Dave, a slave, was born in 1801 and as a teenager was put to work in a pottery near Edgefield, South Carolina, making stoneware vessels such as jugs and pitchers. Learning to read and write along the way, Dave signed his work, and inscribed it with bits of verse. For over seventy years he created beautiful pieces that are now sought by and exhibited by museums.
Now, a descendant of one of Dave's owners, has written what looks to be an intriguing and moving chronicle attempting to piece together the story of Dave's life. I can't get enough of these kinds of explorations and personal discovery, and have ordered a copy of Carolina Clay this evening. I'll report back once I've delved in.
Author Leonard Todd is connected to Dave by way of his mother's father's mother's father, a principal owner of Dave at one time. There is a nicely-constructed website promoting the book and the story here, chock full of information on Dave, his pottery, his poems, and the author's personal discovery of a family history comprised of "a long and complex intertwining in which members of my family purchased blacks, whipped them, slept with them, sold them away from one another, tried to prevent them from voting, and perhaps sometimes loved them deeply. Certain of these blacks supported my forebears with their labor, bore their children, murdered them in anger, killed themselves in protest against them, and perhaps sometimes loved them deeply."
That passage alone suggests the author wrote an unflinching account of what he learned, enough reassurance for me to order the book sight-unseen, without fear of enduring an apologist rendering of family legend.
According to the Washington Post's "A House Divided" blog, the author and Smithsonian curator Bonnie Littenfeld will show images of Dave's pottery and discuss his work at a lecture Oct. 14 at 6:45 p.m. (part of the Smithsonian Resident Associate's Prograg). Code 1L0-006. Call 202-633-9467 for reservations.