Absalom Jones’ Portrait on Pitcher Shows How Art and Science Met during Slavery

Great Britain, pitcher dedicated to Absalom Jones, circa 1802-07. Creamware, 9 1/8 inches.  NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Great Britain, pitcher dedicated to Absalom Jones, circa 1802-07. Creamware, 9 1/8 inches.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, WASHINGTON, D.C.

This image is part of a weekly series that The Root is presenting in conjunction with the Image of the Black Archive & Library at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

Among the multitude of tributes made to the renowned African-American clergyman Absalom Jones, few capture his life and times in quite the same way as this elegant ceramic pitcher.

Beneath the vessel’s spout appears the bewigged clergyman rendered in strict profile and dressed in clerical robe and collar. The precise, hand-lettered inscription below the portrait identifies him as “Absalom Jones of the Affrican [sic] Church, Philad.”

Besides the obvious references to Jones’ illustrious career as a clergyman and Freemason, the pitcher bears more nuanced connections to the multifaceted life of African Americans in the city of Philadelphia. In particular, the migration of his silhouetted portrait from the hands of another black Philadelphian to a pottery factory in England reveals the interaction of art and science during the transition from slavery to enfranchisement in the city.

In 1787 Jones and fellow pastor Richard Allen founded the Free African Society, a mutual-aid organization for blacks both slave and free. After having been refused full membership status in the predominantly white St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Jones then established the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, followed shortly by Allen’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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Source: The Root | 

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