J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The “No Stamp Act” Teapot

I rather like the irony of this 1766 teapot, which the Smithsonian acquired for the National Museum of American History two and a half years ago. Similar teapots survive in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg and the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem.

The Smithsonian’s press release said:

The fact that the teapot, at only five inches tall, was made in England for the American market to celebrate the repeal of an official Act of the British government illustrates how important trade with the American colonies was to British industry.
Everything is all right now, the words on the pot seem to say. With no Stamp Act, your American liberty is safe, so you can go on providing raw materials and buying our finished goods! After all, that’s what colonies were for in a mercantile economy.

What nobody in 1766 realized was that the next year the British Parliament would put an import duty on tea, meant to raise money for the same expanded colonial administration as the Stamp Act was supposed to support. And eventually tea would become not a beloved commodity that united the British Empire from one side of the globe to the other, but the central focus of the American resistance to taxation without representation.

One wonders if the colonists who had bought these teapots in 1766 quietly moved them to the back of the cupboard a few years later.

1 comment:

Liquid Thoughts said...

William Martin wrote a good book titled Back Bay that was about one Boston family's relationship with a Paul Revere Tea set that he had given to G. Washington. I highly recommend Martin's book. Brings revolutionary America, particularly Boston, and intersperses it with a young kid from South Boston's quest for the teapot.