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Spiritual Biography of Peter Oliver

Enslaved and free African American artisans played a key role in the success of the development of the village of Salem and its economy. African American potters like Peter Oliver joined a hodgepodge of blacksmiths, coopers, weavers, and shoemakers hailing from a mix of German, English, and Danish cultures in this Moravian community. Although most free and enslaved African American craftsmen were contracted by the Moravians for a limited time, Oliver was one of the few who was brought up in the Moravian trade as a young man and permanently employed in their village. Oliver grew to be one of the most prominent members of this biracial religious community, living a life characterized best by two juxtaposing components: bodily servitude and spiritual equality. His life sheds light on the changing race relations of the period and at times offers a beacon of hope of solidarity and equality, marking the not so clear-cut race relations of the American South.

Oliver was born in 1766 in King and Queen County, Virginia, and brought from Southern Virginia to Wachovia as an eighteen-year-old young man. The Moravian records list the bill of sale, noting that Oliver was sold by Master William Blackburne of Virginia to Michael Ranke in Bethania, which is fifty miles to the South. Oliver was delighted by this move and found that life among the Brethren was much more desirable than his former life in Virginia. Life among the Brethren was especially desirable since he was often treated with spiritual equality under God, which was an improvement from the inhumanity and brutality that some of his relatives and acquaintances had experienced in Georgia after being traded by the notoriously dreaded Georgia traders. At the Moravian Elders Conference, the elders record, “The Negro Oliver in Bethania insists he would like for us to buy him. His lease comes to an end at the beginning of January, and he has an inclination toward the congregation” (Sensbach 27).


In fact, in July 1785, when Master Ranke in Bethania brought up selling him to a different master away from the Moravian community, Oliver was overcome with grief and sadness. In his memoir, it is written, “He begged us earnestly with many tears that the Brothers should have consideration for him and buy him” (Sensbach 27). Luckily for Oliver, in the same month, the Single Brothers’ House management took over Oliver’s lease from Ranke and he was immediately taken into the service of the House as kitchen worker, gardener, and craftsmen. When Oliver’s lease expired the next year in February 1786, the Moravian Church bought Oliver for one hundred dollars “in the hope that his soul may be saved” (Sensbach 27).


Oliver was immediately welcomed into the Moravian Church, reflecting a joyous time in his life marked by spiritual equality and solidarity, outshining any bodily servitude and injustice. In November 1786, the Moravian elders drew a positive lot that he should be an eligible recipient of the sacrament of baptism, so they began teaching him Scripture. The Elders named him “Peter” as they drew it from among several choices of Christian names, and he was baptized into the Unity as Peter Oliver on November 12, 1786 (Sensbach 27). Afterwards he was welcomed into the Single Brothers’ Choir with open arms and a warm reception from its members.

In the mid to late 1780s the Moravian Church was racially integrated as white and black Brethren worshiped side by side and addressed each other as “Brother” or “Sister.” Furthermore, the choirs shared this spirit of unity and racial integration. A noteworthy difference between the Moravian community and the surrounding slaveholding plantations in the South was that Oliver was instructed how to read and write in two languages at a time when the education of slaves was banned in the vast majority of Southern states. Although African Americans like Oliver and white members were seen as spiritual equals and equals in embracing Christ and His message, it is necessary to point out that the two were by no means equal in the hierarchy of the Church and its governing bodies as African Americans were not allowed to serve on Church boards and were still regarded as Church property. Threatening this racial hierarchy came with the stern consequence of being sold out of the community.


Even though there were inequalities in the fellowship of the Moravian Church, this still marks a key period of improving race relations as the Church membership gave slaves far greater status, dignity, and respect within the community than they would have had otherwise. The Moravian Church gained the slaves access into the white society and the Church boards provided the slaves with protection against inhumane treatment from individual masters. Although the changing dynamic between spiritual equality and bodily servitude at times was overshadowed by servitude and inequality, the incorporation of African Americans into the Moravian Church was definitely a starting point in dismantling the psychological barriers between slaves and masters in the eighteenth century. Some whites were even influenced by more radical interpretations of evangelical Christianity and freed their slaves, which also points out the fluidity of race relations and offers hope for an egalitarian society.


Peter Oliver’s membership in the Moravian Church served him in two distinct ways — as an outlet for his own spirituality and as a form of protection in an uncertain world. It seems as if Oliver accepted his status as a slave in return for a place in the congregation and for relatively humane treatment compared to the ghastly inhumanities of the deep South. Looking at Oliver’s daily life in the Moravian community, there is no evidence from the 1780s that the Moravian Church attempted to segregate African Americans from the economic and social activities of the white brothers. The Moravian records suggest, “In the absence of such evidence it seems probable that Peter Oliver ate daily meals in the Brother’s dining hall, sat in prayer with the whites in the Saal, and slept in the dormitory with the rest” (Sensbach 29). In fact, it is well known that the black Moravians in the Moravian town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, lived in these same egalitarian conditions in the Single Brothers and Single Sisters Houses. During the years in the 1780s, the Moravian Church was committed to interracial fellowship and Oliver’s life at this time played a key role in the economic and social developments of the Moravian community. In Salem he experienced many aspects of an egalitarian life as a member of the Single Brothers House and the Single Brothers Choir.


Oliver took advantage of the Moravian Church’s rules and his own interpretation of a master-slave relationship to seek protection and security for himself that was unparalleled across the eighteenth-century slave societies. This is seen in his conversations with the Moravian Elders, where he bargains, “I will agree to your terms, but you must give me a guarantee of security in return, because the Bible commands it” (Sensbach 31). Oliver successfully worked the system and challenged whites to abide by Christian teachings in their treatment of black Moravians. He was even able to convince the Elders to guarantee freedom-within-slavery in a sense as he was granted a written contract stating that he would never be sold or restricted from developing his own intellectual capabilities and individual domain.


The beginning of the nineteenth century marked an important series of changes in Oliver’s life when he successfully purchased his freedom, transcending bodily servitude and his status as spiritual equal, which definitely had its earthly limitations. Oliver accumulated considerable savings from his pottery and from performing other tasks on a contract basis. His memoir reveals, “He was true to his calling and work and he brought it about through diligence in his work to the point that he could buy himself out of slavery” (Sensbach 34). Once a free man, Oliver remained in the Moravian Church and fulfilled his lifelong dream of renting a piece of land outside Salem to establish a household and start a family of his own on free land. He died soon after on September 28, 1810, and the Church records refer to him as “our dear brother Peter” and “the esteemed Negro Brother Peter Oliver” (Sensbach 36). The Moravian community provided Oliver and a handful of other black Moravians a direct entry into the congregational life of a religious community, a place where a slave could at times find respect, humane treatment, and opportunity for socioeconomic advancement that was unmatched in the South in the late eighteenth century. Oliver’s hands helped prove the reputation of Moravian pottery as some of the finest in the country and worked in a melting pot community that referred to him as a “Brother.” Although there was an ongoing tension in Oliver’s life between spiritual equality and bodily servitude, the Moravian community at times offered unparalleled glimpses of hope for an egalitarian society in the South that outshined his status as a slave.


Although Peter Oliver benefited from being a member of the Moravian community and enjoyed certain ‘privileges’ that other enslaved Blacks did not, his freedom within slavery had many limitations even in early Moravian society. Even before the Moravian Church implemented segregationist policies towards the end of the 18th century, discrimination had a large impact on the opportunities blacks had available. Although blacks were “spiritual equals of whites,” they were not allowed to hold leadership positions on church boards and they were still classified as property (28). Although Peter Oliver was treated as an equal spiritually and lived and dined with his fellow white brethren, gaining their protection, he lived in times of both “comfort and danger” (33).


Peter Oliver’s membership to the Church guaranteed him human treatment and protection from the authorities of Salem. The black Moravians lived in unity with their fellow brethren, and the discriminatory and harsh treatments of blacks in plantations across the American South had yet not taken root within Wachovia and the Moravian community. However, by the late 1780s, the church “started making its first efforts to divide white from black” (32). This began when the Elders decided that it “be appropriate for the Negro to eat with day laborers” while a white potter’s apprentice “ought to be moved to the family’s table so that he can become accustomed to orderly conduct at the table” (32). This division was not intended to segregate white and black brethren from one another, as they all still lived and worshipped together. However, it was one of the first segregationist policies that targeted the social wellbeing of black Moravians, reaffirming their slave status. The Moravian society became increasingly hierarchal and attitudes of discrimination began to permeate into Moravian culture. Although they remained spiritual equals, blacks were viewed as ‘racial inferiors.’ Segregationist policies from the late 1780s laid the foundation for the Moravian’s renewed effort to “segregate the races within the church” (32).


Although Peter Oliver was “one of the few black artisans to be formally trained by the Moravians and employed permanently in their trades,” he continued to face limitations, even as the apprentice of Rudolph Christ (25). Oliver came under the fellowship of Christ in order to pursue a woman he was attracted to in Bethabara. Oliver’s attempts to find a wife were immediately obstructed by the Church, “The Church forbade its members from initiating or pursuing courtship of marriage on their own as such arrangements were brokered strictly by the Elders” (29). Thus, Peter Oliver had to wait until the Church provided him with the opportunity to marry (29). Although Oliver remained determined, he was unable to negotiate with the Church officials. Even after Christ bought him and they moved to Bethabara, “his plan to gain proximity to the woman evidently fell through, for the Elders mentioned her no more” (30). Although Oliver’s apprenticeship under Rudolph Christ resulted in a ‘higher’ status within the Moravian community, he remained victim to the social limits imposed on enslaved Moravians.

Peter Oliver’s enslaved status was demonstrated once again in 1788, when Rudolph Christ moved to Salem. Although Christ wanted to continue working with Oliver, “he was forced to leave him behind in Bethabara because Oliver wanted to marry, which the authorities were unwilling to permit” (32). His apprenticeship under Christ therefore ended because of his inability to marry the woman of his choice. As the authorities wanted to limit the number of non-Moravian blacks in Salem, the Collegium prevented “Oliver from bringing to town a wife who was not a member of the Church” (32). Although white brethren had to follow the same decree, they had the option to leave Wachovia “if they became too dissatisfied” (32). “Slaves had no such choice” and so once again the regulations of the Church overwhelmingly discriminated against black Moravians, making them carry a heavier burden than their white brethren (32). Even in 1801, when visiting a Moravian congregation in Pennsylvania, the Church barred Oliver from marrying a slave woman owned by a Quaker in Litiz. In 1802, the Elders finally “gave him permission to marry,” but hoped that marriage outside the congregation would “not separate him from the community, which is always to be feared in such circumstances” (34). Oliver married Christina Bass, a free mulatto working for Gottlieb Spach in Salem. Shortly after, Christina was baptized into the Salem congregation, as were their children in the following years.


Peter Oliver’s memoir describes him as “true to his calling and work…to the point that he could buy himself free from his status of slavery” (34).  However, even as a free black man, Oliver remained dependent on the Moravians and the authorities of Salem. In fact, he was authorized to rent a four-acre plot of land for four dollars a year only if he “shall not suffer any other person to live in his house, except his own family, nor keep any kind of entertainment” (34). Furthermore, they added in his lease “that whenever he is informed of any conspiracy of any negro or others against any citizen of this county,” he should notify the authorities (34). As Oliver’s life was “inextricably connected with the lives of his fellow brethren,” the authorities were essentially asking him to betray the members of his own community (33).

Oliver’s life as a free black man remained difficult as the harsh discriminatory laws restricted their movement, social lives and economic activity. Although he still benefited from the protection of the Moravian Church, he had to face the authorities of Salem, described as “unsympathetic landlords in times of hardship,” alone (35). In fact, in 1805, Oliver asked them to lower the rent on his four acres but was denied so as they deemed him “not so poor as he always liked to appear” (35). Oliver became sick shortly after and died in 1810. Although he died as a respected member of the Church, addressed in his memoir as “our dear Brother Peter” and “the esteemed Negro Brother Peter Oliver,” his life as a free man was characterized by struggle (36). He was unable to enjoy his freedom and continued to obey the orders of the Moravian community and the Salem authorities.

Peter Oliver’s death marked the end of a less hierarchical and discriminatory Moravian Church.  Buried in the married men’s choir at God’s Acre, “he was the last black Moravian known to have been buried alongside whites” (36). Soon after, black church members were buried in a separate cemetery towards the south end of town. Whites increasingly began to dissociate themselves from their black brethren, until they were excluded from white Moravian churches. In 1822, black Moravians established their own separate congregation and members built themselves a log church beside the cemetery. They now lived and prayed separately from their white brethren, no longer being their spiritual equals.

Peter Oliver’s death had many repercussions on his family. Only two children, Nancy and Israel, had survived” (36). Although the Collegium allowed his wife Christina to take care of Nancy, they believed “Israel Oliver should be contracted to one of [their] Brethren” (36). Additionally, they proposed that Christina ask to receive an annual income from Oliver’s estate through the County Court. However, the authorities of Salem refused such a request. Furthermore, they ruled that Israel be contracted to another household because it seemed that for Christina it was “impossible to feed him” (37). Christina, suffering from apparent poverty, was unable thus to protect her children and obstruct the separation of her family. Although Christina was a free black woman, the Collegium and Salem’s authorities continued to have power over her and her family.

Suffering from a tense emotional burden, in an “effort to compensate from the loss of a husband and children within a span of two months,” Christina began a love affair with John Immanuel in 1811 (37). Although the Church allowed them to frequent each other twice a week, Immanuel was caught lodging at her home more frequently. The Church officials, angered, “expelled her from the Salem congregation, canceled her lease and forced her to leave the community” (37). Christina’s limited ability to protect herself from the authorities worsened once she lost the protection of the Moravian Church. Although she was a free black woman, her refusal to obey the orders of the Church officials prompted immediate repercussions. Peter’s road to acquire freedom for himself and his future family ended promptly, within a few months after his death. “Christina’s downfall reaffirmed the precariousness of a free black life in the new Republic” (Sensbach, 157).

Although Peter Oliver benefitted from the protection of the Moravians, learning German and mastering the art of pottery, becoming one of the most prestigious craftsmen of the American South, slavery and discrimination plagued his life.  Even in the Moravian community, where they were presented with relatively more opportunities than their counterparts living on plantations throughout the South, “slavery in any form was a repressive and harsh institution (37). Liberties were cut with “severe restrictions on movement and action” (37). One lived in a state of continual “comfort and danger” (33) as he or she was threatened by physical punishment, a lack of food, housing, clothing and medical care. Most importantly, slaves were consistently haunted  by the “threat of sale and separation from family” (37).

Entering the congregational life of a religious community, such as that of the Moravians, granted slaves the possibility to receive somewhat more respect, humane treatment and the opportunity to advance than was generally available elsewhere” (37). Although one could develop his skill and acquire a position of security and status, as Oliver did with pottery, in return slaves were expected to give “complete obedience to the brethren and not protest their bonded servitude” (37). In other words, even Peter Oliver labored under “restrictions of action” (37). Joining the Unity did not exempt blacks from living a difficult life; in reality, they lived in a world where hard choices and strategic decisions had to be made to secure their wellbeing. Although Oliver was able to experience a sense of freedom before other blacks across the American South, his freedom was short-lived and still limited by the discriminatory and hierarchical society that plagued the country at his time.


Despite the racial injustice and discrimination that took place in the Moravian community, Peter Oliver lived a very different life than the average slave in the late eighteenth century, especially with regards to his pottery, which was a skill that he proudly developed and successfully used to achieve his own personal freedom. In the year 1788, after years of being a member of the Morivian Church, Oliver was sent to Rudolf Christ by the Moravian Church. The reason for this move is that “Peter Oliver most likely wanted to pursue a woman to marry on his own” - something the Church strongly disagreed with as they would set matches for marriage themselves (Sensbach 29). At the time, Oliver was sent to Rudolf Christ, in Bethabara, to be more of a “potter’s assistant” than a “potter’s apprentice” - which was normally granted to those learning a practice from a professional (Sensbach 30). Here, it can be seen that Oliver was still at a disadvantage because of his slave status. Nonetheless, Oliver was still able to learn many techniques and abilities from Rudolf Christ in regard to pottery. After learning a great deal from Christ, Oliver became a very skilled potter, and Christ realized Oliver’s very special abilities. After about a year of training, Christ decided to move back to Salem to continue his pottery career there. In doing so, Christ decided to leave Oliver behind to work with the next potter of Bethabara, Gottlob Krause. Kruase had to give “special payment to Christ” in order to have Oliver stay, as he was especially talented in regard to pottery (Bivins 68). Despite Oliver not getting along well with his new master, Kruase, he continued to advance his skill as a potter. After working with Krause for years, in 1795, Oliver was able to go back to Salem and work with his former master, Christ. Oliver had been constantly begging and praying to go to Salem and be reunited with Christ, and he was very relieved when he was granted that ability (Sensbach 32).


Peter Oliver’s pottery also gave him something in his life, he would never have been able to acquire - his freedom. While he could not profit from the production of the pottery he created, he had found other means (Brown 2). He had a very unique and quite creative way to gain his freedom, and the process was given to him from pottery. While making the pottery, each pipe head for each item required a reed from the river to be pulled. Oliver was required to “go to the river and collect the reeds” to help with the process of pottery making (Brown 2). He soon came up with another idea. Each time he went to the river he collected extra reeds. He would sell these reeds on the side, and was eventually able to gather enough money to buy his own freedom (Brown 2). His journey to freedom is truly quite a unique one. Only through pottery was he able to acquire this freedom.

While none of Peter Oliver’s specific work has survived to this day, we do know what Moravian pottery at this time was like and what Peter Oliver would have constructed. The work of Rudolf Christ still exists today and many of his works are kept in Winston-Salem. For example, his work of a slip decorated dish, kept in Winston-Salem, provides excellent insight on what objects Peter Oliver would have worked on as a potter’s assistant. Specifically, this object is a lead glazed earthenware dish that is decorated very meticulously. Its rim is decorated with a red slip with green dotted circles, and there are fruit decorations on the dish as well, which are believed to be pomegranates (Brown 1). The coloring of the red was created with iron oxide and the green color was colored with copper oxide. The underside of the dish is glazed. While there was no evidence that Peter Oliver worked on this, it would be imagined that he worked on similar beautiful objects (Brown 1). Much of the Moravian pottery at the time was also deeply related to religion, which is evident by the many symbols and motifs in the pottery (Brown 1). Peter Oliver would have observed and implemented these religious techniques. Because of the religious community in which the potters were involved, it is understandable why so many of their objects were related to religion since it was such a core aspect of the area.


While there unfortunately are no surviving pieces of Peter Oliver, the legacy of African-American slaves in America creating pottery continued to live on after his death. For example, the tradition of slave potters “was exemplified by the renowned crew of slave potters in Edgefield, South Carolina,” and they created some the most famous pottery shortly after the time of Peter Oliver (Sensbach 30). Their experiences, while different than Oliver’s, show similar journeys and accomplishments, and all of these slave potters are united through their work. One of the most famous of the slave potters in Edgefield, South Carolina, was Dave the Potter, who created many works just as Oliver did. What was unusual about Dave the Potter’s work was the inscriptions that he would carve into his pottery. Many inscriptions on Dave’s work have sophisticated religious meanings and also illustrate his perception of a master-slave relationship. Some of Dave’s images of animals were used as symbols to represent the sense of freedom that his pottery allowed him to experience. For instance, Dave carves, “I saw a leppard, & a lion's face, / then I felt the need of—Grace” (Chaney 44). Here, Dave uses his engravings to compare himself to biblical heroes in the Book of Revelations who bravely face the terrors of wild animals. Clearly, Dave reveals his struggles with a master-slave relationship and the instituion of slavery, but he also sheds light on the unique freedoms that he gains by expressing his struggles with slavery. Both Dave the Potter and Peter Oliver were able to find meaning and better their status as enslaved men through the outlet that pottery provided them. Both men played a major role in constructing some of the best pottery in the United States at the time, which in itself is an extraordinary accomplishment. For Peter Oliver, pottery was the great enabler in a life that was characterized as a constant struggle between bodily servitude and his status as a spiritual equal. Through pottery, the Morvian Church, and his one creative mindset, Peter Oliver was able to transcend his status as a slave and realize the life of a free man.

Object biography by Dante Fagotti, Whit Heekin, David Hickey, Spring 2020


Audio Guide for Narrative Slideshow: 

Spiritual Biography of Peter Oliver

Interview with Johanna Brown, Curator of Moravian Decorative Arts


I. Introduction to the Moravians

      0:23 What does a museum curator do?

      0:40 Who are the Moravians? 

      1:00 What was their relationship to slavery? 

      1:35 What is the legacy of the Moravians?

      2:00 What do we know about decendents of                 original members of the Church? 

II. Peter Oliver

      2:22: Who was Peter Oliver? 

      2:45: What happened when he started 

                working for the Moravians?

      3:10: Did the Moravians eventually buy him?

      3:34: How do we know Oliver was trained by

               renowned potter Rudolph Christ? 

      4:05 What was it unusual for slaves to receive

               this kind of professional training? 

      4:40 What happened when Rudolph Christ

               moved back to Salem? 

      5:08 Did Peter Oliver buy his own freedom? 

      5:28: Why is Peter Oliver's story so important?

Oliver grew to be one of the most prominent members of this biracial religious community, living a life characterized best by two juxtaposing components: bodily servitude and spiritual equality.
Literacy and Education in North Carolina
"Oliver was instructed how to read and write in two languages at a time when the education of slaves was banned in the vast majority of Southern states."
The North Carolina General Assembly first prohibited anyone from teaching slaves to read or write in 1818, then strengthened the law in 1830.
You can read "A Bill to Prevent All Persons from Teaching Slaves to Read or Write, the Use of Figures Excepted (1830)" here.
Peter Oliver Final.png

These plates were made in the shop of Rudolph Christ, where Peter Oliver worked as an apprentice.

You can learn more about them here.


Rudolph Christ


Christ was the second master potter in Wachovia.


Peter Oliver worked as his apprentice.

You can learn more about him here.

Works Cited


“African American Moravian Log Church.” NCpedia, Digital Forsyth, 9 Nov. 2018,

Averitt , Lydian Bernhardt. “Up from the Ashes: Faith Grows from Activism.” Moravian Church In America, The Moravian Church in America IBOC, 2019,

Bailey, Lisa D., and Elon University. “Records of the Moravians in North Carolina Vol 13.” Edited by C. Daniel Crews and Carol Grotnes Belk Library, Internet Archive, Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2006,

Bivins, John. The Moravian Potters in North Carolina. Published for Old Salem, Inc. by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1972.

Brown, Johanna. “Information Compiled by Johanna Brown.” Peter Oliver (1766-1810).

Clewell, John Henry. “History of Wachovia in North Carolina.” Internet Archive, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1902,

“Every Day, We're Making History At St. Philips.” St Philips Moravian Church, St Philips Moravian Church,

Love, Nathan. “The Men Who Built Salem: A Biographical Look at the Builders of the North Carolina Moravian Town.” MESDA, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, 2019,

“Moravian Research.” Old Salem Museum & Gardens,

"Negotiated Segregation." Digital Forsyth.

Niven, Penelope, and Cornelia B. Wright. “Old Salem: The Official Guidebook.” Old Salem Inc , 2000. Rodgers, Joan S. “Salem blacks built schoolhouse in 1867”, Winston-Salem Journal, April 19, 1992, B1. Accessed in Archives of the O’Kelly Library, Winston-Salem State University.

“Owl .” Pinterest, Pinterest,

Sensbach, Jon F. A Separate Canaan: the Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763-1840. The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Sensbach, Jon F. African-Americans in Salem: Brother Abraham: an African Moravian in Salem; Peter Oliver: Life of a Black Moravian Craftsman. Old Salem, Inc., 1996.

Sherrill, Cassandra. “Map of Wachovia.” Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem Journal, 20 May 2013,

Thacker, Tanya. “American-American References Wachovia/Salem, NC.” Old Salem in North Carolina, 1994.

“The Moravian Seal.” The Moravian Church, The Moravian Church in America IBOC,

"Tradition and Adaptation in Moravian Press-Molded Earthenware," Ceramics in America 2009, (Milwaukee: Chipstone Foundation, 2009)

Tyzenhouse, Martha. “How Peter Oliver Freed Himself.” LancasterHistory, LancasterHistory, 15 Feb. 2018,

Williams, Tevin. “Chris Paul.” Houston Rockets: 3 Things We Learned from the Chris Paul Era, FanSided Inc., Sept. 2019,


Dave the Potter

David Drake, often known as Dave the Potter, 

"made alkaline-glazed stoneware vessels in the nineteenth century in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. His ceramics, especially his large pots, are very expressive and powerful, but his contribution goes beyond the vessels themselves. He is also known for his literacy, at a time when slave literacy was not permitted. It is expressed in the dates, signatures, and poetry incised in script on many of his pots. Dave’s pottery, valued for its functionality when first produced, is now appreciated for its greater value as the historical record of a slave who became an American icon."

For more on Drake's life and work see 

Arthur F. Goldberg and James Witkowski's
"Beneath his Magic Touch: The Dated Vessels of the African-American Slave Potter Dave" at the Chipstone Foundation. 


One of Drake's most incredible pots is on display in the Muesum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem. You can learn more about it here.

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