Drake, Dave – The Slave Potter

Dave Drake, the Slave Potter

The potter known as Dave the Slave was born circa 1800 in an area devoted to pottery making. The Edgefield District of South Carolina had the clay, workforce and demand to make it the area’s pottery capital. Large pottery factories dotted the district, most operating with slave labor. Their products were essential to life on the early to mid-19th century plantation where pottery served as refrigerator, Mason jar and dinnerware.

Dave was the district’s most celebrated African American potter. He was literate when teaching slaves to read was illegal. He signed his work in cursive while others merely used an identifying mark. Skilled as a typesetter, he also worked at The Edgefield Hive, a local newspaper run by the Landrum family, his owners for a time. He threw 40-gallon pots from coiled clay, an astounding feat requiring great physical strength and agility. His artistry, knowledge of the Bible, defiance and sense of humor made him famous in his own time.

What set Dave apart and made his work highly collectible was his poetry. Not only did he include his name, production date and his master’s name on his pottery, but Dave also added two or four line rhyming couplets to the shoulder of a few jugs and jars. Twenty-seven poems have been identified, some appearing twice. There may be others. For 16 years, from 1841 to 1856, there is no evidence of Dave’s poetry. His silence occurred during his servitude to the Landrums and may have been related to a suppressed slave uprising in nearby Augusta, Georgia in 1841. During his lifetime Dave was bought, sold and traded between five different families.

In the past few years as prices for Dave’s pottery have skyrocketed, more of his jugs, jars and pitchers have surfaced. Charlton Hall Galleries in Columbia, South Carolina, has developed a reputation as the place to sell Dave’s work. When they sold an 1840 poem jar for $155,250 (with buyer’s premium) in December 2004, Charlton Hall set a record for a Dave pot (p4A item C225921).

Collectors and dealers classify Dave’s pottery as attributed to him, strongly attributed, marked LM, signed and poems with prices increasing from attributed to poetry. With a trained eye, collectors can separate Dave’s work from other Edgefield District makers. Unsigned jars typically have thick walls, rolled rims, high shoulders, a double incised shoulder ridge, an incised horseshoe or other signs. It seems safe to say that pots marked only with “LM” (for Lewis Miles, one of Dave’s owners) are Dave’s. Pots signed by Dave are usually also dated and marked LM.

The first Dave pot was produced circa 1827; the last was dated 1864. Dave was emancipated in 1860, took the name Dave Drake and died, one Edgefield historian speculates, in the 1870′s or possibly later.

Reference Note by p4A Contributing Editor Pete Prunkl.

About This Site

Internet Antique Gazette is brought to you by Prices4Antiques.