Government & Politics

Sets and Sensibilities: A Tea Service and the Excavation of Ideology in a Rural Context

Submitted to Northeast Historical Archaeology, forthcoming in 2018. A growing literature on the archaeology of farmsteads and rural domestic sites has examined commodity consumption as the means by which rural families created and maintained social
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    Introduction Commodity consumption is a powerful semiotic process that, on one hand, can solidify social identities, while on the other, can mask the realities of everyday life. Consumption and its association with individual identity is often a fickle and ambiguous concert between perceived concreteness and fluidity. At times, understanding the concreteness of how and why people consume mass produced objects can be as rudimentary as any cause and effect relationship. At other times, consumption is a depictive intercourse that has no salient meaning but rather must  be deciphered in order to understand the multifaceted levels of meaning and significance. This concert baffles the audience, here archaeologists, as we attempt to conjure interpretation not from inanimate objects, but dynamic social agents embodying the hopes and desires of people who have long since passed. This paper discusses this interplay of consumption and intersectional identities, as observed in a porcelain tea service set recovered from the Spring House, a former farmstead and hotel located in the Town of Pittsford, Monroe County, New York. Cultural Resource Management excavations were conducted at the site during the winter and spring of 2003-2004 in anticipation for the construction of retail and office space on the property adjacent to the Spring House (Powers and Teremy 2002). A total of 1,472 artifacts consisting primarily of architectural materials, glassware, ceramics and other late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century objects were recovered from four 1m x 1m test units, eight shovel tests, and nine 6-15 m x 150 cm trenches. Also recovered was a small assortment of personal artifacts such as a cameo, toys, patent medicine bottles, and a bone hairbrush and toothbrush. The artifact assemblages underscore the integration of the Spring House and its various occupants into the growing consumer culture, a participation that emphasizes a desire among rural families for mass-produced material goods and their ability to purchase these objects (Austin 2007; Groover 2008; Huey 2000; Parkerson 1995). Our research questions guiding this paper are as follows: What does the tea service set suggest of the social and economic status of its owners? What are the meanings of the tea set and its motif? How do these artifacts reflect and construct the popular Victorian ideologies of Christianity, the domestic sphere, genteel respectability and individualism? In addressing these questions we contextualize the service set into broader networks of late capitalism delineating how structure affects habitus and practice in a rural area. History of the Spring House The Spring House is a Federal-style structure constructed by Joseph Tousey, a Connecticut farmer ca. 1822-1832, off the main highway between the City of    Rochester to the northwest and the Village of Pittsford to the southeast (Brooke 1975; Malo 1974; McIntosh 1877; McKelvey 1950: 23; Figure 1).  Figure 1  The Spring House initially served as a stagecoach and packet boat stop  before Tousey began to advertise the health benefits of a small sulfur spring located near the house. This new emphasis may have been an attempt to capitalize on the passenger traffic on the newly built Erie Canal and the popularity of other mineral springs in New York State, such as those at Saratoga Springs, Ballston, and Avon. Tousey died in either 1843 or 1848, and the property was purchased by a Mr. Norton and Aaron C. Wheeler. The Spring House continued as a health resort until at least 1855 (Bell 1855: 126). While the main house continued to operate as a hotel, Wheeler established a plant nursery on the property. The  property was then acquired by Joseph Hall, a threshing machine manufacturer and trainer of trotting horses (Brooke 1975; Woodruff 1868: 316). Hall was also involved in the Rochester  ’s thriving nursery industry,  and extended his interest to the Spring House by establishing “Monroe Springs Place,” a plant nursery on the 100-acre property (Brooke 1975: 7; Genesee Gateway 2003). In 1865, Hall sold the property to Milton Olcott, a farmer and manufacturer of cider and vinegar. Olcott owned the property until at least 1887 (Beers 1887). By the early twentieth   century, the Spring House was operated as a hotel and tavern, and possibly as a farmstead, by a succession of different owners (Brooke 1975; Lathrop 1902). Little is known about the various occupations between 1887 and 1906. The Spring House was acquired by Patrick Hackett, a Rochester saloonkeeper, and his wife Elizabeth in 1906 (Drew, Allis, and Company 1907; The Farm  Journal 1918: 163). The Hacketts ran a speakeasy on the property, which resulted in Patrick’s arrest in 1915 (Rochester  Democrat & Chronicle  1915; Spiegel 2000: 72-73; Town of Pittsford 2010). Hackett sold the Spring House and its acreage to the University of Rochester in 1922 (Brooke 1975), which in 1926 exchanged it    with a local country club for another lot closer to Rochester. The structure fell into disrepair and was purchased by the Pittsford Land Company in 1931. It was sold to Crossman Crippen in 1935, who ran a furniture and upholstery shop. However, the business was unsuccessful and in 1940 the house passed to Anna Stubbs and Anne Colberg, who opened it as a restaurant. The Tea Set The tea set was recovered from a trash midden near the northeastern foundation of the Spring House.   The porcelain saucer measures 5.5 in in diameter (14 cm) and the cup measures 2.65 in high by 3 in across (6.7 cm x 7.6 cm).The vessels are part of a matching set that is decorated with red transfer prints overlaid with hand painted polychrome and overglazed pink luster bands around the rims. Figure 2      Figure 3 When compared with other, more expensive examples the transfer prints and polychrome decorations of the set are blurry and poorly defined. The low quality of the transfer print and paste suggest that the set was an inexpensive  purchase. We were unable to identify the direct manufacturer of the set as it does not have a maker’s mark, only the lot number “613” painted on the base of the saucer. However, based on similar lusterware sets with the same motifs, the set was produced in the first half of the nineteenth century in Staffordshire or Sunderland, England. The motif was a popular style and was produced in several variations by a number of different manufacturers throughout the nineteenth century (Dyer 1908; empirical observations). The set was found in an archaeological context that included artifacts dating from the 1870s to 1900s.  Neither the tea cup or saucer show signs of utensil wear, suggesting that the set was curated and likely displayed rather than used in everyday practice. The curation of the objects could help to explain its position within a late nineteenth century assemblage. The Motif: Faith, Hope, and Charity    The teacup depicts a woman kneeling in front of an altar, suggesting that she is  prayer, in front of an altar. In the background is a Bible leaning against a cross. The word “Faith” is displayed underneath the scene. The opposite side of the teacup is missing, but appears to depict a woman leaning against an anchor and gazing out at a sailing ship. Under this scene is the word “Hope.”  The saucer depicts a saintly-looking male figure opposite a young boy playing a musical instrument with a sheep near his feet. Both the Saint and boy are standing at opposite ends of a woman cradling a baby and looking up towards the sky. On a  banner unde r this scene is the word “Charity.”  The decorations on these vessels are reference Christianity’s Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (sometimes used interchangeably with Love). These virtues are discussed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, th e closing line of which reads “And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (King James American version 2012). According to nineteenth century Christian dogma, Faith is the gift from God that enables humans to believe without doubt whatever God has revealed. Faith is the foundational basis of Christianity and the other two virtues (Gibson 1882: 275). One nineteenth-century social commentator suggested that faith was “a remedy for our natural defects and supplies th e place of knowledge. It teaches us to believe without doubting, doctrines which we cannot comprehend, on the testimony of God, who has taught them” (Baines 1836:  2). In turn, Faith begot Hope, in which people trusted God’s goodness and power…[and] [i]t is  this  beautiful virtue of Hope that comforts us in all our troubles” (Gibson 1882:  278). Like Faith, it was argued that Hope is sustained through acts, such as not giving into the “temptation” of despair and whenever one asks for God’s help, which God is ever ready and desirous to impart to those who employ the proper means of obtaining it” (Baines 1836:  2; Gibson 1882: 278). Finally, Charity is considered the most important of the Virtues because it is believed that while through Faith people enter into an understanding with God, it is by Charity (or Love), as “through the love of God above all things, we love our neighbors as ourselves” (Gibson 1882:  278). In Christian theology the Three Virtues are symbolized by a cross (Faith), an anchor (Hope), and a heart (Charity/Love). The meanings of these symbols are made clear by a contemporary writer: “He that hath faith cannot distrust, he that hath hope cannot be put from anchor, he that hath charity will not lead a licentious life, for love keeps the commandments” (Adams 1847:  4).We suggest that since Charity was considered to be the most important virtue that its symbol was  purposely placed on the largest vessel in the tea set. The motif is a popular Victorian sentiment, and is seen in a variety of contexts and objects, from cameos and tea services to gravestones (Peterson 2010;


Oct 7, 2019
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