This week we go back to our series on early historic
ceramics recovered from archaeological sites and their significance in
interpreting the historic and archaeological record. Previous posts have
included both European and locally produced ceramics of the three main
categories: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain. Archaeological research of
fragments of broken pottery have led to a better understanding of the pottery
industry in the colonies, as well as insightful stories related to the
individuals who created, purchased, and used these vessels. Our focus on
porcelain is another example of the story a broken piece of pottery can tell us
about our past.
Chinese porcelain was imported to England in the fourteenth
century as very high end, luxury items often mounted in gilt silver. By the
sixteenth century, commercial trade had increased and a greater quantity of
porcelain, specifically created for trade, was available, although it was still
considered a luxury. Chinese porcelain was the highest quality porcelain
produced and was what others attempted to create. It was made from a
combination of kaolin clay and finely ground feldspathic rocks, characterized
by its high gloss glaze, highly vitreous body of white to light gray and a thin
translucent glaze. Decoration in the form of underglaze blue designs of scenery
or flowers, and in the late 1700s, the inclusion of red overglaze with gilding
on vessels copied from the popular Japanese porcelains. Seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century English potters attempted to produce these various vessel
forms and patterns, but never captured the translucency and quality of the
Chinese porcelains. However, porcelains of both sources were considered
high-end, expensive furnishings that were not obtainable by many households.
|Chinese porcelain cup recovered from excavations by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at Fort Loudoun (36FR0107). In the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania|
was the largest colonial city until 1790 and was an important center for
commerce. Its location along the Delaware River and in close proximity to the
Chesapeake Bay, allowed for shipments from industries across the region.
Imported wares from England and the West Indies were stocked by merchants
and shipped to the surrounding communities. Rich in natural resources,
manufacturing of an assortment of goods contributed to the Commonwealth’s
status. Philadelphia potters established their ability to produce earthenware
vessels known as redware in the first half of the 18th century and
were beginning to experiment with production of other vessel forms.
|In 1765, the Triphena carried an appeal from Philadelphia merchants to merchants in Liverpool requesting their help in lobbying the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act of 1765. Archaeologists found this tin-glazed punch bowl in 2014 on the site of what is now the Museum of the American Revolution. Ceramic vessels embellished with political rhetoric provided an opportunity to express political views for both the potter and the consumer. On display, the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia.|
The period surrounding the Revolutionary War was ripe with
colonial protests over taxation by the British Parliament. The Townshend Acts
(1767) were a series of laws and taxes on the American colonies to raise
revenue for England following the end of the Seven Years War, known to us as
the French & Indian War (1756-1763). Resistance to these taxes and control
of the colonies by Parliament incited political writings and increased the
resistance to England’s control. Philadelphia newspapers were widely read and
expressed the political views of many patriots who inspired colonists to
support domestic industries, further reducing dependence on Great Britain.
COME join hand in hand brave AMERICANS all,
And rouse your bold
hearts at fair LIBERTY'S call;
No tyrannous acts
shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with
dishonour AMERICA'S name
FREEDOM we're born and in FREEDOM we'll live,
purses are ready,
as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we'll give.
Philadelphian John Dickinson wrote The Liberty Song,
In March of 1770, the Acts were repealed but the decline in
demand for British exports had created irreversible change. To boycott the imported goods and their
associated taxes, local industries which could produce wares in forms similar
to the British imports had begun. Seen
as symbols of patriotism, interest continued in these local wares even after
the termination of England’s taxation.
Philadelphia potters Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris
began planning in 1769 for the American China Manufactory, the first American
porcelain factory dating from 1770/71-1773 in an area known as Southwark. Their
porcelain was described by Joseph Shippen, Jr. to his father in 1771 as
“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.”
Morris saucer recovered during excavations for the I-95 corridor in 1976, in
the area identified as 121-123 Market Street. Collection of The State Museum of
Based on historic records, wealthy patriots, such as John
Cadwalader, John Dickinson, and John Penn purchased cups, saucers, tea pots,
plates, pickle dishes and sauceboats from this factory. Despite the support of
these influential patriots, the factory began to faulter and looked to the
Pennsylvania General Assembly for financial support in 1771. The cost of
starting the factory and the difficulty in finding skilled potters, however,
were insurmountable. In November of 1772, a rebellion by their workers against
poor working conditions and unfulfilled promises led Bonnin to close the
factory and advertise his intention to sell to the highest bidder.
Despite advertisements in newspapers, the factory failed to
sell and Bonnin was bankrupt, leading to the property being sold at a sheriff’s
sale in July 1774. Bonnin and Morris’s efforts to establish a porcelain factory
were sufficiently successful to lead to other porcelain manufacturing in the
colonies, so credit for the first porcelain factory lies with them. Indeed, the
patriotic movement had taken hold and a desire to break free from British
control was greater than ever. The political campaign throughout the colonies
to break free culminated in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of
Independence in Philadelphia.
The Revolutionary War and the role of Pennsylvania in
manufacturing goods was significant. Philadelphia’s patriots would help to lead
the way in supplying goods and people necessary to win the war. The American
China Factory had ended but, in its place, grew a new industry.
John Adams, who served 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... (Brown, 2007)
|A plan of the city of Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, from an actual survey ,Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, published 1776. |
The 1774 sheriff’s sale described the lot as; “on
Front-street aforesaid, 232 feet, and in rear or depth on Wicacoa Lane, 319
feet, containing by computation one acre and an half.”
Excavations conducted by students from the
University of Pennsylvania in 1967 and 1968 on the lot described above produced
multiple vessel fragments, and discards from the manufacturing process.
Comparative research of the fragments with known vessels marked by Bonnin &
Morris with either an “S”, sometimes reversed, or a “P” provided a better
understanding of the vessel forms produced. Advertisements in a 1771 newspaper
had listed only S as a manufacturing mark, but analysis of the clays through
x-ray diffraction enabled the identification of additional manufacture marks.
identified manufacture of vessel forms to include fruit
baskets with latticework edges, bowls, cups, punch bowls, and sauceboats.
The colonial ceramics recovered at various sites across the
Commonwealth are an important tool for studying our past. They reflect consumer
behavior, ethnic choices and in the case of those wares produced later in
Philadelphia, the beginning of manufacturing in our state. Those industrious
individuals that produced wares from local clays in a similar manner as they
had in England, created an industry that would see Pennsylvania become a leader
in manufacturing of durable goods for decades to come. We invite you to view
additional examples of colonial ceramics on the Pennsylvania Historical and
Museum Commission’s on-line collections.
2007 Piecing Together the Past: Recent Research
on the American China Manufactory, 1769-1772. Ceramics in America,
L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington
1992 The Buried Past: An Archaeological
History of Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Hume, I. N.
2001 A Guide to the Artifacts of Colonial
America. University of Pennsylvania Press