My Name is Josiah Wedgewood. Have you heard of me? Perhaps your mother or grandmother collects Wedgwood china. It is very possible, since my factories have turned out dishes for over 200 years!

I was born in Staffordshire, England, the youngest of 12 children. The year was 1730. As a boy, my mind was always humming with ideas and experiments, but never did I dream that I would grow up to become one of the greatest potters that ever lived.

Queen Charlotte Punch Pot (1763) Queen of England during Colonial times. The NC city of Charlotte is named for her.

What an honor when Queen Charlotte, the Queen of England, appointed me "JOSIAH WEDGWOOD, POTTER TO HER MAJESTY!" I designed a line of cream colored china for her. The "Queensware" line became a spectacular success. I became a celebrity overnight!

Working with clay came naturally to me. My father owned a pottery business so I was always hanging out doing odd jobs. I loved working with clay, fashioning and forming things by hand. Before long I was able to create pots on the potter's wheel.

Shell Dish (1740) Wedgwood loved nature and liked to use it in his pottery.

I also liked collecting things. My favorite collections were shells and fossils. I would carefully line them up on a shelf in my father's pottery shop for all to admire. Years later, I used my love of shells and fossils in my pottery designs.

When I was eleven, a smallpox epidemic swept through Staffordshire. Many people caught the fever and died. I was sick for a very long time. The sickness left me crippled in my right leg.

Because of my weakened leg, I could no longer push the pedal of the potter's wheel. I passed my time reading and thinking about ways to improve the pottery business. Some people say that my genius developed because of the smallpox virus! Imagine that!

My dreams and schemes eventually paid off. I was able to establish my own business. What a time to be in the pottery business! Everybody needed pots, cups, and saucers!

Queensware China (1770)

 

Did you know in the 1700s, most people shared their tableware? My plan was to make useful wares inexpensive so everyone could afford to own their own plate and cup.

For instance, to create large quantities of plates and other items, I decided to distribute the chores among many people. In the past, one person had to perform every job from preparing the clay to glazing and firing the clay. But now things could move faster. Many workers contributed to the making of one plate, similar to an assembly line! At one point, 2,000 men worked in my factory.

My ideas didn't stop there. I experimented with the very best clay and the finest glazes. I hired skilled potters and artists to make my designs.

"Am I Not a Man and A Brother?" (1787) One of a series of brooches made by Wedgwood to raise money to fight slavery. Made from Cherokee Clay.

This passion for pottery perfection led me to the American colonies and to North Carolina. I had heard about the rich clay deposits, especially in the mountain region. A pure white clay known as KAOLIN (kay-oh-lin) was found in the Cherokee Indian Territory. With great difficulty, I was able to acquire five tons of the kaolin. I attempted to buy all rights to the "Cherokee Clay" but realized that the cost was too expensive. Someone had to dig the clay, pack it up on horseback, get the horses to the coast, load it on ships, and then see that the passage was completed to England. Many steps and a great deal of money were needed!

Portrait Medallion of Lafayette (1770) – French military leader who helped the US in the Revolutionary War. The NC city of Fayetteville is named for him.

If I couldn't get the white clay from North Carolina, at least I was able to find a market to sell my pottery in the colonies. Of course, with the American Revolution, the trade embargo created a challenge to getting my wares across the sea. My loyalties were always with the colonies. I believed that America should win freedom from British rule. As a matter of fact, I placed portraits of your great revolutionary leaders like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and Thomas Jefferson on my wares. These were very popular.

Many collectors today, will pay top dollar to own a piece of Wedgwood pottery! I am very pleased to see how my plans worked out.

 

You can see many Wedgwood objects at the Mint Museum of Art.

 

 

Pottery as Art Hand Made vs. Machine Made Pottery During and After the Civil War Pottery in Colonial NC