Tea set. Porcelain with overglaze enamel and gilding. 1: Large tea pot (breakfast) with lid (a). Hard paste porcelain with overglaze enamel decoration and gilding.
One of seven closely related tea services that were commissioned by Samuel Shaw around 1790 for members of the Society of the Cincinnati, a hereditary order formed in 1783 of French and American officers who fought in the Revolutionary War. The Society took its name from the Roman hero Cincinnatus, the citizen-soldier. George Washington, known as the “Cincinnatus of the West,” was the Society’s first president. The original owner of this service, Benjamin Lincoln, was the first president of the Massachusetts chapter.
The idea of the Society of the Cincinnati is credited to General Henry Knox by John Adams. On March 16, 1788, Thomas Jefferson reported that General Knox “said he would wish for some ribbon to wear in his hat or button hole, to be transmitted to his descendants as a badge and a proof that he had fought in defence [sic] of their liberties.” At the first meeting in 1783, appropriate iconography and mottoes for the membership and certificates–which came to be called Eagles–were adopted. The emblem of the Society of the Cincinnati was designed by Major Pierre-Charles L’Enfant (1754-1825), chief engineer of the Continental Army and chief designer of the new nation. Samuel Shaw carried one of L’Enfant’s medallions to Canton, China, in order for it to be copied onto porcelains.
Captain Samuel Shaw, aide-de-camp to General Henry Knox, was named Secretary of the Society of the Cincinnati’s committee of officers. The following year, he was selected for the post of supercargo or ship’s agent on the Empress of China, the first American ship to sail for China. Shaw arranged for the decoration of porcelain with the emblem of the Society. Around 1790, he had many sets made, decorated, and shipped back to Boston (Dec. 20. 1790). These sets were given to friends, including Benjamin Lincoln, William Eustis, William Lithgow, Henry Knox, Constant Freeman, and possibly Henry Jackson. One tea bowl exists at the National Museum of History and Technology, a gift of G.M. Chapman. Shaw died at sea in 1794. From the donors: Four sets of the so-called “Cincinnati china” were brought to America by Captain Shaw. A passage in his journal tells how he engaged for the work of decorating them the enameller “allowed to be the most eminent of his profession” in Canton. The design shows the obverse and reverse of the insignia of the Order with the well-known legend, “Omnia Reliquit Servare Rempublicam – Societas Cincinnatorum instituta – A.D. 1783.” The following is a statement given to the late Mrs. Hannah Lincoln Smith of Concord by the Honorable Winslow Warren, Mrs. Smith’s first cousin and President-General of the Order of the Cincinnati in 1911: “Samuel Shaw was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati and its first Secretary. The original Constitution is in his handwriting. He was afterwards Counsel to China, and in business there. He had four sets of china made for: General Washington, first President-General; General Lincoln, first President of the Massachusetts Society; Henry Jackson, first Treasurer, (General, I suppose) and for himself.”