Peddling Pottery

The Catawba potters draw from a peddling tradition with deep roots and excel at using their forefathers' bartering techniques when trading (Merrell 1989:31). The Catawba have probably always dealt in pottery. As mentioned, John Lawson noted their eighteenth-century trade in pipes. The Catawba claimed a trade network that covered the entire 55,000 square miles occupied by Catawban speakers and beyond to nations with which they maintained friendly relations. Clearly, the Indians had other viable trade alternatives than pottery, for they took full advantage of these when the Europeans came upon the scene. Unfortunately, the Catawba methods of trade and land exploitation could not match European appetites for trade goods. During the Colonial period the Catawba sold their last Indian captives, took their last load of animal skins to Pine Tree Hill, and fought their last profitable war.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the Nation was totally dependent on European trade goods and had little to barter with to attain them (Baker 1972). At the end of the American Revolution, chronic unemployment set in for the men who had spent their time at war. For uncountable generations, the Catawba had labored as both hunters and soldiers. Left behind when the American frontier moved west, the Ca-tawba had to fend for themselves while surrounded by an alien European culture. Trade in pottery saved the Nation from extinction.

In the mid-nineteenth century, William Gilmore Simms observed the Catawba on their yearly treks to Charleston and noted that they camped at known clay deposits along their route and made pottery. The Indians sold and bartered their wares until local needs were met, and then they moved on. Charleston's most discriminating cooks considered the traditional Catawba cooking pot as essential for certain dishes (Simms 1859).

Phillip E. Porcher of St. Stephen's Parish left an account of early Ca-tawba peddling practices: "They would camp until a section was supplied, then move on, till finally Charleston was reached. He said their ware was decorated with colored sealing wax and was in great demand, for it was before the days of cheap tin and enamel ware" (Gregorie 1925).

By the nineteenth century the Catawba trade concentrated on a large market area that originally fanned out in an easterly direction from the Nation. They traveled by way of the rivers, but as roads were cut through from town to hamlet, the pragmatic Catawba took advantage of this new transportation system, and the potters set out on foot carrying their wares on their backs.

The work of archaeologists complements the work of historians. As Colonial settlements are explored and excavated, Catawba-style pottery is frequently unearthed throughout the Nation area. The earlier the period, the wider the range of these wares. Into the more recent period, as the Nation began to shrink and the Catawba population fell from thousands to below a hundred, the trade area diminished too, but never completely disappeared.

We study this process today in the testimonies of twentieth-century Catawba potters who participated in the Catawba peddling tradition. Peddling pottery remained an integral part of Catawba life until quite recently, and even today some Catawba potters occasionally peddle their wares. The Catawba often talk of their grandparents' peddling experiences as well as their own. Nearly all the contemporary senior potters have peddled pottery by foot, wagon, or automobile.

Some of the most colorful tales date from the mid-nineteenth century. A story told by Lula Beck probably dates from the Civil War period.

Lucinda Harris went out and sold with my grandma [Margaret Brown], and they would trade for flour and food. They went through Van Wyck walking from house to house. They came to one place and they were attacked by a bulldog, and you know how that kind of a dog can tear you up. Well, Lucinda stuck her fist right down that dog's throat, right up past the wrist, and that dog backed up and went back to the house. The farmer wanted to know why the dog was acting so odd and why he had not bitten one of them.

They went on from there and found a swarm of bees, and grandma said that she wished that she could have the bees and take them home, but she had no way to get them. Lucinda promptly took her slip off and caught the bees in it and gave them to grandma. They brought them back home that way. When they went pot trading, they were often gone for two or three days at a time. (Lula Beck, interview, 22 March

During the time Lucinda Harris was peddling pottery, the Catawba population was at its lowest, and the Indians could hardly maintain a wide trading area on foot or by wagon. They were, however, willing to go great distances to sell their wares. When one considers how few pots could be carried on one's back, it is astonishing that the Indians would cover such distances to make a few pennies. "Some [Martha Jane Harris] would walk to Columbia. Just the women would go. Grandma told me that they'd put the pottery on their backs and went on. She said Polly Ottis went to a saloon, and the barman would give her a bottle of whiskey, not for the pottery but for the road" (Furman Harris, interview, 19 April 1977, BC).

The attitudes of those who speak of them today may reflect how the Catawba felt as they set out on long peddling trips loaded down with pottery:

Sarah Jane Harris made big pots, gypsy pots, big ones. She carried them in the country on her back. People knew her all over. She was a midwife and the whites would come and get her. The folks on Route 31 knew her well. The Barbers, they bought pots. . . . [She] went way up the river on one-day walks. We just rambled. She wrapped them in something or other and tied up a cloth and carried them on her back. I guess she had a lot of flour sacks to wrap them in. Flowerpots could be stacked inside each other, and they were not so hard on her back. (Edith Brown, interview, 21 April 1977, BC)

The number of tales such as this is sizeable. In spite of the small Catawba population, many towns and hamlets are included in the twentieth-century trading zone including virtually all communities within a 70-mile radius of the Nation.

It is almost as though time and change had refused to touch the Ca-tawba. In 1900, the older Indians continued to peddle their wares as their grandparents had done before them; for instance, the bartering methods and acceptable trade items remained fixed. In 1686, Bushnell visited a Virginia Indian village on the Rappahannock River. He wrote that the Indians "also make pots and vases and fill them up with Indian corn and that is the price" (Baker 1972:4; Bushnell 1920:39-42). John Lawson also made note of the Indians' way of measuring goods (Merrell 1989:31; Pargellis 1959:231). Among the Catawba, when Sarah Jane Harris peddled her pottery, she commonly filled the vessel three times with corn meal to ascertain a fair swap. If the farmer offered wheat flour, the vessel was filled twice. The meal was measured right on the spot. The Indians also accepted eggs, chickens, and meat (Edith Brown, interview, 21 April 1977, BC). Lula Beck recalls that her grandmother, Margaret Brown, followed the same process. She often preferred corn meal, flour, or food over money (Lula Beck, interview, 22 March 1977, BC) and obtained virtually all of her groceries through this barter system. Other commodities included syrup (LeRoy Blue, interview, 21 April 1977, BC), peas, corn, beans, and cured meat (Wesley Harris, interview, 10 May 1977, BC). Doris Blue's family seldom purchased clothing but relied on bartering pottery to fulfill their clothing needs. "Way back when I was small people hardly ever had to buy clothes. They would trade this pottery for clothing. They would go to a home, and they would bring out clothes and trade them for so many pieces of pottery, for a garment or something, and they would get clothes like that" (Doris Blue, interview, 24 March 1980, BC). It was only natural that some people would try to take advantage and offer the Indians rags rather than usable garments. Georgia Harris recalls her grandmother's indignation: "I got enough rags at home. I don't need no more rags" (Georgia Harris, interview, 20 October 1984, BC).

While a perceptive and proud woman like Martha Jane Harris stubbornly followed her mother's footsteps, she was also aware that change was coming to the old peddling tradition. By 1900 the Catawba Indian School was well established (Rock Hill Herald, 5 December 1896:2) and several children were attending Carlisle Indian Industrial in Pennsylvania (Adams 1995; C. Harris). It was doubtful that the younger generation would consider peddling loads of pottery by foot as a possible occupation. The generation gap is obvious in Georgia Harris's recollections of peddling pipes with Martha Jane Harris:

I went with her one time, and I never will forget that as long as I live. . . . She made her a bunch of pipes. You could always sell them around the grocery store. She said, "I'm going to go over to Van Wyck one day, and I think I'll come back by Catawba Junction," and I said, "Can I go with you?" She said, "If you want to and you think you can walk it." I was about 16 years old. . . . After she burned her pipes and got them ready, we got Jesse to put us across [the river] right below her house, and we walked from there to Van Wyck. I know that's seven or eight miles across there. . . . She sold some pipes over there, and she said, "Well, we'll go over on the railroad and go across the river and go to Catawba Junction." You know that's a long walk. And we walked all the way from Van Wyck to Catawba Junction across the trestle over the river. There wasn't no bridge down there then. We had to walk across it. I said to my grandma, "You reckon a train is going to come along?" She said, "No, not right now. Ain't time of day for one to come along." I said, "Well, I hope we make it." And she said, "We will." And we walked that trestle all the way across the Catawba River. . . . I don't know if I was afraid I'd fall or not. We walked all that way across and came down to Catawba Junction. Well, we did. I done got tired by then, and she said, "We'll sit down and rest a while." She sold some pipes to that man. I knew him good. Mr. Simpson ran the store down there, and she went in and bought us some cookies and a drink. And we sat down and ate the cookies and the drink and some cheese. I believe she got some cheese. . . . She sat there with me. She knew I was tired. She said, "About ready to go?" And I said, "I guess so." After I got something to eat, I felt better, but we got ready and we walked all the way from Catawba Junction then back home, and that's a good four or five miles. I bet we made 15 or 20 miles that day. She just walked a certain pace, and it was kind of fast. When we got home I was so give in I could have fallen apart. . . . She laughed at me. She said, "Well, I brought her home, but she's about give out." And I really was. I sat down in a chair. I remember, I plopped in a chair. (Georgia Harris, interview, 19 March 1980, BC)

Obviously, Georgia Harris never considered peddling pottery an option; the physical endurance this way of life required was not to her liking. She had already spent several years attending the Catawba Indian School and was nearing graduation from the Cherokee Boarding School. Her education gave her advantages no one else in her family had ever dreamed possible. She would, however, go on to become a master potter and match her grandmother's skills. Georgia Harris felt that peddling pottery was a thing of the past, but she took the opportunity to pay tribute to her grandmother's strength whenever possible.

While peddling on foot was being abandoned by many Indians, the practice continued to survive into the mid-twentieth century through economic need and short-term hard luck. For instance, Mary (Dovie) Harris, who died in 1969, peddled pottery for most of her life. She usually recruited younger potters to accompany her on her ramblings through nearby communities. Dovie Harris was often accompanied by Maggie Harris and her children:

Aunt Dovie, well her name was Mary Harris, and Mama and Ruthie, Reola, Viola, and myself all went way out here towards Leslie and way down towards Bowater, back in that way trading pots several times. Now we'd walk all day long and trade. We got canned goods and different things for pots. [We'd] just knock on doors and ask them if they'd like, if they had anything they'd like to trade for some pots or something or other like that. Mama and Aunt Dovie done this. Us children didn't do it, but I can remember that. . . . They'd have a snack [in a]

croaker sack. . . . They carried their pots tied up in a big old bag and that [was held] across their shoulder. (Nola Campbell, interview, 2 March 1981, BC)

Although many contemporary Catawba still speak of these outings, it is difficult today to find non-Indians who actually recall the Indians peddling pottery. A few individuals can make general statements such as "they were always in town on Saturday. They would ring the bell and stand back and wait for someone to answer" (Anne Brock, interview, 19 April 1977, BC). In fact, during those days, answering the door to peddlers was a common occurrence and was seldom noteworthy. However, Ruth Meacham of Fort Mill, a woman interested in all things, was fascinated by the Catawba. She had vivid recollections of their visits to her home. Catawba vessels were used as flowerpots in the Meacham household. When the pot deteriorated from the dampness and acidic soil, it was thrown away. A new pot was easily obtained from the next Catawba peddler:

Recently I had a large Catawba pot that I had kept a fern in. It was out in the tool shed, and I got tired of seeing it there and tossed it out. I just pitched it out. We have always taken the pottery for granted.

I always paid the Indians in some way. Once a woman came and asked for food. She was very tired and hungry. I told her that I would feed her, but that I did not want any pottery as I had enough. The woman insisted that I take a pot and would not take the food unless she paid with a pot. Eventually she offered me this broken pot and said, "Please take this one. It is broken and I can't sell it." I took the pot and gave her three things to eat: a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a piece of cake. She went over on the corner and ate it right out in the street. She must have been very hungry. The Indians were always proud and would never take anything without paying for it.

Another woman came [here] a number of years ago. Not very long ago. And she had a little girl with her. I did not want any pottery, but the little girl looked so eager that someone would buy a pot that I took a small wedding jar from her. (Ruth Meacham, interview, 12 February

Pottery making was and remains a business for the Catawba, and over the years, the Indians took advantage of any form of transportation available to them in order to peddle. In the early Colonial days they followed familiar river routes, then when roads were cut through the forests, they pragmatically used them, on foot or horseback. When they could, the Indians rode mules and wagons.

The first documented use of a covered wagon for peddling was in 1905. A large party of Catawba, including Margaret Brown, John and Rachel Brown, their children and Henry Canty, and Fred Nelson Blue, went to Gastonia. They traveled in two wagons covered with homespun. Upon entering incorporated towns, they obtained a peddler's permit and sold pottery from house to house (Rock Hill Herald, 15 August i905a:i). Most likely this was not their first or their last visit to the Gastonia area. A similar venture was recalled by Sallie Beck who accompanied her parents to Great Falls by wagon to peddle pottery. Jesse Harris also had fond recollections of his family traveling by wagon to Spartanburg to peddle pottery:

When I was a boy, we went to Spartanburg in a wagon with a cover on it. I just drove the wagon, and they did the selling. Martha Jane Harris and Margaret Harris would sleep in the wagon, and I slept on the ground.

We packed the pots in boxes—in straw and shavings. We took 100 to 150 pieces, whatever they had made. We never packed food. We only packed pottery. It took two nights to go to Spartanburg. We always asked a farmer for permission to stay in his yard. Wouldn't charge nothing. We would buy dinner and breakfast and would pay with pottery or with money. Sometimes we would build a fire and cook some bacon or ham, whatever we wanted. On the road to Spartanburg we sold in any small towns between here and there. We would stop in Chester. Lots of time we would sell all before we reached Spartanburg. Whenever we reached a place, we always went to the courthouse to get permission to sell. In Spartanburg we went to different houses and stayed there one or two nights. The YMCA would buy from us and help us make sales too. Many times the YMCA would buy the pottery and resell it. (Jesse Harris, interview, 14 April 1977, BC)

The Harris family followed an old pattern of operation; they knew the route. The Indians knew where to stay and what procedures and laws to follow. They were so confident of sales they did not carry food supplies. Sallie Wade recalled a circuit that included the towns of York, Chester, Charlotte, and Lancaster, a total of about 100 miles. Occasionally they would sell all their wares on the first day out and return home ahead of schedule leaving young Sallie disappointed (Sallie Wade, interview, 18 January 1977, BC).

Richard Harris had vivid recollections of a party that consisted of Sarah Jane Harris, Davis Ayers, and Fannie Harris. They borrowed a wagon from another Indian and set out for Lancaster and Camden, a total of about 120 miles round trip. They crossed the river at Cureton Ferry and got caught in a violent rainstorm. The surrounding creeks were flooded, and the Indians were left stranded. While they waited for the waters to recede, they took shelter in an abandoned house (Richard Harris, interview, 14 April 1977, BC). Bertha Harris also recalls her father, Moroni George, taking wagons full of pottery to Great Falls, a total of about 40 miles round trip. These trips would take one or two days. At night they hung a kerosene lantern on the wagon for a light (Bertha Harris, interview, 2 March 1981, BC). One can imagine these trips were wonderful experiences for children who seldom had an opportunity to leave the reservation.

The automobile opened new peddling horizons for the Catawba. John Brown was the first to own a car. Doris Blue remembered the effect this purchase had on the Brown family's peddling efforts: "[John Brown's] wife made pottery all the time; and after he had his car, he would take her further to sell her pottery. Before they could just go around in the area, when they could go in a wagon in a day's time and get back home. After he got his car—why then they would venture out a little further and further from town" (Doris Blue, interview, 20 March 1980, BC). Trips that once took days could be made in hours (Edith Brown, interview, 21 April 1977, BC). As more Catawba families purchased automobiles, they expanded their peddling activities. Furman Harris visited the tourist shops in North Carolina (Furman Harris, interview, 3 March 1981, BC), and Willie Sanders recalled taking an old Model-T to Charlotte and peddling there (Willie Sanders, interview, 21 March 1983, BC). Henry Canty drove his mother, Emma Brown, to such places as Chester, Great Falls, Fort Mill, and Rock Hill (Henry Canty, interview, 15 October 1984, BC). When Jennie Brindle obtained a car, she sold all over South Carolina and as far away as Jacksonville, Florida, and Moundville, Alabama (Jennie Brindle, interview, 11 August 1982, BC). Arzada Sanders returned to towns her family had not visited in decades (Arzada Sanders, interview, 25 January 1977, BC).

The Indians were willing to go from house to house and peddle, but they were always looking for better outlets for their wares, also. For instance, Martha Jane Harris could expect regular sales in Van Wyck and Catawba Junction. Ida Harris regularly swapped her pottery for groceries at Massey's Store in Van Wyck. "I would get my groceries in Van Wyck from Mr. Massey. He would run my groceries for the year, and I would owe him money and make pottery for him. I also sold to a man in Rock Hill. I don't remember his name, but he sold sandwiches downtown, and he bought pipes from my mother—lots of pipes" (Ida Harris, interview, 7 April 1977, BC; Frances Wade, interview, 6 April 1977, BC). Nettie Harris Owl sold at Friedman's, a dry goods store in Rock Hill (Frell Owl, interview, 15 May 1979, BC). Another local out let was Jack Glasscock's store located within easy walking distance of the reservation. Glasscock allowed the Indians to swap groceries for pottery. On occasion they traded a pot for enough money to catch a bus to Rock Hill (Jack Glasscock, interview, 3 February 1977, BC; Ruby Boyd, interview, 3 February 1977, BC). Margaret Brown often met the trains at Catawba Junction and sold pottery to passengers (Garfield Harris, interview, 15 April 1977, BC).

In recent years, the potters turned to more sophisticated outlets for their work. Sara Lee Ayers marketed her wares in gift shops, airport terminal shops, museums, and Indian arts and crafts shops throughout the South. For a time, Earl Robbins sold his pottery at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Arts and Crafts Shops in Washington. Alberta Ferrell sold her pottery through Bee's Book Store in Rock Hill (Alberta Ferrell, interview, 22 February 1977, BC). Having these outlets reduced the need to peddle.

For more than 50 years, the potters brought their wares to the gates of Winthrop College in Rock Hill. They spread blankets on the ground, arranged their wares, and waited for the students to make purchases (Reed 1959; Blumer and Harris 1988). Students and faculty came from every part of South Carolina, and most had never seen an Indian. Bessie Garrison recalled that at first the girls were scared to death of the Ca-tawba (Bessie Garrison, interview, 27 January 1977, BC). Capitalizing on the students' growing enthusiasm, the Indians set up shop at the campus gates Saturday after Saturday. During bad weather, they displayed their wares in a nearby passageway between buildings (Carrie Garrison, interview, 27 January 1977, BC).

The barter system also dominated Winthrop sales. Few of the students had money and the only commodity many could regularly offer was clothing; many a uniform was swapped for pottery. Students who purchased Catawba pottery sent it to people throughout South Carolina as gifts for every occasion. Margaret Tolbert recalled that most of the pottery she bought was given to family members in Laurens, South Carolina (Margaret Tolbert, interview, 6 February 1977, BC).

Many of the Catawba remember spending hours at Winthrop College with their elders. Some accompanied their mothers or grandmothers. In time, these young potters sold their own work. Edith Brown, for instance, sold her first batch of pottery there (Edith Brown, interview, 21 April 1977, BC). Isabelle George recalls offering smaller pieces, things she knew the students would find attractive and could afford (Isabelle George, interview, 1 March 1977, BC).

Arzada Sanders recalled that very little money was exchanged. Fifty cents was a good price, but most of the time clothing was swapped (Arzada Sanders, interview, 25 January 1977, BC). A matched pair of loving cups brought a dollar. Pipes went for 15 cents each. Sallie Wade declared that the students were usually broke. In addition to clothing, they offered finger rings, bracelets, shoes, and even brand new dresses. To handle the money situation, the Indians usually decided on their sales strategy for the day. "[We] would decide who was to take only money and who would swap clothes. Those who needed the money most of all would get the money and the others would swap clothes" (Sallie Wade, interview, 18 January 1977, BC).

During the winter of 1976-1977, while the potters were preparing for a pottery exhibition/sale at Winthrop College, Doris Blue declared proudly, "At first we sold at the gates and later moved inside the gates under a tree. Now they will let us sell our pottery inside the college building. It has taken us a long time to get in the door" (Doris Blue, interview, 21 January 1977, BC).

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