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Gallery Text

This jar is the earliest known vessel signed and dated by David Drake, an enslaved African American potter who made alkaline-glazed stoneware jars and jugs in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in the mid-19th century. Also known as Dave the Potter, Drake dated and frequently signed his vessels; occasionally he inscribed them with rhyming couplets. On the shoulder of this jar, Drake inscribed the date (“January 27, 1840”), his name, and a reference to his owner (“Mr. Miles,” or Lewis Miles). Sturdy jars and jugs like these are fundamentally the products of enslavement; they were produced by slaves for Southern plantations, which required substantial, durable vessels to preserve and store food for a large labor force. Drake’s pottery stands out, however, because it advertised his skill and literacy at a time when it was illegal for slaves to read and write in South Carolina.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
David Drake, American (Edgefield County, South Carolina c. 1800 - c. 1870 probably Edgefield County, South Carolina)
Storage Jar
Work Type
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
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Physical Descriptions
41 × 38 cm (16 1/8 × 14 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: incised into vessel, under rim: Mr Miles Dave \\
  • inscription: incised into vessel, under rim: January 27th 1840
  • inscription: upper left, above inscription: [5 punctures]
Jimmy Smith, Greenville, South Carolina, 1980s, sold; to Tom Smith, Shelby, North Carolina, sold; [through Phil Winged, Clover South Carolina]; to Dr. John Hoar, Huntsville, Alabama, sold; [through Robert Hunter British and American Porcelain and Pottery], sold; to Harvard Art Museums, 2016.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous Fund in memory of Henry Berg; bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, by exchange; gift of C. R. Simpkins, "A Tribute to the Class of 1892.", by exchange; gift of Mrs. Henry James, by exchange; and gift of Mrs. George R. Agassiz, by exchange
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

"New Acquisitions", American Ceramic Circle Newsletter, American Ceramic Circle (Williamsburg, Virginia, Fall 2017), pp. 21-31, p. 23, repr.

Sophie Lynford, Natalia Vieyra, and Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, "In Honor of Juneteenth", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums ([e-journal], June 19, 2020),, accessed June 29, 2020

Exhibition History

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2017 - 11/08/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/01/2050

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/08/2020

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