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Merry Abbitt Outlaw
New Discoveries - Introduction

Ceramics project lament at the end of a long day: I am poured out like water, and my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.—Psalm 22: 14-15

As curators of archaeological collections for the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology, my colleague Beverly Straube and I had lightheartedly called ourselves “Mothers of Millions” because we were caretakers of millions of artifacts from all over the Commonwealth. Upon seeing the multitudes of ceramic sherds in need of proper curation—after decades of neglect in the cabinets at Jamestown after the 1930 National Park Service excavations—my “maternal” instincts toward potsherds flooded back. I immediately said yes to the task of helping to identify them. 

A few days after I began organizing the sherds by provenance, ware types, dates, forms, and places of origin, I came upon the quotation cited above on a little note card handwritten by former Park Service curator J. Paul Hudson. And after closely examining and sorting thousands of thumbnail sized sherds a few weeks into the project, I knew just how Paul must have felt when he copied down that verse! But an innate love of ceramics made the job enjoyable and rewarding for me, and I was able to complete the project. 

Again this year, most of the New Discoveries are the result of archaeological research. As the contributing authors worked with the hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands, of potsherds, they, too, may have felt at times their “strength...dried up like a potsherd.” But their enthusiasm for and commitment to understanding our historic past made it possible for them to produce the important results reported in this issue of Ceramics in America

This year, the New Discoveries are wide ranging in time, distance, ware type, and form. La Vega colonoware, from the sixteenth-century Concepción de la Vega in the Dominican Republic, illustrates the multi-cultural interaction of the American Indians, Spanish, and sometimes Africans, and speaks to the tragic enslavement and extinction of indigenous Caribbean peoples. From seventeenth-century archaeological contexts in Ferryland, Colony of Avalon, Newfoundland, elaborate Spanish terra sigillata specimens were recovered and are reported on. Also originating from the Iberian Peninsula in the seventeenth century is an important Portuguese faience plate associated with the Lloyd family and bearing an armorial device from a site in Anne Arundel, Maryland. 

Included this year are ceramic objects that were purely decorative to solely functional, as illustrated in articles about two vastly dissimilar caches of terra cotta objects: an assemblage of eighteenth-century flowerpots found in Williamsburg, Virginia; and an amazing collection of practice bombs from the First World War produced and recently discovered in New Jersey’s clay district. 

In addition to the terra cotta practice bombs from New Jersey, articles on American pottery manufacturing at two other east coast locations are included. One summarizes recent excavations at the first large production pottery in New England: the U. S. Pottery Co. (1847–1858) site in Bennington, Vermont. The other presents the continuing efforts to identify the works of Willie Hahn, and his son, Thomas, both of whom worked in the Old Edgefield, South Carolina, pottery tradition into the early twentieth century. 

The National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) separately own Jamestown Island, Virginia, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America, and the colonial capital of Virginia until 1699. Archaeological testing of the island began in the late nineteenth century, and continued sporadically until 1993 when the APVA began Jamestown Rediscovery,™ the full-scale and continuing effort to rediscover John Smith’s 1607 fort. Excavations of the island have produced the largest collections of seventeenth-century ceramics in America, and important new discoveries continue to be made there. This issue includes entries on two exciting ceramic finds unearthed at Jamestown; one was thrown away in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the other was discarded at the end of the seventeenth century.

America’s enduring ceramic links with England are demonstrated in three important research notes. In one, a surprising but disappointing connection is documented between Maryland judge Jeremiah Chase (1748–1828) and the Chelsea Porcelain Factory near London. Additionally reported are ceramics produced for the North American export market by three Tunstall, Staffordshire, manufacturers in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, two recently discovered late eighteenth-century “vanity” dinner plates made in England for socially conscious American consumers are illustrated. As collectively presented in this year’s New Discoveries, studies of our shared past by dedicated researchers in America and abroad have moved forward steadily, and as a result, our combined efforts to make the ceramic puzzle whole is continuing at a remarkable pace.

Ceramics in America 2002

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