Taking Tea with Thomas Jefferson

The lawn at Monticello

By Bruce Richardson

The author of the Declaration of Independence was a savvy tea drinker.

Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson. (Photo courtesy of the White House. Painting by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.)

On July 11, 1805, Martha Jefferson Randolph penned a rather trivial request to her father, the president of the United States, “I must beg your pardon for having omitted till this moment to inform you of the dismantled state of our tea equipage … the plated ones [creamers] being so much worn as to shew the copper.”

Thomas Jefferson had purchased the two silver creamers in question from a Paris dealer 18 years prior. Having spent years on the Continent as ambassador to France, President Jefferson was well schooled in the etiquette of tea drinking and fully aware that serving tea from a silver service that had lost its luster would be a major faux pas.

Daughter Martha soon received two new creamers—crafted in Richmond by silversmiths Johnson and Reat—and the family tea service was restored to expected standards.

Thomas Jefferson’s respect for tea is evident as well in his design of Monticello where he included a tea room adjoining the dining room. He referred to it as his “most honorable suite” because here he displayed many likenesses of his friends and American heroes, including busts of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

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