Woodson Collaborative
U.S. History, Economics
Material Type:
Upper Primary
  • Art
  • Black American
  • Economic
  • Enslaved People
  • Poetry
  • Pottery
  • Slavery
  • Virginia Studies
  • Woodson Collaborative
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs, Text/HTML

    Education Standards

    My Name is David Drake: Identity Through Pottery

    My Name is David Drake: Identity Through Pottery


    Author: Katie Frazier, Museums at W&L.


    Students will examine a ceramic object made by David Drake (about 1800-about 1870), an enslaved person who lived on a plantation in Edgefield, South Carolina. As an enslaved individual, Drake was denied the basic rights of learning how to read and write. Despite writing being illegal for enslaved people, David Drake was known for writing his name and poetry on the ceramics he made. He wanted to express his feelings about life, religion and his own identity as an enslaved person.



    My Name is David Drake: Identity through Pottery


    History and Social Science, English, and Visual Arts/Grade 4

    Author: Program and Event Assistant Katie Frazier

    Museums at W&L (Lexington, VA)


    Task Overview:

    Students will examine a ceramic object made by David Drake (about 1800-about 1870), an enslaved person who lived on a plantation in Edgefield, South Carolina. As an enslaved individual, Drake was denied the basic rights of learning how to read and write. Despite writing being illegal for enslaved people, David Drake was known for writing his name and poetry on the ceramics he made. He wanted to express his feelings about life, religion and his own identity as an enslaved person.


    Students will view images of the pot and discuss its physical characteristics as well as the specialized skills needed to make ceramics. As a class, students will then listen to a teacher read Laban Carrick Hill’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave or watch a video of the book being read aloud. When finished, each student will compose a short couplet poem about themselves in the style of David Drake’s. The students should think about their individual identity and what makes them unique. The students can then choose to recite their poems to the class (teacher discretion).



    • Students will understand that enslaved people had specialized skills and performed diverse roles.
    • Students will learn what identity is and why people are sometimes similar and/or different.
    • Students will examine the work of David Drake, an enslaved individual, to understand how external factors shape one’s identity.
    • Students will use the David Drake jar and Laban Carrick Hill’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave to learn about the skills needed to be a potter.
    • Students will write couplets, similar to David Drake’s, to express their identity.






    Targeted SOLs:

    • History and Social Science:
      • VS. 4e
        • Enslaved Africans worked with tobacco, other crops, and livestock and in industries including shipping, construction, and other trades. Africans came to America with prior knowledge of skilled trades.
        • Enslaved Africans were denied basic rights.
        • Some free Africans in America owned land but were denied basic rights.
        • African began to have families born in America increasing their population.


    • English:
      • 4.1 The student will use effective oral communication skills in a variety of settings.
        • a) Listen actively and speak using appropriate discussion rules.
        • b) Contribute to group discussions across content areas.
        • d) Ask specific questions to gather ideas and opinions from others.
        • e) Use evidence to support opinions and conclusions.
        • g) Use specific vocabulary to communicate ideas.
      • 4.4 The student will expand vocabulary when reading.

    a) Use context to clarify meanings of unfamiliar words.

    d) Use vocabulary from other content areas.

    e) Develop and use general and specialized vocabulary through speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

      • 4.7 The student will write in a variety of forms to include narrative, descriptive, opinion, and expository.

    a) Engage in writing as a process.

    b) Select audience and purpose.

    e) Recognize different forms of writing have different patterns of organization.


    • Visual Arts:
      • 4.2 The student will apply a creative process for art making.
    1. Formulate questions about works of art
      • 4.3 The student will analyze, interpret, and evaluate artwork using art vocabulary

    a) Analyze works of art based on visual properties and contextual information.

    b) Interpret works of art for multiple meanings.

      • The student will explore and examine cultural and historical influences of art.
    1. Describe the roles of crafts and artisans in diverse cultures.
    2. Compare and contrast characteristics of diverse cultures depicted in works of art.






    Unpacked Standards:

    Know (facts)

    Understand (concepts)

    Do (skills)

    • Identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, and expressions that make a person.
    • Part of David Drake’s identity was that he was an enslaved person from Edgefield, South Carolina without access to basic human rights.
    • David Drake’s job was to make ceramic objects using his skills as a potter.
    • David Drake knew how to read and write, acts that enslaved individuals were not supposed to do.
    • David Drake wrote poetry about his life and put it on the ceramics he made.


    • What is identity
    • How is identity shaped by internal factors
    • How is identity shaped by external factors
    • Enslaved people performed various roles
    • Enslaved people had little to no control over their life
    • Enslaved individuals are unique and have specialized skills
    • Enslaved people were denied basic rights


    The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by:

    • a) analyzing and interpreting artifacts and primary and secondary sources to understand events in Virginia history



    Directions: Instructor


    As a class, discuss what it means to be enslaved. Teachers should make sure to explain why the use of “enslaved person” is preferable to “slave” when speaking about individuals who were taken and forced into slavery. These were people who all had lives, families and specialized skills before becoming enslaved. Focus on individuality and how the identities of enslaved people were shaped, and in some cases erased, as their lives were controlled by slaveholders.


    • What did it mean to be an enslaved person?
    • What were some of the roles and responsibilities of an enslaved person?
    • What does it mean to have freedom?


    In the area of Edgefield, South Carolina, enslaved workers were forced to make ceramics out of clay from the ground. One of these enslaved workers was a skilled craftsman named David Drake (about 1800—about 1870). Drake made stoneware vessels between about 1830 and 1864. Drake’s job as a potter was not unusual, as there were many enslaved men and women potters, but what set David Drake apart was his ability to read and write. David Drake was known for writing his name and poetry on the ceramics he made. He wanted to express his feelings about life, religion and his own identity as an enslaved person. Together discuss how identity is formed and influenced.


    • What is identity?
    • What are some ways in which we are similar and different?
    • How does being free influence shape one’s identity?
    • How does being enslaved shape one’s identity?


    Read the object record for David Drake’s jar (below) and discuss the role and skills needed to be a potter. Many enslaved people, like David Drake, provided unique skills. Physical strength as well as strong hands and a sense of balance and proportions were essential to create ceramics. (An overview of creating a ceramic object is located below.) Remind students that creating ceramics was just one job of the many jobs enslaved individuals were forced to do.


    • How would you describe this jar?
    • What skills do you think it takes to make one of these jars?
    • What do you think his jars were used for?
    • Why do you think David Drake wrote his name and poetry on jars he made?


    As a class, read (or listen to) Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. When finished, revisit the questions above and include the following:


    • Why do you think David Drake wrote poetry when he was not allowed to?
    • What does David Drake’s poetry tell us about his own identity?
    • What does David Drake’s role as an enslaved potter tell us about his own identity?
    • What does it mean to write your name on something?

    Students will think about their own identity and what it means to be an individual. Reflecting on their own experiences, students will create couplet poems similar to David Drake’s about what makes them unique. Before starting, vocabulary concerning poetry should be covered (see vocabulary list). How the poem is formatted and/or what rules the writing follows is up to the discretion of the teacher.


    If time allows, students are encouraged to share their poems with their classmates or audience. At the conclusion of the poetry exercise, consider addressing the following questions to close the lesson plan.


    • How did it feel to write about yourself?
    • How would it feel if you were not able to express yourself?
    • Do you choose what makes up your identity, or do others play a part in making you unique?









    My Name is David Drake: Identity through Pottery


    Directions: Student-Friendly


    Today, your class is going to learn about David Drake, an enslaved potter living in Edgefield, South Carolina. With your teacher and classmates, you will complete the following:


    1. Talk about what it means to be enslaved and what enslaved people did.


    1. Together you’ll talk about what identity is and how enslaved individuals have their own identity.


    1. As a class, you will look at ceramics made by an enslaved potter named David Drake and discuss what the jar is made of and how it was used.


    1. You will listen to a book about David Drake and talk about the skills needed to be a potter. With your classmates, you will talk about David Drake’s poetry and identity.


    1. At the end, you will write a short poem about yourself and share it with the class. Your teacher will tell you how to write your poem, but here are some example written by David Drake! Remember, people from our past sometimes spoke and wrote differently!


    Dave belongs to Mr. Miles

    Wher the oven bakes and the pot biles—

                                                    -July 31, 1840


                I wonder where is all my relation

                Friendship to all—and, every nation

                                                    -August 16, 1857







    Supportive Documents: Object Record (Images Follow)




    Made by David Drake, Edgefield District, South Carolina, October 31, 1849

    Made of Alkaline-Glazed Stoneware

    Museum Purchase with Funds Provided by the Herndon Foundation, the Family of Elisabeth S. Gottwald, and John Goadby Hamilton ’32



    This jar was made by David Drake, an enslaved African American potter from South Carolina in the mid-1800s. 


    Drake is famous in part because of the pots he made, which are large, skillfully thrown jars and jugs covered in a rich alkaline glaze. But his fame rests primarily on the fact that he inscribed many of his pieces with his name, the date he made the vessel and, in some rare instances, short poems that reflected on his life and his world. 


    It was not only rare for enslaved people to read and write in South Carolina, it was also illegal. Thus, David Drake’s bold proclamation of his literacy was an act of independence and resistance.


    This piece is on display in atrium at the Reeves Museum of Ceramics. (Washington and Lee University)


    Online Access:

    Highlights from the Reeves Collection (Museums at W&L):


    Compare Works:

    The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a David Drake jar in their collection which features one of his original poems:


    A picture containing plant, jar, vessel, ceramic ware

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    A picture containing plant, ceramic ware, jar, stoneware

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    Supportive Documents: Ceramic Production


    “Ceramics” is the broad term to describe objects made from fired clay. Clay is a soft, damp material that comes from the Earth’s ground. Ceramics are made by shaping clay into objects, by hand or on a potter’s wheel, and then heating them to a high temperature in a kiln. Heating the clay object is similar to baking it. When the ceramic is in the kiln, the heat removes all the water from the clay, which makes the object strong and hard. There are three types of ceramics: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. David Drake made stoneware ceramics. Each type of ceramic is different.


    • Earthenware objects are fired at a low temperature and has small holes in the clay that allows for water and air to pass through. Earthenware objects weigh very little and can easily break when dropped. The objects are usually red, yellow or white in color.
    • Stoneware objects are fired at a medium temperature. When fired in kiln, water and air cannot pass through the object because there are no holes left in the clay. Most pieces are covered in a glaze that changes their appearance.
    • Porcelain objects are fired at the highest temperature. They are strong and are harder to break. Porcelain objects are also smooth to the touch. Most pieces are covered in a glaze that changes their appearance.


    To create ceramics, there are certain skills one should have.

    • Strength. Clay used to make ceramics come from the Earth’s ground. A person needs strength to dig out the clay and take it to the place where it will be formed. Forming clay and throwing it on the potter’s wheel also takes strength.
    • Caring. Caring for ceramics means that someone shows concern for them. When a potter shapes the clay, they must make sure the clay is not made too thin or the object could break. Being caring means that the ceramic, when finished, can be used for its intended purpose (like a plate holding food).
    • Balance. A potter must be able to balance their hands in place when shaping an object on the potter’s wheel. When the wheel spins, the potter must be able to balance the amount of pressure put on the object by the person’s hands.
    • Rhythm. Rhythm refers to a repeated movement (or sound). When a potter forms the piece, they will have to repeat their movements several times in order to form the object. For example, they may have to knead the clay with their hands over-and-over again to get rid of air in the clay.
    • Patience. Making an object that can break when dropped takes patience. A person needs to accept when there are mistakes made or the ceramic object does not turn out how it was supposed to be.




    Supportive Documents: Vocabulary


    History Terms:


    • Enslaved Person- a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them
    • Slavery- being forced to work without pay and having all your human rights and civil rights taken away from you
    • Slaveholder- someone who buys, sells, and uses people as an enslaved person
    • Plantation- an estate on which crops such as corn and tobacco are cultivated by labor
    • Job- a set of tasks or piece of work done by a person, usually for pay
    • Freedom-the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants
    • Identity- is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person


    Ceramics Terms:

    • Clay- a stiff, sticky fine-grained earth, typically yellow, red, or bluish-gray in color and often forming an impermeable layer in the soil. It can be molded when wet, and is dried and baked to make bricks, pottery, and ceramics
    • Potter-a person who makes ceramic objects by using and forming clay and baking the object in a kiln
    • Ceramics- pots, dishes, and other objects made of clay, formed, and fired or baked at a high temperature to make them hard. (Often referred to as pottery.)
    • Potter’s Wheel- a horizontal revolving disk on which wet clay is shaped into pots or other round ceramic objects
    • Kiln- a furnace or oven for burning, baking, or drying pottery
    • Texture- the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or substance.
    • Glaze- a substance that covers the surface of pottery to form a decorative coating
    • Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain-see supportive document


    Poetry/Writing Terms:

    • Poem- a piece of writing that uses imaginative words to share ideas, emotions or a story with the reader
    • Couplet- two lines in a poem that end with rhyming words
    • Rhyme- correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, especially when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry
    • Topic- what the text or writing is about
    • Audience- a group of people that will read or listen to poetry or writing


        By the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Collaborative and the Museums at W&L, 2021