Victualler in 1820 Philadelphia, PA USA

Michael McKernan mckernan51 at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 25 20:54:44 UTC 2011

I could use some help with pinning down as precisely as possible definitions
for the terms "victualler" and "hog victualler," as used in the 1820
Philadelphia, PA, USA city directory.

The directory lists 388 victuallers, and an additional 13 "hog
victuallers."  Somewhat less than half (174) of the victuallers have a dual
listing consisting of a (market) stall number, and a dwelling house.

I've seen it asserted that victuallers of this era in the USA sold
ready-to-eat foods/meals, but the large number of victuallers, and high
percentage of market stalls, suggests that some, if not all, were selling
provisions (victuals) to be prepared and consumed at home or elsewhere.
Such provision-selling appears to be one of the standard dictionary
definitions of victualler, but since at least one USA state (Massachusetts)
historically and currently licenses--at the local level--"any establishment
that has on its premises the ability to assemble, prepare, or cook food"
(such as a restaurant, etc.) as a "common victualler," there's plenty of
confusion about what victualler meant, vs. what it now means.

A distinction between selling ready-to-eat food/meals, vs. selling
uncooked/unprepared provisions, would be important to my research, if it
existed in connection with "victualler" at this time and place.  Of course,
as far as I know, victuallers in 1820 Philadelphia could have been selling

Further confusing matters, in the UK, a "licensed victualler" seems to mean
someone who owns/operates a pub ("public house"), selling alcoholic
beverages (and often, food/meals).  In the 1820 Philadelphia directory, such
alcohol-serving establishments appear to be encoded as "taverns" (179 total)
and/or "inns" (202 total), as well as establishments with a bartender (such
as some hotels).  Philadelphia also had 4 "beer houses" and 3 "mead
gardens."  So "victualler" does not appear to be connected with alcohol at
this time and place.

Victualler also appears several times in the 1822 New Orleans, LA, USA, city
directory, sometimes with a market stall indicated.  This directory also
contains one listing of a "hog victualler" (which may be the only
non-Philadelphia-1800s Google "hit" for this specific term).  About half of
the 13 Philadelphia 1820 "hog victuallers" included both a dwelling and a
market stall.  The 1839 Philadlephia directory listed 303 victuallers, but
(I think) did not list any "hog victuallers," so either the term was no
longer in use, or the compilers did not differentiate them from generic
victuallers.  The 1810 Philadelphia directory included 5 "hog victuallers"
along with many generic victuallers.

Any assistance with precise data on these terms in Philadelphia, PA--or
elsewhere--(before 1840) would be greatly appreciated.  In particular, I
would like to know if there was a legal/administrative definition (for
licensing, etc.), as well as any general understanding of the terminology.


Michael McKernan
Benson, Arizona

The American Dialect Society -

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