Greetings! From Allen Trout
Representative J. Gip Prather, of Owenton, has put at my disposal an 1846 account book of a general store in Owenton. The store was situated on the present site of the First National Bank, and was run by William Roberts and Joseph T. Roberts, brothers.
Business in Owenton 98 years ago was run straight from the shoulder. The Roberts brothers bought tobacco at $2.75 per hundred pounds, feathers at 25 cents a pound, cured meat at 6 cents a pound, and eggs at 6 cents a dozen. They sold whisky at 38 cents a gallon, sugar at ten cents a pound, and coffee at 12 ½ cents a pound.
Rice was the only staple food they sold, besides coffee, sugar and tea. Condiments were salt, pepper, saleratus [from Latin sal æratus meaning "aerated salt." Widely used in the 19th century for both sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate], and nutmeg. The only remedies for man and beast were sulphur, alum, copperas, rosin, turpentine, pills, castor oil and vermifuge. This last was a worm medicine.
The account book draws a rigid line between slaves buying for masters, and children buying for parents. Slaves were designated as boys and girls, children as sons and daughters. For example:
On January 1, 1846, Jacob Hessler, per boy, was charged with one-half pound of pepper at 13 cents. The next charge was to George S. Forsee, per son, one loaf of sugar, 50 cents. Four days later, Thomas A. Berryman, per girl, was charged $1 for eight pounds of coffee. The Widow Shannon, per daughter, was charged on March 4 for a fine-tooth comb, 15 cents, and a tuck comb, 17 cents.
Muzzle loading guns accounted for many entries in 1846. On January 3, Farmer Rees bought 4 oz. of gunpowder, one bar of lead, and a box of caps, all for 25 cents.
The year 1846 was before the coal oil era, hence candle illumination was sold in all forms. On January 20, William H. Rice bought four pounds of candles for 50 cents. On January 7, S. A. Green bought six pounds of tallow for 38 cents, and on January 27, James Vallandingham bought a ball of candle wick for 13 cents. That tallow and candle wick were used for pouring candles at home is shown by the April 13 entry against George C. Medlock for one pair of candle molds, 87 cents.
The merchants sold considerable whiskey, but at a loss in half gallon measures. They charged 38 cents a gallon, but invariably charged only 10 cents a quart, and did not bother with pints. They found a ready market for empty barrels. For example, on January 1, 1846, Daniel Chandler bought two yards of red flannel for $1, and a whiskey barrel for 50 cents.
Roberts & Roberts apparently sold at flexible prices. On March 30, they charged William McHatton 50 cents for a chamber pot, but on April 30, they let William Rodgers have one for 37 cents.
Our source for this is an Allen Trout newspaper column that had been photocopied. Trout was a Courier-Journal columnist for many years, and our assumption is that this is where this originated. We have no date.