Sunday, April 18, 2010

John Poole Schermerhorn Home Site and Pottery Uncovered

Located in Henrico County, Virginia, the homesite and pottery of 19th century stoneware potter John Poole Schermerhorn is being developed for a Jehovah Witness Church. The property located on Route 360 just east of the I-95

The Schermerhorn Site Looking East

Montezumo in rubble

The remains of the family cemetery on the property. Schermerhorn and many of his family are buried in the cemetery on the grounds. All of the graves are unmarked with the exception of Schermerhorn's grandson, John S. Austin, and his wife, Sallie B. Austin. The cemetery is being preserved by the developer.

The construction was first noted Oliver Mueller-Heubach who is undertaking fieldwork on the Richmond area potters as part of his Ph.D dissertation research. With cooperation from the property's owner Oliver and several volunteers are trying to recover as much information from the site as possible. Here Oliver and Richmond stoneware expert Marshall Goodman are sorting out the day's finds.

Blue Decorated Sherds Decorations include unique brushed cobalt blue blossoms or circular peach-shaped blooms.

Cobalt brushed Capacity Marks

Previously Undocumented Domed Lid

Located in Henrico County, Virginia


MontezumaParkinson Memorial Obelisk

Local Nineteenth Century Stoneware

Sources: Ceramics in America, robert Hunter, ed. (2005) and "Stoneware of Eastern Virginia," Antique, 1 April 2005.

Among the early industries of Henrico County was stoneware manufacture, which apparently expanded from Richmond in the first or second decade of the nineteenth century. Pharmacist Benjamin DuVal was manufacturing salt-glazed stoneware vessels to supply pharmacies, distilleries, dairies and mercantile operations. It appears that he hired New York potter John Poole Schermerhorn around 1813, and by 1820 Schermerhorn had established his own manufactory at Rocketts Landing by the James River.

It was a sizable operation. The 1820 Manufacturers Census for Henrico County shows that he had made use of 50 tons of clay, 80 cords of wood and 18 sacks of salt (for glazing). He employed three men and no boys, ran one kiln and three wheels and paid $300 in wages and $500 in other expenses to produce "stoneware of all kinds".

Only six marked examples of Schermerhorn's work are known, but other examples can be identified by thick walls, even glazing and ovoid forms with handles. Decorations include unique brushed cobalt blue blossoms or circular peach-shaped blooms. Most likely, early Richmond potters were associated with Schermerhorn at his Rocketts Location and at his potteries in southern Henrico County. The 1820 Census of Manufacturers, Henrico County, lists Thomas Amos, stoneware manufactory; Samuel Frayser, stoneware manufactory; John P. Schermerhorn, stoneware of all kinds; and Samuel Wilson, stoneware of all kinds.


  1. The obelisk pictured is in memoriam to Schermerhorn's mother and father in law and his wife's, Mary Shields Parkinson's parents---James Parkinson and Mary Polly Shields. James Parkinson's home was at 501 North 27th St. @ Clay St., Richmond Va Built 1819--on Natl. Historic Reg.

  2. I have been exploring a creek close to where several of the old Henrico County potteries were located (Schermerhorn's too, I think). I have found a number of pottery shards (most salt-glazed stoneware) and one nice partial small ovoid pot or crock. Only one piece has some cobalt blue glaze. Was wondering if any of these potters shipped their goods by river to Richmond by boat or if the route was typically New Market Road. Also wondered if potters chunked their broken stuff into the waterways.

  3. Do you know more names of those buried besides John P. Schermerhorn?
    Here is what I got from the stones:

    "SALLIE B.
    Beloved wife of
    Died Dec. 9, 1903.
    Sweetly sleeping in
    God's care."

    He was a true
    confederate soldier
    Died Jan. 4 1895"

    "W.H. AUSTIN
    June 10, 1851
    March 2, 1914

    Could you help fill in the information on the obelisk? It is very hard to read and my attempts to make a rubbing were not very successful:

    in memory of
    Mr. Parkinson
    and Mary his
    wife who departed
    this life [??????]
    The [????] 1838
    [??] years the [???]
    the [20th?] Feb. 18[49?]
    aged 63 years
    Her Record [is?]
    on High"

    thanks- oliver

  4. Monroe-
    It is good to hear about your finds. Schermerhorn was operating (as far as we now know) at 24th and Main in Richmond under DuVal (to 1817), at Port Mayo near Rocketts (1817 or before to ca.1837?) and at Montezuma (ca.1837-1850 or before). It is possible he was involved in other potteries yet to be located. I don't think he was involved with the group working near Newmarket Road/Rte. 5.

    It is entirely possible that kiln wasters were dumped in the water though common sense would seem to dictate keeping the creeks free of debris to make boating easier. Perhaps wasters found in the creeks have been redeposited in floods, etc?

    The Henrico potters shipped by way of the James River and Kannawha Canal as well as the railroad, roads and natural waterways. At New Market, the creeks (which appear to have been dredged and partly canalized) were probably a big part of moving the ware. Surviving Richmond/Henrico pots turn up most often in the Blue Ridge (the canal later reached to Buchanan) and North Carolina.

  5. Contact me at

    I have a list of 11-12 people buried there plus the two marked graves. I am hoping the developer has set aside the original metes and bounds of the easement for the cemetery. One of those buried there is an historical figure lost to time

  6. Oliver,

    Congratulations on the discovery of one of Schermerhorn's pottery sites! He is one of my favorite Virginia potters and indeed the canal records and distribution of his wares from early estates along the James supports the fact that many of his wares were shipped via the canal into central VA. I would love to see the shards you have uncovered and would be happy for you to see some extant examples in my collection if you are interested. Rob and I have completed, for the most part, an article on the "James River Basin Potters" which introduces basic documentary information about them and illustrates a variety of highly diverse extant wares attributed to them. Sorting out who made what has been and I suspect will continue to be a challenge for some time. I would be interested in knowing of any shards exhibiting dates, incised names or incised decorative treatments. We have identified less than a dozen jars with incised names of landowners in the New Market area.

    I hope we can touch base soon...
    Best regards,

    Kurt Russ

  7. I recently found this page and I am very excited to be able to follow the continuing studies and developing history of local potters. I have been an avid collector of stoneware for several years and am always eager for information on these past artisans. I never tire in observing the legacy they provided. Thank you to the tireless people involved in that effort.

  8. I recently read the sequence in Rob Hunter's book "Ceramics in America" 2005, on page 47, pertaining to handle styles used in production at the DuVal pottery. I have a one gallon "pot" acquired in the city of Richmond,that has all the attributes of DuVal and the handle style and decoration of the jar in figure 22. It has the similar cordations as the one in previous fig. 19. The handles are decorated in the manner of edging them and the only other decoration is a hand script "1" on both front and back. The decoration color is not blue but a dark brownish hue. The base serrations are the distinct deeper types seen in fig. 12 on pg. 44. It also displays the New york style of shape with a high,straight collar where the cordations appear. Should anyone out there be able to,or wish to offer some valuable insight,please feel free to contact me. I am in the Richmond area.

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