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In 1784, Revolutionary War veteran Samuel Shaw set sail on the Empress of China destined for the city of Canton, or Guangzhou, in southern China.

Shaw was a Boston native who served under Major General Henry Knox during the War for Independence.

He also became one of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati, a hereditary, and at times controversial, organization made up of American and French officers who served in the Continental Army during the war. George Washington served as the society’s president from 1783 to 1799.

Shaw went to China acting on behalf of some American businessmen interested in tea, silk, and other commodities, but he also carried with him the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati with the intent of having the design painted on porcelain.

His trip resulted in a magnificent 302-piece dinner and tea service later purchased by George Washington.

On today’s episode, ceramics expert Ron Fuchs walks us through the remarkable story behind this porcelain collection.

Fuchs is the Curator of Ceramics and the Manger of the Reeves Center at Washington and Lee University, and as you'll hear, ceramics open unexpected windows into global and American history. 

About Our Guest: 

Ron Fuchs is the Curator of Ceramics and Manager of the Reeves Center at Washington and Lee University. A former Assistant Curator of Ceramics for the Leo and Doris Hodroff Collection at Winterthur, Fuchs received his bachelor's degree from the College of William & Mary and his master's degree from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. He is currently chairman of the board of directors of the American Ceramic Circle

About Our Host: 

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is the co-author with Randall Flaherty of "Reading Law in the Early Republic: Legal Education in the Age of Jefferson," in The Founding of Thomas Jefferson's University ed. by John A. Rogasta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew O'Shaughnessy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019). Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.

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