Patterson, Henry Houston. 1960. Henry Houston Patterson Account Books, 1880-1915 [Manuscript]. Wilson Library, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

These account books, held at the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library, consist of ledgers from the business of Mr. H. H. Patterson, a general merchant in Chapel Hill, from 1880-1915. H. H. Patterson was a businessman and owner of a store on East Franklin Street in starting in 1880. Patterson attended the University of North Carolina, served in the Confederate Army, and worked as a farmer before taking up a career as a merchant. The Patterson family are an institutional family in the Chapel Hill area, acting as longtime residents and tradesmen.

Patterson’s store handled produce, groceries, general merchandise, and notions (items used in sewing.) The collection of ledgers in Wilson Library consists of multiple volumes, each consisting of a book. Each book varies in how it is specifically organized, but all have an index with customers names, a section for wholesale purchases from suppliers, and then records of each customer including what they bought, what they owed, and what they paid.

As Patterson’s store fulfilled many residents food needs in Chapel Hill, analyzing the items bought and sold at his store provide a clear picture of the sorts of food items that people in Chapel Hill were eating, how often, and when. The most common items purchased in bulk by Patterson and the most frequently bought items by customers were quintessential of what many perceive as Southern traditions. The clearest records were from the months of April, May, June, and July, in which coffee, tobacco, sugar, peaches, butter, soda, and bacon appeared the most. Other common items included starch, mutton, ham, castor oil, candy, mackerel, and bin meal. In October, November, and December, there were additional items that fall in accordance to celebrated holidays and seasons. October consisted of a lot of purchases of cinnamon, rice, apples, and “spice.” In December, there were accounts of wood, Christmas trees, oysters, and “maise for cake.”

The items listed above show a fairly unhealthy diet, but also one that makes sense given the location. Pigs and cattle were common on farms in North Carolina. Given that refrigeration wasn’t an option, sugar was most likely used to preserve fruit, which explains the popularity of those two goods.

The information provided in these ledgers presents us with information that is pertinent to the 19th century for the story it tells of daily habits, seasonal variations, and geographical connections at a time when the South was rapidly changing. It allows for an understanding of why there would be a push for expansion during this period, as people wanted greater variety and reliability in their groceries. The location of the store is pertinent as it was located on Franklin Street, which remains the heart of Chapel Hill today. However, today various restaurants and convenience stores line the street, in the place of nineteenth-century grocery stores, demonstrating a cultural shift to eating out rather than cooking at home.


By: Cassandra Cassidy