H. Wilson & Company Pottery
The First African American Business in Texas
by Jenny Cobb, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
John M. Wilson, Jr. became a key figure in the pottery trade in Texas after founding Guadalupe Pottery in 1857 in Guadalupe County, 12 miles east of Seguin. Wilson’s enslaved workers Hyrum, James, Wallace, George, and Andrew were instructed locally in the craft, where they honed their skills through practice and exposure to other potters.
Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, Wilson’s newly emancipated laborers took his surname, a common practice at the time, and then formed their own company in 1869. H. Wilson & Company went into production between 1869 and 1872 on land granted to them by John Wilson, and is considered to be the first African American business in Texas. Years of experience working under Wilson provided the knowledge and skills needed to establish and operate a pottery. The enterprise’s success provided a livelihood for the potters that was different from the sharecropping and tenant farming that essentially tied African Americans to the land in a manner much like slavery.
The freedmen created a new style of pottery, breaking from the older traditions of their teachers. These new techniques included adding horseshoe shaped handles and signing their work. Prior to the Civil War, a potter working in the South rarely marked his wares, but by the 1870s the practice became more commonplace. The potters of H. Wilson & Company marked their wares with the company name, a promotional tool for identifying and advertising. More than that, the marks served as a symbol of their remarkable achievement within just a few years of emancipation. For Hyrum Wilson, the company provided a means to support his family and community, as well as serve as a spiritual leader. H. Wilson & Company became a symbol of what was now attainable in a new society.
Today, the archaeological evidence at the site of H. Wilson & Company provides an immeasurable amount of information about the company, as well as the community. These vessels can still be found today throughout central Texas in old barns and homes, as well as in antique shops, private collections, and museums. The Wilson Pottery Foundation, formed by descendants of the Wilson family, has opened the Wilson Pottery Museum in Seguin where the legacy of Wilson pottery is being preserved for generations to come.
Dr. Gianfranco Spellman, Austin
Time Period: 1862 - 1865
This artifact is currently on view.