A tea table thought to have been owned by one of the key players in the Boston Tea Party, this lot is a poignant and evocative relic of Boston life in the years leading up to the Revolution. In December 1773, the current owner’s direct ancestor, Samuel Phillips Savage (1718-1797) (fig. 1) chaired the Sons of Liberty meetings that led to the decision to destroy the shipment of tea sent to Boston harbor by the East India Company. His support of the American cause is evident as early as 1764, when he dissolved his business partnership with his younger brother, Arthur, a Loyalist. The following year he is thought to have participated in the Liberty Tree Protest, the event that saw the hanging of an effigy of Andrew Oliver in reaction to the Stamp Act. In May 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, the impetus for the American rallying cry of “no taxation without representation.” As the Dartmouth sat with its consignment of tea anchored in Boston Harbor, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty held two open meetings at the Old South Meeting House and as moderator, Savage was in the midst of action. With the declaration, “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country,” Adams effectively called for the destruction of the tea. What followed is what has become known as “The Boston Tea Party,” and its salient details were recorded by Savage in his diary. He wrote, “16 december – 342 Chests of Tea shiped [sic] by the E India Company and Consigned to Richard Clarke & Sons, Benj Faneuil junr & Govr Hutchinson 2 Sons, Tho.’ & Elisha, was by a Number of persons unknown, disguised like Indians taken out of 3 Ships …& thrown into the Sea” with the later notation, “all done in 110 minutes.” Upon the outbreak of hostilities, Savage was a representative to the Provincial Congress and served as Chairman of the Board of War for Massachusetts throughout the Revolutionary War (Lawrence Park, Major Thomas Savage of Boston and His Descendants (Boston, 1914), pp. 23-25; Samuel P. Savage diaries, 1770-1795, Massachusetts Historical Society, Ms. N-885.7).
Savage was from a well-established Boston family. His great grandfather, Major Thomas Savage (1606-1686), arrived in 1635 in Boston, where he attained considerable stature and famously defended his mother-in-law, Anne Hutchinson in the Antinomian controversy (Joy Cattanach, catalogue entry, New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century, Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent, eds., vol. 3 (Boston, 1982), pp. 468-469). Like his forefathers, Samuel Phillips Savage enjoyed a prosperous mercantile career and after the Revolution, held numerous political and civic posts. After his death, the table passed down directly in the family lines predominantly along the male lines as detailed in Provenance above. For more on these descendants, see Park, pp. 35, 49-50, 56-57.
Scallop-top tea tables made in New England are exceedingly rare and the shaping of the top of this example with triple peaks between the straighter passages is particularly animated. A scallop-top table attributed to Massachusetts provides a close parallel to the table offered here. Although it features the standard double-peak pattern shaping to the top, this related example exhibits several features seen on the table offered here, including its tilting on a single block, a pedestal with column and spiral-carved urn, acanthus-carved knees and distinctive “rat’s paw” feet. While these attributes are often ascribed to Salem, Massachusetts, it is highly likely that such tables were made elsewhere in Essex County or, given the table's family history, in Boston.