Dave the Slave

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One of the many jars created by Dave. This one is inscribed with "Lm may 3rd 1862 / Dave"

Dave the Slave (also "Dave the Potter" and "David Drake") (c.1801-c.1870s[1]) was an influential American potter who lived in Edgefield, South Carolina and produced over 100 alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs from the 1820s to the 1860s. An enslaved African American, he often signed his works "Dave."[2]

Dave was born around 1801 on a plantation in North Carolina, and continued to work there until the emancipation.[3] Afterward, he adopted the surname "Drake." Historians believe this is after Harry Drake, his master until 1832, who is presumed to have taught him to be a potter.[4]

Pottery[edit]

  • Dave commonly used 25- to 40 gallon jugs, which he frequently adorned with short poems and couplets. Some of these were explanatory "Put every bit all between / surely this jar will hold 14;" and some were commentaries on the selling of slaves "I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all—and every nation." This unusual feature of his work is one of his most famous trademarks. Some collectors and scholars have suggested that Dave's poetry should be characterized as an early act of sedition in the cause of civil rights, because at the time it was generally forbidden for African-Americans to read and write.[5]
  • Dave occasionally would reference constellations in the night sky as a means of instruction for runaway slaves to find their way north, often using cryptic messages such as "The sun, moon and stars / in the west are plenty of bears." This may be a reference to Ursa Major, or the Big Bear. Another couplet, "Follow the Drinking Gourd / For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom," is an instruction using another name for Ursa Major, the Drinking Gourd or Big Dipper. [6]
  • Pieces by Dave frequently feature the initials "LM." This stood for Lewis Miles, the man who owned the pottery workshop where Dave worked (Miles may have owned Dave for a time, starting in the late 1830s).[5] Lewis Miles has even been referenced directly in one of Dave's couplets: "Dave belongs to Mr. Miles / Wher the oven bakes & the pot biles."
  • In contemporary auctions and sales, his work has sold for over $40,000 per piece.[4]

Legacy[edit]

In 2010, the children's book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave was written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier. The book gives a biography of Dave as well as his prowess for creating pottery. It won a Caldecott Medal in 2011.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dave the Slave", Leonard Todd website
  2. ^ [1], Dave the Slave website
  3. ^ White, Deborah Gray (2013). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-312-19729-2. 
  4. ^ a b "Dave the Potter", University of South Carolina
  5. ^ a b [2]
  6. ^ White, Deborah Gray (2013). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-312-19729-2. 
  7. ^ "Dave Drake: Jar", Civil War, Smithsonian Institution

External links[edit]