I found the most delightful book recently, written by an Englishman who spent a year in the U.S. in the summer of 1794 and wrote profusely about everything he encountered, including having tea with the Washingtons. That ties in with my last couple of posts so I will share some of his thoughts with my readers.
“Mrs. Washington herself made tea and coffee for us. On the table were two small plates of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread and butter, &c. but no broiled fish, as is the general custom. Miss Custis, her granddaughter, a very pleasing young lady of about sixteen, sat next to her, and her brother George Washington Custis about two years older than herself. There was but little appearance of form: one servant only attended, who had no livery; a silver urn for hot water was the only article of expense on the table. She appears something older than the President, though, I understand, they were both born in the same year; short in stature, rather robust; very plain in her dress, wearing a very plain cap, with her grey hair closely turned up under it.”
From that description I think I would have liked Mrs. Washington and her unpretentious manner.
While in Philadelphia the author visited a hotel for a glass of cool punch, “and they brought to us with a lump of ice in each glass, which had also pine-apple juice to heighten its flavor.”
He found the heat in and around Philadelphia unbearable yet he was served iced fruit punch and was interested enough in how that came about to ask the proprietor to see the ice house.
“We asked Oeller to shew us his ice-house, to which he readily conducted us himself. We went through his hot kitchen, which seemed like a furnace, and on his opening two doors, we found ourselves in Nova Zembla, or in other words, standing on a huge body of ice, forty feet thick, and twenty feet square. On it he kept his dishes of butter, cold dressed provisions, sallads [sic], &c. It was a vaulted room, under the flight of steps by which you enter his house on the street side: but the chill was too sudden and intense for us to remain long there; we were glad to feel again the heat of the sun, although but five minutes before, we were burning under the fervor of its meridian rays”.
I seriously doubt that the ice was 40 feet thick, and wonder if he either misunderstood or carelessly exaggerated its size. The number could have been a typesetter’s mistake that went unnoticed until after the printing.
After a summer outing in which they visited the illustrious naturalist and author, Dr. Bartram, “We had tea, coffee, syllabubs, cakes, &c. &c. for all which, we paid only half a dollar each, horses’ hay included.”
He thought Bartram’s reception lacking in enthusiasm, and I wondered if, at his advanced age at the time of the visit, if he hadn’t tired of a steady stream of visitors over the years wanting to hear of his exploits.
He left a very good account of what items were found in the markets, their cost, and how they compared to those in England. “I went into the market frequently, and asked the prices of all kinds of provisions. For a round of beef I was asked sevenpence per pound, equal to fourpence per pound sterling, but it was not equal in goodness to our’s; veal, fivepence currency; mutton, sixpence; an ox-heart, elevenpence, or six-pence-halfpenny sterling; for a fine fat turkey, a dollar; pigeons, very plenty and cheap; pork, exceeding fine and good, at three-pence-half-penny and fourpence sterling per pound.”
Tea houses were becoming popular in U.S. cities by the 1790’s and the author took note of them. Of one in particular he wrote, “A Mr. Bailey, of New York, has just built a very handsome tea-drinking pleasure house, to accommodate parties who come hither from all the neighbouring ports; he intends also to have bathing machines, and several species of entertainment. It seems parties are made here from thirty or forty miles distance, in the summer time.” [For more on bathing machines, see my book on outdoor recreation – click on the store page above. Discounts available for blog readers!]
This is a very short summary of a long and detailed account of his visit, but I hope the reader has found it entertaining. Henry Wansey (ca. 1752-1827) is best known for his work on Hoare’s History of Wiltshire. He was keenly interested in antiquities and social reform and was elected in 1789 a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He had one child who died young. Blissful Meals, all.©