Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It: Tobacco & Politics in the 1700s

Colonial American.  Think about that term.  What does it mean to you?  It refers to citizens of the American colonies prior to the Revolution.  In the minds of many of us in the present-day United States, however, it might denote a unique American identity, probably because our own identities as Americans are firmly set and celebrated.  But what if I told you that most of these colonial Americans considered themselves to be loyal British subjects for much of the colonial period and proudly displayed objects that confirmed their loyalty?

One such object discovered at George Washington’s Ferry Farm is a small fragment from a white clay smoking pipe bowl.  The design on this tiny fragment includes a small harp and the letters “Mon D…”.

Pipe Bowl Fragment

Pipe bowl fragment excavated by archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Sometimes in archaeology we have genuine ‘Ah Ha!’ moments and, for me, this was one such instance.  I grew up with a suncatcher – a gift from an English family friend — in my bedroom that featured a rearing unicorn above the words ‘Mon Droit.

Suncatcher

I loved that suncatcher and, when I saw the pipe fragment, I recognized the design was right away.  It was the British royal coat of arms!

On pipe bowls like the one unearthed at Ferry Farm, the coat of arms wrapped around three quarters of the circular bowl. A lion, shield, and unicorn each filled their own quarter of the bowl above the full French phrase “Dieu Et Mon Droit” or “God and my right,” a claim that the right of the British monarch to govern was divine in nature.  This phrase has a long history in England.  It was first used as a battle cry by Richard I in the 12th century and picked up as a royal motto by King Henry V, who lived from 1386-1422.  The use of the French language for an English motto may seem odd but French was very fashionable and the official language of the English court.

British Royal Coat of Arms

The British royal coat of arms from 1714-1800 during the Hanover dynasty. Credit:  Sodacan/Wikipedia

It is doubtful that anyone living at Ferry Farm after the America Revolution wanted to advertise their loyalty to the British crown so we can safely say this pipe was probably used between 1714, when the Hanover dynasty began under George I, and, at the latest, the 1770s. During most of this time period, the Washington family lived at Ferry Farm.The royal coat of arms is full of important symbols.  Grasping the center shield is a lion signifying England and a unicorn representing Scotland.  On the shield’s lower left is a harp symbolizing Ireland. The harp is clearly identifiable on the pipe fragment excavated at Ferry Farm.  The lower right section of the shield includes a columned monument and another lion. These symbols were added during the House of Hanover’s reign.  Monarchs regularly changed the coat of arms as each new king or queen sought to make their mark on the official emblem.  The monument and small lion were included on the shield to denote the Hanovers’ rule over their territory in what is now Germany.  The fragment found at Ferry Farm also contains these elements indicating that it was manufactured between 1714 and 1800.

139_Masonic_pipe_NO_SCALE

Pipes featured more than political symbols. This is a 3D image of another smoking pipe bowl excavated at Ferry Farm decorated with a Masonic symbol. The pipe was probably made in the northeast of England between 1770-1810. You can read more about this pipe here.

Why is this pipe fragment a big deal?  During the 18th century, smoking a pipe with a political symbol like the one we’ve found was the equivalent of slapping a candidate’s bumper sticker on your car, placing a political party’s sign in your yard, or sharing a favorite political meme on social media. The act was public, deliberate, and did not go without notice. The practice continued well into the 1800s when groups such as the Irish employed smoking pipes to advertise their support for causes such as a free Ireland.  It was a way to signal identity to others.

During most of the colonial period in America, aligning yourself with the crown was not at all radical but rather what was expected of most subjects.  In fact, this pipe bowl fragment is not the only artifact excavated at Ferry Farm to hint at past occupants’ loyalty to Britain.  As noted in a previous blog, we have found several drinking vessels exhibiting the initials ‘G.R.’ for ‘George Rex’ or King George.  In another blog, we also discussed an artifact uncovered at Ferry Farm that points toward a growing resistance to the British crown. This mid-18th century sleeve button depicts William III, who, although he died decades before the button was manufactured, came to represent the right of subjects to resist a king who was abusing power.

What we may be seeing in these three types of artifacts present at Ferry Farm is a fundamental shift of views within the Washington family as the political climate changed throughout the 1700s.  The objects hint at a swing from loyal British subjects to revolutionaries and the beginning of our identity as independent Americans.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

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Photos: It’s Spring. Let’s Dig!

Dig Site Opens (15)

Last week, another archaeological excavation season began at George Washington’s Ferry Farm. Here are some scenes from the first week of digging.

On weekdays, see Ferry Farm’s archaeologists working at the excavation site from now through late-June or, if you can’t visit before June, spend a day on the dig site by watching the video below.

Learn more about Ferry Farm archaeology here.

A ‘Link’ Between the Washingtons and William and Mary

William III sleeve link

Close-up of a mid-1700s sleeve link recovered at Ferry Farm. It features the image of King William III.

This cuff link or ‘sleeve button’ – made in the mid 1700s – was recovered by archaeologists from George Washington’s boyhood home at Ferry Farm.  It is one of the earliest examples of the Washington family’s resistance to King George III.  What makes this sleeve button so interesting is the man depicted:  King William III, who ruled England with Queen Mary.  This sleeve link was made two generations after the death of this monarch.  Nonetheless one of the Washington brothers wore this politically provocative accessory.  What made William III, a monarch who died in 1702, an attractive choice for colonial apparel during the mid-1700s?  The answer resides in this sleeve link’s political dimensions and reflects the Washington family’s early resistance to Crown policy.

November is an appropriate time to remember the polemical reign of William and Mary:  they were married on November 4, 1677 and William landed at Torbay, England, November 5, 1688 to begin battles against the supporters of King James II, then ruler of England.  When the unpopular James fled to France with his wife and young son (heir to the throne) parliament met and, after some deliberation, offered the monarchy to William and Mary.  Individual rights, representative government, and justified rebellion became associated with the rule of William and Mary and were part of annual celebrations held for this sovereign pair for generations.  Popular items such as coins, playing cards, plates, mugs, and pamphlets reinforced these connotations throughout their reign and beyond.

Cuff links, such as the William III link from Ferry Farm, were popular fashion accessories throughout the 1700s.  Made from a molded glass ‘gem’ (see photo) originally situated within a copper-alloy setting (not shown), this sleeve button featured King William III’s silhouette.  It was modeled after coins that depicted the English monarch beginning in the mid-1690s (see image).  At that time, the king’s profile, along with his name “Gulielmus” (in Latin) followed by the initials “D. G.” – an abbreviation of the Latin dei gratia (by the grace of god [King]) – were prominently featured on currency.

William III coin

A 1697 sixpence featuring King William III. This silhouette (and text) inspired the design of the mid 1700s sleeve link from Ferry Farm.

Beginning in the mid-1700s, when the Washingtons wore their William III sleeve link, tensions were growing between Britain and her North American colonies, incited by the colonists’ concern over the policies of King George III.  The Sugar Act and the Stamp Act taxed American colonists, even though they had no representation in parliament.

Colonists asserted that this was a violation of their rights under the English Bill of Rights (enacted in 1689 under the reign of William and Mary).  Thanks to a popular campaign that originally began in the 1690s, William and Mary came to represent the right of subjects to resist a king who was abusing power, and this narrative proved to be enduring.  In fact, colonists supported this narrative with other figures in English history.  As the Washingtons were looking to William and Mary to legitimize their resistance to King George III, Thomas Jefferson took as his role model Oliver Cromwell, whose rebellion resulted in regicide and who was considered particularly militant by the colonists.  While the Washingtons owned cufflinks to celebrate William and Mary, Jefferson owned a miniature depicting the far more revolutionary Cromwell.

Regardless, William III thus became a symbol for American colonists in general, and the Washington family in particular, as momentum grew to resist crown powers during the mid-1700s.  By wearing this sleeve link, the Washingtons proclaimed their enduring support for representative government.  And, we all know where that led—the American Revolution and birth of the United States, whose first president grew up at Ferry Farm.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Additional Reading

Cofield, Sara Rivers
2012  Linked Buttons of the Middle Atlantic, 1670-1800.  Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 28:99-116.

Greene, Jack P.
1992  The Glorious Revolution and the British Empire 1688-1783.  In The Revolution of 1688-1689:  Changing Perspectives, edited by Lois G. Schwoerer.  Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 260-271.

McConnel, James Richard Redmond
2012  The 1688 Landing of William of Orange at Torbay: Numerical Dates and Temporal Understanding in Early Modern England.  The Journal of Modern History 84(3):539-571.

McConville, Brendan
2006 The King’s Three Faces: The Rise and Fall of Royal America, 1688-1776.  University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Schwoerer, Lois G.
1990  Celebrating the Glorious Revolution, 1689-1989.  Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies.  22(1):1-20.

1989  Images of Queen Mary II, 1689-95. Renaissance Quarterly, 42(4):717-748.

1977  Propaganda in the Revolution of 1688-89.  The American Historical Review 82(4):843-874.

Weil, Rachel J.
1992  The Politics of Legitimacy: Women and the Warming-pan Scandal.  In The Revolution of 1688-1689: Changing Perspectives.  Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 65-82.

Wieldraaijer, Matthijs
2010  Good Government and Providential Delivery:  Legitimations of the 1672 and 1688/89 Orangist Revolutions

Meet the Archaeologists: Field School Edition

Each summer. students from the University of South Florida attend a field school at George Washington’s Ferry Farm to learn practical aspects of archaeological excavations. This is what they said about their experience.

On weekdays, see Ferry Farm’s archaeologists at work on the excavation site from now through mid-June.

Meet the Archaeologists

Each summer, archaeologists from across the United States come to George Washington’s Ferry Farm for about two months of excavations on and around the site of Washington’s boyhood home. These are their stories.

On weekdays, see Ferry Farm’s archaeologists at work on the excavation site from now through mid-June.