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A Matter of Convenience


Besides the actual privy discussed elsewhere, ceramic artifacts identified as chamberpots provide the most important archaeological evidence of sanitation in colonial Jamaica. Although these differ from one another, all fit the standard description of a typical chamberpot. Each is "a handled vessel with convex sides and a sturdy flared rim or brim" (Beaudry, 67).

The article by Beaudry, et al., sets out a typology for ceramics (based on excavations in tidewater Maryland and Virginia) called the Potomac Typological System (POTS). This is based primarily on vessel shape, although the function of the artifact also plays a role (Beaudry, 58). Chamberpots have a distinctive shape, in addition to their distinctive function, so they are relatively easy to distinguish from other types of ceramics, such as pitchers. The "recognition chart" for POTS (below) shows three chamberpot shapes commonly found in the Chesapeake region (Beaudry, 67). The chamberpots found at Port Royal have similar shapes, but there are too few examples (as yet) to form a rigid typology.

The following two chamberpots were found during the early 1970s excavation by A. J. Priddy along New Street. The context suggests that they were associated with a tavern, and may have been provided for the convenience of the customers (Brown, 9-11). This would have been common for a commercial establishment in this era, just as providing a customer toilet is mandatory today. In addition to these chamberpots specifically from the pre-earthquake period, about ten others were found on the site of this tavern that continued to operate until the second half of the 18th century (Brown, 220).

NS.2.A6.1c. (right)
[Drawing of NS 2.A6.1c]This chamberpot was found in several fragments. The context indicates that it was deposited in the early 18th century (well after the earthquake). It is made of red paste, with an interior glaze that is also found on part of the handle and exterior. The glaze is of yellow over a white slip. The shape is somewhat unusual, with a rim that angles back toward the handle. The chamberpot has a chamfered base.
[Drawing of NS 2.A56.2a]
NS.2.A56.2a. (above)
Chamberpot found in a 17th century context. Of red paste with an interior glaze that is also found on the rim. Rough exterior surface with a yellow to brown glaze. Decorated terminal at the base of the handle.

[Four chamberpots]

Port Royal Chamberpots (above, left to right): PR90 908-6, PR90 469-6, NS 2.A6.1c, and NS 2.A56.2a

Chamberpots were a fairly commonly found item during the course of the excavation of Port Royal by Texas A&M University and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. The chamberpot remains found during the underwater excavations of Port Royal prior to 1990 include the following:

PR87 415-10 (right)
[Drawing of PR87 415-10]An almost complete chamberpot with the handle missing and some damage to the rim. Found in square 410 of the underwater excavation in 1987. Made of coarse earthenware with an interior lead glaze. This chamberpot is less tapered than most of the others and has a broader base. The rim diameter is 18.9 cm and the base diameter is 14.5 cm.
PR89 642
Chamberpot rim sherd of whiteware. Found in 1989 in Layer 2 of square 640.
PR89 678-2
Approximately 20 sherds that form an almost complete plain white delftware chamberpot. The base of the handle ends in a rolled pillow or scroll with a central thumb impression. The rim is not flat, but rather flares out only slightly. The glaze was originally cream-colored, but it is now very gray and cracked due to exfoliation. The chamberpot was originally about 5.3 inches high, with a rim diameter of 8.2 inches. The base diameter is 5.5 inches, and the base edge 3/10 inch wide and high.

The following chamberpots and fragments were found in the 1990 excavation season:

PR90 102
Whiteware chamberpot. Found in Layer 2 of square 100.
PR90 104-5
Coarse earthenware chamberpot. Found in Layer 3 of square 100. Has a rim diameter of 22 centimeters.
PR90 469-6 (below)
Complete refined earthenware (borderware) chamberpot. It has a green glaze on both the interior and exterior, although the glaze is irregularly deposited on the latter. There is very slight ridging around the circumference, not uncommon in cheap, coarse pottery. Found in Layer 3 of square 460 in Building 4. It may have come from a privy in one of the yards associated with that building (of course, the dynamic forces at work at the time of the earthquake and over the past three centuries may have moved all these artifacts somewhat from their original positions).
PR90 908-6 (below)
Complete refined earthenware chamberpot . Found in Layer 3 of square 900, very near the privy. 14.1 cm high with a 19 cm diameter rim. Has a dark brown interior glaze and a very light -- almost white -- exterior glaze with patches of beige to light brown discolorations. There is a thumbprint decoration just below the handle. [Another view]

PR90 912
Whiteware chamberpot sherd. Found in Layer 2 of square 910. Base is 16 cm in diameter. Appears to be the sort of chamberpot used in hospitals (such as the nearby Naval Hospital on shore).
PR90 942
Coarse earthenware chamberpot. Found in Layer 2 of square 940. Rim diameter is 24 cm.
PR90 944-1
Tin enameled (delftware) chamberpot. Found in many pieces in Layer 3 of square 940, Building 5. Includes the rim, body, and base. Diameter estimated from the largest fragment of the rim was 19.5 cm. Base diameter 10.35 cm. The handle is one inch wide and grooved, as if someone ran their thumb down the handle prior to firing. A wide ceramic band surrounds the top, ending in an everted edge. Most of the glaze has exfoliated off and the remainder is discolored and cracked. (This chamberpot was originally catalogued as PR90 644-13 and PR 90 644-19.)
PR90 946
Red coarse earthenware possible chamberpot sherd. Found in Layer 2 of Square 940 in Building 5. Triangular sherd was 13.6 centimeters long along the top edge by about 8.8 cm along the broken lower edges. The lip had a depth of 6.6 cm and the body thickness was 0.8 cm. The pot had a green lead glaze on both the interior and exterior and incised decoration. Rim diameter of 24 cm.
PR90 3031
Whiteware chamberpot fragment. Found in two pieces in Layer 1 of square 3031. A triangular-shaped part of the chamberpot rim, measuring 17.1 cm by 11.4 cm. The most interesting feature of this artifact is the decoration of yellow and pink flowers with green stems and leaves. Interior rim has two pink lines, and the exterior has one.

Link to:

  1. A Matter of Convenience--Introduction
  2. A Matter of Convenience--Historical Background
  3. A Matter of Convenience--Dry Land Disposal
  4. A Matter of Convenience--Chamberpots
  5. A Matter of Convenience--Jamaican Sanitation
  6. A Matter of Convenience--Archaeological Evidence
  7. A Matter of Convenience--The Building 5 Privy
  8. A Matter of Convenience--Port Royal Chamberpots (You are here)
  9. A Matter of Convenience--Conclusions

Revised: 1 December 1996

Christine A. Powell
Nautical Archaeology Program
Texas A&M University
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