Madame Shatswell’s cup of tea

(Adapted from an 1843 article in The Knickerbocker magazine.)

The town of Ipswich in the Bay State exhibits many rare articles of antiquity. The old High Street is not paralleled in all New England. Antique domiciles exhibit the English architectural style of the seventeenth century; sturdy block-houses, erected to defend the early settlers from the hostile incursions of the crafty foe. It is well worth the visit to walk in the ancient cemetery, where side by side, lie the forefathers of the hamlet. In one corner of the cemetery is the grave of Richard Shatswell, the first deacon of Ipswich church.

Shatswell_house High St., Ipswich
The Shatswell home on High Street

On the very spot where the good man cleared his land is the home of his descendants, a substantial old mansion. In the time of the Revolution, the lady of the manor was a descendant of Simon Bradstreet, one of the early Governors of the province. Her husband Mr. Shatswell was a staunch Wig, a leader of one of the classes into which the town was divided; and though the good lady agreed fully in his political sentiments, she did not like the infringement upon domestic luxuries which many of the patriotic resolutions of the meetings contemplated.

In short, Madame Shatswell loved her cup of tea, and as a large store had been found for family use before the hated tax was imposed, she saw no harm in using it as usual.

There were in those days, as there are now, certain busy-bodies who kindly take upon themselves the oversight of their neighbors’ affairs, and through them the news of the treason spread over the town. A committee from the people immediately called at the house to protest against the drinking of the tea. The good lady received their visit kindly, informed them of the circumstances of the case, and dismissed them perfectly satisfied.

Some months passed away, and one Sabbath, Madame Shatswell’s daughter, a bright-eyed coquettish damsel, appeared at church in a new bonnet. This was a new cause of excitement, and the committee came again to administer reproof. The lady satisfied them again, and finding no treason to the people’s cause, they again departed.

Two years of the war passed away, and meanwhile Jeanette had found a lover. It was the beginning of winter; the army had just gone into winter quarters; and the young suitor was daily expected home. Wishing to appear well in his eyes, the maid had spun and woven with her own hands a new linen dress, from flax raised upon the homestead, and some old ribands, long laid aside having been washed and ironed to trim it withal, the damsel appeared in it at church on the Sunday after her love’s arrival.

Here was fresh alarm, as forthwith on Monday morning came the officious committee against the extravagance. The old lady was now aroused, and she could contain her self no longer. “Do you come here to take me to task, because my daughter wore a gown she spun and wove with her own hands? Three times have you interfered with my family affairs. Three times have you come to tell me that my husband should be turned out of his office. Now mark me! There is the door you came in, so you may go out! And if you ever cross my threshold again, you shall find that calling Hannah Bradstreet a Tory will not make her a coward!”

It is needless to add that Madame Shatswell’s family affairs were thereafter left to her own guidance.

Source: The Knickerbocker, 1843

3 thoughts on “Madame Shatswell’s cup of tea”

  1. This lady was my ancestor and I thoroughly enjoyed the story as I also love a good cup of tea as much as I detest busybodies! This provided an entertaining story for my guests for afternoon tea today, though far from my hometown of Ipswich.

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