Victualler in 1820 Philadelphia, PA USA

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed May 25 22:37:50 UTC 2011

Well, well.  Only a few months ago, I read the NYC directory for 1821/22 --
*Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory*,
1821-1822 -- some of us here do have strange pass-times, don't we.
Unfortunately, I was looking for, and noting, people who lived on Thomas
street, and people identified as colored.  None of them dealt in cooked
food.  I've just quickly browsed my notes for the 1810s & 1820s, where I
find references from the Directory for a cider merchant and a ciderist (same
guy, different years), a meadhouse keeper (one of the colored guys of 1821),
an oysterman (ditto; not clear whether he sold oysters or gathered them; if
he sold them, it would probably have been from a pushcart) and one or two
porterhouse keepers.  No one who dealt in victuals.
Still,  "victualler" looks odd to me -- I think that Longworth didn't use
that term.  I can't say for sure hat he would have used instead -- "eating
house" was used in the newspapers of the era.

(This is a new email system, and cutting and pasting has left me with a
draft in two different type faces -- I'll be interested to see what comes


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ.
Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

On Wed, May 25, 2011 at 4:54 PM, Michael McKernan <mckernan51 at>wrote:

> 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
> both...
> 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.
> Thanks,
> Michael McKernan
> Benson, Arizona
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ.
Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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