We entered the pottery to find a pleasant looking young man reading a page of pictures of old pottery making tools. The small workshop was filled with old urns and pots, mostly large and marred in some fashion. There were also a few very nice pieces in the style of the old pieces. Shards of broken stoneware were everywhere, many placed together in an effort to restore the old original piece of pottery. We started asking questions, and as he realized we were really interested, the young man began to explain in detail the nature of the stoneware, the reason the Edgefield District had become a center for pottery making in the early nineteenth century, and the geology that made it possible. Ed Redman had come to the Old Edgefield Pottery to study under Stephen Ferrell, Master Potter, whose studio this workshop is.
Located south of the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountain chain, Edgefield had developed in the nineteenth century as a jumping off place for those heading west. It was a rough and ready frontier where violence in the town square was common and apparently continued into the mid-twentieth century. Wagon trains wishing not to cross the mountains began their journey westward in Edgefield, taking a route the led across
The right geological conditions existed and the large farms and plantations had a significant need for large containers, so a thriving pottery industry developed. A slave named Dave, who belonged to a man liberal enough to allow him to learn to read and write, made distinctive pottery on which he wrote verses, signed, and dated the work. Dave’s known pieces sell today for prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Interestingly, after emancipation he apparently stopped making pottery, or at least no signed piece exist. He is known to have lived into sometime in the 1870s. After a while, Stephen Ferrell, the master potter, wandered in and we chatted with him and a friend of his about the region and the beauty of the work.
We wandered up the alley and onto the town square, with the courthouse at one end, a confederate monument and a statue of Strom Thurmond in the center, and a group of fine old buildings surrounding it; the town square is both simple and beautiful. We walked past several old stores on which historical plaques were posted telling of gun fights in the town square, the careers of Jewish merchants in the town, and the growth of the pottery industry. In the town information and genealogical study center we were helped to a variety of brochures and saw a part of a lovely collection of Edgefield pottery. Down the street we walked into Terry Ferrell’s Antiques & the
It also turns out that Edgefield is the home town of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who for seventy or more years in state and national elective office. Thurmond is most notorious for having led the Dixiecrat walkout of southern states in the 1948 political convention. He left the Democratic Party and became a stalwart Republican. Late in his life his public stances on race moderated, but apparently his private race relations were quite different. He is noted in his home state for his kindness and benevolence. Terry Ferrell told us of the many kindnesses he had done for local people and people throughout the state during his long political career. He described Thurmond’s funeral as one of true mourning in which thousands of people lined the road from Columbia to Edgefield to honor this longest serving U.S. Senator.
We walked around the square past the courthouse and the offices of the local newspaper, the oldest in