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Enlarged section of 1822 map depicting Lot 38 and the 1811 kiln. From Map of Salem North Carolina Stokes County drawn by Fridrich Christian Meinung, 1822. Copy held by Old Salem Department of Archaeology.
Located in the Old Salem National Historic Landmark District, Lot 38 was part of the Moravian’s congregation-owned pottery that operated from 1771 until 1829 (see Figure 1). Salem’s potters used Lot 38 from 1784 until the church divested itself of the pottery business in 1829. Over time, multiple structures were built on Lot 38 after 1829, including: a store (1850); a livery stable (1889); a house (1907); and multiple outbuildings (Hartley and Hartley 2007). Current archaeological work focuses on the production of Moravian pottery on Lot 38, including the remains of a kiln that dates from 1811 to 1829.

Salem’s Congregation-owned Pottery (1771-1829)

Moravian potters in Salem were known for making a variety of wheel-thrown, coarse red earthenware pottery including: lead-glazed utilitarian earthenware and decorative trailed slipware. Moravian potters were also accomplished producers of molded ceramics. Molded ceramics included: stub-stemmed tobacco pipes; stove tiles; refined table- and tea-wares; casters; zoomorphic bottles; and toys, to name only a few.

Three master potters oversaw pottery production on Lot 38 from 1784 until 1829: Gottfried Aust (1784-1788), Rudolf Christ—pronounced Krist—(1789-1821), and Johann (John) Frederic Holland (1821-1829) (Bivins 1972:15-42). Official church records also list several apprentices and journeymen who labored alongside Salem’s master potters, and without whom the pottery could not have met the demand for Moravian-made pottery.

Beyond the immediate network of apprentices and journeymen, the congregation-owned pottery also relied on other community members such as Peter Oliver, an enslaved member of the church who learned to make pottery under Rudolf Christ (Sensbach 1998:156-157). And from time to time elderly or infirm members of the community were allowed to make stub-stemmed tobacco pipes, providing them with a supplemental source of income (Fries 1947 [Vol. 7]:3122).

1773: Introduction of Refined Earthenware and Stoneware

In 1773, the English-born Staffordshire potter William Ellis left John Bartlem’s pottery factory in South Carolina and arrived in Salem (Rauschenberg 1991:81). Ellis was skilled in making queensware, tortoiseshell, and feather-edged wares, popular British creamware forms (Rauschenberg 1991). Ellis was also adept at making a variety of other English pottery styles and apparently taught Salem’s potters how to make salt-glazed stoneware and even a version of “Jackfield ware” (Rauschenberg 1991:94-95). During his nearly five-month sojourn in Salem, Ellis taught Salem’s potters the techniques necessary to add these new wares to their repertoire. The new skills likely included: making molds for plates and sprigs; extruding strap handles; finding and refining whiter clays; using a potter’s lathe; preparing and apply new glazes; successfully firing kilns at higher temperatures; and, making specialized kiln furniture (Hunter 2009:84). For their part, church officials welcomed Ellis’ appearance commenting, “…that Ellis should now come of his own accord makes us think that the Almighty means that this art should be established here” (Fries 1925 [Vol. 2]:775). Ultimately, Salem’s potters became so skilled at making creamware forms that Moravian-made sherds can be difficult to distinguish from those found at British sites, like Brunswick Town, where creamware was imported directly from England (South 1999:334).

1793: Introduction of Tin-glazed Wares

Salem’s potters began producing tin-glazed wares—also called faience—after the German-born and trained potter Carl Eisenberg visited in 1793. Even though Eisenberg only stayed in the community for about a month (Rauschenberg 2005:49), his influence had a profpund effect on Salem’s congregation-owned pottery. In addition to sharing his knowledge, Eisenberg left a hand-written booklet containing faience glazing formulas (Rauschenberg 2005:69-103). Shortly after Eisenberg’s visit to Salem, master potter Rudolf Christ built an experimental kiln on Lot 39 to attempt this new technology (Beckerdite and Brown 2009:38).

Lot 38 and Technological Innovation

More than Gottfried Aust before him, Rudolf Christ seems to have embraced the production of new and innovative wares. In addition to producing British-style molded wares alongside more traditional forms like trailed slipware, by 1795 Christ was successfully producing stoneware (Fries 1943 [Vol. 6]:2542). By the turn of the nineteenth century, Salem’s congregation-owned pottery had added zoomorphic and figural bottles to its stock. Bottle forms included: turtles; fish; owls; squirrels; foxes; chickens; ducks; geese; birds; sheep; dogs; bears; turkeys; and, “Indians” (Brown 2009:113). Some forms, such as the “Indian,” are listed in pottery inventories but no examples are known to still exist (Brown 2009:115).

Prior to 1811 most of Salem’s pottery was made and fired across the street or next door on Lot 39. However, after the kiln on Lot 38 was built in 1811, all the pottery created by the congregation-owned pottery was fired on Lots 38 and 39. As a result, Lot 38 would have been used to produce a range of both traditional and innovative pottery forms. Lot 38 was used as part of the Congregation-owned pottery until 1829 when the church divested itself of the pottery business, allowing the master potter at the time, John Holland, to run the pottery as a privately-owned business (Auf.Col.:12 Oct. 1829).

Previous Archaeological Investigations of Salem’s Congregation-owned Pottery

Opening of the 1811 pottery kiln on Lot 38 as photographed in 1976 and later relocated in 2007. Copy held by Old Salem Department of Archaeology.
Over time, Salem’s congregation-owned pottery occupied two lots on the east side of Main Street (Lot 38 and 39) and two lots on the west side (Lot 48 and 49). Previous archaeological work includes: an investigation of Lot 49, the master potter’s residence, by Stanley South and Gary W. Stone in 1968, 1969, and 1974 (South 1999); work on Lot 39 by Frank P. Albright in 1956 and John W. Clauser, Jr. in 1975 to locate the 1793 experimental kiln and its 1806 replacement (Albright 1956; Clauser 1975); and work on Lot 38 by Michael O. Hartley and Martha B. Hartley (2007) that verified the location of the 1811 kiln’s opening on Lot 38, an opening first identified by Clauser in 1976 (see Figure 2). As part of its pottery research initiative, Old Salem Museums & Gardens purchased Lot 38 in 2007 (Hartley and Hartley 2007:42).

Current Project Goals and Archaeological Potential of Lot 38

The ongoing investigation of Lot 38 seeks to better understand how the introduction of non-traditional wares: 1) altered the technological and social organization of pottery production on Lot 38; 2) reoriented the use of space, creating new and meaningful ways that potters interacted with the landscape and each other; and, 3) how Salem’s potters may have transformed their own religious and social identities through the incorporation of new technologies. To understand these dynamics, archaeological work focuses on mapping the distribution of pottery-related features, analyzing wasters, and exploring the 1811 kiln’s design and use.

First, although annual pottery inventories record the major ware types produced, they only list vessels that were successfully made, not unsuccessful or experimental wares. Moreover, some ceramic forms listed remain a mystery because surviving examples have yet to be identified. Sherds from both experimental and unseen forms may exist in a waster dump. Based on earlier work at the master potter’s residence across the street, archaeologist Stanley South hypothesized that such a dump was located on Lot 38 or 39 (South 1999:332). Because extensive excavations failed to find any evidence of a waster dump on Lot 39 (Albright 1956; Clauser 1975), if one does exist, then Lot 38 is the next most likely location.

Next, a focused excavation of the 1811 kiln on Lot 38 should reveal information about its design, use, and wares fired in it. Currently, the kiln’s overall size and shape is unclear. The best depiction of the kiln is from a map drawn in 1822 (see first map above)(Meinung 1822). However, because the features on the map are stylized, it is not clear whether the depicted kiln is beehive-shaped or rectangular with a vaulted roof. Excavating into the interior of the kiln may provide evidence of the wares that were fired based on glaze residue deposited on bricks and kiln furniture. When these are mapped, they may reveal how potters organized the placement of different wares within the kiln. Any alterations made to the kiln over time should also be visible.

Finally, because Lot 38 was part of the congregation-owned pottery, it has the potential to reveal the role that religion played in organizing and regulating this early industrial landscape and the process of pottery production from 1784 until 1829—a period that saw the introduction of non-traditional wares, the tenures of three different master potters, and ended with the dissolution of the pottery as a congregation-owned business.

Preliminary Results

Summer archaeology interns Josh Chaplin L) and Susanna Pyatt (R) excavating north of the foundation stones.
Fieldwork conducted during the summer of 2016 focused on opening a block of connected excavation units directly south of the kiln opening (see Figure 3). This was done to determine if the 1811 kiln was still intact, and if so, discover its general shape and produce an accurate estimate of its total length to guide future work. A 10 x 20 ft. area was excavated, revealing that the 1811 pottery kiln was rectangular and oriented north-south.
Summer archaeology intern Kiana Fekette uncovering kiln bricks in the northern half of the excavation block.
In the northern half of the block, archaeologists discovered a jumbled layer of kiln bricks (see Figure 4). These bricks were likely deposited when the kiln was demolished. Several small openings between some of the bricks were observed. These appear to lead into a series of small, hollow pockets beneath. This means that the kiln floor may remain intact under the layer of brick rubble. Future work will carefully record and remove these bricks, allowing archaeologists to explore the pockets beneath, looking for kiln furniture or wasters that may have been left behind when the kiln was demolished in 1829.
Summer archaeology intern Kristi Bodine uncovering bricks along the south wall of the excavation block.
In the southern half of the block, a loosely articulated wall of masonry bricks was uncovered (see Figure 5). These bricks run along the south wall of the block and make a 90 degree turn to the north and continue along the block’s western edge. Unlike the layer of kiln bricks in the northern half, these bricks appear to be part of a supporting wall for a structure.
A line of three large and evenly-spaced foundation stones with articulated bricks in between lies in the middle of the excavation block. These stones evenly divide the northern and southern halves of the block. Besides the presence of kiln bricks in the northern half of the excavation block, archaeologists also noted an abundance of bisque-fired pottery and kiln furniture north of the large stones. On the other hand, the southern half contained noticeably fewer pieces of pottery and kiln furniture.

One hypothesis that may explain the difference between the excavation block’s two halves is that the foundation stones and articulated bricks are part of the 1811 kiln’s south wall. If this is the case, then the area to the north of the stones represents the interior of the kiln while the area to the south may be part of another structure. Perhaps the bricks in the southern half were part of an addition built onto the back of the kiln. Future work will attempt to determine the function of this area.

Sample of recovered pottery from the 1811 kiln on Lot 38, showing: (A) wheel-thrown, coarse trailed slipware and (B) refined slipware; (C) molded, refined feather-edged ware and (D) extruded handles; (E) tin-glazed faience; (F) stoneware; (G) setting tiles with incidental salt glazing; (H) trivets, (I) saggar pin, and (J) gravel-coated saggar base, all with lead-glaze drips.
Most of the kiln furniture and pottery archaeologists recovered from the northern half of the block was found in a layer of clay fill above the kiln brick rubble. Where this material originated from is unclear. Therefore, it is difficult to say with certainty that potters fired this material in the 1811 kiln. It may have been part of a waster dump located on Lot 38 or nearby that was later used to landscape over top of the demolished kiln. However, the amount and types of kiln furniture and pottery recovered so far does reveal the diversity of wares produced by Salem’s congregation-owned pottery over time. Recovered ceramics include: wheel-thrown, coarse trailed slipware and refined slipware; molded, refined feather-edged ware and extruded handles; tin-glazed faience; stoneware; setting tiles with incidental salt glazing; trivets, saggar pins, and gravel-coated saggar bases, all with lead-glaze drips (see Figure 6).

Future work on Lot 38 will include: expanding the block excavation to reveal more of the kiln; carefully recording and removing the fallen bricks; recovering any pottery or kiln furniture located inside the kiln and below the brick rubble; exposing the floor of the kiln in order document its design and use; and testing areas around Lot 38 to locate additional pottery-related features and sample any identified waster dumps.


Funding and support provided by the Center for the Study of the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Dr. Edward Hill, and Old Salem Museums & Gardens.

The Field Crew included C. Beau Lockard as crew chief and summer archaeology interns Kristi Bodine, Josh Chaplin, Kiana Fekette, Lillian Ondus, Lauryn Poe, Susanna Pyatt, and Heather Thomas.


Geoffrey R. Hughes (Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


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1956 • Report on Excavations on the Pottery Lots – Lots No. 39 and 49. Old Salem, Inc., Winston-Salem, NC. Submitted to Old Salem, Inc.

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Fries, Adelaide L. (editor)
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