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Sam Margolin
“And Freedom to the Slave”: Antislavery Ceramics, 1787–1865

Ceramics in America 2002

Full Article
Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Medallion, Josiah Wedgwood, Staffordshire, England, ca. 1787. Jasperware. D. 1 1/8". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Design of chained and kneeling slave in profile taken from the seal of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Medallion, Josiah Wedgwood, Staffordshire, England, ca. 1787. Jasperware and silver. D. 1 7/8". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Patch box, England, ca. 1800. Painted enamel on metal. L. 1 3/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Halfpenny token, 1668. Copper. D. 7/8". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Head of black youth representing the Black Boy Pub.

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Figural group, Staffordshire England, ca. 1760. Creamware. H. 5 3/8". (Courtesy, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Cream jug, Staffordshire or Yorkshire, England, 1780–1790. Creamware. H. 4 1/2". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This jug, part of a larger tea service, has twisted strap handles with molded sprigs terminals and a black transfer print of The Tea Party

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Jug, England, ca. 1800. Pearlware. H. 9 1/2". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Armorial crest featuring blackamoor bust in profile. 

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Detail of the crest illustrated in figure 7.

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Soup plate, France, ca. 1810. Porcelain. D. 9 3/4". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Blackamoor head and legend “Asgre Lan Diogel ei Pherchen.”

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Detail of the soup plate illustrated in fig. 9. The Latin legend translates as “A pure conscience is a safeguard to its possessor.”

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Detail of an engraving, from Thomas Clarkson’s History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, London, 1807. Influential figures such as Thomas Clarkson were given the responsibility of collecting information to support the abolition of the slave trade. This included interviewing 20,000 sailors and obtaining equipment used on the slave ships such as iron handcuffs, leg-shackles, thumb screws, instruments for forcing open slaves’ jaws, and branding irons. In 1787 he published his pamphlet, A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition. After the abolishment of the British slave trade in 1807, Clarkson published his book History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade. 

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Child’s mug, England, ca. 1840. Whiteware. H. 2 1/2". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This enamel-colored black transfer print depicts the capture of native Africans by European slavers, along with the opening verse from William Cowper’s The Negro’s Complaint: “Forcd from home and all its pleasures/Afric’s coast we left forlorn/To increase a stranger’s treasures/O’er the raging billows borne.”

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Jug, Staffordshire or Sunderland, ca. 1820. Pearlware. H. 4 1/2". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo Gavin Ashworth.) This jug with copper and pink luster trim shows a transfer-printed variation of the Wedgwood plaque design. This one features a frontal view of a chained and seated slave, and verses from William Cowper’s The Negro’s Complaint on the other side. Note the reversal, most likely unintentional, of “I” and “Not” in the printed motto.

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Detail of the reverse of the jug illustrated in fig. 13. This stanza from The Negro’s Complaint reads (italics mine): “Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings/ Tarnish all your boasted powers,/Prove thatyou have human feelings/Ere you proudly question ours!”

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    Figural group, France or England, ca. 1820. Porcelain. H. 6 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) A late eighteenth-century antislavery pamphlet by William Fox included a section on punishment in which a Royal Navy admiral attested that the flogging of slaves was much more severe than that administered to sailors aboard English men-of-war. More explicitly, an English general asserted “there is no comparison between regimental flogging, which only cuts the skin, and the plantation, which cuts out the flesh.”

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    Reverse view of the figural group illustrated in fig. 15.

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Mug, England, ca. 1850. Porcelain H. 3". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) In elaborate gold script: “Health to the Sick/ Honour to the Brave/Success attend true Love/ And Freedom to the Slave."

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Sugar bowl, England, 1820–1830. Bone china. H. 4 5/8". (Courtesy, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.) The decoration of the kneeling slave in the tropical environment is enameled over the glaze suggesting that it may have been produced for a special anti-slavery fair or occasion.

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Reverse of the sugar bowl illustrated in fig. 18. Legend reads: “East India Sugar not made/By Slaves/By Six families using/East India, instead of/West India Sugar, one/Slave less is required.” The wording represents a somewhat sanitized version of Fox’s formulation that “A family that uses 5 lb. of sugar per week...will, by abstaining from the consumption 21 months, prevent the slavery or murder of one fellow creature” and tactfully omits the pamphleteer’s more gruesome analogy “that in every pound of sugar used...we may be considered as consuming two ounces of human flesh.” 

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Sugar bowl and cover, England, 1820–1830. Earthenware. H. 5". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Transfer-printed image of the kneeling slave. This bowl would have been part of a larger tea service. A number of different ceramic forms were decorated with this transfer print, including teawares and dinnerwares. 

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Token, 1807, copper. D. 1 3/8". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    Reverse engraving on glass, London, 1807. (Courtesy, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.) Published to commemorate the abolishment of the British slave trade, this depiction, rich in iconographic imagery, shows the figure of Africa casting a disapproving eye toward America who holds the images of Washington and Franklin.

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Jug, Liverpool, 1805–1810. Creamware. H. 8 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The transfer on this jug is captioned: “Britannia Protecting the Africans.”

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Figure, Staffordshire, 1790–1810. Pearlware. H. 7". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This early kneeling slave, hand enameled in high temperature underglaze colors, is holding a book inscribed “bless god thank briton me no slave.” While not specifically identified as such, the early date of this ceramic figure must coincide with the British abolishment of the slave trade begun in 1792 and formally decreed in 1807.

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Figural group, possibly Staffordshire, early nineteenth century. Porcelain. H. 6 5/8". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) In this figural group, a slave exults in freedom as broken chains and whip lie on the ground. An open Bible rests at Britannia’s feet.

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Detail of the inscription on the book held by the kneeling figure illustrated in fig. 24.

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Plate, England, ca. 1840. Whiteware. D. 8". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Molded daisy pattern rim with black transfer print advocating “Brotherhood and Free Trade with all the World.”

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Plate, France or England, ca. 1830. Porcelain. D. 9". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Inscribed “Unfettered Intercourse between all Nations—The Best Security for Abundance and Peace.”

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Soup plate, Staffordshire, ca. 1840. Whiteware. D. 10 1/2". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    Jugs, Staffordshire, ca. 1840. Whiteware. H. of tallest. 6 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 31
    Figure 31

    Jug, Staffordshire, ca. 1840. Whiteware. H. 4 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    Child’s plate, England, ca. 1820. Pearlware. D. 5". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This blue transfer print extolling the virtues of “my bible” is derived from a color sheet published by William Darton, Jr. in 1812.

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    Vase, France, ca. 1820. Porcelain. H. 4 3/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 34
    Figure 34

    Detail of the inscription on the vase illustrated in fig. 33.

  • Figure 35
    Figure 35

    Sauceboat, France, ca. 1820. Porcelain. L. 5 1/2". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Black transfer print of a kneeling female slave in chains.

  • Figure 36
    Figure 36

    Dish, France, ca. 1820. Porcelain. L. 10". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 37
    Figure 37

    Cup and saucer, England, ca. 1830. Drabware. D. 5 1/8". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Black transfer print of kneeling female slave in chains (cup).

  • Figure 38
    Figure 38

    Detail of the saucer illustrated in fig. 37.

  • Figure 39
    Figure 39

    Detail of the saucer illustrated in fig. 37.

  • Figure 40
    Figure 40

    Plate, England, ca. 1830. Drabware. D. 6 1/2". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This small plate, part of a larger tea service, bears the caption from the engraving which faces the title page in Mary Dudley’s pamphlet, Scripture Evidence of the Sinfulness of Injustice and Oppression: “This Book tell Man not to be cruel; Oh that Massa would read this Book.”

  • Figure 41
    Figure 41

    Token, United States, 1838. Copper. D. 1 1/8". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Kneeling and chained female slave with legend: “am i not a woman & a sister.”

  • Figure 42
    Figure 42

    Candlestick, England, ca. 1830. Earthenware. H. 6 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This unusual form has the transfer print of a kneeling female slave and the Bible verse: “Remember them that are in Bonds.”

  • Figure 43
    Figure 43

    Detail of the gilt inscription on the base of the candlestick illustrated in fig. 42.

  • Figure 44
    Figure 44

    Set of figures from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, England, ca. 1855. Unglazed porcelain. H. of tallest: 3 1/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 45
    Figure 45

     Plate, probably Staffordshire, ca. 1855. Whiteware. D. 6 1/6". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The printed scene shows “The Death of Uncle Tom.”

  • Figure 46
    Figure 46

    Plate, J. Vicellard, Bordeaux, France, ca. 1855. D. 8". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) A French version of the death of Uncle Tom.

  • Figure 47
    Figure 47

    Pitchers, Ridgway & Abingdon, Staffordshire, 1855. Colored stoneware and parian. H. of tallest: 8". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The molded images are taken from two scenes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with the side shown depicting a slave auction. The three-dimensional handle shaped as a kneeling slave represents nearly seventy years use of that poignant image since the introduction of Wedgwood’s medallion in 1787.

  • Figure 48
    Figure 48

    Reverse of the jug illustrated in fig. 47.

  • Figure 49
    Figure 49

    Child’s plate, England, ca. 1850. Whiteware. D. 5 3/8". (Collection of the author; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Enamel-colored black transfer print “jump jim crow,” with molded rim.

  • Figure 50
    Figure 50

    Figure, Staffordshire, ca. 1860. Whiteware. H. 11". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The molded, hand-enameled figure of militant abolitionist John Brown contrasts sharply with the diminutive, adoring children.

  • Figure 51
    Figure 51

    Bust, Copeland, Staffordshire, 1864. Parian. H. 9 3/4". (Collection of Rex Stark; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This powerful sculptural expression of a chained slave with collar is among the most artistically-proficient and dramatic images of slavery. A confined full-body slave is represented in a recess on the base. The base is marked “Published May 1, 1864 Copeland.”