earthenware baluster jar
North Devon baluster jar

The area of Devon, England, that encompasses Barnstaple, Bideford, and Great Torrington is known as North Devon. Barnstaple and Bideford were thriving market and port towns by 1600, profiting from transatlantic fisheries and the wool trade, and booming coastal markets in England, Ireland, and Northern Europe. Although archaeological evidence shows that village pottery manufacture occurred in North Devon in the 14th and 15th centuries, the first documentary evidence dates to 16th century Barnstaple. Due to the extensive, direct trade between Devon and the continent beginning in the 16th century, the area was introduced to new ceramic forms and technologies. In the 17th century, pottery manufacturing prospered in the towns mentioned above.


Fabric: The fabric of most baluster-shaped jars appears fine-textured and smooth with occasional sand inclusions. Some jar fabrics contain numerous small, irregular-shaped white calcareous inclusions that are visible on the exterior. In color, fabrics are generally pinkish-orange to pinkish-red with a reduced gray core or edge.

Gravel, or coarse sand, was used as a temper in heavy-duty utilitarian vessels. Although James Fort excavators recovered just one gravel-tempered vessel, gravel-tempered North Devon coarseware is the primary type found on North American sites dating from the 1630s until the mid-18th century.

Glaze: North Devon coarseware vessels are glazed on the interior with a colorless lead glaze appearing yellowish-green, olive-green, or brownish-green. Diagonal torquing lines and horizontal potting lines are visible under the glaze on the interiors of vessels.

Form: Storage jars comprise the majority of North Devon ceramic vessels recovered from James Fort. Because of their shape, they are often called baluster jars; because of their presumed contents, they are sometimes called pilchard jars. They are tall and narrow and gently swell below the rim with rounded shoulders. Baluster jar rims are everted and shelved on the interior.

One gravel-tempered skillet was recovered from Structure 185, the “Cellar Well,” from a 1610 archaeological context. This vessel may be the earliest example of North Devon gravel-tempered coarseware found in North America. It has a broad, flat base and short, straight sides. Its vertical rim is squared on the top edge just above an interior ledge. A pouring spout is pinched on one edge. A thick, upturned, oval-sectioned handle with a deeply incised central groove on top is applied over the rim and upper exterior body at a right angle to the pouring spout.

Excavations of later 17th century archaeological contexts at Jamestown have uncovered a variety of North Devon gravel-tempered coarseware vessels, including sherds of a pipkin, milkpans, and cooking pots.

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Grant, Alison (1983) North Devon Pottery: The Seventeenth Century. A. Wheaton & Co. Ltd, Exeter, UK. 

Outlaw, Merry (2002) Scratched in Clay Scratched in Clay: Seventeenth-Century North Devon Slipware at Jamestown, Virginia. In Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter, editor, Chipstone Foundation., Milwaukee, WI. 

Watkins, Malcolm (1960) North Devon Pottery and Its Export to America in the Seventeenth Century. In United States National Museum Bulletin 225: 17-60. Washington, D.C.