Visitors touring the Kent-Delord House Museum not only get to see artifacts from the 19th century but also get to hear the stories of how the family and people of Plattsburgh lived during that time. We know the daily details due to the tens of thousands of personal letters exchanged between family members and others, the documents that guided their personal and public affairs, and many other items saved by Betsey Delord and Fannie Delord Hall.
We have been very fortunate that a number of local historians have researched much of this accumulation of primary documents and written either books or essays that give us a look at the interactions of the Delord generations and the people of the North Country. Mainly we rely on two books that tell us the Delord story: Henry Delord and His Family by Allan Everest and Love & Duty, Letters and Diaries of the Delord-Webb Women by Virginia Mason Burdick. Both Everest and Burdick did extensive research in that mountain of documents to create a narrative that incorporates the essence of the Delord legacy
However, there is a lot of information that they had to leave out! For example, Henry Delord kept records of his Red Store business in ledgers, of which we have quite a few. After the Battle of Plattsburgh we know this business went bankrupt and his partnership with William Bailey ended. Yet what the Everest and Burdick books don’t tell you is that Henry continued to do the same type of mercantile business as he had but on a smaller, more personal scale. He again kept records, now in journals, referred to as “daybooks.” We are fortunate to have three of them covering the years 1818-1824.
These daybooks contain the lists of items that Henry procured for individuals and how much they owed him and when and how they paid their bills. Henry already had connections to suppliers from the earlier business, so he could still get the items his customers needed. Most of these items were boards, bricks, bread, sugar, vinegar, butter, pork and beef. However one item stands out in his record keeping- – gin! Over the month of July,1819 to the beginning of August John Blacketer bought 12 quarts of gin for a whopping total of $4.00! Compare that to Samuel Hugh who bought 5 quarts of gin during a 10-day period in August of 1819! By the way, a quart of gin cost 25¢!
Henry covered many pages with a detailed record of what, where, and when he planted his garden. By 1818 according to county tax records, Henry owned about 9 acres in Plattsburgh, three of which surrounded his house. So what Henry called “his garden” was a small farm. Many entries refer to the various types of peas and beans as well as six different kinds of cabbage, along with the carrots, potatoes, beets, etc., etc., he planted. I must point out that Henry was a “gentleman farmer” who did the planning and organizing, but he did have indentured servants who did most of the manual labor. In the 1818 daybook, there is a map of the side yard drawn by Henry with labeled walkways. He used these as boundaries for the various crops.
Henry also records the rents for the various houses he owned on the property around his house. Those rents varied from $2 to $5 a month. He also rented a room within those houses for $1 a week or $1 to $2 a month. Not one to pass on any means of making money, Henry also rented his horse and waggon (note Henry’s spelling).
There were other entries that didn’t focus on his business or gardening. Henry added observations on his personal life. One entry records that he “Loaned to Cousin Calvin Averill – 30 December 1819 – Frances, chess & chess Board.” No further entries indicate if these were returned. Another entry records that “Anne Green wife or widow of Henry Green & Sister of William Bowron loaned her 1 August 1820-Books Biography Dictionary & four volumes of Arts & Science belonging to my Daughter Frances Henrietta & again lend her other books – & She Did not return any books.” (writer’s note – did Henry possibly start the first lending library in Plattsburgh?)
Several of the most interesting entries were recipes for medicines to cure ailments from toothaches to dysentery. Note that during the 19th century recipes were called receipts. Most of the recipes were copied from newspapers. Two of the “cures” were from newspapers in Albany and Baltimore. It was common for people who traveled to bring newspapers back to share with friends and relatives. For all the “cures” that Henry copied from those newspapers, there is no evidence that he actually used any of them. The only receipt that Henry did acknowledge taking was from one of his personal physicians, Dr. Hichock. Given the directions to take it before eating, it must have been for a stomach or intestinal problem.
This prescription for a Tooth Ache was for Frances Henrietta who was 11 yrs. old at the time!
A couple things to note about these “cures” is that the main ingredient in most of these “medicines” is alcohol- so yes, use it enough it will numb the pain (and the brain!) Also it is distressing to think that mothers would mix lye with milk and give it to a young child! I present these as examples of what Henry Delord thought was interesting in the early 1800s as cures for the ailments of the times.
THESE ARE NOT CURES FOR ANY MEDICAL AILMENT – PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO FOLLOW THEM!!
I leave you with a final example of what Henry included in his daybooks – doodles, enjoy!