Chapter Three: An Introduction to Colono Ware

Chapter Three: An Introduction to Colono Ware

Colono Ware is concentrated in certain areas of the Southeast. Much of the Colono Ware in the United States comes from Florida, from Spanish-Native American settlements, and from South Carolina, from plantation contexts. Colono Ware from Virginia and Maryland occurs less often, and Colono Ware is rarely found in Georgia (Ferguson 1992b:36-37). Scholars theorize that the lack of Colono Ware in Georgia is due to the different origins of slaves brought there, possibly from African locations where there was little history of pottery making (William H. Adams, 1995, pers. comm.), or the fact that slavery began later in Georgia.

Colono Ware is generally low-fired, hand-built, often burnished, and usually consists of small vessel forms; however, regional variation exists in form and decoration. This variation is due to many factors, including the type and amount of interaction between cultures. It could also be related to different populations of ceramic producers in the different regions, including gender differences in Colono Ware production. For example, in Florida, Native American forms such as pots with conoidal bases and everted rims are found, and Native American decoration such as complicated stamping, appliqué rims, punctate designs, burnishing, and painting are common. European forms such as vessels with ring bases are also found (Ferguson 1992b:39-40). These vessels, a product of Native American manufacturing techniques and European-influenced design, were probably made by Native American women who lived in Spanish settlements as wives, sexual partners, domestic employees, and tradespersons (Deagan 1993:88). These vessels were likely used in the creolized Spanish-Native American households for cooking (Deagan 1993:94). Colono Wares in Florida are also found on Spanish mission sites and are made of local clays (Vernon and Cordell 1991).

In Virginia, European forms of Colono Ware such as plates, pipkins, teapots, and chamber pots are common (Ferguson 1992b:44-48). Much of the Virginia Colono Ware was burnished, apparently to give it a smooth, thin appearance. Attached handles and notching, scalloping, and fluting on vessel rims are all reminiscent of the decorative techniques found on imported European ceramics (Ferguson 1992b:52). Evidence for plantation manufacture of Colono Ware in Virginia is rare, suggesting that much of it was manufactured by Native Americans and traded. However, Ferguson (1992b:49-50) cautions that African Americans were present in many Native American communities, and their influence on pottery should not be discounted.

Other Colono Wares, sometimes called criollo ware, have been found in geographical locations where interaction between African Americans, Europeans, and indigenous peoples occurred. For example, in the Caribbean and South America, people of indigenous, Spanish, and African descent manufactured and used earthenware ceramics that resemble Colono Ware found in the Southeastern United States (Crane 1993; Handler and Lange 1978). However, because Colono Ware found in other regions tends to have distinct differences from that found in South Carolina, the Colono Ware from this region can be considered a specialized adaptation by African and Native Americans to a variety of local social and environmental factors in South Carolina, including cultural interaction, trade, clay resources, and available firing material.

Thus, Colono Ware in this thesis will be analyzed and discussed in the context of historical South Carolina locations. Although a comparison of utilitarian earthenwares similar to Colono Ware from other areas such as the Caribbean would be valuable, time constraints prohibit such a comparison in this analysis, and analyzing the collection in its more narrow geographical context seems appropriate.

Colono Ware from early (circa 1670-1725) sites of cultural interaction between European Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans in South Carolina, like that in Florida, shows many Native American attributes in form and design. Colono Ware with complicated stamping, painting and burnishing is found on a variety of these early sites such as military settlements and plantations (Ferguson 1992b:82-84). However, by circa 1725 the population of African American slaves had grown, and "small, plain bowls and jars came to dominate plantation assemblages" (Ferguson 1992b:84).

Some researchers studying Colono Ware from South Carolina have divided it into two "types," based on certain vessel attributes. However, many attributes of each "type" overlap and may or may not be found on both or either type (Crane 1993; Ferguson 1990). In addition, there seem to be no temporal or spatial differences between the archaeological contexts of the "types;" that is, they are both found at roughly the same periods of time (1725-1800) on the same African American plantation sites.

One type, often called "Catawba" (Wheaton et al. 1983), or "River-Burnished" (Ferguson 1990), is generally highly burnished and thin, with little variation in wall thickness, very hard and uniformly fired, and has a fine paste. Vessel forms include small bowls and jars, and these vessels are sometimes decorated with vibrant red, orange, and black paint in floral, plant, and star designs (Anthony 1979; Ferguson 1990:188; Simms 1841:127; Wheaton et al. 1983).

The other type, known as "Yaughan" (Wheaton et al. 1983), or "coarse" Colono Ware, is usually finger-smoothed or lightly burnished, thicker, softer, not as well-fired, shows high variation in wall thickness throughout the vessel, and is unpainted with minimal decoration (Ferguson 1990:188). Vessel forms also include small bowls and jars.

Anthony (1986:7.27-7.28) has proposed another two type-varieties of Colono Ware, called Lesesne Lustered and Lesesne Smoothed. These type-varieties show attributes from both the River-Burnished and coarse Colono Ware varieties, but generally fall closer to the River-Burnished end of the range of variation. As Eubanks et al. (1994:97) have pointed out, these terms have come to have little meaning and are "baggage-laden" and "vague," for they simply refer to Colono Ware that is burnished (Lesesne Lustered) or highly smoothed (Lesesne Smoothed). They are not examined separately in this thesis, but included in the two types examined here--River-Burnished and coarse.

Many researchers have attributed the manufacture of River-Burnished Colono Ware to the Catawba Indians, for it does resemble known Catawba vessels in museum collections. However, there are temporal and cultural problems associated with this assumption (Crane 1993:34-35).

Ferguson (1990) notes that the Catawba were composed of various Native American ethnic groups, many of whom have poorly documented or understood ceramic traditions in the later part of their existence. To assign the manufacture of these burnished wares to the Catawba is misleading, for there was probably wide variation within the Catawba group that extended to pottery manufacture. Furthermore, Crane (1993:35) points out that the assumption that the Catawba did not make the second, non-burnished type of earthenware may also be short-sighted, as museum collections may not be representative of the full range of Catawba pottery.

African Americans and Catawba Indians often interacted through slavery, trade, and marriage, and pottery traditions were likely exchanged and shared. While Colono Ware does show certain Native American and African American characteristics, it is impossible at this time to isolate certain attributes as "solely" belonging to one cultural tradition or the other; nor is prudent to assume that either culture group manufactured pottery that was exactly the same over long periods of time (Crane 1993:38). Surely individual variation among potters and other factors, such as a possible gender component, could also contribute to the differences evident in Colono Ware.

Gender and Colono Ware Manufacture

The question of whether men or women made Colono Ware is difficult to answer. As Wright (1991) has pointed out, in many societies pottery creation is a multi-faceted process, with either men or women participating in some or all parts of the process, such as gathering and shaping clay, gathering wood for kilns, and firing pottery. In addition, societies in Africa differ as to the gender of the pottery maker: in some groups, menstruating women may not gather clay (Crane 1993:46), in some groups women make the pots (Crane 1993:47), and in some societies, women are ideologically linked with pottery making, while men are linked with smithing (Herbert 1993).

There is little or no evidence in historical records from the South, save a few scattered references in narratives given by ex-slaves to Works Projects Administration (WPA) employees during the Depression (for a pottery reference from Oklahoma, see Rawick [1977:113]). Albert Carolina, a former slave from South Carolina, told WPA workers that his grandmother, an African American woman, had been married to an Indian and they had both made pottery (Rawick 1972:198). Shad Hall, a former slave from Sapelo Island, Georgia, related that his grandmother, when captured and taken to the Georgia coast, brought clay pots and cups with her (Works Project Administration [WPA] 1986:166). Ferguson (1992b:3), skeptical that pottery would have survived the passage, believes that these pots were probably crafted by the informant’s grandmother in Georgia before he was born.

As for Native American women, there is also a relative paucity of historical data; however, historic accounts from the United States, one as early as 1780, relate that Catawba women made pottery and traveled about to sell it (Baker 1972:13; Crane 1993:132; Merrell 1989:267-270; Simms 1841:121). In the 19th and early 20th century, pottery manufacture was an important business as well as a tradition among Catawba women. Merrell (1989) states:

Each step in the process, from finding the right clay and molding it to firing and finishing it, had to be learned from a master, and a girl apprenticed herself to her mother or grandmother in order to gain acceptance into this prestigious guild.... The debt to the past acquired tangible form when a girl inherited pipe molds and polishing stones from her tutors, precious relics that she would hand on to the future in due course (Merrell 1989:267-268).

It is impossible to tell from an examination of the Colono Ware itself whether the potter was male or female. Aside from a Soviet study in 1934 which examined fingerprints on prehistoric pottery from North and Central Russia and concluded the pottery was made by women (Trigger 1989:223), studies attempting to determine the gender of potters have been based on other, non-physical clues, such as ethnographic analogy or historical evidence.

For example, Marshall (1985), when attempting to determine the gender of Lapita pottery makers, uses contemporary ethnographic information from Papua New Guinea to construct a model that looks at the gender of pottery makers in relation to cultural and environmental factors of each society. She then tests the model against two contemporary societies to determine the gender of the pottery makers.

In many societies, gender roles regarding pottery fall into the dichotomy of public/private activities. Household, or private, manufacture "is characterized by sporadic production frequency, often for own-use, simple technology, and orientation toward self-sufficiency...." (Rice 1991:439) and is usually associated with females. Workshop, or public production, on the other hand, may involve expensive equipment such as wheels and kilns, is often a full-time career rewarded by money, and is usually associated with males (Rice 1991:439). However, as Rice (1991:440) points out, there are many situations that do not fit either part of this dichotomy. In some societies, men may make certain types of pots and women others, and the separation between household and workshop production is not distinct.

A survey of African pottery suggests that in most societies, women are the primary pottery manufacturers. In fact, Herbert (1993:203) goes so far as to state that "The equation potters=women as smiths=men is virtually a given in Africa." She points out that there are exceptions, as found in Nigeria, the lower Congo, and other parts of Africa (Herbert 1993:203) where women share pottery manufacture with men. She (1993:203-204) suggests that in some areas, contact with the Portuguese (who attempted to industrialize both smithing and pottery manufacture) probably led to a change from women to men potters, as the pottery wheel was then introduced. There is an almost universal association of men with the pottery wheel, and women with hand-built pottery (Rice 1991:437-439). Furthermore, areas with strict Islamic religion may have experienced a similar shift in the division of labor by gender, including pottery manufacture (Herbert 1993:204). In Islamic societies, women are "expected to remain in the private domain" and therefore technological innovations, such as the wheel, are introduced to men who have the access to the outside world that is denied women (Rice 1991:439).

Other reasons that women or men may be prohibited from making pottery include "traditional cultural (or mythologically sanctioned) patterns of avoidance of certain kinds of tools or activities" (Rice 1991:439). For example, in other parts of Africa, men may make certain types of pottery, such as ritual "anthropomorphic" figures, while women may produce solely utilitarian wares. This dichotomy, Herbert (1993:205) points out, is not universal, and she notes that "there are case studies demonstrating the whole gamut of roles: women producing ritual as well as ordinary objects, men and women both making utilitarian pots, [and] men as primary producers of all forms of pottery." Furthermore, the distinction between ritual and utilitarian pottery is often blurry, as "a pot may move from one domain to the other as circumstances dictate" (Herbert 1993:205). In a point germane to the discussion in this thesis, she (1993:205) relates that many examples exist of "ordinary" pots in Africa being used in the sacred preparation of medicine.

To further confuse the issue of gender, Herbert relates that in some societies, older or non-menstruating women are allowed to create objects that are "forbidden" to younger women. For example, only women who have experienced menopause may make the Senufo medicine pot. In some societies, such as the Asante, pottery manufacture is directly linked to fertility; women’s production of pots is seen as conflicting with childbearing, and thus should not be attempted during childbearing years (Herbert 1993:206).

In the Southeastern United States, unfortunately, the manufacture of earthenware is rarely found among African Americans today. Catawba Indians, however, continue to make pottery and an informal survey of potters indicates that most are female. If one loosely follows Marshall’s (1985) model, one would expect that, since pottery manufacture by women is accepted and important in many African societies, it would most likely have continued historically to be produced by African American women in the Southeastern United States. Furthermore, the concept of household production (Rice 1991:439) would seem to fit early African American plantation society best. There was no significant equipment necessary, for no wheels or kilns were used, and the sale of pottery was probably limited or in some cases forbidden by slave owners. The majority of pottery produced on the plantation was probably for personal or household use, and thus, likely to be the domain of women. Any manufacture of pottery, however, was certainly subject to the environmental constraints such as time, availability of resources, and, in this case, the constraints due to slavery (e.g., the "permission" or the compliance of slave owners and overseers). It would also be subject to whether or not the need to make pottery still existed.

Despite these constraints, the situation of African American women on plantations suggests that they had the time, the knowledge, and the need to create pottery. Historical evidence suggests this need could have been because they were not given ceramics by the plantation owners, or because they specifically preferred earthenware for some types of cooking, as well as for medicinal or ritual use. In the area of Native American manufacture, the historical evidence suggests that it was also likely that women manufactured Colono Ware, whether for trade or personal use.

Besides providing information about the manufacture of Colono Ware, historic and ethnographic research can also be used to examine its function. Although a good amount of previous research has focused upon the use of Colono Ware for cooking, this thesis will explore two expanded uses of Colono Ware: its use for preparing and serving medicine and its use in traditional religion.


Acknowledgments | Chapter One: Introduction | Chapter Two: Colono Ware and Models of Culture Contact | Chapter Three: An Introduction to Colono Ware | Chapter Four: African American Women and the Function of Colono Ware | Chapter Five: Colono Ware Analysis | Chapter Six: Conclusions | Appendix A: Mepkin Colono Ware Data | References Cited