Collections › MESDA Collection › Tea Service

Tea Service

Artist/Maker:
Gorham & Co. __Manufacturer ||George W. Gregor & Co. __Retailer
Place Made:
retailed by George W. Gregor & Co. of New Orleans, Louisiana Providence RHODE ISLAND
Date Made:
1860
Medium:
silver
Dimensions:
HOA: 19″ (hot water urn on stand), 10-1/2″ (teapots), 7″ (sugar bowl), 6-1/2″ (cream pitcher); Tray: HOA: 3-1/2″, WOA: 30″, DOA: 22″. __ __ __ __ __ __Weight (in troy ounces): 94.5 (hot water urn on stand), 35.60 (teapot with loose handle), 35.10 (other teapot), 16 (sugar bowl), 13.45 (cream pitcher), 177.96 (tray)
Accession Number:
5921.1-7
Description:
DESCRIPTION: Silver tea service in the renaissance-revival manner consisting of a hot water urn, tray, two teapots, a sugar bowl, and a cream pitcher. The round bodies are pear shaped and decorated with engraved flowers and leaves, oval cartouches, and a wide engine-turned bands in the background. The face of the tray is also engraved leaves and flowers, engine-turned backgrounds, and four scenes of swamp and plantation life. Each of the hollowware pieces have domed lids that are topped by a cast thistle and the rims are circled by large beading, as are the spouts of the teapots and cream pitcher and the rim of the tray. The spouts are also decorated with acanthus leaves. The cast handles on the pieces are attached at the rims and side of the bodies have tendril motifs along with acanthus leaves and lion heads with freely swinging rings in their mouths. The teapot handles have ivory or bone insulators. Each piece has four applied silver ball feet; the feet of the hot water urn fit into a notched ring of the elaborate stand with four legs and foliate volutes for feet. The hot water urn also has an intricately cast spout and spigot with a handle of S-scroll acanthus leaves. The four cast feet of the tray have shells and cabochons and the cast handles have beading and tendrils. It is possible that there was a waste bowl as part of the service that is now missing.

INSCRIPTION: All pieces of the service are engraved in central cartouches with the name “Bowie” in Gothic script for John Routh Bowie (1839-1878) and his wife Francis Caroline Calloway (1842-1885).

MARK: Struck on underside of bases (and underside of tray) with an incuse “GEO. W. GREGOR & CO” retailer’s mark, incuse “COIN” and “140” pattern marks, and Gorham’s intaglio lion, anchor, and the letter G manufacturer’s marks.

MAKER: The Gorham silversmiths were among America’s most important and influential manufacturers of fine silver product well into the twentieth century. The 1831 partnership of Jabez Gorham (1792-1869) and Henry Lamson Webster (1808-1864), branded as Gorham & Webster, operated in Providence, Rhode Island until 1837. Gorham took his son John Gorham (1820-1898) on as a partner in 1841 and renamed the firm J. Gorham & Son. When the father retired in 1847, John Gorham succeeded him as head of the company. He partnered for two years, from 1850 until 1852 with his cousin Gorham Thurber (1825-1888) in the firm Gorham & Thurber. After dissolving his partnership with Thurber, John Gorham rebranded his business as Gorham & Co. through to 1865 when he created the Gorham Manufacturing Company. The company grew in reputation and size through the nineteenth century and during the first half of the twentieth century. It was purchased several times during the second half of the twentieth century, first by the Textron Corporation (1967) and then by Dansk (1989), and the Brown-Forman Corporation (1991). In 2005 Lenox purchased the Gorham business, along with noteworthy brands Kirk-Stieff, Whiting, and Durgin. In 2007 Lenox sold its silver holdings to Lifetime Brands, Inc., which continues to produce silver flatware under brand names including Gorham. See Entry for Jabez Gorham, Henry Lamson Webster, John Gorham, and Gorham Thurber in William Erik Voss, “Silversmiths & Related Craftsmen” (online: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~silversmiths/makers/silversmiths/tagonenames.htm [accessed 26 May 2017]) and entry for Gorham & Co. on www.925-1000.com (online: http://www.925-1000.com/americansilver_G3.html [accessed 26 May 2017]).

George W. Gregor & Co. was a watch and jewelery shop located at the corner of Camp and Canal streets in New Orleans, Louisiana. The business was in operation during the 1850s and 1860s.

FORM: For most of the eighteenth century the accouterments of the tea ceremony were acquired separately and did not necessarily match in style and shape. By the 1790s, all elements of a tea service (coffeepot, teapot, sugar bowl, waste bowl, and cream pitcher) were made somewhat uniformly in style, with the smaller pieces following the form of the coffee and teapots.

History:
This impressive silver tea service with a matching tray and hot water urn on stand reflects the pinnacle and fall of one elite slave-holding family in the antebellum South as well as its resurgence in a New South of the early twentieth century. This fascinating story of fortunes earned and destroyed and the crafting of new identities traverses regional boundaries, from Maryland to Louisiana; Piedmont North Carolina to the banks of the Mississippi; and the mountains of Western North Carolina to Upstate South Carolina.

The tea service’s first owners, John Routh Bowie and his wife Frances Caroline Calloway, were married on 15 February 1861 in Salisbury, NC. Frances Bowie was from Wilkesboro, NC and her husband was raised at Franklin Plantation on Lake St. Joseph in Tensas Parish, LA. One source states that they met by chance while both were visiting Maryland in 1859; however, it is more likely that they met while John was a student in Chapel Hill in 1860 and Frances was living with her father in Wilkes County. According to family tradition they received the service as a wedding gift from his parents, Dr. Allen Thomas Bowie and Mathilda Jane Routh, and used it at their new residence, Glen Allen Plantation, John’s maternal family home located opposite Franklin Plantation on Lake St. Joseph. In 1860 the value of Franklin Plantation was $90,000 with 3,000 acres producing 800 bales of cotton through the labor of 106 slaves. That same year Glen Allen was valued at $33,000 having 1,100 acres with 40 enslaved workers producing 230 bales of cotton. The tea service was manufactured by Gorham & Co. in Providence, RI and retailed by George W. Gregor & Co., located at the corner of Camp and Canal streets in New Orleans, LA.

John Routh Bowie enlisted in the Confederate States Army in 1862. That same year, with the Civil War’s Western Theater intensifying, much of the Bowie silver—including the tea service—was placed in casks and taken inland to Alexandria, LA where it was sunken in a well only to be later retrieved and taken even further south and west to Texas for safekeeping. A year later, Tensas Parish was the staging ground for General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg and most of the plantation houses on Lake St. Joseph were burned, including Glen Allen and Franklin, the latter of which detailed in the Memoirs of General William T. Sherman:

“Along the bayou or Lake St. Joseph, were many very fine cotton-plantations, and I especially recall that of a Mr. Bowie, brother-in-law to the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, of Baltimore. The house was very handsome, with a fine, extensive grass-plot in front. We entered the yard, and, leaving our horses with the headquarters escort, walked to the house. On the front-porch I found a magnificent grand-piano, with several satin-covered arm-chairs, in one of which sat a Union soldier (one of McPherson’s men), with his feet on the keys of the piano, and his musket and knapsack lying on the porch. I asked him what he was doing there, and he answered that he was ‘taking a rest;’ this was manifest and I started him in a hurry to overtake his command. The house was tenantless, and had been completely ransacked; article of dress and books were strewed about, and a handsome boudoir with mirror front had been cast down, striking a French bedstead, shivering the glass. The library was extensive, with a fine collection of books; and hanging on the wall were two full-length portraits of Reverdy Johnson and his wife [a full-length, copied from the original by Sully], one of the most beautiful ladies of our country, with whom I had been acquainted in Washington at the time of General Taylor’s administration. Behind the mansion was the usual double row of cabins called ‘quarters.’ There I found an old negro (a family servant) with several women, whom I sent to the house to put things in order; telling the old man that other troops would follow, and he must stand on the porch to tell any officers who came along that the property belonged to Mr. Bowie, who was a brother-in-law of our friend Reverdy Johnson, of Baltimore, asking them to see that no further harm was done. Soon after we left the house I saw some negroes carrying away furniture which manifestly belonged to the house, and compelled them to carry it back; and after reaching camp that night…I sent a wagon back to Bowie’s plantation, to bring up to Dr. Hollingsworth’s house the two portraits for safe keeping; but before the wagon had reached Bowie’s the house was burned, whether by some of our men or by Negroes I have never learned.”

General James M. Tuttle recalled encountering Franklin Plantation after Grant had passed by:

“Some [are] wondering if I am the General Tuttle whose troops…burned so many fine houses on Lake St. Joseph—among them the finest residence in all the Southern country, that of Dr. Bowie. I am the man! The Bowie mansion was the finest and grandest house I ever saw or read about. The house and furniture were said to have cost five hundred thousand dollars. The upholstering was grand, beyond all description. I found a number of Union Soldiers in the house lounging around in their muddy boots enjoying the luxuries. After about half of my division had passed and I was about two or three miles away I looked back, attracted by an immense blaze, and the Bowie house was gone. I suppose we could have prevented their burning it if we had made it a specially! I expect, too, that it was burned by some of my own boys! In fact, I do not doubt that it was!”

After the war, with Glenn Allen Plantation burned, John and Frances Bowie continued living in Tensas Parish while his father and mother returned to Natchez, Mississippi. John and Frances are recorded in 1870 with three children—a boy and two girls—in their household. John died in 1878 and Frances returned with her eight children to Wilkesboro, NC. She died in Wilkesboro just five years later. It is unknown what happened to her children immediately after her death. The eldest son, James Calloway Bowie, who would have been 19 years old when his mother died, and his seven siblings who were all minors.

According to family tradition, one of those orphaned children leveraged the family’s silver tea service into a college education and eventually a successful career as a lawyer, member of the North Carolina General Assembly, and founder of the town of West Jefferson, NC. Second son Thomas Contee Bowie supposedly offered the tea service to a local judge as collateral for a loan to attend the University of North Carolina. He graduated with honors from Chapel Hill in 1899 and the studied law at Yale University. Returning to Western North Carolina, Bowie was admitted to the state bar in 1901 and immediately entered politics as the 1902 Democratic nominee for Ashe County’s state senate seat. He lost that race but six years later was successful in his first campaign for the state house of representatives. Over the next thirty years he was voted into the General Assembly six more time and unanimously elected Speaker of the House in 1915.

A strong advocate of the interests of the mountain counties, Thomas Contee Bowie came to called by some North Carolina reporters as “the Lion of the Mountains.” His support of legislation to build railroads and highways in Western North Carolina led to economic prosperity and growth in the young town of West Jefferson, where he established his law practice and also helped found and served as the president of the First National Bank of West Jefferson. Apparently at some point Bowie was able to repay that local judge’s loan and he reclaimed the family silver tea service.

Bibliography:
— Walter Worthington Bowie, The Bowies and Their Kindred (1899), 224; available online: https://archive.org/details/bowiestheirkindr1899bowi [accessed 5 September 2017) and Kemp Plummer Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Vol. 1 (published by the author, 1907), 812; and 1860 United States Federal Census, Wilkes Co., Upper Division, NC.
— “No. 2657 — Matilda J. Bowie v. Samuel M. Davis,” Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Vol. XXII for the Year 1870 (New Orleans: Office of the Republican, 1870), 398-399; available online: https://books.google.com/books?id=VHZFAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (5 September 2017).
— 1860 and 1870 United States Federal Census, Tensas Parish, LA and 1880 United States Federal Census, Wilkes Co., NC.
— Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, by Himself, Vol. 1 (Bloomigton: University of Indiana, 1957), 320-321; available online: https://archive.org/stream/memoirsofgeneral00ilsher (accessed 5 September 2017).
— Grave marker for John Routh Bowie, Calloway Cemetery, West Jefferson, Ashe Co., NC; online: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22090922 (accessed 5 September 2017).
— Grave marker for Frances Caroline Calloway Bowie, Calloway Cemetery, West Jefferson, Ashe Co., NC; online: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22090955 (accessed 5 September 2017).
— Thomas S. Morgan, entry for “Thomas Contee Bowie,” NCpedia, 1879; online: http://www.ncpedia.org/biography/bowie-thomas-contee (accessed 5 September 2017).

Credit Line:
Gift of the Family of Elizabeth Bowie Redd