This alkaline-glazed stoneware storage jar is a unique piece in our ceramics collection—not only because we know the pot’s exact date of manufacture, but because we know the identity of the enslaved craftsman who created it. David Drake (known widely as “Dave the Potter”) was born enslaved circa 1801 on a plantation in South Carolina. An outstanding craftsman, Drake produced massive stoneware pieces capable of holding more than 40 gallons. Some scholars believe that Drake created more than 40,000 pots in his lifetime.
In addition to his skill as a potter, Dave was a poet. By 1740, it was illegal in South Carolina to teach an enslaved person to read or write, which makes Dave’s literacy extremely rare. Combining his skills, Dave wrote short poems into the still-wet clay of his pots. During an era when enslaved people were not allowed to have ownership over their own bodies or a sense of individuality, David Drake’s prolific work can be considered an act of defiance against white supremacy.
When the stories of countless enslaved individuals are lost to time, Dave’s body of work provides precious insight into the life of an enslaved man in his own words.
View Dave the Potter’s work up close alongside other outstanding works by Southern craftspeople when you visit Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South.