Thursday, November 3, 2016


"Jefferson" 2.35 inch by 2.5 inch child's early 19th century child's mug.

I recently visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).  Among his many illustrious accomplishments,  Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.  He was also a slave owner.  It is still difficult for me to fathom a slave owner writing: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  What I learned at Monticello, is that Jefferson was in debt, and his slaves were an economic necessity.  While he was alive, his slaves were needed to run the plantation. When he died, his slaves were sold to pay his debts.

Jefferson wasn't the only American Founding Father and President to own slaves: George Washington and James Madison were also slave holders.  However, this is not going to be a post about the evils of slavery, that too is self-evident.  My visit to Monticello inspired me to look at anti-slavery transferware.  Much of anti-slavery or abolitionist transferware patterns were meant for children.  Remember, that children's pottery was intended to instruct as well as delight.

"Perish Slavery/Prosper Freedom" child's mug.  "Perish Slavery" indeed! 

Early 19th century mug illustrating a slave sale.

The other side of the mug above includes the poem: "Like cattle to a fair,/They sell us, young and old/From mother too they tear-/For love of filthy gold."
Here is a close-up of the slave sale.  The child on the barrel has been asked to dance.  This was to demonstrate to buyers that he was in good health.

Close-up of the scene on the mug above.
At the Reeves Center at Washington & Lee University, I saw an interesting juxtaposition of the pattern above with a creamware jug commemorating Jefferson.

An interesting juxtaposition

Also seen at Washington & Lee University.

"Remember them that are in Bonds" child's plate.

Not all anti-slavery transferware patterns were intended for children.  Here is one of my favorites. The poem on the other side of the jug was written by William Cowper (1731-1800) in 1788. 

"Am Not I A Man And A Brother" jug with lustre decoration.

The other side of the above jug includes the words of William Cowper's "The Negro's Complaint: Fleecy locks and black complexion/ Cannot forfeit nature's claim;/ Skins may differ, but affection / Dwells in white and black the same./ Slaves of gold whose sordid dealings/ Tarnish all your boasted powers:/ Prove that you have human feelings/ Ere you boldly question ours." Here is a link to the entire poem.

When I visited Monticello as a child, there was mention of slavery, but no condemnation of it.  Luckily, times have changed.  Sort of.