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Ceramics from the American Steamboat Phoenix (1815-1819) and their Role in Understanding Shipboard Life

Lester J. Haddan
Dissertation: May 1995
Chair: Crisman


Ceramics recovered from the steamboat Phoenix are used to examine life aboard an early American passenger steam-driven vessel. The primary goal of the research is to establish what general type of surroundings passengers experienced on the ship, whether or not these surroundings were luxurious or simple, and how they compared to contemporary life on land. Historical accounts describe the ship as a fine vessel outfitted with the finest appointments, a vessel fit for presidents and one which successfully ferried passengers between
Whitehall, New York and St. John, Quebec for five seasons beginning in 1815 and ending in 1819 when it was virtually destroyed by fire. The framework for this examination will be developed by categorizing the ceramics recovered from the wreck, examining each ceramic type in detail, interpreting the ceramic distribution from the wreck site, and analyzing the contemporary ceramic markets with an emphasis on differences between urban and rural customers. Ceramics from the ship will be illustrated by diagnostic
examples of each category and technical information on ceramic manufacturing will provide supplemental information. The review of the ceramic artifacts demonstrates that inexpensive, mass produced refined earthenware dominates the assemblage. The more elaborately decorated examples of this ware (transfer-print and hand-painted) are
mostly limited to teawares. Stoneware and coarse earthenware were also recovered from the wreck and are found to be almost exclusively limited to food storage and preparation vessels. The results of this examination will demonstrate that in at least one aspect of life, dining styles, the ship was similar to contemporary rural homes, inns, or taverns.

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