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Redware on the American Frontier:
The Cotton Hill Pottery Site

The Sangamo Country was home to at least four redware pottery shops during the early 19th century, which was a significant cluster for the period. The first pottery to be established in the region was located along Sugar Creek, in a community that would become known as “Cotton Hill.” Now known as the Ebey-Brunk site, the Cotton Hill redware kiln was probably constructed in 1826 by the extended Royal-Ebey-Brunk family, who moved here from Ohio.  The shop closed no later than 1854. This site is the only kiln in the region that has received intensive attention from archaeologists.

A history class from a local university conducted some excavations at Cotton Hill in 1976, unearthing the foundation of the kiln itself. The results of this work were never reported, however, and most of the excavation records are thought to be lost. Nearly 25 years later, the Sangamo Archaeological Center excavated four test units within a concentration of waster debris located behind the site of the kiln and pottery shop. Over 100 gallons of redware sherds were recovered from within the excavation units.


A large ovoid pit was also found buried beneath a surface of pottery fragments. The original function of the pit is unclear, but it was used as a convenient place to discard kiln failures upon its abandonment. The excavation units and the pit feature produced a conservative minimum of 126 identifiable vessels (not including kiln furniture). These probably constitute less than 25% of the vessels recovered.


Aside from the standard utilitarian products such as large pots and kitchen bowls, our work at the site also encountered evidence that tablewares and slip-decorated products were also produced there, early in the history of the shop and probably in limited quantities.

The results of the testing at the Cotton Hill kiln were published in the SAC Research Bulletin Series.  A PDF version of the report can also be downloaded here: 


View of the waster dump behind the kiln site.


Various redware vessels deposited into a large pit feature.

Ebey SD dish2.jpg

An unusual slip decorated dish from Cotton Hill. Slip decoration was rare in the Illinois Country pottery shops.

Examples of more typical storage pots, as well as two unusual, finely-potted table bowls.

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