This jar was produced for the oyster house of Thomas Downing (1791-1866), at that time the most famous oyster house in New York City. Thomas was a free Black man who had come north to New York from Virginia in 1819.
Oystering was an important trade for Black entrepreneurs in the early United States. Downing's oysters were shipped as far as London and Paris, and he was even given a gold chronometer from Queen Victoria as a thank you for his oysters.
Downing was also involved in the Abolitionist movement, using the oyster house cellar to hide enslaved people running away on the Underground Railroad.
Author: Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art.