Refined earthenware ceramics produced in the Staffordshire region of England are among the most ubiquitous artifacts recovered from late 18th- and 19th-century archaeological sites in Maryland. The plate to the left, molded with a rim motif known as shell edge, was made of creamware, a type of ceramic first produced in the 1760s. Thanks largely to the ingenious marketing savvy of its creator, Josiah Wedgwood, creamware was a huge commercial success in England, Europe and the American colonies (Towner 1978).
Creamware’s rise to popularity coincided with rising economic tensions between England and the thirteen American colonies. To raise funds to support the defense of the American frontier, the British government passed in early 1765 The Stamp Act, a tax on printed materials like newspapers, legal documents, ship’s papers and more (Brugger1988). American colonists viewed this act, which was passed without their consent, as an ominous precedent for future taxation.
Resistance to the Stamp Act in Maryland was swift. The Maryland Gazette began publishing articles critical of the new legislation, with the paper’s editor vowing that he would shutter the newspaper offices before paying the tax (Brugger 1988:104). The Stamp Act also provoked merchants to stop importing British goods in protest. By adversely affecting the selling power of British merchants, the colonists hoped for repeal of the Stamp Act. Informal nonimportation actions were taken by November of 1765, although Maryland merchants were reluctant to agree to trade restrictions likely to hurt their bottom line.
Although the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the British soon followed in 1767 with the Townshend Acts, which levied taxes on paper, lead, glass, paint, and tea. Continuing frustration with the Crown’s moves to levy what some colonists saw as unfair taxation led to renewed efforts to boycott British products. Maryland merchants, eventually succumbing to pressure from British boycotts enacted in other cities like Philadelphia, New York and Boston, adopted a non-importation policy in March of 1769.
Despite the policy, some Maryland merchants continued to import British goods; one British secretary of state reported that imports into Maryland and Virginia “had never been heavier” (Brugger 1988:108). Once the British government repealed the Townshend Acts in March of 1770, the non-importation movement fell apart. But these issues were far from over, as escalating tensions between Britain and the American colonies ultimately gave way to revolution.
The plate in Figure 1 was recovered from a privy associated with the household of Baltimore carpenter and builder John Dalrymple (Akerson 1989). The privy was filled between 1801 and 1816, but the rococo shell edging of the plate places its manufacture sometime around 1775. As evidenced by the Dalrymple household and archaeological evidence from other Baltimore households, the desire for and purchase of English goods continued despite hostilities.
Akerson, Louise E. 1989. The Albemarle Row House Excavation An Archival Investigation of 44-50 Albemarle Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Research Series Report No. 5, Part 1.
Brugger, Robert. 1988. Maryland; A Middle Temperament 1634-1980. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Towner, Donald. 1978. Creamware. London: Faber & Faber.