National Museum of American History Acquires Rare 18th-century Silver Milk Pot Symbolic of Boston Tea Party

October 25, 2010
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently acquired at auction a rare 18th-century silver milk pot or creamer with engraved with symbols and an inscription that support the American colonists’ ongoing boycott of imported goods, especially tea, during the months following a 1773 Tea Act aimed at expanding the British East India Company’s monopoly. Domestic objects from this era that reflect political or economic sentiments are rare.

Decorated with the female figure of a Native American holding a tea plant, topped by a liberty cap with a crate of tea and a British ship by her side, the milk pot has an inscription that reads, “Britons take back your baneful tea/You n’er make a slave of me” which refers to many colonists’ pledge to end the consumption of taxed tea.

Made in Philadelphia by Daniel Dupry around 1774; the rococo style milk pot is 4.5 inches high and weighs 4.6 ounces. Milk pots were used to serve milk or cream and were seen as essential for the proper serving of tea–by the time this piece was made in the 1770s many Americans drank tea; at breakfast and family gatherings as well as part of afternoon or evening social affairs.

“What makes this simple milk pot historically important is the engraved decoration that documents how the social custom of tea drinking was politicized during pre-revolutionary America,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. ”The owners of this milk pot could not sit down to drink tea or any other beverage without being reminded of the political significance of their consumer choices.”

Merchants and citizens protested the 1767 Townshend Act which imposed a duty on tea and other imports. By 1773, colonists were strongly opposed to that year’s Tea Act which validated the duty and several cities refused to accept ships with the taxed tea. But in Boston, the tea was destroyed and the event now known as the Boston Tea Party became a key element in the growth of the American Revolution.

The milk pot joins a “No Stamp Act” ceramic teapot acquired in 2006 which relates to the tax on all printed materials imposed by the British on the American colonies and a miniature copper teakettle with Embargo Act decoration purchased in 2008. The museum will conduct additional research on the milk pot to decipher the original owner's initials engraved on the piece.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. The museum shines new light on American history after having been dramatically transformed by a two-year renovation. To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).