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Black History Month—Unearthing the Past

Posted by Paul Rawlins on February 14, 2011 in Content

Folks log on to Ancestry.com to locate lost siblings, scare out family skeletons, and, of course, find ancestors, but this is the first time I’ve heard of someone using the site to establish the provenance of a piece of pottery.

April Hynes’s grandfather Robert Strang unearthed this fantastic face jug in Philadelphia in 1950. It’s not only a beauty; it’s a rare artifact from African-American history.

Last August, PBS’s History Detectives revealed that the jug had been crafted by slaves who worked in potteries in a small town in Edgefield County, South Carolina. Archeologist Mark Newell unearthed the actual site of a secret kiln slaves used to make these vessels in their spare time and even found shards of broken face jugs that matched April’s.

One mystery solved. But another remained: how did this piece of grinning earthenware manage to migrate 700 miles north to Philadelphia?

With the help of an aunt who remembered the location and a few old maps, April quickly located the tract where the jug had been found and its owner: Stockton LeRoy Wingate. Mr. Wingate lived in Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, in 1930, and according to the 1930 U.S. Census, two African-Americans lived with him at the time: Lewis Gardner, who worked as his chauffer, and Lewis’s wife, the family cook. Both were born in South Carolina.

April used World War I and WW II draft cards databases on Ancestry.com to confirm that Lewis Gardner was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina—where the face jugs were originally made.

While working Lewis’s family tree back to mid-nineteenth-century Edgefield via census and military records, April found that the family name had been shortened to Gardner from Gardenhire. With this fact in tow, April made a visit to Edgefield, where she turned up numerous records that confirmed that Lewis’s parents and grandparents were slaves belonging to the owner of a pottery works.  A pretty good bet for how Lewis may have come by the jug, and a nice bit of genealogical detective work.

Robert Strang and Lewis Gardner

If April’s story has inspired you to do some digging into your own past, you’ll find our African-American collections here. Who knows what you might turn up?

8 comments

Comments
1 nicoleFebruary 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

wow!

2 Dolores ColemanFebruary 15, 2011 at 9:56 am

Having been in the SOUTHERN POTTERY collecting game for almost 40years We have been fortunate to have owned several pieces of the EDGEFIELD pottery. It is a honored prize by ANY collector to own an EDGEFIELD.
Today modern potters in the area SC, NC, GA are GREATLY influenced by those men long ago who worked so hard to create working pottery (utilitarian) and art pottery…..for us to treasure today… DAVE the Slave is the pinnacle of slave pottery…he wrote poetry, Bible verses, words of wisdom on his pottery…unheard of; for the time…1. that he could write, 2 he could read….

3 KymFebruary 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

This is awesome and very inspiring!

4 BarbaraFebruary 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm

unearthing the mysteries – - what a wonderful story – thanks for sharing – - -

5 Joan L. JonesFebruary 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Lewis Gardener is my great uncle. I have wanted to know more about my family’s history, but only wondered about it, since most of the eldest members have pasted on. April Hynes has reached out to my family and through the discovery of the face jug has provided my family with a history we can see, connect with, and be proud of.

6 April L. HynesFebruary 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm

It’s only the wonderful power of God that can take a jug made 150 years ago – send it 700 miles up north only to be found by a person that connects it back to it’s antebellum past. This story was meant to be told. Lewis left us a gift,…..and my Pop Pop found it…and I was gifted to tell it.

God is good.

7 Barbara PruittFebruary 19, 2011 at 8:47 am

This is one of the most touching stories I have read about and I am grateful to every one who has had a hand in putting it all together and blessed us all with this knowledge.
And YES our God is good–all the time–our God is good!!!!
Barbara

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