David Drake Photos | Digital Traditions

David Drake, a slave known as "Dave" by pottery scholars and collectors, is the most fascinating character coming from the alkaline-glazed stoneware tradition in Edgefield. Unlike most slaves in the Edgefield factories, whose work is unknown, Drake is recognized as a highly skilled potter who specialized in large-capacity storage jars, many of them holding from twenty to forty gallons. The most remarkable fact about Dave was that he was literate. Dave often signed the ware that he turned, but also further individualized his ware with poems or rhymed couplets incised into the upper body between the lug handles. Signed Dave vessels with verses bear dates ranging from 1834 to 1860. Some of the verses are cryptic and seem to hold deep meaning. The verses also seem to indicate that Drake held a special status in the community.

Drake was a remarkable potter because of his ability to combine the skills of a craftsman, formal education, and personal inspiration, thereby making his pottery a form of self expression. Apparently, he gained special recognition in the community for his skill, intelligence, and wit. The forms that he produced are clearly derived from the European pottery traditions of his masters, but a personal statement is evident in the rhymed couplets that became his trademark.

Some examples of his couplets:

"Put every bit all between / surely this jar will hold 14"

"Horses mules and hogs / all our cows is in the bogs / there they shall ever stay / till the buzzards take them away"

"I saw a leopard & a lions face / then I felt a need for grace"

"Great and Noble jar / Hold sheep, goat and bear"

"Dave belongs to Mr. Miles / wher the oven bakes & the pot biles"

"Another trick is worst than this / Dearest Miss, spare me a kiss"

"I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all - and every nation"

"Give me silver or either gold / though they are dangerous to our soul"

"I made this Jar all of cross / If you don't repent, you will be lost"


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