History detectives take interest in clay face jug found in Philadelphia

    This face jug is in the Art Museum's collection. A similar one was found in Germantown.
    This face jug is in the Art Museum's collection. A similar one was found in Germantown.

    A clay jug made in the shape of a face is exposing secrets of the slave trade and of African-American migration patterns. The jug found in Germantown, is attracting national attention.

    A production crew from the PBS program The History Detectives set up lights and cameras in Gallery 109 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The star of the show: a 150 year-old jug rather roughly molded as a grimacing face. It’s not clearly known why face jugs were made by slaves in South Carolina, but a Museum curator says they were probably whimsical.

    Gwen Wright (Host of History Detectives) shown here with the Museum Curator David Barquist
    Gwen Wright (Host of History Detectives) shown here with the Museum Curator David Barquist

    What’s curious about this one is that it turned up in Philadelphia. Gwen Wright is one of the history detectives. She says the object reflects vagaries of slave migration, “If you’re moving from one place to the next, what matters most to you? What are you going to take? Here is something small and fragile that an individual chose to take. It may have been a family of fugitive slaves.”

    Gwen says the jug may provide evidence an illegal slave ship. That’s because the jug may have been made by Congolese people caught 50 years after the United States abolished the slave trade.

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