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Colono-ware Bowl

Place Made:
Berkeley County South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
DIA 7 1/2; HOA 3 1/8
Accession Number:
This black clay bowl is an example of colonoware, a kind of utilitarian, low-fired, and unrefined, earthenware. It has been reconstructed with a triangular shaped piece missing and consists of three pieces attached together. Inscribed on its bottom “HL”, it was probably made and used by the enslaved population at Mepkin Plantation, the plantation home of Henry Laurens, outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

According to Leland Ferguson, “From the 1670’s through reconstruction, slaves and former slaves on South Carolina’s rice plantaions used traditionally-styled, handbuilt, earthenware jars and bowls–pottery termed Colono Ware by archaeologists. This particular Colono Ware bowl, found near Mepkin plantation and recently added to the MESDA collection, is typical of vessels used by slaves on low country plantations. Archaeologists have shown that while some of this pottery was brought to plantations from free Indian villages, most was made on plantations. Slaves apparently used these vessels for cooking and serving food and traditional West African medicines. Some bowls, especially those marked with crosses on the bottom, were likely used in the manufacture of Bakongo-style charms or ‘minkisi’. Other marks like the off-center ‘HL’ on the MESDA bowl, appear occasionally. This mark may designate ‘Henry Laurens,’ the 18th century owner of Mepkin and a prominent South Carolinian. Colono Ware provides a unique source of information about the every day lives of early African-Americans, and it is most informative when sherds and vessels are excavated in context by professionally trained archaeologists.”

Ferguson, Leland. Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America 1650-1800. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1992.

This bowl was discovered near Charleston, South Carolina in July 1990 on the site of Mepkin Plantation. Henry Laurens was the owner of the plantation during the period in which the bowl is thought to have been made.
Credit Line:
Gift of Frank L. Horton