Port Pottery Exhibition
August 26, 2019 @ 8:00 am - May 30, 2020 @ 8:00 am
Three Centuries of Earthenware Production on the Merrimack River
This exhibition will focus on early American pottery production in Merrimacport from 1790-1890, with a focus on William Pecker pottery (circa 1790-1820), and the Daniel Bayley Pottery Company in Newburyport (circa 1764 to 1799). This will cover most of the local pottery production before and after the American Revolution.
The production of utilitarian lead glazed earthenware has been a household necessity in New England since the pioneering days in the seventeenth century. Domestic production helped supplement an everyday need, largely fulfilled in Colonial times by wares shipped from Europe. But these locally made products were also used in trade, as well as a means of bolstering the local marketplace. Three nationally recognized names were among the potters employed in the Newburyport area before and after the American Revolution: the Bayleys, William Pecker and the Chases.
The Bayley Potteries, Circa 1723-1799
The Bayley family has a long tradition of earthenware production in Essex County, Massachusetts, which spanned the better part of the eighteenth century. The family descended from James Bayley (1612-1677), who settled in Rowley, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. His son, Nathaniel Bayley (1675-1722) was father to Joseph Bayley (1701-1761), the family’s first potter and one of the original earthenware potters in coastal Massachusetts. Joseph may have learned about pottery production in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and afterwards manufactured earthenware in Rowley from about 1722 to sometime around 1734/35
However, by 1735, Joseph and his wife were removed from the church in Rowley, and relocated with their four children to Newbury (became Newburyport in 1764), a coastal community located along the Merrimack River in northeastern Massachusetts. Joseph continued to produce earthenware in Newbury until about 1761, when his son, Daniel (1729-1792) became owner of the business.
Undoubtedly, Daniel must have learned the potter’s craft from his father, but evidentially he also operated a pottery in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the 1750s, when he married Elizabeth Dennen (d. 1765) from Gloucester on April 21, 1750. The couple seems to have spent the next decade in Gloucester, where they had three children, but only two survived. Elizabeth Bayley was born April 2, 1753, and Daniel Bayley, Jr. (1755-1799), who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, was born on July 15, 1755.
In spite of that, Daniel apparently relocated to High Street next to St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport, where he operated the pottery business that he is known for today. Sadly, his wife died two years later, and he quickly married a woman named Sarah Stone (d. 1792), a widow and mother to three children. Soon after, they had four more kids, two of whom also entered the potter’s industry, William Bayley (1766-1799) born May 9, 1766, and Nathaniel Bayley (1771-1849) born June 16, 1771.
The Bayley Pottery eventually turned into a large family enterprise after the American Revolution, but some of the Bayley kids also worked for Ebenezer Morrison (1741-1803), who had established a company a few hundred yards from the Bayley Pottery next to Old Hill Cemetery. As a result, it must be assumed that production from the two businesses was similar. Although, Morrison’s production may have continued into the early nineteenth century, while the Bayley Pottery began to decline with Daniel Bayley’s death in 1792, and production ceased altogether, when Daniel Bayley, Jr. and William Bayley died in 1799.
Nevertheless, significance archaeological evidence has proven that the Bayleys did produce earthenware for the local marketplace, but their wares were also shipped to places like Salem, Massachusetts, coastal New Hampshire, coastal Maine and even Canada.
William Pecker and Chase Family Potteries
Another local potter, William Pecker (1758-1820) arrived in Merrimacport (formerly South Amesbury) sometime around 1784, eventually opening his own business in 1790. For roughly 30 years, he produced lead glazed earthenware on the shores of the Merrimack River, but recent scholarship has also identified Pecker as being one of the earliest stoneware potters working in coastal Massachusetts.
Pecker taught his nephew, James Chase (1779-1849) all about the potter’s craft, and Chase took over the business when Pecker tragically died after his kiln collapsed on top him in 1820. The business then descended through successive Chase family members, operating at multiple locations in Merrimacport until at least the 1880s.
Wares from the Merrimacport potteries have been recovered throughout southern New Hampshire and even parts of Maine; however, Newburyport was clearly a major marketplace, seeing that wares were easily shipped down the Merrimack River for distribution.
Thomas Nickerson’s Merrimacport Pottery
The art pottery movement in America in the nineteenth century was a development that took place from traditional utilitarian earthenware and stoneware production to decorative objects. Among the more talented potters in America was Thomas Nickerson, who operated a pottery near the Bartlet Mall in Newburyport, focusing on the aesthetics of form and glaze, as well as the revival of Grecian style wares and flowerpots. Nickerson’s production is considered some of the finest art pottery produced in America, but his business met an unfortunate demise in 1908, when the company burned to the ground.
Newburyport resident, Justin Thomas and the Custom House Maritime Museum have assembled a significant exhibit of considerable interest, demonstrating earthenware production from the local potteries, operating in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This type of an exhibit is a first, bringing together archeology and surviving objects, many of which are returning after leaving their place of manufacture 100 or more years ago. This exhibit represents roughly 150 years of earthenware production on the Merrimac River from Colonial times through the early 1900s.
Justin Thomas is a collector of early pottery, scholar and writer. He has studied at museums and archaeology departments around the country. He has presented at conferences and seminars throughout New England, along with New York and Delaware. Thomas has also published more than a dozen feature stories on early American pottery production in various national journals, magazines and antique trade publications, along with operating a well-read blog, EarlyAmericanCeramics.com