TALES FROM AN OLD STORE LEDGER (May 23/03)

“To widen the highway for the new bridge (on the Cornwallis River) a general store was removed from the south west corner of Main and Belcher Streets. J. W. and W. Y. Fullerton were the owners,” reads a passage in the Port Williams history, The Port Remembers. J. W. Fullerton operated the store and his ledger from the period 1912-1913 now lies in the vault at the Kings County Museum.

At first glance, most old store ledgers like Fullertons appear to be little more than boring entries as exciting to read as the Q and U pages of the dictionary. Those old ledgers tell a story, however; actually, a good many stories since every transaction recorded in old ledgers give us hints about lifestyles, fashions and trends.

Recently, Connie Millett, Port Williams, spent several days studying the Fullerton ledger. Ms. Millett found that in the period the ledger covered, Fullerton had served 299 customers who probably came to Fullertons on foot or by horse and wagon and likely resided within a few miles of the store. Millet entered the names of the customers on a spread sheet, sorted them alphabetically, and compiled a list of surnames that future genealogical researchers will find invaluable.

Millett notes that most of the surnames found in the ledger are in the current telephone book. She surmises that “many of the descendants of Fullertons’ customers still live in the Port Williams area,” and she may be right.

But even more interesting are the purchases made by Fullertons’ customers. In 1912 the barter system was alive and well, for example. One customer purchasing $11.00 worth of patent medicine paid for it by “painting cart and sleigh.” Another purchase of clothing and medicine was “paid by butter and eggs.” A couple of customers paid their account by supplying cords of firewood. Another customer who had purchased “stove polish, shoe nails, harness oil, 6 lbs whiting, 1 can grease (and) butter paper” paid for it by supplying Fullerton with “1 pig, 2 bu. potatoes (and) 18 dozen eggs.” And one customer paid off his account by supply labour, noted as “road work.”

What about recreation in 1912-1913? One customer purchased a harmonica, another a pair of riding breeches, so there was music-making and horseback riding. There was hockey – one gentleman purchased a pair of “hockey boots.” And possibly there were female hockey teams since several entries note purchases of “women’s hockey boots.”

Larrigans were common footwear in 1912-1913. Boys held their trousers up with braces, women did the laundry with a washboard, Shredded Wheat and Grapenuts were popular breakfast cereals, they used oil lamps, and the proof that it was truly the horse and buggy days are purchases for whips, horse rugs, curry combs and horseshoe nails.

If you wonder how our ancestors fared healthwise around the turn of the 20th century, Fullerton’s ledger provides a few clues.* Among the patent medicines sold by the store were Pine Tar Syrup, a stimulant and expectorant, Nervaline, a mild tranquilliser, an asthma medication called Catarrahozone, the laxatives Castoria and Cascara, and Quinine pills, which as well as treating malaria were used to relieve leg cramps.

*The uses for these old patent medicines were suggested by a pharmacist.

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