Meals along the way

On Monday, October 6, 1834, Charles Shipman and his two teenage daughters, Joanna and Betsey, left Athens, Ohio, for Philadelphia. Charles went there twice a year to buy goods for his general store. They traveled in their two-horse carriage and would not return until November 15, by which time they had been through the mountains, traveled by steamship, visited Washington and Baltimore, and met with President Andrew Jackson.

Their usual plan was to get up early, travel for a while and then stop for breakfast and dinner at an inn or tavern. Their main meal was mid-day dinner. They ate “supper” wherever they were staying for the night. They stayed at inns, hotels, and for their longest stay, in Philadelphia, at a boarding house where their meals were supplied.

The meals in taverns and inns in small towns were surely humble. Joanna kept a record of their travels, more of a log of times and distances than a diary of subjective impressions and descriptive details. It’s disappointing that she was not inclined to record much about what they ate on their travels, but there are some interesting bits.

On their fourth day of travel they stopped in Morristown OH for breakfast at 9 a.m. Joanna writes: “Found some tomato preserves on the table, at first thought they were very good, but after tasting again concluded to the contrary.” On Joanna’s initial recommendation, Betsey ate some of the preserves but later told her sister that they made her feel sick.

That evening they arrived in Wheeling – now in West Virginia, but then Virginia – and stayed in a “very good country tavern” where Joanna reported she “Ate too much supper, and that with rainy weather and miserable roads makes me feel a little homesick.”

In the journal it becomes clear that the sisters were prone to feeling homesick and anxious – about traveling through the mountains, staying in cities, meeting people, and being on steamboats. Joanna found Smithfield VA, and then Petersburg VA where they stayed overnight, depressing: “Have had the horrors all day.” Seeing a fire from their window in Philadelphia, Joanna recorded that she and Betsey were “frightened out of our wits.”

Did anything thrill the sisters on what was probably their first trip outside Ohio? Joanna certainly shows no excitement about meeting “Old Hickory,” the President, and simply records that after shaking hands, and “looking at him as long as we cared to, we left his August presence and went into the yard.”

Joanna writes with a restrained tone, yet it’s clear she has a sense of humor. The Shipmans met with various people along the way. After one of them, a man who “ogled his eyes” when he looked at the sisters, told them he planned a future visit to Ohio, Joanna writes, “So now look sharp, Miss Betsey.”

On the way to Fredericktown MD, they stayed overnight at an inn. Joanna recorded her simple breakfast the next morning as “a piece of bread, strong [i.e, rancid] butter, peach sauce and a cup of milk.”

At that point they were about to reach that part of their trip that took them to larger cities. But I feel certain that they had no interest in exploring urban dining as itemized on the 1834 bill of fare of the Adelphi Coffee House in Philadelphia [shown above]. It gives a good idea of choice dishes of that time, but since the coffee house was also a drinking place it would have been forbidden territory for this family. Charles Shipman was a dedicated temperance follower who refused to handle alcohol in his store.

Upon reaching Baltimore the next evening, they had trouble finding a hotel that was not full, but on the third try discovered a new place called Page’s that had just opened. Joanna described it as “the most splendid house my little eyes ever beheld.” They had a private parlor and meals brought to their room. But despite these positive aspects, she wrote “It nearly frightens us out of our wits to go all through [the hotel]. Betsey says she never thought she was raised in the woods to be scared at an owl, but she has found tonight that she was.”

Their 11-day stay in Philadelphia included some strange-sounding entertainments. At the Hall of Independence they viewed dogs powering cloth making, and an automaton that wrote. The next day they went to Washington Hall where they saw speaking and dancing puppets and “the exhibition of the burning of Moscow.”

Their father offered Joanna and Betsey a trip to New York City, but they turned it down, preferring to head for home.

Leaving Philadelphia they returned to Washington, beginning their journey homeward. They stayed in a large hotel, Brown’s Indian Queen Inn, but did not record anything about it. Traveling through Virginia they stopped at Warm Springs, where they were weighed so they could see how much they gained at dinner. Charles (119½), Betsey (109), and Joanna, (118½) each added from 1 to 1½ pounds to their slight frames. They stayed overnight in the springs region, eating “a real country breakfast” the next morning. Then, for dinner at White Sulphur Springs, they “were treated to some fresh pork fried, some fresh beef fried, some light bread and some milk, rather tough this, as I look at it,” recorded Joanna.

Only two days from home, they stopped at Wilson’s Hotel in Charleston for dinner. She reported “the way dinner was served was a ‘touch above the vulgar.’” I would not think that was a resounding compliment.

Joanna was more than thrilled to get back home to her mother and brother.

© Jan Whitaker, 2023


Filed under patrons, roadside restaurants, women

17 responses to “Meals along the way

  1. Anonymous

    1828 receipt for a stay at Brown’s hotel. Interesting that supper, board, and breakfast were billed separately.

  2. Anonymous

    Here’s the 1847 menu for Brown’s Hotel from the Duke Univ archives:
    My favorite: “Maccaroni, aux fromage”. Reverse side includes the stagecoach schedule.

  3. S Paintner

    One of the “strange-sounding entertainments” may well have been the Maillardet Automaton, a mechanical boy figure that wrote. It is now located in the Franklin Institute.

  4. Dale Hinote

    I lived in Athens, OH while a graduate student in History at Ohio University and never heard of these people. Athens was a small but interesting place back then and the university was already there. It was a strong temperance town with taverns.

    I am starting a NY Jewish-style deli here in Maine.

    • The Shipman family moved to Marietta in 1837. The diary was privately published, though it is available on Hathi Trust. Are you really opening a deli?

      • Dale Hinote


      • Jonathan D Fox

        Best of luck to you—blintzes are always a good draw when people learn what they are, and pirogies are a popular dish in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so New Englanders already have a taste for some of the staples. And of course, New Englanders know fish. Where are you setting up in Maine? I wish you much success, and Mazel Tov! Good Jewish-style delis in my adopted home state of Virginia are few and far between here, but the ones that do exist are excellent and have a loyal & growing following.

      • Dale Hinote

        I’m looking at Gardiner in the lower Kennebec Valley as a location. Sturgeon are really back in the Kennebec, but are still not allowed to be fished yet, so no smoked local sturgeon. Blini are a good idea, but no pierogies. I lived in Pittsburgh and can do without them. I do plan to offer a corned beef boiled dinner plus turkey and brisket dinners to cater to local tastes. Locals would be confused if they couldn’t get a Reuben. I refuse to do ham sandwiches or bacon on a bagel, however. I’m planning to do adapted authentic. My biggest challenge may be to turn people on to tongue and chopped liver and how delicious they can be.

      • Anonymous

        Jan, I also have a pending application to the MA in Gastronomy program at Boston U. The Shipmans look prosperous and satisfied.

      • Yes, they do. I think getting that MA would be fun!

    • Jonathan Fox

      Sounds like a great venture, and once again send my best wishes for a long and successful run. I grew up on the Jewish equivalent of New England boiled dinners, and I have no doubt you will tap into both nostalgia and a continuing Down East desire for great food expertly prepared.

  5. Jonathan Fox

    A great entry, as always. Always interested in seeing familiar names such as Jerome Bonaparte, who exiled to an estate in Bordentown, NJ near my hometown of Hightstown at the fall of the First Empire. He went on to establish a famous and well-regarded winery there, unique in that NJ is not known for wine.

    Since we’re communicating, I wonder if you will be doing anything on NY Jewish Delis anytime soon. My Grand-Aunt and Uncle, Aaron and Sylvia Turner, ran a deli called the Rialto in the Times Square area from the late ‘30’s to the Seventies when they sold out due to the deteriorating neighborhood.

    Once again love your site. Keep up the great work.

  6. Anonymous

    I imagine commenting on the food too much would be one step toward drinking alcohol.

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