Tea in 18th Century America


March 18, 2020
by Timothy Symington Also by this Author


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Tea in 18th Century America by Kimberly K. Walters. (K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse, 2019)

Best-selling author Lucinda Brant offers enthusiastic praise in her Foreword for Kimberly K. Walters’s Tea in 18th Century America, citing their shared interest in “all things 18th century.” Brant briefly describes the contents of the book and sets the stage for the reader. Walters, who wrote A Book of Cookery, by a Lady, is a jewelry reproducer and historical re-enactor. History is an active constant in her life. So, at the get-go, the book has an intensely exciting “air” to it. It is this constant fervor that keeps the reader invested in the book.

Walters, in her Introduction, reflects upon her own life and learning about British tea from her father. He also instilled in her a passion for Revolutionary-era subjects, such as dining and tea-drinking. Walters then starts to describe the historical importance of tea to the British colonists of the Thirteen Colonies. It is an interesting and sometimes fascinating look into the cultural life of the eighteenth century. Walters offers the reasons for drinking tea and how the beverage was used to delineate social classes. Tea became a political issue due to the Tea Act of 1773 (included in its entirety in the book) and then the Boston Tea Party. All the important political figures of the era, such as Washington and Adams, participated in the tea ceremony and made efforts to acquire the best tea equipage.

Chapters in Walters’s book includes information about different types of tea, tea utensils and equipment, the tea ceremony, and the social aspects of drinking tea. Several chapters include primary-source text about recipes (called “receipts”) for food to eat with tea, specific drinks and various desserts. Walters is good enough to include her own notations on successfully following the receipts, all of which are meant for the eighteenth century audience. Other chapters include measures, cooking terms, and coloring confectionary.

One of the last chapters is a focus on the life of Margaret Tilghman Carroll of Maryland, a figure who Walters is obviously enamored with. Several of Tilghman’s original receipts for various fare are included. Tilghman even corresponded with George Washington regarding trees and plants that were to be sent to Mount Vernon. It is interesting that at the beginning of the chapter on Tilghman, Walters goes out of her way to defend the fact that Tilghman owned slaves: “From what I have read about Margaret, she and her husband would have taken care of those they were responsible for to the best of their abilities just as General George Washington did.” Yes, she was a product of her times, and the political norms are not the same as they were, etc. However, both Jefferson and Washington continually justified their participation in this “nefarious practice” (Jefferson’s words) by saying that they essentially had no other choice. This reviewer was struck by Walters’ necessity to so readily defend Margaret Tilghman.

The book Tea in the 18th Century is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the daily lives of the colonists. The reader will surely have a better appreciation for the social importance of the Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party. However, the lack of editing led to some confusion in the text. The book is worth the effort because of the valuable primary source materials. Three huzzahs also to Walters for including the Tea Act of 1773 and Parliament’s response to the Boston Tea Party, both of which are documents that most people do not even bother to read. The combination of a political story and receipt summaries made the book quite unique, and this reviewer is glad to have had the opportunity to read it. The delicacies described warrant some experimentation.

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