"The Cream of Goods!" Interpreting consumption patterns of creamware at the Narbonne House in Salem, Massachusetts
Estey, Nicole M.
MetadataShow full item record
How much can we learn by analyzing ceramics, the most commonly found artifact type at an archaeological site? During the mid-eighteenth century, English potters introduced creamware, a white-bodied earthenware with a yellow tinted glaze. Creamware is a useful tool in understanding the social, cultural, and economic changes that took place during the late eighteenth century. Creamware was one of the first fashionable wares that was affordable to the "middling sorts." At the Narbonne House in Salem, Massachusetts, a large quantity of creamware was recovered through archaeological excavations, including over 13,000 sherds, comprising over 250 vessels, most of which were owned by the widow Mary Andrew and her family who lived there from 1780–1820. After conducting a minimum vessel count and analysis of style, I concluded that Mary Andrew and her children were purchasing creamware to appear genteel to their family and neighbors. Appearance was important since the Andrews were related to some of Salem's most elite merchant families including the Gardners, Derbys, and Hodges. Being well connected—though not wealthy—Mary Andrew purchased stylish goods that she could afford in larger quantities rather than spending her money on smaller sets of more expensive wares. This conscious decision illustrates that creamware was not only an important mark of gentility, but was also a way to create identity, especially for a well-connected, but not affluent widow. Her husband's final request was that his legacy be used to improve the home, presumably to continue his family's upward mobility in society. Though creamware cannot answer all of the questions we have about the past, it provides us with answers to issues relating to consumer choice and creation of identity through material goods. Many consumer studies in historical archaeology terminate in interpretations of economic status; creamware in particular allows archaeologists and other scholars to explore other motivations concerning consumption and what ownership meant to the family and for people whose voices may otherwise be unheard in history, such as widowed women.