A History of Edgefield, South Carolina

Edgefield County Court House - Edgefield, SC (2008)

The town of Edgefield has a long, proud past and we are preparing for an even better future. There are a number of projects underway or recently completed that will improve the quality of life for our citizens and visitors. Symbols of history are everywhere in the square. A list of ten South Carolina governors from Edgefield is printed in billboard fashion on the side of a building at the square’s entrance. That building houses perhaps the oldest still-operating grocery store in the county. A life-size bronze statue of native son Senator Strom Thurmond stands on the square facing the court house. It is the County Seat of Edgefield County.

We are the home of the Region II Heritage Corridor Discovery Center. This structure, located across from Town Hall has information and history about the four Region II counties and serves as a visitor’s information center about the entire Heritage Corridor.

Edgefield Pottery

Along the banks of the Savannah River, Native Americans some 4,500 years ago discovered that fire could harden clay to a stone-like consistency. These unknown people mixed Spanish moss or palmetto fibers with clay to make the earliest known pottery vessels in North America.

The Edgefield area is endowed with rich clay resources including massive deposits of kaolin, sands, feldspars, and pine trees, all necessary for making pottery.

The Old Edgefield District birthed a stoneware tradition based on Chinese technology using English traditional methods making vessels with African slave labor. This area has been dubbed the crossroads of clay because of this international mix.

Beginning shortly after 1800, the Landrum family started true pottery manufacturers to supply the South Carolina backcountry with necessary everyday utensils. Basically, kitchen and smokehouse utensils were made, but rarely were items made for the table.

The heart of the Edgefield stoneware tradition involved manufacture of ware using what is termed today "alkaline" glaze, we believe to have been derived from information passed to the west by French Jesuit priests living in the Orient in the early eighteenth century describing Chinese methods for making porcelain. Edgefield potters took similar materials, basically feldspar, wood ashes, lime, and sand - grinding and blending it to make a crude celadon glaze. Most typically formed were storage jars from one-half to thirty gallons commonly used for pickling, salting meat, storing lard, etc. Also formed were jugs for holding vinegars, wines, spirituous liquors, pitchers, pans, and bowls for the kitchen; plus pipes and marbles for the simple pleasures of life.

As competition increased, potters - around the 1840s - began to slip-decorate their wares using iron slip and kaolin based white slips resulting in objects today that are avidly sought and esteemed by scholars and collectors as some of the best folk art in the South. The Edgefield tradition produced many jars and vessels in the swag and tassel design neoclassically inspired and adapted from molding in Charles Town town houses. More rarely, they depicted men on horseback, southern belles in hoop skirts, African-Americans toasting each another, chickens, snakes, crows and pigs - everyday life around them. Beautifully illustrated in slip are the Rhodes Factory pieces with thistles and tulip designs.

Some of the most interesting and sought after vessels are those by Dave Pottery - a literate slave trained to set type for Dr. Abner Landrum's Pottersville newspaper. Dave commonly signed and dated his ware, and less often wrote simple verses on his sometimes massive twenty and thirty gallon jars and jugs. Some speak of food, religion, shoes, lions, volcanoes, and money.

Also of African origin are pots termed "face vessels" - usually jugs but sometimes cups, crocks, or pitchers with a face molded into the object using white kaolin clay for eyes and teeth. These small objects are powerful expressions reminiscent of African sculpture.

The tradition declined about the time of the American Civil War, but still continued to produce similar wares for the agrarian economy, with the tradition finally winding down in the 1930s with the production of flower pots. Edgefield proved a training ground for potters who moved with the westward expansion of America to Georgia, western North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisana, and Texas. Potters that had actually worked in Edgefield wound up in Texas using traditional Edgefield technologies and making similar objects.

Time brought many changes. The death knell of many potters across the country came with the invention of the Mason screw top jar in 1858. Combined with the move from the farm to the city, the breakup of the plantations, and the slave economy after the Civil War, the tradition virtually died in South Carolina.

As Edgefield Court House, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on July 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John Simkins. On March 13, 1903, the Post Office Department officially changed its name simply to Edgefield. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.
Click Here to view / download a 2017 map of Edgefield, SC. Adobe PDF file. Fairly large.

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