Salt glazing was a technique used by stoneware potters to create a glassy surface. When the pottery kiln reached over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, salt was introduced into the kiln, creating a vapor. This vapor adhered to the silica in the clay, forming a glassy appearance on the pottery. Because of the high temperature at which the pottery was fired, the clay often became non-porous, or vitrified. This, combined with the salt glazing, meant that potters did not have to apply a glaze to the interior of the vessel. It could hold liquids and not seep, unlike earthenware storage vessels.
MAKER: Hugh Smith, Sr., was not a potter. Rather, he and his son, Hugh Charles (H.C.) Smith, operated a china merchants shop in Alexandria and managed a stoneware pottery. Hugh Smith, Sr., began managing the stoneware manufactory on Wilkes Street in 1825. Potters John Swann and Benedict C. Milburn were employed at the Wilkes Street pottery, as were several African-American potters. In 1841 the business was sold to Benedict C. Milburn.
The earliest known advertisements in the ALEXANDRIA GAZETTE for Hugh Smith, Sr. (1768-1852), appear in 1796 when he is referred to as an importer of fine china. By 1803 Smith was operating a retail establishment on King Street, convenient to the docks where shipments of ceramics were brought in. Hugh Smith, Sr., entered into various partnerships prior to 1825, often with family members such as his son J.P. Smith. In 1825 when his son Hugh Charles joined the business, Hugh Smith, Sr., left the retail end of the family business and began managing a stoneware pottery on Wilkes Street. Tax records of the 1820s and 1830s indicate that many of the potters working for Hugh Smith, Sr., were African American. Beginning in 1831, advertisements indicate that Hugh Charles managed the retail firm on his own for four years as the company name was changed from “H. Smith & Company” to”H.C. Smith.” In 1835 the name changed again to include “Company.” The Smith family’s management of the pottery manufacturing enterprise continued until 1841. Hugh Smith, Sr., remained the owner of the store on King Street until 1851 when his son James P. Smith took over. James P. Smith sold the firm in 1854.
Magid, Barbara H. “‘Stone-ware of excellent quality, Alexandria manufacture’ Part I: The Pottery of John Swann.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2012) 111-145.
Myers, Suzita Cecil. “The Potters’ Art: Salt-Glazed Stoneware of Nineteenth-Century Alexandria.” Alexandria, VA: City of Alexandria, Virginia, 1983.