North Devon plain baluster jar

North Devon plain baluster jar

The area of Devon in South West England that encompasses Barnstaple, Bideford, and Great Torrington is known as North Devon. Barnstaple and Bideford were prosperous market towns by 1600, profiting from transatlantic fisheries and the wool trade, and thriving from a vigorous coastal trade 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. During the 17th century, pottery manufacturing prospered in the towns of Bideford, Barnstaple, and Great Torrington (Grant 1983).

Many factors contributed to the success of 17th century North Devon potters. Barnstaple and Bideford flourished as market towns and as major ports in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The most up-to-date ceramic forms and technologies were introduced into the area as a result of the extensive, direct North Devon trade with the continent that began in the 16th century. It is also possible that skilled potters were among the Protestant refugees who fled to North Devon from France or Flanders, and that they were employed in the pottery industry. Most important, the raw materials necessary for the success of ceramic industry—potting clay, slip clay, “crocksand” for temper, lead ore for glazing, and fuel for firing kilns—were abundant and cheap (Grant 1983).

Utilitarian coarseware from North Devon is well represented at James Fort. With the exception of one gravel-tempered skillet, all of the North Devon ceramic vessels found at James Fort are plain or calcareous-tempered baluster jars, so-called because of their shape. These jars are also known as pilchard jars because of their presumed contents. Since they are found in large numbers at James Fort, it is believed that the jars contained provisions, most likely salted fish, for the colonists.

Although only one gravel-tempered vessel was found in James Fort contexts, it is the prominent North Devon coarseware type found on North American sites dating from the 1630s until the mid-18th century.


Fabric: The fabric of James Fort baluster jars usually appears fine-textured and smooth on broken edges, and contains occasional sand inclusions. In color, fabrics are generally pinkish-orange to pinkish-red with a reduced gray core. Some jar fabrics also contain numerous small, irregularly-shaped, white calcareous inclusions, which are clearly visible on vessel exteriors.

Numerous gravel, or coarse sand, inclusions occur in the fabric of a single skillet, which was found in Feature 185, the “Cellar Well.”

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

Form: Baluster jars are well represented in the James Fort ceramic assemblage. They are tall and narrow, and gently swell below the rim with rounded shoulders. Baluster jar rims are out-bent and shelved on the interior.

The skillet has a wide flat base, and short, straight sides. The vertical rim is squared on the top edge 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.

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