Origin: China, Jingdezhen
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Acc. No. T125-2013,12
Cup excavated from the site of the Governor’s Palace, 20AA–00261
Label:This teacup, one of a pair recovered from the site of the Governor’s Palace, was likely owned by Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, who served in Virginia from 1710 until 1722. In 1716, he was the first to reside in the Governor’s Palace. These teacups are ornamented over the exterior surface with a simplified version of the Sanskrit character “om,” which also appears on the bottom of the interior. Sanskrit, a liturgical language used in Hinduism and Buddhism, appears on a number of Chinese porcelains produced for over three centuries in Southeast Asia and India. The design can be read like a prayer wheel; as the bowl is rotated, the prayer is released. Despite their apparent lack of connection to a Western audience, sherds from a similar bowl were excavated at Santa Elena, on Parris Island, South Carolina, from a 16th-century colonial Spanish settlement. Two almost identical teacups were recovered from two 17th-century sites: Jamestown Island, and Bacon’s Castle in Surrey, Virginia. It seems unlikely that North American consumers knew of the connection between the decoration on their teacups and eastern religious practices.