These three sherds are fragments from plates made of tin-glazed earthenware or faience. The city of Rouen, France was one center for production of faience beginning at least in the 1540s. Rouen is on the Seine River at the eastern edge of Normandy (Figure 2). Ceramics craftsmen in France imitated forms and techniques associated with the Italian town of Faenza, producing faience. An Italian potter moved to France and set up a workshop making faience in the 1700s (Moon 2016). Other French cities became known for creating variations in vessel forms and decorations. The addition of tin oxide to the glaze gives faience an opaque, white background on which different colored decoration could be painted. Blue was a very popular color (Furnishing New France 2020). Faience production reached its peak by 1730 (Brain 1979:35).
The reverse, or back of this plate is dark brown. It is called faience brune since it has white tin glaze on the vessel interior (or front), and a manganese brown lead glaze on the exterior (or back) (Noel-Hume 1960). French faience is among the least studied European ceramics found at North American archeological sites. Many published resources focus on the most elaborate vessel forms and those with polychrome, or multicolored, decoration (Waselkov and Walthall 2002:63). The most common Rouen Blue on White vessel forms found at colonial French sites in the United States are large oval or round platters and circular, deep plates (Walthall 1991a:93) (Figure 3).
All of these sherds were found in archeological excavations in 1956 and 1957 at Arkansas Post National Memorial in southeast Arkansas (Holder 1957). They were most likely manufactured between 1740 and 1800, according to a study by archeologist John Walthall (Walthall 1991b:105). Walthall also observes that the French did not use pottery like the English or Americans. Tea was not an important part of their culture. Plates and platters were the most common forms; teawares were very rare. Faience was not used like everyday, utilitarian wares. The French, unlike the Spanish, were not cooking in pottery at this time either (Walthall 2002:78, 81).
The Arkansas Archeological Survey curates archeological collections from Arkansas Post National Memorial. As part of this responsibility, we have catalogued the collections in the National Park Service’s cataloging system and provided copies of the catalog data to the regional headquarters at the NPS’s Midwestern Archeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The late eighteenth century settlement at Arkansas Post was only one of seven forts and outposts located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers in what is now the state of Arkansas. This location was of strategic importance during the colonial period, when Britain, France and Spain were competing for control of America’s vast natural resources (Walthall 1991:98). These European powers also had interests in trade along the Mississippi River. The location of the post shifted through time due to changing routes and flooding of the Arkansas River. This was a perpetual difficulty. At the late eighteenth century Arkansas Post settlement of Ecores Rouge, a small Spanish military garrison protected a French creole population that was completely isolated from France (Walthall 1991b:98).
The 1956–1957 archeological excavations at Arkansas Post were directed by archeologist Preston Holder. He was the only archeologist to excavate colonial period deposits at Arkansas Post (Figure 4). Subsequent excavations focused on the nineteenth-century American town site. Holder hoped to discover the remains of the eighteenth-century French and Spanish forts in the area (Walthall 1991b:101). Holder was unable to locate evidence of the forts, but he did find several streets and house lots from the eighteenth-century French village. This is where the Rouen Blue on White rim sherds were found. Walthall (1991b:102) concludes that, “Arkansas Post National Memorial contains the most extensive remains of an eighteenth century colonial village in public ownership in the Mississippi Valley region.” He goes on to state, “Holder’s field plans…reveal the partial plan of a unique eighteenth century colonial streetscape.”
The National Park Service’s protection, stewardship and interpretation of Arkansas Post National Memorial has preserved this uniquely important site since 1960.
Brain, Jeffrey P.
1979 Tunica Treasure. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology No. 71. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1960 Rouen Faience in Eighteenth-Century America. Antiques 78(6):559–561.
Walthall, John A.
1991a Faience in French Colonial Illinois. Historical Archaeology 25(1):80–105.
1991b An Analysis of Late Eighteenth Century Ceramics from Arkansas Post at Ecores Rouges. Southeastern Archaeology 10:93–113.
2002 Building a Typology for Faience in the Mississippi Valley. In French Colonial Pottery: An International Conference, edited by George Avery, pp. 61–82. Northwestern State University Press, Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Waselkov, Gregory A., and John A. Walthall
2002 Faience Styles in French Colonial North America: A Revised Classification. Historical Archaeology 36(1):62–78.
Artifact of the Month Series
A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.