European colonists imported a great variety of pottery, from around the world, after settlement of the Chesapeake region began. This webpage describes some of the most common types used between the first settlement of Maryland in 1634 and the start of the American Revolution.
The pottery that is found on 17th and 18th century archaeological sites in Maryland came from all over the world. Based on their firing temperatures and the clays used in their manufacture, ceramics are divided into three basic categories – Earthenwares and Stonewares and Porcelains. Differing methods of decorating and glazing further define specific ware types.
Earthenware: Earthenware is fired at the lowest temperatures, ranging from 900 degrees to 1050 degrees Celcius. This pottery is porous and requires glazing on at least one surface to hold liquids. The glaze generally contains lead oxide. Tin oxide is sometimes added to create an opaque glaze. Not all earthenware is glazed, as is seen today on red clay flowerpots. Earthenwares fired at a low temperature have a soft, porous paste, generally ranging from buff to yellow to pink to red to gray in color. These coarse earthenwares are some of the most plentiful ceramics found on colonial archaeological sites.
Stoneware: Stoneware pottery is fired at temperatures between 1200 degrees to 1300 degrees Celcius, resulting in a ware that is non-porous (vitrified) and stone-like. Paste color generally ranges from white to gray to tan. While stonewares are impervious to liquids and do not need to be glazed, they often are. Salt-glazing is the most prevalent method used. During the firing, salt is introduced into the kiln. The sodium reacts with silicates in the clays, creating a shiny, pitted surface. This "orange peel" texture is an identifying characteristic of salt-glazed stonewares.
Porcelain: Porcelains are produced from specialized white clays, which can withstand firing temperatures over 1300 o C. This pottery is usually very finely made, and can be transluscent when held up to a light. The Chinese were the first to create porcelains, and kept the technique for making this delicate pottery secret for hundreds of years. Imports of Chinese porcelains became available to the Western world through the trade networks of the Portuguese and Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries.