Care for a cup of tea? At the turn of the 19th century it was not quite as easy to obtain the medicinal and pricey tea leaves as it is today. A mariner would have to bring tea back to America from the Orient, a long and treacherous journey. Once the tea was obtained you would need a place to store the valuable leaves. Loose tea leaves were stored in boxes, caddies, silk and various other containers until 1908, when tea bags were accidentally invented by Thomas Sullivan. Prior to the invention of tea bags, the tea caddy, which was often locked, was king.
Recently, Past President Lee G. Kuckro gifted an exquisite tea caddy in memory of his cherished wife Anne Crofoot Kuckro. This tea caddy is remarkable, as it traveled to Wethersfield from China and for its owner Captain John Hurlbut. John Hurlbut was the first mate on the ship Neptune, the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe (1797-1800). John earned his title as Captain on his following endeavors on smaller ships that traded between Wethersfield and the West Indies.
The Neptune was the largest ship ever built in a New Haven port and made the largest profit in the shortest amount of time. The crew consisted of Captain Daniel Greene; the first mate, twenty-nine year old John Hurlbut; Ebenezer Townsend Jr. as Supercargo and forty-four Connecticut men that served as crew members. The Neptune began its journey with no items to trade, only nutritional supplies in their cargo hold. They first sailed to the South Pacific where they hunted and skinned over eighty thousand seals. The crew then sailed to China stopping at the Sandwich Islands (modern day Hawaii) for fruits to prevent scurvy. Sailing next to China, where the only open port to Westerners was Canton, the crew sold their cargo of seal skin for $280,000 (approximately $3.5 million in today’s dollars). With these huge profits the Captain purchased silks, teas and fabric to sell back in Connecticut.
IIndividual men also purchased items for themselves, their loved ones,
and to turn a profit at home. [See Left for a list of John Hurlbut’s
purchases in Canton, China. Source: “No. II Log of the Ship Neptune
in her voyage around the world 1798″ WHS Coll. 1978.71.66]. The black
lacquer tea caddy that was brought back from China was a gift for his
fiancée, Miss Ann Wright, daughter of Ashbel Wright.
Once John returned home from his trip around the world on the Neptune,
he married Ann and purchased the brick house at 212 Main Street (now
the Hurlbut Dunham House) from Thomas Chester. In 1808 John contracted
smallpox and passed away leaving his wife and young daughter, also named
Ann. Only two years later Widow Hurlbut also perished.
Hurlbut was only eight years old when she was orphaned. She went to live
with her Aunt Martha Wright Robbins and Uncle Reverend Royal Robbins of
Berlin, Connecticut. When she moved she took with her the tea caddy
that her father brought back from China for her mother. As generations
passed the Hurlbut tea caddy was passed down through the Robbins family.
Crofoot Kuckro was daughter of David Nash Crofoot, who grew up in Maine
in the same neighborhood as Chauncey Robbins. Mr. Robbins and Mr.
Crofoot were friends and in 1954 David Nash Crofoot purchased the home
built by Reginald Robbins. Within this neighborhood it is customary to
sell the homes already furnished which allowed the Crofoot family to
inherit priceless historical Robbins family items. Later Anne Crofoot
Kuckro and her husband Lee Kuckro seasonally resided in the home in
Maine with their daughters. When the house was purchased by the Crofoot
family within that house was a tea caddy marked “Hurlbut”. Finally the
Hurlbut tea caddy has come home to Wethersfield where the Hurlbut-Dunham
House still stands proudly, other Neptune artifacts are on display and John and Ann have been laid to rest in the Ancient Burying Ground.
For more informationn on the Neptune,
John Hurlbut or the Hurlbut-Dunham House please visit the Wethersfield
Museum at 200 Main Street, the Hurlbut-Dunham House at 212 Main Street
and visit The Whitney Library at the New Haven Colony Historical