Dave the Potter was a highly skilled artist and a slave who went by many names, including Dave Drake, Dave the Slave, and simply Dave. Dave was literate and because of his ability to read and write, he left behind an amazing autobiography, scrawled inside his vessels and jugs.
Dave was born on a South Carolina plantation owned by Harry Drake. It is believed that Dave could have had as many as five owners during his life as a slave. Drake is thought to have been extremely religious and may have taught several of his slaves to read and write so they could continue benefitting from the teachings of the Bible. Helping a slave learn to read was heavily frowned upon, as common thought concluded that it would lead to free will and possible revolt.
Evidence suggests that Dave may have only had one leg due to an accident as a young boy, which would have made him unfit for field labor but suited for work that required sitting. According to legend, another slave named Henry was missing both of his arms. Also unable to fulfill the tasks associated with fieldwork, Henry was placed in an important position alongside his partner.
While Dave sat at the potter’s wheel sculpting enormous containers, Henry turned the wheel using his legs and feet. Together, it is estimated they produced thousands of jars, pitchers, and jugs. In 1834, Dave began signing and dating his vessels. He also wrote poems or rhyming couplets on his pieces. In 1841, Dave was silenced by the talk of a slave uprising among Georgia and Virginia plantations; he did not want to draw attention to himself so he stopped writing.