One of the most exciting and important discoveries archaeologists have made at Ferry Farm is a pewter teaspoon baring the initials B.W. It belonged to Betty Washington. This spoon was part of a set that trained her to oversee the extremely important tea ceremony.
Serving tea in the 18th century was more than an act of providing a mid-afternoon refreshment or a small meal to family and guests. Tea time, with its prescribed social behaviors and ritualistic customs of service, symbolized gentility and civility, and was an expression of social class. As an imported good, tea was initially an expensive commodity used only by the upper and middle classes of society. In addition to the tea, a proper hostess also had to purchase the accouterments of the tea ceremony, such as teapots, cups and saucers, slop and sugar bowls, milk jugs, silverware, and a suitable tea table for presentation. The cost of these accessories, as well as the time and decorous social habits needed to prepare, serve, and entertain family and guests, meant that the tea ceremony was more a custom of the elite leisure classes, who had the time and money to do such things.
As a restricted custom, the tea ceremony transformed into an indicator of class and gentility, and consequently, its “social and cultural significance increased enormously.” Rules governing the behavior of the participants, including the host, family and guests, were understood by all and represented learned standards of civility. Politeness and courtesy were important, and deference was made to the hostess in terms of the pace and content of conversation. Even the act of serving tea was ceremonial in nature. Seated at her tea table, the hostess made, poured, and distributed an individualized cup of tea for each guest, who received it in a gracious manner. It was a “small personal ceremony” that “epitomized the giving that was at the heart of hospitality.”
The tea ceremony was a gendered activity almost exclusively performed by and associated with the women of the household, who selected the teaware that they used in the ceremony A household’s leading female figure, often the wife or oldest daughter, predominantly oversaw the service of tea to family members and guests, emphasizing her position of authority within the household and the gathered social circle. As such, women used the opportunity to express their gentility and respectability.
Teatime also supplied a moment to maintain and cultivate important social ties within the community. Neighbors, business and political associates, and potential suitors met over a convivial small meal and discussed important matters.
Teatime was also an opportunity to teach the younger generation, especially girls, how to act and behave during this social encounter. As a future wife in charge of her household, it was essential for women, such as Mary Washington’s daughter Betty, to know how to successfully conduct this unique social custom and be able to demonstrate her inclusion and influence in the community elite. Betty was trained in the art of tea making, as is evidenced by the archaeological presence of a pewter teaspoon bearing her initials at Ferry Farm. Monogrammed just for Betty, the teaspoon was part of a beginners tea set used by a young lady to train for many future tea times to come.
Betty’s uncle Joseph Ball also sent her a silver tea set when she was a teenage girl, further enforcing her future role. The importance of properly entertaining guests with such tea equipage cannot be overstated, but in addition to this, Betty’s learning how to elegantly serve tea was a must for her prospects as the future wife of a well-off gentleman. One can imagine a teenage Betty serving tea gracefully to her future husband, Fielding Lewis, having practiced diligently with her pewter and silver tea sets.
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist
 Woodruff Smith, Consumption and the Making of Respectability, 1600-1800 (New York: Routledge, 2002), 173; Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 275.
 Smith, 172.
 Vickery, 273.
 Annie Gray, “‘The Proud Air of an Unwilling Slave’: Tea, Women and Domesticity, c.1700-1900,” in Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on Gender Transformations: From Private to Public, ed. Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood, 23-43 (New York: Springer, 2013), 28; Smith, 174.
 Smith, 173.
 Smith, 174.
 Laura Galke, “The Mother of the Father of Our Country: Mary Ball Washington’s Genteel Domestic Habits, Northeast Historical Archaeology 38 (2009): 29-48.
 Paula Felder, Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of Eighteenth-Century Fredericksburg. (Fredericksburg, VA: The American History Publishing Company, 1998), 68.