Colono Ware: An African American Legacy

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Colono Ware: An African American Legacy

Colono ware from 14 Legare Street, Charleston. The globular cooking jars on right are a traditional African form, while the bowl on left copies a European form for a European market. (Photo: Rick Rhodes for The Charleston Museum.

Urban and rural sites across colonial America have revealed quantities of colono ware, pottery made locally in African style first recovered in quantity on plantation slave sites, and studied by Leland Ferguson and others. The pottery comes in a variety of shapes and decorative types, but its manufacturing techniques indicate that the ceramic technology involved is African in origin. Some archaeologists have interpreted Colono ware as an important means of maintaining African identity while asserting some economic independence.
The more African vessel forms would been have used to prepare African foods (a starch food such as millet, rice, or maize served with a vegetable relish which contains meat or fish in small quantities) which was eaten according to African custom (taking a ball of the starchy main dish in one's hands and dipping it into the relish). The uniformity of these vessels, and their lack of decoration, suggests support for egalitarian social relations among enslaved people, a negation of the hierarchical ideals that Europeans used to legitimate the institution of slavery. Ferguson concludes that Colono Ware expressed a rejection of the European ideals of individualism and hierarchy, and reinforced relationships of mutual support among enslaved people based on their common heritage and their difference from Europeans.
Especially in more urban areas, and in the Caribbean and other Spanish or French-controlled regions where African slaves had more economic freedoms, Colono ware emerges as an important market commodity; African women made these pots, jars, bowls, and plates to sell in local markets to a wide variety of customers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As the potters worked to meet the styles requested by their customers, they created whole new forms of kitchen and table wares for sale. Because of this Colono ware has also been interpreted as a kind of living medium through which the many cultures of these diverse communities created whole new, “creole” cultures.

For more information, check out:
Elizabeth Brumfiel, “Recovering the African American Past”, Matrix Curriculum Module 15, at
Martha Zierden, “Urban Life in Colonial Charleston, South Carolina” Unlocking the Past website, at
Martha Zierden, “Object Lessons: The Journey of Miles Brewton’s Bottle” Common Place, at · vol. 1 · no. 4 · July 2001
Colono Ware article at

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