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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Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Punch Bowl in Pennsylvania

Last month the Museum of the American Revolution being built in Philadelphia shared news about archeology on its site, including the shards of a ceramic punchbowl shown here.

The museum’s blog reported:
In all, we excavated a well and twelve brick-lined privies, most of them brimming with artifacts. One of the largest assemblages of artifacts came from an 18th-century privy in the southeast corner of the site, located behind a house that would have faced Carter’s Alley. Among them was one of our most treasured findings: the pieces of an English delftware punch bowl.

When these sherds were pieced together in the lab, we were delighted to see a resplendent ship flying British flags with the words “Success to the Triphena” below. (“Triphena” is the name of the ship depicted.) We were the first people to lay eyes on this object since it was broken and discarded around the time of the American Revolution.

American colonists drank enormous quantities of alcoholic beverages, including beer, cider, wine, brandy, rum, gin, and whiskey. One particularly popular beverage during the era of the American Revolution was punch, which combined various ingredients like sugar, citrus juice, spices and liquor, and was commonly served in ceramic “punch bowls” like the “Success to the Triphena” bowl found on our site. . . .

During the 18th century, many of the punch bowls that were exported to the American colonies were produced by potters in Liverpool, England. The collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England includes an example that is a very close match to the Triphena bowl. Such bowls were likely produced to commemorate the launch of a new ship or to mark a voyage.

Thanks to the digitization of 18th-century American and British newspapers, we have been able to piece together some fascinating details about the original Triphena. (“Triphena” is Greek for delicate or dainty). The December 1, 1763 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an advertisement for merchants Robert Lewis and Son, located on Front Street in Philadelphia, where they offered an assortment of goods just imported on the “Triphena, Captain Smith, from Liverpool.” It is certainly no coincidence that Captain Smith’s travels on the Triphena over the next few years regularly carried him to Liverpool, the place where the punch bowl was made, as well as Philadelphia, Charleston, and the West Indies.
The museum notes that in 1765 the Triphena carried the Philadelphia merchants’ protest against the Stamp Act. In that same season it carried a copy of one letter and possibly two to Benjamin Franklin. The 31 Oct 1765 Pennsylvania Gazette reported that “Capt. J. Smith” had cleared the Tryphena (the more common spelling) for Liverpool.

That was a significant date since the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect the next day. In The Stamp Act Crisis Edmund Morgan wrote: “In Philadelphia, apparently alone among colonial ports, many ships’ captains secured their clearance papers before November 1, even though they were still only partially loaded, so that when they finally sailed later in November [without Customs documents on stamped paper] they could persuade the commanders of naval vessels that they were operating perfectly legally.”


Peter Ansoff said...

It's interesting that the Triphina is shown with the union jack flying on the bowsprit staff. The jack was reserved for Royal Navy ships, and its use on a merchantman was (and still is) illegal. Artistic license, most likely.

J. L. Bell said...

The Greenwich example has the same arrangement of flags and the label "Success to the Beehive." So the ceramics decorators probably didn't know or care what kind of ship they were painting.