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The North Yarmouth, Maine,

Pottery Industry, 1791-1890
by Justin W. Thomas

he late 18th- and 19th-century red earthenware inscribed the base of the bowl, “North Yarmouth /
industry of North Yarmouth, Maine, in an area October 15, 1836 / John Thomas / Aged 82.”
that became known as Yarmouth after 1849, is The Thomas pottery was operated by John and his
an aspect of Maine’s utilitarian pottery production that two sons, William and Samuel Thomas, and for many
is somewhat forgotten today. From about 1791 to 1890 years after by Joel Brooks. But the pottery was torn
this was arguably Maine’s largest production center, down in 1848, soon after the death of William.
located about 12 miles north of Portland, all while The main names involved with the North Yarmouth
employing five multigenerational family businesses. industry were Brooks, Cleaves, Corliss, Foster, and
The famed Maine potter John Corliss (1799-1892) Thomas, some of whom were also farmers, merchants, Andy’s Handy Store in Yarmouth, Maine, circa 1950.
even trained at the North Yarmouth company owned and sea captains, supplementing their yearly income. It Photo courtesy Yarmouth Historical Society.
by his uncle Ebenezer Corliss (1764-1853) before John is almost certain, however, that there were other potters
Corliss established his own pottery about 1824 in Days who trained at these businesses in the 1800s, such generally practiced in New England before 1800 by
Ferry, Woolwich, Maine. as George Bruce and John Kendrick, similar to how applying a liquid white or kaolin clay to the body of the
The potters dug much of their clay from an area in John Corliss learned the potter’s craft from his “Uncle clay, resulting in a yellow color after it was fired.
Yarmouth known as Brickyard Hollow, which not only Eben.” As in many of the pottery industries in New However, the slip found in North Yarmouth was not
supported the clay needs of the local potters but was England, traveling potters were also likely employed produced in the same manner as the slip often applied
also used as a source by the local brick makers. in some capacity. by the early New England potters, nor in places where
The majority of the red earthenware industry was According to information published in October 1881 it was popular in the 1800s, such as Connecticut, New
located at a small section in North Yarmouth known in Old Times in North Yarmouth, Maine, Ebenezer York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Instead, it was
as Yarmouth Corner or Village Corner, which can be Corliss ran the most extensive manufactory of generally applied for subtle decorations, often on top
found today at the intersection of East and West Elm earthenware in town. “It was carried on about 1806, by of a more colorful glaze—the slip was usually used
Street and Main Street. Multiple potters operated at Ebenezer Corliss and George Bruce. It was, at the date in sparing amounts, which would have likely been
this location in the 1800s. Archaeologists in Maine of this article, in the hands of David Cleaves and his son, applied with some type of apparatus. The sherds have
excavated some of this locale in the 20th century, when Robert C. Cleaves. A very large amount of ware was also shown that the North Yarmouth potters appear to
it was developed, uncovering artifacts related to some made here every summer, and in the fall and winter it have occasionally decorated an object entirely in slip,
of these businesses. was ‘burned’ in the large kiln above the pottery. ‘Uncle but how often this happened is unknown.
David’s’ shop was always a favorite resort for the boys, The whereabouts of the source used to create the slip
although he at times made it very is also unknown, but it may have
lively for them with the stout hoop been harvested locally or imported
used by the potters for carrying their Wares were shipped into Portland. We know that some
ware from the wheel to the drying-
board.... The boys used to be paid one
up and down the slip was also applied at the Dodge
family pottery in Portland about the
cent to sit upon the sweep of the clay- coast of Maine and same period.
mill and keep the horse going while peddled throughout Archaeology has proven that the
the clay was being ground, which took North Yarmouth potters produced
about an hour. Pieces of well-ground the countryside by a vibrant green glaze, similar to the
clay were in active demand among horse-drawn wagons. exciting green glazes manufactured
the little urchins on account of its in places such as Portland and in
adaptability as a missile when flung Bristol County in southeastern
from the end of a switch. The clay for the potteries was Massachusetts. This type of green glaze is largely
This circa 1910 photograph of a bottle-style kiln and
the remains of the Brooks pottery in North Yarmouth,
obtained near where Masonic Hall now stands. During known today through archaeological findings and some
Maine, shows the potter’s wheel leaning up against the the burning of the ware, it being necessary to keep up jars that exist.
brick kiln while the kiln is surrounded by kiln waste. the fire several days and nights, it was the custom for The most successful pottery in North Yarmouth in the
Photo courtesy Yarmouth Historical Society. the young men to collect there every night and play 1820s was operated by the Cleaves family but owned
‘old sledge,’ ‘raffle’ for turkeys or ‘hustle’ for coppers. by Ebenezer Corliss. There was a lot of crossover that
In a prominent private Maine collection is known When the ware was ready for market, it was shipped happened between the businesses. It has been reported
to exist a group of John Corliss letters that evidently along the coast in small vessels, sometimes as far as that the wares were made by the Cleaves family in the
represent the many friendships and connections that Eastport, or peddled through the country in wagons or warmer months and fired in the kiln during the fall
Corliss developed while he trained at this industry. ‘pungs.’ Back of the pottery was an excellent, never- and winter. Wares were shipped up and down the coast
North Yarmouth potter William Henry Foster (1823- failing well for water, which was used by many of the of Maine and peddled throughout the countryside by
1879) wrote to Corliss on June 25, 1866: “Brother neighbors.” horse-drawn wagons.
Corliss, The fields are green, the trees are green, Aside from the expected colorful glazes that Maine According to Massachusetts author Lura Woodside
everything is green. Many months you promise to potters are known for today, as well as black and Watkins (1887-1982) in her book Early New England
come here and fresh in my memory, which you made brown glazes found in this industry, red earthenware Potters and Their Wares, “A third redware shop was
me when I saw you last, and I shall take no excuse for sherds owned by the Yarmouth Historical Society built in North Yarmouth about 1840 by Nathaniel Foster
you can come if you choose. Do take the time and make and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in [1781-1853/54] on what was then Gooch’s Lane—later
us a visit. One more visit to the scenes of your youthful Augusta, Maine, reveal that the North Yarmouth potters the northerly corner of Main and Elm Streets. Foster
days. We will all try to make your visit agreeable. periodically applied slip decoration. This is a process is known to have been in the earthenware business as
Mother says she would be glad to have you home and early as 1831. He may have come from Exeter, New
see her. Give my love to all. Good-bye till we have you Hampshire, as he had married Rebecca Swasey of
here in our midst.” that town. His sons, Benjamin and William, were his
The North Yarmouth Industry assistants. After his death in 1854 they ran the pottery....
The North Yarmouth industry was established In the late period this pottery turned out a great many
about 1791 by John Thomas (1754-1843), a native of flowerpots, which they sold to Kendall & Whitney of
Gloucester, Massachusetts, who must have influenced Portland.”
the early part of this industry with his Essex County, Handwritten notes acquired from Benjamin Foster,
Massachusetts, potter’s background. once in the possession of Massachusetts collector and
This appears to be the same John Thomas who writer Margaret Jewell and now owned by Historic New
previously had worked at the pottery company of Daniel England, indicate that the Fosters sold their wares by
Bayley (1729-1792) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in boat to Down East Maine each spring. They reportedly
the 1770s and 1780s. Before that, in the 1760s, he was sold pottery in Freeport, Brunswick, Windham, and
apparently employed at the Providence, Rhode Island, Gray and undoubtedly locations elsewhere in Maine as
pottery of Joseph Wilson (b. circa 1735), whose career well. North Yarmouth pottery has also been recovered
also began in Essex County. in archaeological contexts in the Portland area, as well
Historically, the Thomas pottery was one of Maine’s as in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
earliest potteries, having been established in the 18th At left is a China glaze tea bowl recovered in Yarmouth, The Foster notes indicate that one of their specialties
century. The Yarmouth Historical Society owns an Maine. At right is the base of a locally made red earthen- was a small bean pot called a “Quaker,” produced with
important example of 19th-century production by ware tea bowl that seems to be imitating the China glaze rather straight sides and glazed only partway down on
Thomas in the form of a bowl with a wide rim and example. Photo courtesy Maine Historic Preservation the exterior. This type of exterior glaze is also known
decorated with an orange glaze on the interior. Thomas Commission. on other forms today, such as jars and jugs.
122 Maine Antique Digest, November 2019

At left are 19th-century red earthenware sherds recovered in North Yarmouth,

Maine. The green glaze is reminiscent of the green glazes produced in places such as
Portland, Maine, and southeastern Massachusetts. Slip decoration was also applied
in North Yarmouth. At right are remains of a slip-decorated jug recovered in Yar-
mouth. Photos courtesy Yarmouth Historical Society and Maine Historic Preservation
Nineteenth-century red earth- Commission.
enware vase that was likely
made in North Yarmouth. The
crimped rim and twisted han-
dles are unusual for Maine
Chris Havey with a huge black-glazed jug that he potters. It also retains an old
recovered in Yarmouth, Maine, in the 1990s. The jug is note that reads “Flower vase
believed to be locally made, but it also demonstrates an / Found by Mrs. Cummings
Essex County, Massachusetts, influence in form. At top and Mrs. Richs in Livermore
right is another view of the jug. Inset photo courtesy Falls, Maine. Bought August
Maine Historic Preservation Commission. 22, 1927.”

Remains of two locally made chamber pots recovered in Yarmouth, Maine.

Photos courtesy Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

But while a lot of pottery was clearly manufactured in North Yarmouth,

much of it had to have been intended for distribution elsewhere, utilizing
the Royal River, which is near the center of town and leads to the Atlantic
Ocean. Portland must have been a major market, given the close proximity
of North Yarmouth. In fact, this is how some of the larger industries in
Massachusetts operated in the 18th and 19th centuries, being located just
outside of their major market, in places such as Boston, Newburyport, New
Bedford, Plymouth, and Salem.
Located at the site of the Foster family pottery today is a pizza shop.
Previously the site was occupied by Andy’s Handy Store, a well-known
general store. For years, hanging on a beam inside Andy’s Handy Store
was an old note that read “As far as we can tell from the notes made, the
Nineteenth-century red earthenware jug Nineteenth-century red earthenware jug history of the building goes something like this. The building, which has
attributed to the Foster pottery in North with some slip decoration that was recovered always leaned a little against the wind, is well over 100 years old. Almost
Yarmouth, Maine, 1840-78. The base has been from an attic in Cumberland, Maine. The everything of a commercial nature has gone on under its roof or right next
intentionally glazed. Photos courtesy jug is attributed to North Yarmouth. The door where the newer construction is located. When Ansel Loring returned
Yarmouth Historical Society. sherds are from a bowl with a slip-decorated from the ’49 gold rush he set up a flour mill down by the river. The barrels
interior. The bowl was recovered from an in which he put his flour were hoppered on this corner. After this a pottery
1815-20 privy in Yarmouth, Maine. The jug works was established and when Andy dug his foundation he found bits of
and bowl certainly appear to be related to pottery and an old kiln.”
the same business. Photo courtesy Chris Aside from the pottery and kiln remains, two glazing millstones were also
Havey. recovered, one of which is privately owned in Yarmouth today, while the
other rests in a flower garden near the front door of the Yarmouth Historical
The Yarmouth Historical Society also owns a rare example of red
earthenware that is attributed to the Foster pottery. This jug was manufactured
with an intentionally glazed base, which to my knowledge is a characteristic
that has not been associated with Maine’s pottery industry before, outside
of flowerpots. I have found that the Foster family pottery did glaze bases;
however, it is not known today how often this characteristic was used.
Also in the collection of the Yarmouth Historical Society is a circa 1910
black-and-white photograph of the Brooks family pottery, which reveals a
19th-century bottle-style kiln. The kiln is quite large, demonstrating how
much this industry actually produced in the 19th century. Resting up against
Nineteenth-century red earthenware bowl the brick wall of the kiln is a potter’s wheel, and the kiln is surrounded by
made by John Thomas in North Yarmouth, what appears to be kiln waste, such as kiln furniture and broken sherds. The
Maine. The base is inscribed “North Yarmouth site of this pottery was later worked on by archaeologist Norman Buttrick,
/ October 15, 1836 / John Thomas / Aged 82.” along with seven students from Yarmouth High School, recovering artifacts
Photos courtesy Yarmouth Historical Society. like those described.
Nineteenth-century red earth- A brief summary of the old Brooks pottery kiln was published in the
enware jar with a wonderful Brick and Clay Record on August 15, 1912, which said of it: “a landmark at
glaze, likely made in North Yarmouth, Me., and which was one of the few remaining relics of the old-
Yarmouth, Maine. The form of time potteries in the state, was recently torn down.”
the jar matches some archae- The Brooks family pottery was established by Joel Brooks sometime
ology. Photo courtesy David around 1827. This information was published in The Early Potters and
McLean. Potteries of Maine (1978) by M. Lelyn Branin: “Joel Smith Brooks (1799-
1874) was born in 1799 in what is now the State of Maine. He married Susan
Soule of North Yarmouth, who was a few years older than her husband, and
they had five daughters and two sons, one of whom, John Edward Brooks
From left to right: pitcher, han- (b. 1831), became a potter and eventually succeeded to the business. Their
dle, and porringer, all recov- other son, George W. Brooks, became a blacksmith and went to California.”
ered in Yarmouth, Maine, and Notable forms manufactured at the Brooks pottery include molded clay
attributed to the local industry. pipes, a style of production probably made only at this pottery in North
Photo courtesy Maine Historic Yarmouth. The whereabouts of the machine used in this process is known
Preservation Commission.

Maine Antique Digest, November 2019 123
today and was published in Branin’s 1978 book The Early Potters and Nineteenth-century
Potteries of Maine, which also coincided with an exhibit at the Maine black-glazed bowls of
State Museum, A Tradition in Clay, featuring 275 pieces of Maine-made various sizes, including
a large punch bowl
pottery. recovered in Yarmouth,
A jug attributed to North Yarmouth and inscribed on the base with the Maine. At bottom left
initials “HPB” and the words “Wine Jug” may be an example of pottery are some of the bowls
by Brooks. It is in the Watkins Collection at the National Museum of that were manufactured
American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. with large round-footed
Other forms of pottery the North Yarmouth potters can be associated bases. Photos courtesy
with consist of mugs, porringers, crocks, pots, pans, flowerpots, vases, Chris Havey.
jugs, jars, inkwells, small bowls, chimney thimbles, banks or money
boxes, punch bowls, and pitchers. The glazes range from vibrant colors
to darker glazes, but there were also many utilitarian objects produced
with only an interior glaze. A few other notable characteristics are forms
made with no foot at the base and decorative incised lines applied on the
exterior of various objects. The potters also used inscribed numbers on
bases; the numbers either matched an object to a lid or may have been
used to match specific objects to a client’s order.
Milk pans also appear to have been a major export for this industry,
especially after the American Civil War, when a number of Maine’s
farmers focused on widespread commercial dairy production.
Domestic black-glazed teapot sherds have also been recovered in
Yarmouth, but there is currently no evidence to link these artifacts to
the potters in North Yarmouth. The production style of these teapots
is similar to styles that were produced at the Thomas Crafts (1781-
1861) pottery in Whately, Massachusetts, from about 1821 to 1833.
The Whately teapots are known to have traveled, with possible
examples found in Philadelphia; New York City; Salem, Massachusetts;
Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and even Berwick, Maine.
But who’s to say that teapots were not made in North Yarmouth?
While I do not have proof of it, these sherds as well as the coggle
decoration found on them do resemble a black-glazed punch pot with
no known attribution that I acquired years ago from an old house in
Nashua, New Hampshire.
A highly unusual red earthenware vase is also known that was likely
made in North Yarmouth. It is decorated with two twisted handles and a
crimped rim, which are both rare characteristics to find from any Maine
potter today. The vase retained an old note that reads “Flower vase /
Found by Mrs. Cummings and Mrs. Richs in Livermore Falls, Maine. Nineteenth-century red earthenware jar with subtle slip
Bought August 22, 1927.” decoration, possibly made in North Yarmouth, Maine. At
bottom left is a similar, possibly related example without Published by Lura Woodside Watkins
Local Archaeology in Early New England Potters and
In the 1990s Chris Havey, a Gorham, Maine, historian, preservationist, slip from the William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of
American Redware and Ceramics at Historic Deerfield. Their Wares as having been made in
and native of Yarmouth, recovered from potters’ sites, crawl spaces, and North Yarmouth, this red earthen-
Photos courtesy private Massachusetts collection and
privies in Yarmouth a number of red earthenware artifacts that were Historic Deerfield. ware jug is inscribed with the initials
made by the potters in North Yarmouth. A lot of these artifacts have “HPB” and the words “Wine Jug”
since been donated to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission; on the base. Photo courtesy National
among the most fascinating is a red earthenware bowl that was Museum of American History at the
recovered from a privy in what Donald Carpentier (1951-2014) from Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
Historic Eastfield Village in East Nassau, New York, described as an D.C.
1815-20 archaeological context.
The remains of this bowl are incredible since it is entirely slip
decorated on the interior. The style of the slip is very similar to that of a
type of bowl that was manufactured in Philadelphia in the late 18th and
early 19th centuries. However, this bowl does not appear to have been
Green-glazed flowerpot recovered in
manufactured in southeastern Pennsylvania. The bowl’s exterior brown Yarmouth, Maine. The green glaze is
glaze matches a brown-glazed jug that was recovered from an attic in similar to wares made in Portland,
Cumberland, Maine, a neighboring town to Yarmouth. The jug is also Maine, and southeastern Massachusetts.
unintentionally decorated with slip. It appears that both of these objects Photos courtesy Chris Havey.
are related, whereas the jug is believed to have been made in the North
Yarmouth potters industry in the early 19th century.
Havey also recovered the remains of a flowerpot on the property of the as folk art, serving as proof of the skill that Sources
first minister of the Old Baptist Meeting House in North Yarmouth, the these potters possessed. This talent was Branin, M. Lelyn. The Early Potters and
Reverend Thomas Green (1761-1814), who had come from Worcester, also indicative of the skill found with red Potteries of Maine. Augusta, ME: Maine State
Massachusetts. The pot seems to have been a small presentation piece, earthenware produced all over Maine in the Museum, 1978: 88-98.
since it was inscribed. Only part of the inscription remains, “e by.” 1800s. But in some ways the industry in North
Another interesting characteristic found in the archaeology is the fact Yarmouth was unusual for Maine, considering Brick and Clay Record, Volume XLI, No. 4,
that at least one of the local potters used a Sandwich glass drawer pull that much of the red earthenware produced in August 15, 1912.
from a piece of furniture and applied it as a decorative stamp on some the state was done by country farmers operating Jewell, Margaret. “The Potteries of
type of whimsical object, possibly for a child. by themselves or with few employees in remote Yarmouth,”Old Time New England, April
Bowls of various sizes have also been found glazed with vibrant areas. 1932.
colors, as well as black and brown. Perhaps the most exciting of these The North Yarmouth industry is a major
bowls is an early 19th-century punch bowl, which must have originally part of the history of Maine; the wares Old Times in North Yarmouth, Volume 5, No.
measured about 10" to 11" in diameter, decorated entirely on the interior manufactured by these potters were not limited 4, October 1881: 759.
and exterior with a black glaze. to local consumption. They were instead Old Times in North Yarmouth, Volume 8, No.
Some of the forms recovered by Havey reveal large round-footed necessities utilized in households up and down 1, January 1, 1884: 1132.
bases, which are reminiscent to footed bases that were also produced the coast, all while contributing to the success
throughout coastal Massachusetts in the 18th and 19th centuries. This of the state’s dairy industry. These potters Portland (Maine) Advertiser, February 28,
is likely proof of the Massachusetts influence found with some of the helped maintain the local economy, and they 1843.
production in North Yarmouth. But there are forms also found in North also contributed to the financial and everyday Thomas, Justin W. “The Dodges and Their
Yarmouth that are similar to styles made elsewhere in Maine, clearly success of people living all over Maine. Potteries,” Maine Antique Digest, February
indicating that there was a lot happening within this industry. 2018: 25-D.
The Contributions of the North Yarmouth Potters I would like to recognize and thank Chris
The North Yarmouth pottery industry is an enterprise that deserves Havey for all the effort he has given through Watkins, Lura Woodside. Early New England
much more attention today. There is no doubt that many objects from the years in preserving the artifacts and history Potters and Their Wares. Cambridge, Mass.:
this industry survive, although some of these objects are probably from North Yarmouth’s pottery industry. Harvard University Press, 1950: 157-159.
misinterpreted for another potter’s production or another location today. Without his efforts, much of this history would
Overall, the glazes from this industry can be beautiful, with be lost today.
accomplished and creative forms, some of which may even be viewed
124 Maine Antique Digest, November 2019
Shown at bottom left are
remains of a teapot recov-
ered in Yarmouth, Maine. It
is similar to teapots made at
the Thomas Crafts pottery
in Whately, Massachu-
setts, 1821-33. But it is also
similar to a punch pot with
no known attribution that I
acquired years ago from an
old house in Nashua, New
Hampshire. Inset photo
courtesy Chris Havey.

At left is a beautifully glazed bowl recovered in Yarmouth,

Maine. At right are remains of a great glazed jug, pot, or pitcher
recovered in Yarmouth, Maine. Photo courtesy Chris Havey.

Shown are two lids, the

remains of a flowerpot with
a partial inscription, “e
by,” some type of whimsi-
cal object impressed with
a Sandwich glass drawer
pull, and a small pot, all
recovered in Yarmouth.
Photo courtesy Maine
Historic Preservation

At left is a 19th-century red earthenware chimney thimble

Nineteenth-century red recovered in Yarmouth, Maine. At right is a 19th-century
earthenware jars attributed flowerpot recovered in Westbrook, Maine, but possibly made in
to North Yarmouth, Maine. Yarmouth, and manufactured with a very similar incised deco-
Both jars have been ration on the exterior. Photo courtesy Chris Havey.
inscribed with a number on
the base. The numbers were
likely used to match the jar
to a lid. The exterior glaze
that does not reach the base
and the lack of a footed base
are characteristics found in
North Yarmouth pottery.

Pottery glazing
millstone from North
Yarmouth recovered
during construction for
Andy’s Handy Store in Various pieces of kiln furniture and a kiln brick recovered in
Yarmouth in the 20th Yarmouth, Maine. The burned mark of a trivet is also found on
century. Photo courtesy the base of a locally made bowl. Photo courtesy Maine Historic
Yarmouth Historical Preservation Commission.

This jug with a long history of family ownership in Yarmouth,

Maine, was likely manufactured in North Yarmouth in the 1800s.
It was recently discovered by Thomaston, Maine, antiques dealer
Ross Levett. Shown at bottom left are remains of a jug recovered
near Yarmouth, possibly made in North Yarmouth.

Maine Antique Digest, November 2019 125