Snuff box of Frederick Muhlenberg, made by John McMullin, Philadelphia, c. 1790.  Private collection; image: The Speaker's House

Silver snuff box owned by Frederick Muhlenberg, made by John McMullin, Philadelphia, c. 1790.  Private collection; image: The Speaker’s House

Tobacco was one of the most coveted commodities of Atlantic World trade networks, along with other luxury goods such as spices, tea, sugar, silk, and cotton textiles. A product of the New World, tobacco was increasingly common in European and American households by the 1700s. Most tobacco was consumed in powdered form (snuff) or smoked in pipes. Both Henry and Frederick Muhlenberg used snuff, and Frederick also hosted dinner parties that included cigar smoking. Tobacco was typically smoked in long-stemmed pipes made of a fine white clay known as kaolin. Judging from the vast quantities of pipe stem fragments found by archaeologists, pipe stems were the cigarette butts of colonial America (only more durable).

Clay pipe

Clay pipe.  The Speaker’s House

Dozens of pipe stem fragments have been excavated at The Speaker’s House, along with a nearly-intact clay pipe that was found in close proximity to the location of Muhlenberg’s general store. Careful examination of the pipe reveals that it was never used, suggesting that it was dropped and broken before it was ever smoked. Given the context in which it was found, it is possible that the pipe may have been a product sold in the store. From Henry Muhlenberg’s journals, we know that tobacco and bottles of snuff were sold in Frederick’s store.

1. Meet the Muhlenbergs  2. Cooking  3. Dining  4. Smoking  5. Drinking  6. Further Resources

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