Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Made in America? Ceramics, Credit, and Exchange on Chesapeake Plantations

Unlike many other goods in the eighteenth century, which were wholly imported from Great Britain or elsewhere abroad, utilitarian coarse earthenwares were also produced locally within the American colonies. In the Chesapeake region it has been suggested that these local wares were primarily reserved for those unable to directly participate in the tobacco consignment system fostered by transatlantic credit. Due to their generic appearance it has been challenging to identify the presence of locally made ceramics in archaeological assemblages. However, these local goods provide evidence for alternative economic and social networks and distinct forms of credit. This project interrogates craft production and colonial systems of credit and debt in the historic Chesapeake region through the analysis of lead glazed coarse earthenwares, omnipresent components of the eighteenth-century domestic toolkit. Rather than relying upon visual characteristics for these generic wares, sherds from 37 historic earthenware production sites across the mid-Atlantic and in Great Britain were elementally analyzed via laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) in order to establish geologically distinctive reference groups. Then, coarse earthenwares from domestic plantation contexts (ca. 1690-1830) representing varying social status were analyzed and assigned to production origins based on elemental composition. The results demonstrate the diversity of coarse earthenware sources that Chesapeake residents accessed. There are clear temporal shifts in the sources of coarse earthenware, and in particular a steady decrease in the use of imported wares in favor of domestically made products. All plantation households sampled used at least some locally made wares, and no sharp differences were seen among households of different status, suggesting that these everyday wares were equally available to and utilized by all, perhaps via plantation provisioning strategies. These results challenge the idea that local products were inferior or low-class. Instead, their omnipresence is evidence for the pragmatic as well as political strengths of local production, from allowing for custom orders and local credit to promoting American self-sufficiency for the nascent revolution.