. 6, no. 43 (November 7–14, 1772), p. 177, in Prime, Arts and Crafts of Philadelphia, pp. 120–21.
Pennsylvania Chronicle, vol. 7, no. 15 (April 26–May 3, 1773), p. 59, in Prime, Arts and Crafts of Philadelphia, p. 122.
Benjamin Franklin to Peter P. Burdett, November 3, 1773, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 38 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973), vol. 20: January 1–December 31, 1773 (1976), edited by William B. Willcox, p. 460. Burdett was a noted cartographer and later pioneered the use of aquatint in England. In working with aquatint he developed a process for applying engravings to ceramic bodies. This discovery was offered to Josiah Wedgwood, who attempted to utilize it for more than a year but in March 1773 abandoned the idea. Willcox notes that at this time Burdett may have considered coming to America to act as a surveyor and to lay out canals. In contemplating the move, he might have inquired of Franklin about the status of the American China Manufactory’s operation, perceiving a possible opportunity to collaborate with the factory to employ his aquatint process on its wares.
Pennsylvania Gazette, no. 2343 (November 17, 1773).
Pennsylvania Gazette, no. 2363 (April 20, 1774).
Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 74, figs. 18, 19.
Pennsylvania Gazette, no. 2380 (August 3, 1774). Included among the listings is a “rolling press, for copper-plate printing. . . .”
Pennsylvania Gazette, no. 2391 (October 19, 1774).
John Adams to Charles Adams, March 30, 1777, in Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Adams Family Correspondence, 7 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963), vols. 1–2 (December 1761–March 1778), p. 190. See also Hood, Bonnin and Morris, p. 74.