John Poole Schermerhorn Home Site and Pottery Uncovered

Robert Hunter

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Located in Henrico County, Virginia, the homesite and pottery of 19th century stoneware potter John Poole Schermerhorn is being developed for a Jehovah Witness Church. The property is located on Route 360 just east of I-95. Schermerhorn and many of his family are buried in the cemetery on the grounds. All of the graves are unmarked with the exception of Schermerhorn's grandson, John S. Austin, and his wife, Sallie B. Austin. The cemetery is being preserved by the developer. The construction was first noted by Oliver Mueller-Heubach who is undertaking fieldwork on the Richmond area potters as part of his Ph.D dissertation research. With cooperation from the property's owner Oliver and several volunteers are trying to recover as much information from the site as possible.

Local Nineteenth Century Stoneware

Sources: Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter, ed. (2005) and "Stoneware of Eastern Virginia," The Magazine Antiques, April 2005.

Among the early industries of Henrico County was stoneware manufacture, which apparently expanded from Richmond in the first or second decade of the nineteenth century. Pharmacist Benjamin DuVal was manufacturing salt-glazed stoneware vessels to supply pharmacies, distilleries, dairies and mercantile operations. It appears that he hired New York potter John Poole Schermerhorn around 1813, and by 1820 Schermerhorn had established his own manufactory at Rocketts Landing by the James River.

It was a sizable operation. The 1820 Manufacturers Census for Henrico County shows that he had made use of 50 tons of clay, 80 cords of wood and 18 sacks of salt (for glazing). He employed three men and no boys, ran one kiln and three wheels and paid $300 in wages and $500 in other expenses to produce "stoneware of all kinds".

Only six marked examples of Schermerhorn's work are known, but other examples can be identified by thick walls, even glazing and ovoid forms with handles. Decorations include unique brushed cobalt blue blossoms or circular peach-shaped blooms. Most likely, early Richmond potters were associated with Schermerhorn at his Rocketts Location and at his potteries in southern Henrico County. The 1820 Census of Manufacturers, Henrico County, lists Thomas Amos, stoneware manufactory; Samuel Frayser, stoneware manufactory; John P. Schermerhorn, stoneware of all kinds; and Samuel Wilson, stoneware of all kinds.