This 19th century water pitcher is one of the more interesting of our family artifacts to survive to the 21st century. It appears to be made of clay; it weighs 10 pounds on the nose and is about 13 inches tall. It originates from the Rigg family in Kanawha Falls, and was also used by the Farley family. It came to my great-grandfather, Frederick Lee Farley (1879-1945) who passed it down to his son (Willis Hite Farley); it made its way to my father and is now in my care.
It seems extremely sturdy to be at least 130-150 (or more?) years old but we still treat it tenderly. It’s a wonderful example of the blend of art and craft, and I imagine it gave pleasure as an item to have for every day use.
The pitcher is decorated with painted flowers on each side; you can click on each picture above for a larger view, in which you can see a sketched outline of the flowers. The single flower looks like a rose; not sure about the group of flowers. (Feel free to comment below if you have a good guess to contribute!) Completely unknown is who made the pitcher, and who did the painting (and when), and whether the artisans were in the Rigg family, from the Kanawha Falls community, or elsewhere. Many goods were transported along the Kanawha river during this time, so it could have been brought in at some point.
The provenance appears to date to the family of Billy Rigg and his wife, Cynthia Montgomery, my 3rd great grandparents. They built a house for their family in 1826 and reared 8 children in that home. Cynthia died in 1863, when her youngest child and daughter Nancy “Nannie” Montgomery Rigg was not quite 16 years old. Nannie married Thomas Willis Farley in 1866 and continued to live in the “Rigg House” (subject of a story to come) and there they raised the 9 of their 12 children who survived their toddler years, plus a foster child.
A group of family gathered in the mid-1970s to discuss the Rigg, Montgomery and Farley family history. My grandfather Willis Farley essentially was interviewing his Aunt Aggie (Frances Folsom Farley, 1886-1976), the youngest of the Farley daughters to grow up in the Rigg house; my grandmother Audrey was present, as well as two other Farley relatives.
The discussion was recorded and transcribed, and this bit below is about the water pitcher. Folks were interrupting each other a lot and so some of this is disjointed.
Willis: Well now, you were telling us Aggie, then too about how the people used to carry the water down from the spring back in the holler there, you know, in a pitcher. In fact, I’ve got an old pitcher you told me you used to carry it in, I believe.
Aggie: Do you still have the pitcher or did you give it…?
Audrey (wife of Willis): Oh, no, we still have it. That was the one thing that Willis’ dad wanted and your mother gave up <unintelligible> using <unintelligible>.
Aggie: Yes, he asked me and I didn’t know any better than to give it to him. (laughter)
Audrey: How about that, don’t you think he deserved it? (laughter)
Aggie: No I don’t mean that. I didn’t have the right to give it away but I did.
Willis: Well, you see what happened, the interesting thing about that is that the Rigg side of the family claimed more right to the ownership of that pitcher than the Farleys. And I guess, because Albert, at one time, would have paid a pretty penny to…
Audrey: It’s a two gallon old stone type jar, not crock — it has two real beautiful, two painted just below…
Aggie: And the thing they used to use that for was to go up to Cold Spring early in the morning to fill it with water and that was the drinking water for the day.
The Albert mentioned is son of James Rigg, who was Cynthia’s brother and also grew up in the same house. Aggie, who was born in 1887, supposedly used the pitcher herself (per the comment by Willis), though Aggie says “… the thing they used to use that for…” (emphasis mine), suggesting it preceded her use. The fact that a descendent of an “original” Rigg (who was raised in that house) was also very interested in having the pitcher, as well as the comment by Willis about the “claim” on the artifact suggests it was used prior to the Farley family living in the Rigg house, and that it dates to before 1866. That’s just guess work; this might be one of those items that is worth putting in front of an expert some day to see what else can be learned that might fine tune the dating.