Collections › MESDA Collection › Jar


Jarbour, David
Place Made:
Alexandria Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
stoneware –salt-glazed
HOA: 27 3/4″; DIA: at widest point is approx. 14 1/2″
Accession Number:
Few pieces of surviving of pottery can be associated with African American potters. This iconic stoneware jar was made in Alexandria, Virginia by David Jarbour (1788-c.1841), one of several free black artisans working at the city’s Wilkes Street pottery. This massive jar was made in several sections, which can roughly be made out by the bulges in the sides of the jar. The weight of another pot on top of this piece in the kiln made the form buckle and accentuate the connecting points of the sections. The handles are pulled or extruded bars of clay applied horizontally and then smoothed at the ends to join the jar. This shape of handle is typically called a “lug” handle.

STYLE: The exuberant cobalt decoration differs from the brushwork on other Alexandria stoneware potters. Similar decorations appear on pottery with an “H.SMITH & CO.” stamp, and Jarbour’s name is listed below merchant Hugh Smith’s in Alexandria tax records from 1826 to 1833, and again in 1841, indicating that Jarbour worked at various times at the Wilkes Street Pottery owned by Smith with both John Swann and Benedict C. Milburn.

MAKER: In 1820 David Jarbour purchased his freedom with assistance from the Alexandria, Virginia merchant Zenas Kinsey, a Quaker abolitionist, for $300. Ten years later he created this immense jar marked on its base “1830 / Alexa / Maid By / D. Jarbour.” In 1831, the following year, John Swann (b. 1789), who had overseen the Wilkes Street Pottery, left Alexandria. Jarbour may have created this ambitious pot to exhibit his advanced skills in a bid for the top job at the Wilkes Street Pottery.

Wilder, Eddie L. “Alexandra, Virginia Pottery 1792-1876.” Marceline, MO: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2007.

Magid, Barbara. “‘Stone-ware of excellent quality, Alexandria manufacture, Part I: The Pottery of John Swann.’” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2012) 111-145.

The jar descended to the donor through the family of Henry (1819-1884) and Frances Eleanor (Foote) Smith (1829-1901) of West View in Fauquier County, Virginia. West View was given to Henry by his father, William Rowley Smith (1781-1857) of nearby Alton, and the jar had presumably been at Alton and later West View since the mid 19th century.
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Byron J. Banks