Catawba Pottery: A Living Tradition

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina and their traditional pottery.

A collection of online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great resource for researching your family history. While I often do this, I also sometimes search newspapers just for fun, learning more about something that interests me.

For example, I recently wanted to see how much I could learn about a somewhat obscure topic by reading old newspaper articles. I know a little about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina. But I knew very little about their traditional pottery until I researched it in GenealogyBank’s newspapers.

photo of Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908

Photo: Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908. Credit: National Geographic; Wikimedia Commons.

The Catawba Indian Nation has been in existence for a very long time. The first European contact that can be verified was in 1540 by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. Sadly, the language died out in the 1950s (although currently there are attempts to revive it). However, despite many challenges, the tribe is federally recognized and, although small in number, still living in the Rock Hill area of South Carolina.

They have a long history of being allies to the Americans. As early as the Revolutionary War, when a group of Catawbas joined the Patriot cause, they have played a role in the formation of our country.

Among the other significant contributions they have made, the Catawba are well known for their impressive pottery skills. The pottery is distinctive in black and tan mottled patterns and the absence of any finish – it is never glazed or painted.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 23 November 1992

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 23 November 1992, page 3

According to this article:

Catawba pottery is molded by hand. Rings of clay are stacked on top of each other while they dry. Tall vases have to be shaped and dried in stages so the piece won’t collapse. Then, the potter scrapes the clay.

Rubbing stones, found in creek bottoms and passed from generation to generation, are used to smooth the form for firing. Then the piece is placed in a pit and burned. The pots come out with unpredictable motley colors, ranging from brown to red to black, and a smooth, shiny finish.

The Catawba coil long ropes of clay into pipes and jars, as well as intricate shapes – including human-like faces and animal forms. They do not use potter’s wheels, making their pottery entirely by hand.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 15 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 15 November 1977, page 14

According to this article that was promoting a special exhibit of Catawba pottery made by the Catawba Cooperative:

Mystery and tradition surround Catawba Indian pottery, an art form many centuries old.

Created much the same way it has been for generations, the pottery is made by Catawba women on the tribe’s reservation near Rock Hill [South Carolina]. The clay used in the process is dug from secret locations along the banks of the Catawba River.

Pottery-making is generally a family business, with the men and some children collecting the clay and the women and children forming it into pottery – although the gender roles are not strictly exclusive. Often the pottery-making tools have been handed down for multiple generations and are prized possessions.

At the turn of the century, Catawba families sold their pottery at roadsides and in markets. Judging from the number of ads in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, it appears that Catawba pottery really hit a high note in the 1970s like many other traditional arts and crafts.

Several Catawba potters have been duly acknowledged as fine artists – the most notable being Sara Ayers, who won the South Carolina Folk Heritage Award.

Keeping an ancient tradition alive – such as the Catawba hand-made pottery – is hard work, especially in the context of an entire culture that is being threatened. Inevitably, the people involved encounter difficulties. For example, there was some bad blood between the Catawba Cooperative and Sara over the Catawba identity. Sara had left the reservation and the Catawba Cooperative seemed to feel she was a traitor.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 25 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 25 November 1977, page 15

According to this article:

Last week, the News and Courier told the story of the Charleston exhibitors, the 18 women of the Catawba Cooperative. Theirs is a good and proud story of people banding together to save part of a heritage and to help themselves commercially by it.

This week is the story of Sara Ayers. It also is a good story of a proud Indian woman, who, years ago and alone, created a small market for Catawba pottery. In the process, she made some money and a name for herself in crafts circles around the country.

The Catawba Cooperative and Sara Ayers do not like each other very much right now. Their combined stories tell us something quite sad about what happens to individuals when as a people, they lose a culture.

Another difficulty the Catawba potters faced was due to a land dispute, in which many of the Catawba were barred from entering the land (that used to be part of their reservation) where their traditional clay pits are located.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 26 December 1991

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 26 December 1991, page 26

Despite these challenges, the Catawbas – and their distinctive pottery – have endured. According to the Catawba Indian Nation website:

Due to the importance of pottery in the Catawba culture the tribe is committed to making sure that there are always Catawba potters to teach this skill to others so that this 6,000 year old tradition can continue to be passed on to future generations.

Do you have any Native American ancestry in your family tree? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Native American Genealogy Articles:

South Carolina Archives: 103 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

South Carolina, the 40th largest and 24th most populous of the United States, has a long history of independence. South Carolina was the first of the 13 British North American colonies to declare its independence from the British Crown (a prelude to the American Revolutionary War), the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, and the first state to secede from the Union (a prelude to the American Civil War).

photo of a historic home in “The Battery,” a neighborhood/park area in the downtown historic district of Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: a historic home in “The Battery,” a neighborhood/park area in the downtown historic district of Charleston, South Carolina. Credit: Evan Schmidt; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from South Carolina, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online SC newspaper archives: 103 titles to help you search your family history in “The Palmetto State,” providing coverage from 1735 to Today. There are more than 17 million articles and records in our online South Carolina archives!

Dig deep into our archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your South Carolina ancestors in these SC newspapers online. Our South Carolina newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search South Carolina Newspaper Archives (1735 – 1970)

Search South Carolina Recent Obituaries (1987 – Current)

illustration of the state flag of South Carolina

Illustration: state flag of South Carolina. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of online South Carolina newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The SC newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Aiken Aiken Standard 8/27/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Anderson Anderson Independent-Mail 1/15/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Beaufort Free South 1/10/1863 – 4/16/1864 Newspaper Archives
Beaufort Beaufort Today 1/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Beaufort Beaufort Gazette 1/10/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Belton Belton & Honea Path News-Chronicle 3/28/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bluffton Bluffton Today 7/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Camden Camden Gazette 4/4/1816 – 2/7/1822 Newspaper Archives
Camden Southern Chronicle 3/14/1822 – 8/13/1825 Newspaper Archives
Camden Camden Journal 4/4/1840 – 4/27/1842 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston News and Courier 4/7/1873 – 12/31/1970 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Evening Post 10/1/1894 – 12/31/1923 Newspaper Archives
Charleston City Gazette 11/6/1787 – 4/13/1833 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Courier 1/10/1803 – 4/25/1872 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Southern Patriot 1/29/1831 – 12/30/1848 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina State-Gazette 1/1/1794 – 9/20/1802 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Mercury 6/4/1831 – 11/14/1868 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Carolina Gazette 1/2/1800 – 12/31/1828 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Columbian Herald 11/23/1784 – 12/17/1796 Newspaper Archives
Charleston State Gazette of South-Carolina 3/28/1785 – 12/31/1793 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser 3/15/1783 – 7/26/1785 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Morning Post 1/18/1786 – 10/17/1787 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Evening Gazette 7/11/1785 – 10/18/1786 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina Weekly Gazette 2/15/1783 – 1/14/1786 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Investigator 8/22/1812 – 2/9/1814 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Carolina Weekly Messenger 8/11/1807 – 11/7/1809 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Daily News 1/1/1873 – 4/5/1873 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Times 10/8/1800 – 5/25/1820 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Southern Evangelical Intelligencer 3/27/1819 – 12/29/1821 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina Gazette 1/11/1735 – 12/29/1737 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Strength of the People 6/24/1809 – 9/6/1810 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina and American General Gazette 3/11/1768 – 10/1/1778 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Oracle 1/1/1807 – 12/8/1807 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Evening Courier 7/31/1798 – 11/16/1798 Newspaper Archives
Charleston States Rights and Free Trade Evening Post 10/31/1831 – 2/9/1832 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Charleston Spectator 8/9/1806 – 12/5/1806 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South Carolina Leader 10/7/1865 – 5/12/1866 Newspaper Archives
Charleston South-Carolina Weekly Advertiser 2/19/1783 – 4/23/1783 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Daily Evening Gazette: and Charleston Tea-Table Companion 1/10/1795 – 2/18/1795 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Echo du Sud, Moniteur Francais 6/22/1801 – 7/15/1801 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Royal South Carolina Gazette 6/8/1780 – 7/16/1782 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Telegraphe: and Charleston Daily Advertiser 3/16/1795 – 3/20/1795 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Free Press 4/5/1868 – 4/11/1868 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Royal Gazette 2/9/1782 – 2/9/1782 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Afro-American Citizen 1/17/1900 – 1/17/1900 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Missionary Record 7/5/1873 – 7/5/1873 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Chronicle of Liberty, or the Republican Intelligencer 3/25/1783 – 3/25/1783 Newspaper Archives
Charleston Post and Courier 12/6/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cheraw Cheraw Chronicle 8/23/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chester Chester News & Reporter 11/24/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Clemson Tiger 4/14/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia State 2/18/1891 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Columbia South Carolina State Gazette 8/30/1799 – 6/20/1829 Newspaper Archives
Columbia Telescope 12/19/1815 – 7/8/1817 Newspaper Archives
Columbia Southern Indicator 2/12/1921 – 2/3/1923 Newspaper Archives
Columbia South Carolina Gazette 7/10/1792 – 9/3/1793 Newspaper Archives
Columbia Columbia Gazette 1/14/1794 – 12/9/1794 Newspaper Archives
Columbia Lighthouse and Informer 1/21/1950 – 1/21/1950 Newspaper Archives
Columbia People’s Recorder 1/13/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Columbia Carolina Panorama 1/7/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia State 12/15/1987 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia Columbia Star 10/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Conway Horry Independent 4/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Easley Powdersville Post 4/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Easley Easley Progress 3/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edgefield Anti-Monarchist, and South-Carolina Advertiser 9/9/1811 – 11/2/1811 Newspaper Archives
Edgefield Edgefield Advertiser 2/27/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Florence Morning News 11/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fort Mill Fort Mill Times 8/11/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gaffney Gaffney Ledger 10/29/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Georgetown Winyaw Intelligencer 11/15/1817 – 6/27/1833 Newspaper Archives
Georgetown Georgetown Gazette 5/8/1798 – 10/13/1826 Newspaper Archives
Georgetown South-Carolina Independent Gazette 5/21/1791 – 9/15/1792 Newspaper Archives
Georgetown Georgetown Planet 5/31/1873 – 5/31/1873 Newspaper Archives
Georgetown Georgetown Times 8/8/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greenwood Index-Journal 7/1/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greer Greer Citizen 11/24/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hardeeville Hardeeville Today 3/19/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartsville Messenger 4/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hemingway Weekly Observer 11/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hilton Head Island Packet 10/16/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lake City News & Post 11/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lake Wylie Lake Wylie Pilot 7/21/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lancaster Lancaster News 11/29/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lancaster Carolina Gateway 2/16/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mullins Marion Star & Mullins Enterprise 11/2/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Murrells Inlet Waccamaw Times 5/30/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Myrtle Beach Sun News 5/1/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Newberry Newberry Observer 1/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Orangeburg Times and Democrat 5/30/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pageland Pageland Progressive-Journal 1/18/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pawleys Island Coastal Observer 11/11/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pendleton Miller’s Weekly Messenger 3/20/1807 – 4/2/1841 Newspaper Archives
Pickens Pickens Sentinel 8/13/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rock Hill Herald 5/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seneca Journal 12/22/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Spartanburg Herald-Journal 1/4/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. George Eagle-Record 12/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Union Union Daily Times 1/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Walterboro Dispatch 2/14/2007 – 11/10/2010 Recent Obituaries
Williamston Journal 10/31/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winnsboro Herald Independent 4/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
York Enquirer-Herald 8/12/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

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More Recent Obituaries Coming Online! Get the List of 32 Titles

GenealogyBank is expanding the obituary coverage next month in our Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection, and will be adding recent obituaries from 32 new newspapers from 10 states: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

photo of newspapers at a newsstand

Credit: Wikipedia

Here’s an advance look at these upcoming obituary archives:

Brighton Standard Blade (Brighton, CO)

  • Obituaries: 10/02/2012 – Current

Canyon Courier (Evergreen, CO)

  • Obituaries: 08/28/2012 – Current

Clear Creek Courant (Idaho Springs, CO)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

Columbine Courier (Littleton, CO)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

High Timber Times (Conifer, CO)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

Cedar Key Beacon (Chiefland, FL)

  • Obituaries: 08/09/2012 – Current

Chiefland Citizen (Chiefland, FL)

  • Obituaries: 08/09/2012 – Current

Gadsden County Times (Quincy, FL)

  • Obituaries: 10/02/2012 – Current

Riverland News (Dunnellon, FL)

  • Obituaries: 10/02/2012 – Current

Sumter County Times (Bushnell, FL)

  • Obituaries: 10/02/2012 – Current

Wakulla News, The (Crawfordville, FL)

  • Obituaries: 09/28/2012 – Current

Williston Pioneer Sun News (Williston, FL)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

Vandalia Leader-Union (Vandalia, IL)

  • Obituaries: 08/30/2012 – Current

Mt. Vernon Democrat (Mt. Vernon, IN)

  • Obituaries: 06/29/2012 – Current

Perry County News (Tell City, IN)

  • Obituaries: 06/29/2012 – Current

Spencer County Journal-Democrat (Rockport, IN)

  • Obituaries: 06/29/2012 – Current

Opinion-Tribune (Glenwood, IA)

  • Obituaries: 08/21/2012 – Current

Carrollton News-Democrat (Carrollton, KY)

  • Obituaries: 10/31/2012 – Current

Casey County News (Liberty, KY)

  • Obituaries: 08/09/2012 – Current

Central Kentucky News-Journal (Campbellsville, KY)

  • Obituaries: 06/15/2012 – Current

Cynthiana Democrat (Cynthiana, KY)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

Grant County News and Express (Williamstown, KY)

  • Obituaries: 08/30/2012 – Current

Henry County Local (New Castle, KY)

  • Obituaries: 08/29/2012 – Current

News-Enterprise (Elizabethtown, KY)

  • Obituaries: 04/30/2012 – Current

Owenton News-Herald (Owenton, KY)

  • Obituaries: 10/31/2012 – Current

Pioneer News (Shepherdsville, KY)

  • Obituaries: 06/13/2012 – Current

Brunswick Beacon (Shallotte, NC)

  • Obituaries: 07/11/2012 – Current

Herald (Rock Hill, SC)

  • Obituaries: 03/13/2013 – Current

Pageland Progressive-Journal (Pageland, SC)

  • Obituaries: 06/26/2012 – Current

Morgan County News (Wartburg, TN)

  • Obituaries: 6/8/2012 – Current

Roane County News (Kingston, TN)

  • Obituaries: 05/15/2012 – Current

Declaration (Independence, VA)

  • Obituaries: 06/08/2012 – Current