Some New Info on Peter Cross, Potter of Hartford, CT

P. CROSS / HARTFORD stoneware jug with incised ship design, to be sold in our July 11, 2009 auction.
P. CROSS / HARTFORD stoneware jug with incised ship design, to be sold in our July 11, 2009 auction.

We were all excited to receive the P. CROSS / HARTFORD incised ship jug–a rare example of stoneware that combines a scarce, desirable maker’s mark with a well-rendered, unusual decoration–for our July 11, 2009 auction. The consignment of this piece got me interested in this fairly mysterious potter, and I took an excursion into some early Hartford, Connecticut, newspapers to see if I could dig up anything new on him.

The best reference I have been able to find on Peter Cross is Lura Woodside Watkins’ 1950 book, Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Watkins’ brief biography of Cross’ career is written as follows:

In the 1790’s, … John Souter, an Englishman, made his appearance in Hartford. He is said to have built an earthenware shop on the northeast corner of Potter and Front Streets. In 1805 he sold it to Peter Cross, a stoneware manufacturer. The name Cross does not occur in the land records, and I believe he was not a native of Hartford. Although he made some excellent stoneware, he was not altogether successful. After a few years he sold his first building to Horace Goodwin and Mack C. Webster and moved to 38 Front Street; but this, too, he abandoned at some time before 1818. Cross’s business was taken over by two retired sea captains, George Benton and Levi Stewart, who lived on either side of the pottery. They found a manager in Daniel Goodale, Jr. (Watkins, 194)

All of these stoneware makers’ names still exist as impressions on pieces of pottery. Jugs and jars marked “GOODWIN & WEBSTER / HARTFORD,” “D. GOODALE / HARTFORD”, and variations thereof regularly come up for sale, and while more difficult to find, “G. BENTON & L. STEWART” pieces do, as well.

According to Watkins, Cross began his career as a pottery owner in Hartford in 1805. While that may be true, he probably was not marking his pieces “P. CROSS” until the following year. In searching Hartford newspapers of the time period, I discovered two interesting ads relevant to Peter Cross’ career. The first appears in the March 27, 1806  issue of the American Mercury:

Dissolution of Copartnership.
THE connection in business subsisting between the Subscribers, under the firm of CROSS & SMITH, was dissolved by mutual consent, on the first day of January last–All persons having any demands against said firm, are requested to exhibit their claims immediately to the Suscribers.

N.B. The business in future of making and vending Stone Ware, will be carried on by said Cross–where all kinds of articles in the Stone Ware line, will be for Sale, on the lowest terms, at his Factory, in Front-street, 40 rods south of the market, in this city.

An apprentice to the above business will meet with good encouragement by applying to said CROSS immediately.

City of Hartford, 27th March.

1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.
1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.

The partnership of Cross & Smith is a previously unknown one, and no pieces, to my knowledge, exist with its mark. Samuel W. Smith, likewise, is a previously unknown potter, but it is likely that he is a relative of prolific Norwalk, CT potter Asa E. Smith, whose work exists today bearing many different maker’s marks.

We can confidently say, based on this advertisement, that pieces marked “P. CROSS / HARTFORD” were made, at the earliest, beginning on January 1, 1806. This first endeavor by Cross to own his own shop ended fairly quickly however. On November 17, 1808, the following ad ran in the American Mercury:

THE Public are respectfully informed, that the Subscribers, have lately taken the Stand, formerly occupied by Peter Cross, as a STONE WARE Factory, where they have constantly on hand, an Assortment of this article, at Wholesale and Retail, where Dealers, in the above article may be supplied, on as accomodating [sic] terms as at any other Factory.
Hartford, Nov. 17.

1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.
1808 ad announcing Goodwin & Webster's takeover of the former Peter Cross stoneware shop.
Watkins says that after selling his pottery to Goodwin & Webster, Cross took up a new business down the street and continued there until “some time before 1818.” As is often the case with the earlier works on American stoneware and redware, Early New England Potters and Their Wares contains no proper citations, so it can be very unclear where the author obtained her information–and, moreover, just what is incontrovertible fact and what is speculation, assumption, or second-hand knowledge. Watkins’ book is, nevertheless, a very good work on its subject and a lot of research clearly went into its writing. In order to verify that Cross did start again in his own firm, however, since no Hartford city directories exist for the years 1800-1824, a search of the city’s land records would have to be done.

At this time, then, the only firm, definite dates for pieces marked “P. CROSS / HARTFORD” are January 1, 1806 to about November 1, 1808. It seems very possible, given Watkins’ research, that Cross did use the mark after this period, and it is also possible, though unlikely, that he did so at some point before, as well. The rarity of pieces stamped by Cross makes me wonder, however, if his signed work was, in fact, limited to that 1806-8 time frame. The incised ship jug does seem to date to an early period such as this.

Hartford, Connecticut, was clearly a hotbed for stoneware production beginning around 1800. Many, many marks were used as various potters and pottery owners opened new shops, took over each other’s businesses, and struck new, and dissolved old, partnerships with one another. Cross’ status as the earliest Hartford stoneware potter to sign his work makes him significant, and his work is quite sought after. Hopefully more research on these prolific potters will better flesh out their lives and the dates of their many diverse maker’s marks.

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2 Replies to “Some New Info on Peter Cross, Potter of Hartford, CT”

  1. Re: 1790’s Elizabethtown New Jersey Potter Ichabod Halsey- Did he make my piece of stoneware and is he the same Ichabod Halsey who came from Elizabethtown to survey Lebanon Ohio in 1804?

    I am thrilled to find Crocker Farm has a blog. I would like to ask about a stoneware piece I convinced my better half to buy for my birthday. Bought from a local dealer friend who has had it around his place for 20 years without much customer notice (in preference of common Ohio art pottery) and he had not been able to discover the maker in all those years and gave up trying.

    It is of the early New England grey stoneware type. It is signed “Halsey” on the bottom, in the form of a vase or urn, in early ovoid form with double loop and ‘ruffled’ effect on the strap handles applied to both sides. Incised decoration of a waterfall or cliff on both sides with applied cream and cobalt slip ‘painted’ decoration -although it is hard to make out and could be something else entirely like a ship or shore bird.

    In searching for Halsey, pottery, stoneware, etc. I found Ricardo Halsey whose collaboration with William DeMorgan is documented if not that commonly known. Because of the primitivity I doubt Ricardo Halsey as the maker, but could be a one-off experiment with glazes during his affiliation with the Byrdcliff Art Colony of Woodstock NY.

    I recently found information about an early Elizabethtown New Jersey potter on the Potteries of Trenton Society .org website mentioning an Ichabod Halsey potter of 1790s Elizabethtown NJ. This pottery was discovered while looking in archives to document another potter whose kiln site and waster piles were dug in 1999. Using “Ichabod Halsey” as a search term I found genealogy links referring to an Ichabod Halsey who left Elizabethtown New Jersey to work as a surveyor laying out the new Lebanon Ohio township in 1804. That reference made no reference to him being a potter or if he stayed in Lebanon or just worked surveying it.

    I find it interesting to note that the famous collector and writer R.T.H Halsey is also from Elizabethtown New Jersey. Could RTH be an Ichabod descendant or heir to Ichabods’ stonewares that perhaps motivated his collection? With this in mind later tragedies and fortunes of RTH Halsey caused his collections to be sold off without documentation to people and places unknown. Also I note the famous inkwell in auction results with “Halsey” slip decorated with the Halsey decoration presumed to be made for another collector Dr. Seymour Halsey of New York, hence the “Halsey” name in slip. Could further research of this Ichabod Halsey change this attribution? How many of us have bought an antique because our name was on it?

    These references are all I have found other than a West Coast potter Tim Welch of ‘Off Halsey’ pottery who informed me ‘Halsey’ was never used as a mark. There is a Halsey Museum Charleston SC, but no response to asking about pottery with Halsey on it. I have found no other possibles yet and need help Iding.

    I am including the ‘Potteries of Trenton Society’ references to Ichabod Halsey quoted & paraphrased for brevity below:

    “Historical Background: A Brief Review of New Jersey’s Eighteenth-Century Ceramic History
    The origins of stoneware … in the Middle Atlantic…an awareness among colonists of outcrops of high-grade clays along the eastern seaboard… suitable for making dense, hard, durable and highly fired pottery. One major clay outcrop …known from the late 17th century on,…on the shores of the Raritan Bay, near present-day South Amboy, Middlesex County, New Jersey. As early as 1685-86, references in West Jersey court records indicate that sources of stoneware clay were known to early settlers. These clays, ….likely included what later became known as the “Morgan bank,” …supported the growth of American stoneware manufacture up and down the east coast for at least three centuries.

    At least nine stoneware manufactories are known to have been in existence in New Jersey during the 18th century. The earliest… was operated by John Peter Kemple and his family from the mid-1740s until around 1800 near the village of Ringoes in Hunterdon County. Excavations …by Brenda Springsted in the mid-1970s produced a variety of utilitarian forms and decorations. Slightly later in the mid-18th century, Captain James Morgan, a key figure in the history of New Jersey stoneware and owner of substantial clay-bearing acreage, opened a stoneware manufactory in Cheesequake…(and) trained the next generation of stoneware potters in the region, among whom were his son, General James Morgan and son-in-law Thomas Warne. Waste dumps associated with the Morgan pottery were extensively sampled in the mid-20th century by Robert Sim and James Brown. Excavations by Hunter Research in the mid-1990s located the lower portion of one of the Morgan’s stoneware kilns.

    In the 1770s at least three potteries were making stoneware in Trenton. In 1999, in advance of the reconstruction of N.J. Route 29 along the Delaware riverfront in South Trenton, Hunter Research located and excavated a stoneware kiln attributed to William Richards, which was in operation circa 1770-80. This site has provided a wealth of information about 18th-century stoneware kiln technology and the types of wares being produced. In 2003, re-examination of materials previously excavated from the backyard of the Eagle Tavern on South Broad Street resulted in the recognition of this as the probable site of a stoneware pottery operated by James Rhodes circa 1774-84. The site of the third of Trenton’s stoneware potteries, run by Bernard Hanlen (or Hanlon), is uncertain, but it is believed to have been along the Assunpink Creek in the Millham section of the city.

    Archival research pursued in connection with the study of William Richards’ pottery has led to the identification of two other late 18th-century stoneware manufactories in New Jersey: one operated in Barbadoes Neck (now Hackensack City) by Burnit Richards in the late 1780s, and the other in Elizabethtown by Ichabod Halsey in the 1790s.

    During the 19th century stoneware production in New Jersey was mainly centered on the clay mines in the South Amboy area. Well-known facilities include the Warne & Letts pottery in Cheesequake and Morgan-Van Wickle Pottery in Old Bridge. The production of grey-bodied salt-glazed stoneware declined in the second half of the 19th century…”

    I am commenting in this category hoping Crocker Farm researchers can shed more light on this potter and help me discover if my piece is 18th, 19th or 20th century and which Halsey made it. Because the Ichabod Halsey of 18th century Elizabethtown NJ has been forgotten and unknown until found by accident during archival research and no known examples are attributed- yet- this may take a while. Because of the embellishments and forms of the double-strap handles there are a lot of fingerprints to compare in addition to the inscribed signature.

    I’ll take some photos to send if you are interested in seeing it. It would be great to discover an example of an unknown 18th century potter, but the sober realist in me knows this is unlikely. However, every other lead is a dead-end in regards to 20th century potters and the only lead I have not tracked to completion is Ichabod Halsey of 18th century Elizabethtown. Any help- even concluding in a disappointing attribution in comparison to Ichabod is desired and appreciated.
    Best regards,
    Ann Moser

  2. Hi Ann, I emailed you directly, but yes, please feel free to send us a photo, and we will be happy to help. Below is the full catalog description of the Halsey inkwell we sold in November 2007. That it was a presentation piece made for Dr. Seymour Halsey of Sparta, NJ seems very evident. I also recently noted the existence of at least one potter in the area named Halsey. The indecipherable inscription on the bottom seems to say that the inkwell was not made by a potter named Halsey, but I do wonder if there was some familial connection between the doctor and the pottery that made it. Here’s the description: Very Rare Yellow-Glazed Redware Inkwell, Incised “S. Halsey” and “Sparta 1824,” New Jersey origin, circa 1824, wheel-thrown, cylindrical inkwell with spout at center and holes along the edge, covered in a bright yellow slip and clear lead glaze. Incised into the slip in a sgraffito style with the name “S. Halsey” and “Sparta 1824”. Incised on underside “B.T. Van? / Manufacturer / Sparta”. In 1997, a day book that had been recently discovered in a basement was donated to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey”s George Smith Library in Newark. The day book was kept by Dr. Seymour Halsey, a young, twenty-two -year-old doctor who, in 1824, opened his practice in Sparta, New Jersey. Halsey was born in 1802 in Monroe, Morris County, NJ and studied as an apprentice to a doctor in Morristown. He opened his Sparta practice in 1824 and left five years later, graduating from the New York College of Medicine in 1830. Halsey returned to New Jersey to practice in Newark for a few years, and eventually settled in Vicksburg, Mississippi. When the Mexican-American war broke out in 1846, Halsey served as a surgeon in the regiment of later President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis; when Davis suffered a foot wound in that conflict, it was Halsey who treated it. Dr. Halsey died in 1852 in Vicksburg. The day book in the possession of the UMDNJ George Smith Library was kept by Halsey from 1824, when he opened his practice, until 1827. This inkwell was likely used to write it, and was apparently made for the young doctor as he was just opening his practice to serve the town of Sparta. Outstanding color and desirable form. New Jersey redware of this quality and importance is rarely offered at auction or elsewhere. Some glaze wear to edge. One chip and some additional glaze wear to spout at center. H 2 3/4″ ; Diameter 4 1/4″.

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