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Painting after the print “A Society of Patriotic Ladies”

Place Made:
Great Britain
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 11″; WOA: 8 1/4″
Accession Number:
A small oil painting after a print attributed to Philip Dawe (d. 1832) and published in 1775 by Robert Sayer and John Bennett in London.

The image depicts the events of October 25, 1774 when a group of Edenton women led by Penelope (Padgett) Barker (1728-1796) pledged to boycott imported British tea and cloth in response to the Tea Act of 1774. News of their “tea party” reached London, where it was reported in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of January 16, 1775. This print, issued in London on March 25, 1775, presents a satirical view of that gathering. In the foreground a grotesque Penelope Barker presides over the signing of the compact, which reads:

“We the Ladys of Edenton do hereby solemnly Engage not to Conform to that Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea… from England until such time that all Acts which tend to Enslave this our Native Country shall be Repealed.”

In an ironic turn, the inkwell is being held by an enslaved woman standing to Penelope’s right. In the background three ladies empty their tea caddies into bags held by men with lascivious looks. Another women is induced to sign by her lover. A neglected child sits beneath the table, eating cookies off the floor, while a dog leaves no doubt about its opinion on the tea party. In the background a pair of women drink punch directly from the bowl, a sly rejoinder to the eighteenth century saying “my wife will drink tea, but I will have punch.”

In the early 19th century the print was reissued and modified slightly to be less risque. The plate was modified to stop the dog from peeing on the tea caddies. Because this painting shows the earlier version, it seems likely that it predates this sanitization of the scene.

XRF analysis done by Colonial Williamsburg also found pigment use consistent with a late 18th or early 19th century painting.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has a copy of the print from which this painting was derived (MESDA acc. 5635).

Credit Line:
Anne P. and Thomas A. Gray MESDA Purchase Fund