When thinking about archeology, it’s easy to assume that the most exciting discoveries are made in ‘the field’ and the lab is only used for housekeeping activities. Oftentimes, though, the lab is where the most exciting discoveries are made because it is here that archeologists can get a closer look at the artifacts.
Last year while working on the Narbonne House materials from Salem Maritime National Historic Site, we came across both a Jackfield teapot adorned with paw feet and a matching detached Jackfield foot. We realized that the a similar foot was uncovered at Minute Man National Historical Park and then another Jackfield foot showed up this year while we were cataloging the City Point collection from Petersburg National Battlefield.
A Tale of Three Cities
What do the Narbonne House, Minute Man National Historic Park, and Petersburg Battlefield all have in common other than being National Park Service sites? And what made this teapot so special that it was used at two different port towns 600 miles apart and a country site 20 miles inland?
Jackfield is a type of redware with a dense, gray to black body and a rich black lead glaze that often appears metallic. The high gloss finish was meant to emulate highly lacquered furniture from China. Commonly used for table/tea ware and jugs, Jackfield was used for a short period of time, from 1740-1790.
Because it was only used for a limited amount of time, we can more easily tie the Jackfield feet to specific families that occupied each site. Our ability to determine who may have owned the Jackfield wares allows us to look for similarities among the families which, in turn, has the potential to inform us about the social make up and patterns of consumption of the 18th-century.
The Eppes family owned the property at City point as early as 1635, but probably did not begin occupying the site until c. 1700. The Jackfield foot from Petersburg was uncovered from excavations near the c. 1763 cellar hole for Richard Eppes dwelling. A bottle seal with the letters “FE,” presumably for Francis Eppes, the previous owner of the property, was found along with a tin-glazed earthenware punch bowl, Delft and white salt-glazed stoneware saucers, bowls, and plates, wine bottles, and drinking glasses. There were also domestic objects such as red-bodied cream jars and storage jars.
Because we know when Richard Eppes constructed his house and filled the cellar hole, and Francis Eppes inherited the land in 1727, we can assume that the artifacts in the fill represent Francis’ occupation of the site from 1727-1763 or that of a tenant of Francis’ based off of two additional wine seals embossed “PT 1742.”
We can also infer information about the social standing of the Eppes at the time. The artifacts and the dwelling remains are indicative of a person of economic and social prominence. The presence of tin-enamel and white salt-glazed stoneware as well as the vessel forms – plates, saucers, bowls, and a punch bowl – indicate that the owner was following the emerging eating and tea drinking rituals.
From 1780-1820, the Narbonne House in Salem, MA was occupied by Mrs. Andrews, who lost both her husband and father in a relatively short time. She inherited a fair amount of money from the 2 estates. Instead of moving, she opted to update her home with new mantles, a built-in china cabinet, and, subsequently, stocked the cabinet with fashionable ceramic wares, including at least 4 black ware teapots.
Because of the color, the Jackfield teapot would have been appropriate for a widow in morning while still allowing her to enjoy the societal expectations of having tea both with breakfast and following dinner while the men drank their wine, claret, and port and smoked their pipes.
Since Mrs. Andrews had come into wealth, it is possible that she, more than most, may have felt the need to display her standing in society. Her tea wares would have contributed to this endeavor.
Little is known about the occupants at Casey’s House at Minute Man National Historical Park. The artifacts that were uncovered appear to have been dumped, or the result of a secondary deposit. Because of this, the artifacts do not provide much information about the actual residents, but we can infer information about the owner of the Jackfield foot based off of what we know about the culture at the time.
The owner probably would have been in the upper middle class. Since Concord is not near a port, it is also possible that the teapot would have been used towards the latter end of the usage of Jackfield. The newest wares were available first in port towns, like Boston or Salem, and then made their way inland.
While we cannot know for certain where the foot from Casey’s House came from, we can see the similarities between the owners of the Jackfield teapots from Salem and Petersburg. The Eppes and Mrs. Andrews were in the middle to upper middle and upper classes. Both owned non-utilitarian wares. Both had white salt-glazed stoneware and tin-glazed earthenwares. Based off of vessel types, both seem to have been practicing the newly evolving eating and tea drinking rituals.
Where the similarities end is in the period of time that the Jackfield was used. The Eppes would have stopped using the teapot sometime prior to 1763 when the cellar hole was filled. The Andrews did not move to the Narbonne House until 1780; the Jackfield teapot would have been discarded after this point. Mrs. Andrews was using the Jackfield teapot well after the Eppes.
There are several possible reasons for this. The Eppes may have been more fashionable than the Andrews and had the means to replace their goods with the newest trends. Another reason could be that Virginia had access to goods before Massachusetts. Or maybe the social expectations in Virginia were higher than those in Massachusetts, making it necessary for Virginians to update their china more regularly.
But perhaps the simplest explanation comes from the remains. At each site, we have evidence of a detached foot, suggesting a possible flaw in the design of this teapot – the attachment of the foot to the body of the vessel is fragile and vulnerable to breakage.
Maybe the Eppes discarded the pot not because they wanted to update their china, but simply because it broke. Maybe the pot in Concord was discarded for the same reason. And maybe Mrs. Andrew’s teapot lasted as long as it did because she used more care with her possessions. There is evidence from the Andrews’ occupation of a repaired Jackfield bowl, suggesting that, despite her inheritances, Mrs. Andrews’ was less frivolous with her goods than other port town residents at the time.
While we will never have all of the answers, it says a lot about the power of trade and the growing consumerism when three more or less identical pieces are found at three very different locations – 2 port towns 600 miles apart and one interior, smaller town.
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