H I R U M   W I L S O N
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see The Handbook of Texas Online for The Wilson Potteries:
Link to The Wilson Historical Foundation
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WILSON POTTERIES. The vessels made at the Wilson potteries of Guadalupe County
represent both the westward extension of Old South cotton culture and the interaction of
different cultural groups in mid-nineteenth-century Texas. During the last half of the
nineteenth century the three potteries in the community of Capote, near Seguin, supplied
a wide area of Central Texas with locally made stoneware necessary for both food storage
and preparation. In 1857 John McKamey Wilson, a Presbyterian minister and educator,
established the first Wilson pottery, which produced utilitarian alkaline-glazed and
salt-glazed stoneware through the Civil War years. Rev. Wilson was not a potter, so the
initial pottery operations were probably conducted by his slave potters, Hiram, James,
George, and Andrew Wilson. Between 1860 and 1866 a white potter, Marion J. Durham,
from Edgefield, South Carolina, and a black potter named John Chandler came to work at
the site. Chandler might have been a free man of color or may have belonged to Durham.
Durham and Chandler may have influenced the other potters, because most of the pottery
found at the earliest Wilson pottery resembles that of the celebrated Edgefield District of
South Carolina. The Edgefield District was a center of pottery-making in the South in the
early nineteenth century. Many scholars attribute the creation of the southern
alkaline-glazed pottery tradition to this period and place. This complex of technologies
included the use of an alkaline-based slip glaze, long-tunnel kilns known as "groundhog
kilns," and ovoid utilitarian forms sometimes decorated with slip trailing. This southern
pottery tradition spread westward with migrating potters, both free and slave, who were
largely trained in Edgefield. The pottery contrasted sharply with the salt-glazed stoneware
tradition that dominated the border South states northward into the Ohio valley.

The site of the first Wilson pottery near Seguin has most of the characteristics of this
southern pottery complex, including green, alkaline-glazed potsherds in a large waste pile
and the long, narrow surface indications of a groundhog kiln. However, salt-glazed
potsherds also littered the site. The presence of the salt glaze, which was the preferred
stoneware glaze from the Mid-Atlantic southern states and states farther north, suggests
the presence of a potter from that area. This potter could have been one of the slaves or
perhaps Isaac Suttles, an Ohioan who worked with M. J. Durham and Thomas Chandler
in 1870, and who could have been present at the first pottery. The wide variety of vessel
forms made at this first Wilson site attests to the isolated frontier conditions in Central
Texas. Forms such as chamber pots, churns, bowls, pitchers and storage jars were made
to satisfy local needs. The Civil War disrupted the lives of all the potters in Capote. After
the troops went home and the slaves were freed, the potters at the Wilson potteries
relocated to two separate shops in 1869. One was run by M. J. Durham, with John
Chandler and Isaac Suttles, and the other was run by the former slaves, Hiram, James,
and Andrew Wilson. H. Wilson and Company was one of the rare examples of a pottery
owned and operated by a black man in the nineteenth-century South. Its product
combined attributes that can be traced to the earlier Wilson pottery, such as vessel shape
and the use of a groundhog kiln, along with some idiosyncratic additions, such as a new
type of rim and handle. Hiram and Company only made salt-glazed ware and always
marked the vessels with the company's name, a practice not followed by most
contemporaries.

Hiram Wilson assumed a role in Capote similar to that of his former master in Seguin. He
started a church and a school, as well as a pottery. The separation of the black Wilsons
into a freedman's community may have been a response to postwar violence and general
hard feelings evident in reports of Freedman's Bureau officers in Seguin. Two instances
of violence against the Wilsons were reported in 1867. H. Wilson and Company went out
of business about the time of Hiram's death in 1884. Some of the men, including James
Wilson, then went to work with Durham and Chandler at their pottery, which continued
operation until about 1903.
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