The Proper Equipage: Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate at James Logan’s Stenton

From a newly completed room furnishings study, to a number of master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations that have incorporated our history and collections, Stenton’s interpretation continues to evolve and benefit from recent research projects. One such project is an investigation of tea, coffee and chocolate vessels at Stenton by new Museum Director, Dennis Pickeral. His research builds on a Master’s thesis by archaeologist Deborah Miller, who took on the task of inventorying and interpreting artifacts recovered during the excavation of a cistern at Stenton by archaeologist Barbara Liggett in 1982. The cistern, designated Feature 14, yielded approximately 22,000 artifacts, including a number of ceramics directly related to tea, coffee, and chocolate drinking at Stenton during James and William Logan’s lifetimes.

 

Tea, coffee, and chocolate first appeared in England in the middle of the 1600s, and were being shipped to the colonies by the end of the century. Novelties at first, Englishmen were unaccustomed to the hot drinks that originated in China, the Ottoman Empire, and South America. Large shipments of tea began arriving in England in the early 18th century, attesting to the rapid growth in the popularity of the drink. James Logan ordered tea as early as 1713, when he requested “1/2 pound of ye best Bohea and as much fine green Tea with 2 lb of coffee” from his agent in London. At the time, tea-drinking was a costly habit indulged in mainly by the wealthy. By the middle of the 18th century, rising incomes, consumer demand, falling prices, and the desire of less affluent households to emulate their wealthy neighbors, led to the spread of tea drinking through nearly all levels of society. However, a comparison of salaries and prices shows that even at mid-century, tea was still a relatively expensive commodity. In 1748, John Smith, husband of Hannah Logan, paid his cook an annual salary of £20. Two years later, William Logan paid £1.7 for a pound of Hyson, or green tea for Stenton.

 

The elaborate tea ceremony provided an opportunity to demonstrate one’s command of the important 18th century concepts of civility and politeness. To contemporaries, politeness was understood as the “dextrous management of our Words and Actions whereby we make other people have better Opinion of us and themselves.” Diary entries of Logan’s son-in-law, John Smith, emphasize the social importance of tea taking in the eighteenth century. Between 1743 and 1752, he recorded drinking tea no less than 78 times, and took special note of occasions when he was “genteely,” “courteously,” or “handsomely and civilly” entertained, as he was at Stenton. In formal spaces like parlours, women played the lead role in the tea ceremony, with the mistress of the household or most eligible daughter serving the drink. Smith’s diary indicates that James Logan’s youngest daughter Hannah often served tea to visitors at Stenton.

 

A complex equipage of teapots, cups and saucers, creamers, sugar bowls, slop bowls, tongs, teaspoons, kettles, stands and tea tables was developed for the tea ceremony. At Stenton, many of these objects are represented in the vast quantity and variety of ceramic tea wares recovered from Feature 14. No less than eleven English-made ceramic teapots were excavated, including white salt-glaze stonewares with elaborately slip-cast molded relief decoration, and cream-bodied tortoiseshell glaze and Whieldon-type earthenware vessels. Most are reconstructable and were manufactured between 1740-1760. In addition, numerous Chinese tea bowls, saucers, and creamers made specifically for the export market are represented in the assemblage.

 

 We can also look to extant objects in other collections, like James Logan’s silver tea service, which consisted of a lamp and stand, hexagonal teapot, covered cream pot, sugar box and pair of tea canisters, one for black (Bohea) and one for green (Hyson). The service was an assembled “set” crafted by various English makers between 1720 and 1724 and then engraved with Logan’s cipher. Now owned by The Philadelphia Museum of Art, this tea equipage can be found in the European Galleries when on display. A scalloped, bellied Chinese export porcelain tea pot with underglaze cobalt blue decoration also has a Logan family provenance and was part of the collection at nearby Loudoun, the Germantown home of Maria Dickinson Logan (1855-1939). The form dates from the first quarter of the 18th century and is the earliest ceramic tea pot associated with James Logan and Stenton.

 

These surviving objects correspond with the inventories of James and Sarah Logan, which report just three teapots, but the eleven excavated English teapots are curiously absent from the record. Archaeological evidence suggests that tea-drinking was an even-larger part of social life and entertaining at Stenton than we may have previously considered, and indicates that the documentary evidence falls far short of adequately describing the array and impressive quantity of ceramic vessels associated with tea, coffee, and chocolate owned by the Logans.