Taking Tea with Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson's tea room at Monticello
The tea room designed by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello accommodated guests who spilled from the adjoining dining room. (©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, Photo by Philip Beaurline)

The sunny tea room often accommodated guests who overflowed from the dining room, but it also had a reading and writing arrangement similar to the one Jefferson kept near his bed. A Windsor chair with an attached writing arm was placed here in 1776 while he wrote the draft of the Declaration of Independence. In later years, two Federal tea tables would be pulled away from the wall and used to serve tea or light meals.

No original porcelain tea things remain from Jefferson’s time at Monticello. However, because of his meticulous record keeping and recent archaeological digs, we know the origin of some tea equipage that filled the mountaintop home.

Jefferson acquired many household items, including imported Chinese porcelain, while he was stationed in Paris, and had them shipped to America upon his return in 1789. Jefferson also purchased a set of less expensive creamware made by English potters. These pieces were intended for everyday use where chips and breakage would be less costly, serving as a protective layer for his Chinese porcelain.

According to the archives of Monticello, Jefferson’s financial records and correspondence show consistent purchases of tea. References from the 1770s and 1780s reveal a variety of teas procured from Dr. William Pasteur’s apothecary in Williamsburg. (Dr. Pasteur served as a surgeon to colonial troops during the Revolutionary War, and he was mayor of Williamsburg at one time.)

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