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  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Bowl fragment, John Bartlam, Cain Hoy, South Carolina, 1765–1770. Soft-paste porcelain. (Courtesy, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology; photo; Gavin Ashworth.)

Robert Hunter
John Bartlam: America’s First Porcelain Manufacturer

The defection of Staffordshire master potter John Bartlam to South Carolina about 1763 caused great distress for Josiah Wedgwood, who feared a mass exodus of his fellow potters to America, where a ready market lay and new sources of clay were waiting to be exploited.[1] Wedgwood’s fears were not realized in his lifetime, nor did a self-sustaining America ceramic industry develop until well into the nineteenth century. However, these early attempts to compete with the mother country have endeared the story of entrepreneurs like Gouse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris to students of American ceramic history. 

For years Bonnin and Morris have been regarded as the first successful producers of soft-paste porcelain in America, even though the mysteries surrounding Andrew Duché’s exploits with “Carolina” clay and his attempts to produce porcelain in the Charleston area date back to the 1730s.[2] The degree of Duché’s success may never be known, but it is thought that the clays mined from the Carolinas were an important catalyst in the development of successful porcelain formulas for the earliest English porcelains.[3] Josiah Wedgwood worried over the potential of these raw materials and made efforts to import whatever he could obtain. Related to the closeness with which Wedgwood monitored the industry is a letter from him to Thomas Bentley, dated May 22, 1767, in which he writes, “I am informed they have the Cherok[ee clay] to a Pottwork at Charles Town.” 

The “Pottwork” to which he refers is apparently the operation of John Bartlam. While Bartlam’s operation was of enough consequence to concern the likes of a Josiah Wedgwood, the full implications of his pottery making has not been known until recent research by archaeologist Stanley South and his team from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and Brad Rauschenberg, former director of research at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.[4] South’s excavations found the remnants of Bartlam’s first production site in the settlement of Cain Hoy, just north of Charleston, and recovered unique and notable creamware examples on par with the quality and variety made in contemporary Staffordshire factories. This discovery rightly led South to consider Bartlam as America’s first creamware potter.[5]

Also recovered among the thousands of earthenware ceramic fragments excavated in 1991 and 1992 field seasons in Cain Hoy were blue decorated porcelain sherds of obvious local manufacture (fig. 1). Although these finds were reported in 1993 and, more substantially, in 2004, full recognition of the significance of the porcelain component has been slow in coming. Indeed, when South first encountered these fragments he suspiciously called them a proto “pearlware,” finding it difficult to embrace them as soft-paste porcelain.[6] However, South’s instincts led him to conduct his own scientific analysis of the paste and glaze of these blue and white sherds. Helped by Lisa Hudgins’s subsequent analysis of the larger collection of Bartlam’s pottery, South revised his thinking, acknowledging that what he had called “blue and white ‘china’ pearlware” in his earlier book “is indeed Bartlam’s attempt to make porcelain.”[7]

In the preparation of this volume and while rereading Stanley South’s 2004 publication, I was struck by what should have been embraced all along by the American ceramic world—a version of soft-paste porcelain had, in fact, been made in South Carolina before the inception of Bonnin and Morris’s American China Manufactory! Bartlam may have been producing his version as early as 1765, and clearly continued making it until at least 1773. Stanley was extremely gracious and generous in allowing me to examine the ceramic collection and to photograph a selection of sherds for this current volume. Lisa Hudgins, who had earlier recognized the importance of Bartlam’s porcelain predating the Philadelphia operation, also was immensely helpful in providing supporting information. We enlisted the invaluable assistance of J. Victor Owen, who performed the compositional analysis of samples taken from the sherds to prove conclusively that the paste was consistent with phosphatic soft-paste porcelain, not appreciably dissimilar from the recipe used in Philadelphia. 

The implications of the compositional analysis were clear. Not only did John Bartlam require appropriate porcelain clays, he needed a supply of animal bone to prepare the large quantities of bone ash for his porcelain formula. As previously discussed in Graham Hood’s essay, one of the notable advertisements placed by Bonnin and Morris offered “Twenty Shillings per thousand, and no more, will be given, for any quantity of horses, or beeves shank bones, whole or broken, Fifteen Shillings for hogs, and Ten Shillings for calves and sheep. . . .”[8] John Bartlam, in South Carolina’s low country, would have had identical needs.

The connections between Charleston and Philadelphia surrounding porcelain making have been long recognized, but more research exploring those between Bartlam’s porcelain production and the establishment of the American China Manufactory is warranted. We know from his letter of November 28, 1771, to Williams Williamson of London that Henry Laurens of Charleston sent samples of Cherokee clay to Philadelphia that year: “I put a Keg of Clay with one my own into the hands of Mr George Morris, the Manager or one of the principal Managers of the China Manufactory in Philadelphia. . . .”[9] The arrival of Carolina clay at the Bonnin and Morris factory is confirmed in the Pennsylvania Packet on August 3, 1772.[10]

While much additional research remains, what follows is a brief overview of the recovered porcelain wares of John Bartlam culled from South’s 2004 publication John Bartlam: Staffordshire in Carolina. Excerpted from the same publication is an evaluation of these porcelain sherds by Lisa Hudgins, who provides a thorough reanalysis of all the Bartlam ceramic evidence recovered by South’s archaeological team and considers Bartlam’s role in the larger Charleston ceramic market. South’s publication is essential reading for all students of American ceramic history and is available directly from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. This summary reporting concludes with J. Victor Owen’s preliminary but exciting examination of the composition of Bartlam’s porcelain paste. 

The potential for additional research cannot be overstated. Not only can more archaeological research be undertaken at Cain Hoy, but the Charleston site of Bartlam’s “POTTERY and CHINA manufactory” is virtually unexplored. Moreover, many questions remain as to how Bartlam was exposed to the porcelain technology. As Roderick Jellicoe points out, it was not unusual for porcelain manufactories in Liverpool to be engaged in both earthenware and porcelain production—but did Bartlam receive that training while in Staffordshire? 

For now, thanks primarily to the efforts of Stanley South and Brad Rauschenberg, John Bartlam can assume his rightful place as America’s first porcelain manufacturer.

  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Bowl fragment, John Bartlam, Cain Hoy, South Carolina, 1765–1770. Soft-paste porcelain. (Courtesy, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology; photo; Gavin Ashworth.)

Ceramics in America 2007

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Contents
  • [1]

    Josiah Wedgwood,,An Address to the Workmen in the Pottery, on the Subject of Entering into the Service of Foreign Manufacturers By Josiah Wedgwood, F.R.S., Potter to Her Majesty, Newcastle, Staffordshire (1783), reprinted in Bradford L. Rauschenberg, “Andrew Duché: A Potter ‘a Little Too Much Addicted to Politicks,’” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 17, no. 1 (May 1991): 1–101.

  • [2]

    Graham Hood, “The Career of Andrew Duché,” Art Quarterly 31 (1968): 168–84. Rauschenberg, “Andrew Duché.”

  • [3]

    W. Ross Ramsay, Judith A. Hansen, and E. Gael Ramsay, “An ‘A-Marked’ Porcelain Covered Bowl, Cherokee Clay, and Colonial America’s Contribution to the English Porcelain Industry,” in Ceramics in America, edited by Robert Hunter (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2004), pp. 60–77.

  • [4]

    Stanley South, John Bartlam: Staffordshire in Carolina, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology Research Manuscript Series 231 (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2004); Bradford L. Rauschenberg, “John Bartlam, Who Established ‘new Pottworks in South Carolina’ and Became the First Successful Creamware Potter in America,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 17, no. 2 (1991): 1–66.

  • [5]

    Stanley South, The Search for John Bartlam at Cain Hoy: American’s First Creamware Potter, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology Research Manuscript Series 219 (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1993).

  • [6]

    South, John Bartlam, pp. 27–30.

  • [7]

    Ibid., p. 157.

  • [8]

    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. 116.

  • [9]

    Philip M. Hamer, ed., The Papers of Henry Laurens, 16 vols. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press for the South Carolina Historical Society, 1968–2003), vol. 8, Oct. 10, 1771–April 19, 1773 (1980), p. 55.

  • [10]

    Prime, Arts and Crafts, p. 120.