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Cain, Leonard || __Attributed to
Place Made:
Sullivan County Tennessee United States of America
Date Made:
earthenware –lead-glazed
HOA: 15 3/4″; DIA: 7 1/2″; Circumference: 37 1/2″
Accession Number:
Made of earthenware clay and and thrown on a potter’s wheel, this large jug is decorated with prominent splashes of manganese brown. The manganese was applied to the sides of the vessel and subsequently ran down the sides during its firing. This decorative technique was used prominently in the Sullivan County, Tennessee, and Washington County, Virginia, area. The strong triple finger impressions at the terminus of the handle is typical of the Great Road pottery made in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee.

The jug is inscribed to the right and left of the handle, “True Blue” and below the handle “John Wolfe 1826.” The name possibly refers to John Wolfe (1781-1864) of Holston Springs, located just across the Tennessee line in Scott County, Virginia. Wolfe was a prominent land and slave owner in Scott County. He served as one of the county’s original court justices in 1815, and as sheriff from 1829-1830. He was an investor in the Holston Springs mineral spa and is known to have owned and operated a distillery, which might explain the reference on the jug to “True Blue.” In his will, written in 1855 and filed in 1864, Wolfe bequeathed to his son Isaac “my stills, tubs, barrels, cider mill and other implements connected with my distillery.”

MAKER: The lineage of this jug connects it to the first Cain family potter, Leonard Cain (1782-1842). Cain was born in present-day Davidson County, North Carolina, and would have been exposed to the Germanic potting traditions established by the nearby Moravians of Wachovia and the Albright/Loy family of Alamance County. In 1807, he married Margaret Miller in Wythe County, Virginia, and by 1812 had settled in Sullivan County, Tennessee. The 1840 census lists Leonard Cain’s household with one male engaged in trade or manucturers, i.e. potting, and two in agriculture. Three of Leonard’s sons, Eli (1815-1880), William (1822-1868), and Abraham Cain (1827-1910), and at least one of his grandsons, Martin Abraham Cain (1850-1922), are also known to have been potters.

Moore, J. Roderick. “Earthenware Potters Along the Great Road in Virginia and Tennessee.” The Magazine Antiques, September 1983, p. 534.

White, Betsy K. Great Road Style: The Decorative Arts Legacy of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006.

Smith, Samuel D. and Stephen T. Rogers. Tennessee Potteries, Pots, and Potters – 1790s to 1950. Nashville: Tennessee Department oof Environment and Conservation, 2011.

The jug descended directly in the Cain family of potters. It was acquired in Sullivan County, Tennessee in the 1980s from Dolvin Cain (1917-1987), who was the son of Luther Cain (b. 1883), son of Martin Abraham Cain (1850-1922), son of William Miller Cain (1822-1873), son of Leonard Cain (1782-1842), who was its likely maker and the founder of the Cain potting family in Sullivan County.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund