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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