Early Potters and Potteries of Delaware:
Historical and Commerical Perspectives
by James R. Koterski
Household possessions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included utilitarian pottery that was formed in local and regional shops from “mud” using a potter’s wheel. This industry was no exception to Delaware where earthenware and stoneware were turned out in at least 11 locations between 1760 and 1890.
Over 80 individuals who owned, operated or staffed these shops were active in the First State. Some early artisans were Quakers while, beginning about 1850, several German immigrants plied their trade along the streets of Wilmington. Others were migrants and their lives can be traced across several state lines.
John Jones, whose family owned the site of his operation for 97 years, apprenticed under Philadelphia’s John Thompson in the eighteenth century. Branch Green established a stoneware pottery in Wilmington after selling his Philadelphia shop to Henry Remmey in 1827. Earlier, Green had potted in New York and New Jersey. Charles F. Decker eventually became a well-known stoneware maker in Washington County, Tennessee, after logging some years at a Wilmington pottery. Others turned clay in Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania, Cecil County in Maryland, and central and southern New Jersey.
Of all of these craftsmen, none was more prolific than William Hare who produced clay products on French Street for over 45 years.
Several factors influenced the success and failure of these shops, including the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo of 1808 and the Panic of 1837. However, in the end, market forces and new technologies led to the demise of the local pottery.
Products fashioned from tin, widely available glass containers and finer and more decorative clay products replaced simple earthenware and stoneware. Yet millions of hand-thrown pieces, fired in Delaware’s kilns, had served an extremely important function in eighteenth and nineteenth century homes.
In Early Potters and Potteries of Delaware, the author brings to life in fascinating detail the craftsmen who worked and fired clay in early Delaware. This volume will be of special interest to Delaware history enthusiasts.
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