Colonoware

Colonoware is most closely associated with Native Americans and African Americans, but associations vary considerably. Although the pottery was a distinctive local creation, it had roots and influences that came from Europe and Africa as well as North America.

On historic-period sites in South Carolina, archaeologists often find locally made, hand-built, unglazed pottery that was fired in open hearths rather than kilns. Vessels and sherds of this ware may be found on the sites of Indian camps and villages, the city lots of Charleston and other towns, underwater near wharves and ferries, and on small farms and large plantations. This broad class of pottery has been termed colonoware.

Colonoware is most closely associated with Native Americans and African Americans, but associations vary considerably. Although the pottery was a distinctive local creation, it had roots and influences that came from Europe and Africa as well as North America. From the earliest Spanish incursions into the Southeast, Europeans and Africans had contact with Native Americans, and some of these immigrants lived with Native Americans during the sixteenth century. Every aspect of life changed or was threatened with change, and this change included everyday items such as containers.

As English proprietors began establishing their colonies, they brought enslaved African Americans from the West Indies, and to this population they added Native American slaves, especially women and children from the mission villages of Spanish-held Florida. Once rice became the basic crop, planters imported large numbers of enslaved Africans. In the 1700s and early 1800s plantation slaves, especially in the region of Charleston and Berkeley Counties, used large amounts of colonoware. Some of this colonoware was made in free Indian villages and sold or traded to people on the plantations, but most of it appears to have been plantation made. During this period the most common forms were small bowls and jars that were likely to have been used for both cooking and serving medicine as well as food. Some colonoware bowls from this period have centered cross marks similar to the BaKongo cosmogram of Central Africa. Generally, colonoware disappeared in the middle of the nineteenth century; however, this broad class of pottery continued to be made by Native Americans and a few others into the twentieth century.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Colonoware
  • Author
  • Keywords unglazed pottery, open hearth fired, Charleston and Berkeley Counties, Native Americans, African Americans
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date April 12, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 22, 2018
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