New York stoneware vessels bearing the name “Commeraw” have been included in collections for years, but more recently they have become recognized for their historical importance. Thomas Commeraw was an African American potter who worked in the Corlear’s Hook area of Manhattan from 1793 until the 1810s. Enslaved at birth, Commeraw went on to become a successful entrepreneur, prominent political figure, and influential member of the African American community in New York during the early 1800s.
Scholarly interest in Commeraw and his pottery has led to the reexamination of his wares from archaeological collections. A recent study has identified numerous examples of Commeraw pottery in the Historical Archaeology Collection at the NYSM. This study focused on the collection from four households in Lower Manhattan’s east side and found that Commeraw wares were purchased by middle and upper-class single households as well as upscale boardinghouses.
In one case, Richard and Penelope Bowne purchased at least three Commeraw vessels for their home at 146 Pearl Street. Richard Bowne was a druggist who, along with his brother-in-law Oliver Hull, maintained a business on the street level while his family lived on the upper floors of the building. This study shows the reach of Commeraw’s business into the expanding middle and upper classes of early New York.