Friday, 17 October 2014

The Sauceboat of a Signer

It is amazing how one tiny fragment of pottery from an archaeological dig can tell us the appearance and function of an entire object. At Historic Annapolis, we have been delving deep into past archaeological records to see if they can tell us anything new about William Paca’s Annapolitan lifestyle.

Figure 1: White salt-glazed stoneware fragment found during the William Paca House garden excavations

This white salt-glazed stoneware fragment was dug up in the 1960s from the area just in front of the west wing of the William Paca House.[1] Although it may not look like much in its current state, a closer examination of its shape enables a direct match to be made with a white salt-glazed sauceboat on exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The diaper pattern and the rococo edge of the fragment perfectly matches the sauceboat. This match gives us a wealth of information about William Paca’s tastes in both fashion and food!

Figure 2: White salt-glazed stoneware sauce boat. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Online:

The design of the sauceboat and the material in which it was made conveys that William Paca was an exceedingly fashionable gentleman. Rococo tableware was all the rage amongst elite circles from London to Annapolis in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. An excavation of the Calvert House on State Circle, Annapolis, has revealed that the Calvert family owned rococo style white salt-glazed plates with similar decorative motifs to William Paca’s sauceboat.

Figure 3: White salt-glazed plate from the Governor Calvert House.

What would have been served in William Paca’s sauceboat?

The colonial dining table would often have included a large dish of meat or fish accompanied by a complementary sauce served in an elegant sauceboat. A popular combination was the serving of duck with an orange sauce, a pairing still popular today! To make your own authentic eighteenth-century dish, follow these instructions:

·         1.) Stuff a duck with a mixture of ducks liver, streaky bacon, butter, onions, parsley and mushrooms

·         2.) Place bacon slices on top of the duck and cover with paper (or foil if you want to follow twenty-first-century conventions!)

·         3.) When the duck has been roasted, pour some of the gravy juices into a stew pot

·         4.) Add minced shallots and the juice of an orange to the stew pot and heat[2]

·         5.) Serve the sauce in a beautiful rococo stoneware sauceboat

Figure 4. A little after Paca's time, a gentleman demonstrates the joy that a sauceboat (albeit a slightly less elegant version)  could bring.  A convalescing man happily eating a meal, assisted by his grinning servant, coloured etching by J. Sneyd, 1804, after J. Gillray.   © Wellcome Library, London

[1] Stanley South (1967). The Paca House: A Historical Archaeological Study. Alexandria, Va., Contract Archaeology.
[2] The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Online at

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