THE GENERAL STORE WAS SHOPPING
MALL OF EARLY HARLAN ©

by Holly Timm
[originally published 18 March 1987
Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher]
In 19th century Harlan County, the general stores were about all the shopping facilities that existed. They carried a full range of goods from housewares to food-stuffs to tools. One of the prominent merchants of that time was Ewell Venable Unthank. A native of Surrey County in North Carolina, he operated a store in the Harlan county seat, then called Mount Pleasant, now the city of Harlan.

Now in the possession of the Kentucky State Archives in Frankfort, a charge account book for the firm of Unthank & Adams presents evidence of some of the items bought, traded and sold from 1847 to 1851. Most customers bought goods as they needed and brought in tobacco, beeswax, linen, ginseng, corn by the bushel, feathers, beef hides, cheese, salt, honey, furs, such as fox shins, and other items to credit against their account. Customers were identified by simply by name with additional identifying information if there was any possibility of confusion. William Turner Greasy Lady identifies the customer as the wife of the William Turner who lived on Greasy Creek as opposed to the William Turner of Clover Fork. His son was listed as "William Turner Greasy son John."

People mostly wore homemade clothes and Unthank & Adams carried a varied selection of fabrics such as cambray, drill, calico, swiss muslin as well as ticking for mattresses and could supply most of the necessary notions as well, including dyes such as indigo. Possibly some big upcoming even prompted the daughters of several families to purchase various dressmaking supplies on 21st and 22nd of July in 1847. George Eager and Samuel Howard's daughters were in on the 21st and bought calicos, ribbons, buttons and other dressmaking necessities. They were followed on the 22nd by Hiram Jones daughters who not only bought calico and notions and two collars, but also bought two bonnets, ribbons and `artificials' to decorate the bonnets, three sets of side combs and three handkerchiefs. That same week, Adron Metcalf purchased a vest pattern, vest buttons, 3 yards of drill fabric, shirt buttons and half a yard of cambray.

Ready made attire was available as well, from robes and slippers to suspenders and hats of straw, wool, palm or wool. Shoes were both sold and brought in as trade as were the leather and shoe nails needed to make them. One Saturday in early July of 1847, Stacy Turner and her sister-in-law, Hannah Branson Smith, went into Unthank and Adams and proceeded to buy all the necessities for setting a pretty table, sets of plates, tea sets, sugar and creamers, salt cellars, glass cups and so forth. Hannah also bought a looking glass, better known today as a mirror. That same day, Hiram Jones and his wife, Rachel Ely, were in and traded 17 pounds of beeswax and nearly 10 yards of line for combs, string beads, stockings, a shawl and several yards of calico.

The store handled all sorts of items. George Howard and Amos Johnson, among others, purchased fiddle strings and the Jews harp was available. Luke Jones bought wall paper; David Bailey and others bought saddles, bridles and girths for their horses; Wash Hensley bought some marbles; James Lyttle bought a pipe.

William Clem's daughter Rosanna bought spelling books in May, 1850, and in January of 1851, exchanged several weeks of work for dress goods and other items. Each spring the demand for fish hooks appears to have risen and the need for staples, such as sugar, coffee, powder and lead, appears to have been constant.

Frequently, those who lived at a distance sent in orders by others who were going, such as when Joseph Caldwell came in and bought a cake of soap, two handkerchiefs and a pitcher for himself and picked up shoes, fabric and other items for his neighbors Adron Napier and Abraham Slusher.

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last edited Thursday, 05-Jun-2008 14:32:26 MDT