Snuff, a slap and life inside 1800s rich family’s home
The newspaper clipping had turned yellow with age, but I was drawn to it by both its appearance and the headline on the article:
“50-Cent Turkeys Graced Tables of Rich in 1815, Old Diary Shows”
Reading the story, I learned that a Philadelphia historical journalist named Nathan G. Goodman had found a diary belonging to the occupant of the Wyck mansion in Philadelphia from the first quarter of the 19th century. I could find very little about Goodman himself, who wrote books about Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin.
According to the article, the diarist was Ruben (actually, Reuben) Haines who was living in this stately Colonial mansion in an area then known as Germantown (which is now a section of Philadelphia and the house is the Wyck Historic Mansion, Gardens and Farm). For nearly 300 years, the mansion was the ancestral home of the Wistar and Haines families.
The article appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 1, 1931, edition of the Public Ledger newspaper. The diary itself was found in a desk in the house, which dates to the 1700s. Haines and his wife Jane Bowne Haines had the house architecturally updated in 1824.
The diary contained costs of food, pay for servants, remedies for ailments and pests, and mention of folks whom the Haines entertained. It appeared to have covered the years from 1815 to at least 1828.
Here are some of the more interesting stories from the diary:
Marquis de Lafayette dropped by
“A tale is told of Lafayette, to whose use of snuff a daughter objected. When he stooped to kiss her, the diary says, the little girl slapped his face.”
A Frenchman, Lafayette was a friend of George Washington’s who fought for the American cause in the Revolutionary War. He returned to France after the war and made several trips back to the United States, including in 1824-1825 when he visited every part of the new country.
Lafayette visited the Wyck mansion during the second year of his tour, according to the 1902 edition of the Guidebook to Historic Germantown. Here’s a much fuller account of his visit in the 1896 American Historical Register:
“Reuben Haines … was a prominent man of his day. He greatly aided in the building of the turnpike from Chestnut Hill to the city, and was active in other ways. When the Marquis of Lafayette visited Germantown, July 20, 1825, he was entertained at ‘Wyck’. Lafayette and his suite had previously visited the Chew House, then the Mount Airy College. On their return they stopped at ‘Wyck’”, where a reception was tendered him. He was addressed by Charles Pierce, Esq., and John F. Watson, the analist, who presented him with a ‘box of great curiosity and value’. During the reception Lafayette was seated in a chair that had belonged to Benjamin Franklin and which is still in possession of the family. From ‘Wyck’, Lafayette went to the Academy and from there returned to the city.”
It’s not clear what that box was, but commemorative snuff boxes were made on the occasion of the two-year trip by Lafayette, who was accompanied by his son George Washington Lafayette. Some boxes bore a portrait of Lafayette, while at least one other showed him landing in the United States. One seller surmised that a box with clouds beneath Lafayette’s bust was likely made as a memorial around the time of his death in 1834. Snuff was commonly used and seen as a luxury back then.
How to get rid of pests
“For cockroaches, it was advised that sweet-oil or soap be put in a vial.”
How to preserve meat
“Preservation of meat is treated thoroughly. When the meat arrives, says the diary, it should be examined and any part touched by flies cut off. Then it should be salted and corned. If unsalted, a charcoal was suggested for preservation.”
Pay for the hired help
“It is noted by the diarist that ‘Eliza Brown came to live with us as child’s nurse at $1.25 a week,’ and that he ‘hired William Morris, colored man, at $10 per month.’ A few years later he employed another child’s nurse for 75 cents a week and in 1828 a housekeeper at $1.50 a week.” There’s no mention of what Morris’ duties were, but Haines – both he and his wife were abolitionists – seemed to have paid Morris more than the other workers.
Liver – 12 cent a pound
Turkeys – 50 cents each
Butter – 30 cents a pount
Eggs – 20 cents a dozen
Milk – 6 cents a quart
Pork – 10 cents a pound
Pair of lasts and shoes – $8
(Lasts are molds made in the shape of feet that shoemakers use to make shoes.)
Apples – 75 cents a bushel