A Tempest on a Teapot

By Stephanie Hanson

Tea is a most revolutionary beverage. More than one war has been fought on its account. Consider it, perhaps, the drink that launched a thousand ships. Not only the leaves participate in warfare, however. Teapots have often offered their own opinions.

This particular vessel, protesting the Stamp Act, resides in the Dewitt Wallace Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, where reproductions are also for sale. The Stamp Act, which preceded the Boston Tea Party by about eight years, was passed in 1765. The Act placed a tax on printed materials in the colonies, in order to raise money to pay the costs of the French and Indian War.

The tax covered items such as magazines and newspapers, as well as playing cards. The colonists, who had been largely ignored and little taxed for nearly two hundred years, were furious. This teapot was one way in which they expressed their indignation. Little did they know that in little less than a decade, they would have no tea with which to fill this pot.

The Smithsonian has a similar pot, printed in black instead of red. Because of the widespread protests, the Act would be repealed only a year after being passed. The Smithsonian’s Pot also carries the words “America: Liberty Restored” in celebration of the appeal of the act. The pot was manufactured in England.

An interesting thing about taxation: when governments are in debt, such as the British government at this time, they need to raise money, which they do through taxes. The average citizen of London paid far higher taxes than the American colonists, but with one vital difference. The colonists were not used to paying taxes, thus their outrage. But the English government was determined to bring the unruly colonists under their control. So, they simply traded one tax for another in the form of the Townshend Duties. The colonists protested these taxes too, and Parliament lifted nearly all of the taxes, except, notably, the one on tea. So, the colonists went from protesting with a teapot to protesting the tea. The rest, as they say, is history.

Stephanie’s blog, The Tea Scoop, is a great place to learn more about the history of tea!

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