A Beautiful Craft; A Wonderful Story: Dave the Potter and “Carolina Clay”
December 18, 2009 by renegadesouth
Note from moderator, Vikki Bynum: The following post was written by David Woodbury and originally published on September 21, 2009, on David’s fascinating blog, Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles. I asked David’s permission to repost it on Renegade South because author Leonard Todd’s subject, Dave, an enslaved potter who lived in Edgefield County, South Carolina, and the culture of pottery-making, dovetails with an important theme of this blog: the personal lives of “ordinary” Southern people of the nineteenth-century. Pottery is a particularly relevant craft; many of the Unionist families (such as the Lathams) who lived in the heart of North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt,” were potters.
This post will be followed by a second one, also borrowed from Battlefields and Bibliophiles. There, you’ll be treated to David Woodbury’s Q & A with the author of Carolina Clay.
An artist, and slave
Dave, a slave, was born in 1801 and as a teenager was put to work in a pottery near Edgefield, South Carolina, making stoneware vessels such as jugs and pitchers. Learning to read and write along the way, Dave signed his work, and inscribed it with bits of verse. For over seventy years he created beautiful pieces that are now sought by and exhibited by museums.
Now, a descendant of one of Dave’s owners, has written what looks to be an intriguing and moving chronicle attempting to piece together the story of Dave’s life. I can’t get enough of these kinds of explorations and personal discovery, and have ordered a copy of Carolina Clay
this evening. I’ll report back once I’ve delved in.
Author Leonard Todd is connected to Dave by way of his mother’s father’s mother’s father, a principal owner of Dave at one time. There is a nicely-constructed website promoting the book and the story here
, chock full of information on Dave, his pottery, his poems, and the author’s personal discovery of a family history comprised of “a long and complex intertwining in which members of my family purchased blacks, whipped them, slept with them, sold them away from one another, tried to prevent them from voting, and perhaps sometimes loved them deeply. Certain of these blacks supported my forebears with their labor, bore their children, murdered them in anger, killed themselves in protest against them, and perhaps sometimes loved them deeply.”
That passage alone
suggests the author wrote an unflinching account of what he learned, enough reassurance for me to order the book sight-unseen, without fear of enduring an apologist rendering of family legend.