David Drake, the legendary Edgefield potter who signed his name “Dave,” is renowned for producing large-capacity alkaline-glazed stoneware vessels and, especially, for those he incised with compelling rhymed couplets. Born a slave circa 1800, Dave marked the earliest of his known dated vessels in 1829 and the last in 1864. An exciting new discovery in Dave’s chronicles was revealed during a recent visit to Miles Mill stoneware manufactory near the Gopher Branch Heritage Preserve of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Miles Mill, one of the potteries belonging to Lewis Miles, opened in 1867 one-half mile from his kiln at Stoney Bluff.
While clearing debris from the mill’s channel, the property owner found a large sherd from a cylindrical slip-glazed jug (fig. 1), the base of which is inscribed “January/25th 1868” above the partial word “. . . ve.” Although no Dave vessels from Miles Mill have been previously identified, this example provides proof that he worked there, because the letters clearly share handwriting elements seen on his many signed pieces. Like all of Dave’s known pots, this example bears a date that includes month, day, and year. Unlike all of his other signed vessels, however, this one is signed on the bottom. Most significantly, the date makes it the only known vessel Dave signed as a freeman—as an employee rather than a slave.
Carl Steen, Diachronic Research Foundation, Columbia, South Carolina
Storage jar base fragment, attributed to David Drake, Miles Mill Pottery, Edgefield, South Carolina, 1868. Alkaline-glazed stoneware. Incised in script: “January/25th 1868” above the partial word “. . . ve.” (Private collection; photo, Carl Steen.)
Arthur F. Goldberg and James P. Witkowski, “Beneath His Magic Touch: The Dated Vessels of the African-American Slave Potter Dave,” in Ceramics in America, edited by Robert Hunter (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2006), pp. 67–70. See also Jill Beute Koverman, “Searching for Messages in Clay: What Do We Really Know about the Poetic Potter, Dave?” in I made this jar . . . : The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American Potter, Dave, edited by Koverman, exh. cat. (Columbia: McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, 1998), pp. 24–25.
Leonard Todd, Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008), p. 172.
Personal communication with Steve Ferrell and Jill Beute Koverman, 2010.
Goldberg and Witkowski, “Beneath His Magic Touch,” p. 75.