A Mission For Mr. Wedgwood

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The distance between Charleston, South Carolina, and Franklin, North Carolina, is just about three hundred miles—a comfortable day’s drive over well-paved, scenic highways. For Thomas Griffiths the journey was a good deal more arduous, and it took him a good deal longer to accomplish, particularly since he didn’t really know where he was going.

Thomas Griffiths was the brother of Ralph Griffiths, editor of the Monthly Review , a popular periodical in England in the middle eighteenth century. Ralph Griffiths, in turn, was a friend of Josiah Wedgwood ( 1730–1795), the great English potter. Wedgwood’s success as a manufacturer during the Industrial Revolution was due to many factors, not least to his ardent passion for improving his product by constant research and invention —the carrying out of a lifetime of experimentation not only in seeking new raw materials but also in mixing them in different proportions and firing them under different conditions of temperature and atmosphere.

In his search for new minerals, earths, and clays Wedgwood had his friends send him samples of likely materials from all over the world, including the American colonies. Sometime during the year 1766–67, one of his friends, a Mr. Vigor of Manchester, sent him a sample of white Cherokee clay, or “steatites,” which the Indians in South Carolina reputedly used to make their pipes.

With his customary energy Wedgwood set about to get all the information he could. To his partner Thomas Bentley he wrote in May, 1767: “I am in search of the Town where the Steatites grows, & I believe I shall learn every particular about it. One Dr. Mitchell has just published a map of N. A. which map I have purchased … I find the Town in his Map to be Ayoree, &… I am pretty certain it is the place.”

The location established, the question remained as to how to go about obtaining a bulk sample. Wedgwood’s friend and patron Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgwater, advised him not to apply to the Parliamentary Lords of Trades and Plantations for a sole franchise to import the clay because his competitors would hear about it and bring pressure on their members of Parliament to block such a monopoly. The wisest thing, the Duke felt, was for Wedgwood to find someone who knew the American colonies and might act as his agent. The ideal man for this assignment turned up in the person of Thomas Griffiths. To Bentley, Wedgwood wrote: “Our friend Mr. [Ralph] Griffiths has a Bro. who hath resided many years in N.A., & is seasoned to the S.C. climate by a severe fever he underwent at Chas. Town & has had many connections with the Indians. He had been a Proprietor of 3,000 acres near Crown point …” Griffiths gamely accepted Wedgwood’s challenge.

Like most travellers and tourists of that era Griffiths kept a journal during his mission. It is so full of adventure and so descriptive of the topography of the country and of the customs and mores of the population, colonists and Indians alike, that a major portion of it is published here, with Griffiths’ original spelling and grammar. —H. C. W.

London July ye 16—went on board the Ship America Capt. Raineer Comd, & bound to Chas. Town &… [we arrived] in Chas. Town Bay on the Twentyfirst of September, being a Miserable hot and Sickly time.

In this Port I remaind, till Sunday the fourth of October, and then went off for the Cherokec Nation: The first stage was Dorchester, Twenty five Miles from Charles Town: from thence to Beakons Bridg, then over the Cypress and four holes, being very deep and daingerous Roads, and exceeding Trublesome for Straingers: Then on to Walnuttree Creek and Parish end, fifty miles from Charles Town; here I saw the people Reaping fine Rice; the next stage was Capt Wm. Youngs; This is a middling good Tavern and a fine Rice plant[at]ion:

The weather was now very hot and fainty, and the people allmost all dying of the ague and feaver; here my horse fell lame which obligd me to send my Baggage by a Waggon, and also to Make very short Stages; the next place I came to, was Oringburg, which is a Considerable Large Neighbourhood, and afoards a Tavern, a Shop or Storekeeper and a Man that pretended to Preach; here my horse obliged me to stop two nights, and then Proceeded for Indian head; and after a hot days March was obliged to sleep under a Tree with my horse, very near the place where five people had been Robd and Murdered but two days before, by the Virgina Crackers and Rebells; a Sett of Thieves that were joind together to Rob Travillers and plunder and destroy the poar defenseless Inhabitants of the New Settlements—