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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.
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.
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?