Antique 19th Century Miller Pottery Stoneware Five Gallon Crock
An antique Miller Pottery five gallon crock | The crock was made in Perry County, Alabama by the Miller family, Alabama’s oldest pottery manufacturer | This ceramic crock features a brown and ecru glaze | The crock is also stamped with a blue clover framing a faded number “5″ | Good condition with wear consistent with age
An antique Miller Pottery five gallon crock manufactured in the 19th Century | The crock was made by the Miller Family in Perry County, Alabama | Today the Miller Pottery Company is now based in Brent, Alabama (Bibb County) | Miller family Pottery is Alabama’s oldest pottery manufacturer | This ceramic crock features a brown and ecru glaze | The crock is also stamped with a blue clover framing a faded number “5″ | Good condition with wear consistent with age | Measures 11.0″ W x 17.0″ H x 11.0″ D
Miller Pottery is marked with a blue clover, indicating the jug was made by Miller Pottery in Alabama. Miller Pottery has a fascinating story. In the early 1800’s, a French potter named Francis LaCoste emigrated to America. He first settled in Charleston, SC, because his ship wrecked in Charleston Harbor! Good fortune for him, because he met and married a Charleston lady named Alice Harris. Searching for clay that would allow him to produce pottery like he had made in France, Francis and Alice went to Mobile and found the perfect clay in the nearby settlement of Montrose. There they built a house and established their pottery works. During the Civil War, Union soldiers set up camp on the LaCoste property, and among the soldiers in that camp was a young man from Lancaster, PA named Abraham Miller. Eventually he met Frances LaCoste Lavendar, presumably one of Francis and Alice’s daughters, whose husband had gone off to fight the Yankees and never returned.
After the war, Abraham stayed in Montrose, learned the art of pottery making from Francis LaCoste, and fell in love with the young widow Frances LaCoste Lavendar. They were married and set out by covered wagon, accompanied by Frances’ little son Phillip Lavendar, to find a place of their own where they could establish a home and where Abraham could practice his newly-learned trade. In 1881, they settled in Perry County, AL, and started their “jug factory.” They made jugs and churns by hand, and their pottery was utilitarian as well as decorative. Households needed wares for churning milk, processing pickles, and making sauerkraut and wine, but more than a few gallons of homebrew and moonshine were corked in a Miller jug! In addition to working in his “jug factory,” Abraham became postmaster at the small relay station of Adler and also ran the adjoining small country store. Abraham and Frances had five children, and I even found a marvelous old family picture on an Alabama genealogical web site! Click here to see it.
Having produced pottery for over 150 years, the Millers are Alabama’s oldest pottery family and still in business today. Their pottery has been shown at the Smithsonian Institute and numerous gallery exhibits. Miller pieces are famous for their cobalt blue decoration, and when asked why, fifth-generation potter Eric Miller was recently quoted as saying, “It’s a family tradition. My great-grandfather put a blue clover on the pottery as his mark.”
*Article from the Encyclopedia of Alabama by Joey Brackner, Alabama Center for Traditional Culture
Miller’s Pottery, located in Brent, Bibb County, is one of the few remaining traditional potteries in the United States. The pots themselves are made from the Alabama clay of Perry County, and the Miller family’s 150-year history of pottery making incorporates traditions brought from Europe and cultivated in the American South. In recent years, the Millers have added a national clientele of folk art collectors to their long-standing market of local residents and regional hardware stores.
Pottery making had a long tradition in the region. Indeed southeastern Native American tribes had been making pottery for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans. They traditionally made their earthenware pots by coiling or molding clay, and they generally did not use glazes. The earliest European settlers in the region generally produced pots with a smooth, glossy lead-glazed finish. In the Mobile Bay area during the eighteenth century, however, new European immigrants brought more advanced pottery technology, including the use of the wheel and new glaze techniques, that quickly supplanted the earlier traditions. By the 1840s, potters on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay had begun producing high-fired stoneware with a matte-finish salt glaze, which gave the pots an appearance and texture similar to the skin of an orange. This type of glaze was probably introduced into the area by French immigrant potters, including Francis LaCoste, who first appeared near the present-day community of Montrose in the 1850 U.S. Census for Baldwin County.
In approximately 1870, Abraham Miller, a former Union soldier from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, came to work for the LaCoste family, married LaCoste’s daughter Frances, and learned the pottery trade. Miller soon moved his new family north to Perry County, in central Alabama, to work in the potteries near Sprott. He later founded his own pottery, where Miller and his sons produced glazed stoneware jugs, churns, and other utilitarian items needed by his rural customers. In the early twentieth century, Abraham’s son William took charge of the business, aided by his sons, Hendon and Norman. They became part of a vibrant pottery-making community that also included potteries run by the Ham, Hughey, and Smith families. In the early 1930s, Hendon and Norman took charge of the family pottery and worked in partnership until about 1957, when they closed up shop to start individual businesses. In 1964, Hendon Miller moved to the town of Brent in southern Bibb County and opened a shop on Highway 5. He chose the site for its nearby natural gas line and fitted his shop with a gas-fired kiln, thus eliminating the need to fire with wood. Hendon Miller specialized in terracotta planters and other garden ornaments but also continued to produce a few glazed pieces. Older cousins Kenneth Miller and Sherman Hughey helped out at the pottery, as well.
Norman opened the Norman Miller Pottery in Sprott, where he produced table wares, utilitarian forms such as churns, and flower pots. He closed his shop in the late 1970s. Hendon Miller died in 1983, and his son Eric took charge of the Highway 5 shop, which he continues to run today. He and his son Steve still collect clay from the same Perry County site that his forefathers visited. The Millers, and their partner, cousin Allen Ham, have re-introduced glazed stoneware to the shop’s repertoire. The family’s notoriety and the timeless utility of the pots continue to attract customers and collectors.
Brackner, Joey. Alabama Folk Pottery. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.
———. “Made of Alabama: Alabama Folk Pottery and Its Creators.” In E. Bryding Adams, ed., Made in Alabama: A State Legacy. Birmingham: Birmingham Museum of Art, 1995.
———. “Traditional Pottery of Mobile Bay.” Alabama Heritage, Tuscaloosa, Ala., (Winter 1988), No. 7, pp 30-41.
Mack, Charles R. Talking with the Turners: Conversations with Southern Folk Potters. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
Shores, Max. Miller’s Pottery: Turning for Generations. 30 minute television program. Center for Public Television and Radio, University of Alabama, 1997.
Sweezy, Nancy. Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984
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Ceramics, Pottery & Crystal, Collectibles, Ephemera, Folk Art, Memorabilia, Sculptures
American Civil War, Historical, Pottery