Pieter Gerrits van Roestraten (1630-1700) Detail of the Tea Service in A Yixing Teapot and a Chinese Porcelain Tete-a-Tete
Tea drinking had been popular in the British American colonies since the mid 17C, when household inventories showed a number of tea wares. Before tea was imported into England & Europe by Dutch traders around 1610, tea was virtually unknown to Westerners, who routinely drank mead, cider, beer, or ale.
English Saltglaze Tea Pot c 1760
When New Yorker John Jones opened his public pleasure garden called Ranelagh Garden in the heart of the city during the summer of 1765, he offered regular breakfasting from 6 - 10 the morning, and served in the genteelest Manner" each afternoon. In the evenings the garden was "illuminated."
On Monday & Thursday evenings, however, he added a concert of music from 6 - 9 followed by fireworks until 10. Guests danced in a "commodious Hall in the Gardens" or met more intimately in smaller "Drawing Rooms" to eat "Gammons, Tongues, Alamode Geef, Tarts,... Cakes." With advance notice, guests even could order complete dinners.
In the 1760s, the British government began to impose taxes on tea in the British American colonies, through the 1765 Stamp Act & the 1767 Townshend Act. Angry colonists started smuggling tea into the colonies. Outraged merchants, shippers, and patriotic locals staged a number of rowdy protests, culminating in the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, followed by other "tea parties" up and down the Atlantic coast.
Josiah Wedgwood in 1765 Success to Trade in America and No Stamp Act
Ironically, just as colonial British Americans were up in arms about taxes on tea, clever British potters were producing pro-America tea pots for export to the colonies which would only stir up revolutionary sentiment & cause colonists to have less need for tea pots.
Throughout the colonies, women pledged publicly at meetings and in newspapers not to drink or serve English-sold tea, until their free rights (and those of their husbands) were restored. (Actually, women did not have free rights in the new nation until 1920, but that's another story.)
Factors in several American cities refused to accept the tea shipments, once they arrived in the colonies. The protests garnered widespread support for nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements, as the tea boycotts played a vital role in radicalizing the colonial population in the lead-up to war. Tea became a symbol in the colonies. If a man ordered tea, he was a Tory. If he ordered coffee, he was a Patriot.
When the Revolutionary war ended, Americans once again gathered together around the tea table, lasting symbol of their freedom. Moreau de Saint-Méry, a visitor to Philadelphia in the 1790s, noted. "The whole family is united at tea, to which friends, acquaintances, and even strangers are invited."
During the last decades of the 18th century, John Jalland's Garden, also called Staple's Gardens, a tea garden sitting near the harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, specialized in polite social conversation accompanied by formal tea drinking and soothing music. The green niche Jalland carved out of the surrounding city was small but apparently healthy, envigorating, and soothing. "Handsomely laid off...their central situation, salubriety of air...commonly serves to exhilerate the leisurely moments of the weary visitor--while music lends it aid to soften every care...and always provided with the niceties of the season."
Jalland's garden was Baltimore's most conservative. The proprietor offered only tea & coffee to drink, but he did regularly provide music during evenings of "elegant" illumination and continually assured his conservative guests that "no ungenteel people" would be admitted. Most commercial garden owners who built their business by serving alcoholic beverages attempted to maintain some semblence of order and decorum, especially when their gardens served both ladies & gentlemen.
When opening his similar traditional garden in 1798, Frenchman Joseph Corré of Columbia Garden in New York City announced, "as it is his intention to keep good and strict rules, he hopes no person will attempt to be admitted, that would not be agreeable and conduct themselves accordingly."
Men, women, & children flocked to Gray's Gardens on the banks of the Schuykill River in Philadelphia during the last quarter of the 18C. Grey's specialized in coffee & teas accompanied by "relishes." Visitor William Priest noted these on one visit to the garden, "coffee, cheese, sweet cakes, hung beef, sugar, pickled salmon, butter, crackers, ham, cream, and bread. The ladies all declared, it was a most charming relish!"
Gray's Gardens in Philadelphia geared its appeal to those interested in the latest fashion in dress, food, & garden design. Samuel Vaughn, a hit & run English merchant, philosopher, & garden planner, had designed the federal garden with serpentine walkways and other natural elements, when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1784. Vaughn brought a more up-to-date version of English gardening to the United States. He left the new nation in 1789, but his garden legacies & his work to strengthen intellectual life & institutional memory of the early republic survived his departure.
A more traditional commercial garden model, Richard Gray's Chatsworth Garden, sat just north of Baltimore. Owners converted this old, walled private garden into an updated public pleasure garden with the addition of serpentine pathways meandering around the tree-lined perimeters of the grounds. The heart of the garden, however, remained an elegant eight-bed falling terrace garden laid out in geometric symmetry during the 1760s.
Johann Jacob Mang, a Wurtemberg physician who had arrived in Baltimore in 1797, had become the garden's proprietor in 1801, after the departure of longtime owner Richard Gray. Mang had fled his homeland with his daughter Eva, attended school with her to learn English, and bought the public pleasure garden. Mang loved music & books, and after a few years in Baltimore, he moved to Syracuse, New York. He promoted his gardens "to be extremely neat, such as forming appearance, which may give a pleasing relaxation to the leisure hours of the industrious citizen."
A band playing music entertained there during the summer months three nights a week, and accommodations and refreshments, including alcohol, were provided for a fee. Music offered at commercial public gardens ran the gamut from overtures and popular two part concerts of vocal and instrumental music to ballads, patriotic, and comic tavern songs.
A traditional etiquette was followed at the more formal pleasure gardens. Ladies usually arrived in full evening dress, and men walked bareheaded, with their hats under their arms. A stately promenade of the gardens' main walks was usually first on the evening's agenda. Patrons came from near and far.
Harbors supplied visiting ensigns sporting jaunty cockades, and southern plantation owners encouraged trusted employees' occasional visits to bustling cities like Baltimore & Philadelphia, where public pleasure gardens flourished. Virginia schoolmaster Philip Fithian wrote in his journal that on a visit to Philadelphia on May 20, 1774 he "walked to a lovely Garden near the Hospital call'd Lebanon, drank some Mead, and had a most agreeable Ramble" before returning home around ten in the evening.
Just before the Revolutionary War in New York City, Francis Marschalk and his wife Anneke Lynsen developed an enduring model of the genteel public pleasure garden. No rowdies here. The garden was designed to attract "lovers of genteel pastimes and delicious refreshmnets." Most visitors arrived in the daytime & actually came to look at the garden and enjoy the food.
In 1779, the Marschalk's son Andrew advertised that he would serve tea, coffee, and liquors to patrons daily in the morning & afternoon. A band played music each Monday & Thursday afternoon. As evening neared, the Marschalks scurried about the garden paths to illuminate their grounds for evening visitors.
In 1781, Francis Marschalk's son Andrew died; and the garden which his father had leased in 1768, was put up for auction. The advertisement noted a "pleasantly situated House and lot of land belonging to Mr. Francis Marschalk deceased. The house has four rooms with fire places, two without, and two kitchens, with a stable, chaise, and cow house, a good well of water, all in good repair. The land about two acres, is all improved as a garden and orchard, well enclosed with a board fence."
Charles Brannon bought the garden lease. The tenor of the garden remained. Pennsylvania's two Senators wrote of visiting Brannon's Tea Gardens twice to dine and admire the greenhouse, gardens, and their "elegant improvements." English visitor Henry Wansey also noted the "good greenhouse, with orange and lemon trees, a great quantity of geraniums, aloes, and other curious shrubs and plants...Iced creams and iced liquors are much drank here during the hot weather."
New York City actor Joseph Tyler bought the gardens in 1798. Eager to keep just the right sort of people frequenting his newly acquired personal stage, the veteran thespian cleverly advertised in New York newspapers emphsizing the commodiousness of the dining rooms, the prompt service, the appropriateness of the menu, and the quality of the wines.
The new owner stocked the greenhouse with even more rare, exotic plants and shrubs and converted it into a more sophisticated orangery that could double as an elegant year round dining room. He even sold exotic plants to patrons eager to cart the curious specimens home with them.
Tyler's marketing quickly paid off. His garden became the regular meeting place for the Columbia Anacreontic Society, the Buskin Club, the Royal Arch Masons, and other organizations. Columbia College held its commencement suppers there, and English loyalists celebrated the King's birthday in the gardens. The New York City Common Council met there to commemorate national holidays and to welcome celebrated visitors, including a group of Osage Indian chiefs, to the city.
Tyler's sons advertised the property for sale in 1808, "the house contains 13 rooms and 2 kitchens...an excellent wine cellar...a large new stable...a spacious green and hot house full of exotic plants...The garden contains near two acres, abounds with a quantity of fruit trees, and a variety of beautiful flowering shrubs; the house and garden command a view of the North River."
Another New York pleasure garden catered almost exclusively to the upper crust but did not have to advertise to attract its clientele. In the 1790s, a group limited to 33 wealthy gentlemen from New York formed a social club and built a large club house open to the public when not in use by the clubmembers.
However, club members did retain control of exactly who used the mansion called the Belvedere. A contemporary magazine described the property, "The ball-room, which includes the whole of the second storey of the east front is an oblong octagon of forty-five feet in length, twenty-four wide, and seventeen high, with a music gallery...The windows...open to the floor and communicate with a balcony twelve feet wide, which surrounds the eastern division of the house, and affords a most delightful promenade...The west front opens into a small court-yard, flanked on each side with stables, a coach house, and other offices. The little grounds into which the east front opens, are formed into a bowling-green, gravel walks, and some shrubbery."
Another ad detailed Belvedere's grounds, "A bowling green is in front, and stables, wood house and other necessary offices in the rear of the house, which consists of an elegant ball-room and a club-room, each forty -six feed by twenty-five, two parlours, eight bedchambers, a bar room, two kitchens, two wine cellars, two pantries, an ice-house, a vaulted larder and servants rooms."
Only occasionally did the elegant formal dinners, balls, and concerts that filled Belvedere's gardens and halls make the local papers. The fashionable house and garden drew the discreet well-to-do. Belvedere club members were usually pro-British Federalists and toasts to the king were often heard reverberating under the vaulting ceilings and starlit skies.