Carolina Environmental Diversity Explorations

Clays of the Piedmont · By Dirk Frankenberg

Wedgwood pottery in a display case

Figure 9. This Wedgwood pottery was manufactured from North Carolina white clay. (Photograph by the author. More about the photograph)

Figure 9 shows an example of one of the well-documented cases in which the British colonial economic policy was applied in North Carolina. In 1767, the famous English pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood sent a representative to North Carolina to obtain a supply of unusual white clay from Macon County that the Cherokee owners of the deposit called “unaker.” We, and presumably Wedgwood as well, know the material as kaolin — the very pure white clay Wedgwood used to make the white designs on his famous blue pottery called Jasperware.

Eventually, five tons of the material was shipped back to England, where Wedgwood found it to be better than local Cornish clays. Although they tried several times to develop an effective import system to get this clay to England in large quantities, the logistics proved impossible, and the scheme was given up. Figure 9 shows an example of the type of pots made by Wedgwood, and tells the story of this failed attempt to follow the dictates of British colonial economic policy.


clay n.
A sedimentary material with grains smaller than 0.004 millimeters in diameter.
unaker n.
Clay (sometimes called china clay) that has translucent properties, is strongly resistant to fire, is extremely white, and contains mica.