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Hannibal History: 1800s diary a reminder of simpler, cheaper times


Written by Mary Lou Montgomery


Published in the Hannibal Courier-Post

Perhaps many people today keep detailed records of their income and expenses, but they would barely resemble a diary submitted by Marie Godwin of Hannibal, which reflects the way things were in 1882.

She found the diary, which was the property of Lute F. West, in a storage box in the attic. The book was presented to Mrs. West on Dec. 25, 1882 by her husband, John D. West. For the next few years, Mrs. West kept a record of all their expenditures and income, along with some poems and verses she obviously found enlightening.

It is believed that Mrs. Godwin that the Wests lived near Madison, Mo.

The record keeping began on Jan. 4, 1883, when she obviously spent the day at the market. Mrs. West purchased 7½ pounds of butter for $1.50; 6 pounds of coffee for $1 and 1 bottle of Dr. Reads Tonic for 75 cents.

Other items purchased early the year included a gallon of coal oil for 25 cents; 1 bunch of shoestrings, 5 cents; 3 spools of thread for 15 cents; 3 bars of soap for 25 cents and 1 pair of scissors, 60 cents.

Slippers cost $1, and shoes were $1.75. A corn planter sold for $40 and a plow was $11. Three bushels of millet seed sold for $3, and a visit to the barber was 25 cents.

Sugar was a real bargain in 1883, selling for 20 pounds for $2. A box of oatmeal sold for 15 cents, and 1½ gallons of molasses for 85 cents.

Obviously, John and Lute West were farmers, and also kept records of what was sold during 1883. One hog, weighing at 350 pounds, was sold for $13.47 on Nov. 4. Sales for the year included a calf, hog, three steers, and 11 bushels of wheat. The total for the year was $253.85.

Records were also kept concerning calving. “Lady Julia foaled April 7, 1888,” was entered into the diary next to dates and names of other cows.

Before the turn of the century, relief from common illness depended solely on home-made remedies. Mrs. West clipped several remedies from local newspapers, and pasted them in this book for safekeeping.

The old fashioned methods of relief included a cure for sun cholera.

“Take equal parts of tincture cayenne, tincture of opium, tincture of rhubarb, essence of peppermint, and spirits of camphor. Mix well. Dose 15 to 30 drops in a wine glass of water, according to age and violence of the attack. Repeat every 15 or 20 minutes until relief is obtained.”

Smallpox and scarlet fever were also common ailments during this time span, and old wives tales also applied to curing these ills.

“Sulphate of zinc, 1 gram; foxglove(digitalis) 1 gram; half teaspoon sugar; mix with two tablespoons of water.

Take a spoonful every hour. For a child, smaller dose according to age.”

No diary entry would be complete without a recipe. Included in this book is a recipe for Lizzie Batsell Fruit Cake.

1 pint butter; 1 pint molasses; 1 pint brown sugar; 1 pint buttermilk; two teaspoons of baking soda; 1 tablespoon each of spices; 3 eggs; flour to make very stiff dough; 1 or 2 cups chopped raisins.

Bake in slow oven.

Also included in the book was this verse by Tennyson, perhaps the motto the Wests lived by: “Men may rise on stepping stones; Of their dead selves to higher things.”

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