Before the Civil War, Edgefield, South Carolina was an important center of pottery production. The wheels and kilns were operated largely by slaves, including one named Dave, who signed his pots. Indeed, Dave could read and write; he even inscribed poetry on some of his creations, including mournful lines about his family:

The potter had been bought and sold by a series of owners by then. He’d lost a leg, but his gifted hands won him local renown: His expert work with clay ensured he would be kept in the district known for its stoneware, even as his family was torn from him at auction.

Using a sharpened tool, he etched into the jar’s shoulder: “I wonder where is all my relation/Friendship to all—and every nation.” The potter then added his enslaver’s initials, the date, and, finally, his own name: “Dave.”

In that simple act, the man, long known as Dave the Potter, and later David Drake, was not only wondering about his lost family: He was committing an extraordinary act of defiance in pre-Civil War South Carolina, indelibly asserting his existence in an age that sought to obliterate the humanity of Black people.