Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Do you liquor, ma’am?”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on October 6, 2012

In the late winter of 1843-44, an Englishwoman by the name of Matilda Charlotte Houstoun (pronounced “Haweston”) visited Galveston with her husband, a British cavalry officer. The Houstouns were making a tour of the Gulf of Mexico, with Captain Houstoun trying to drum up interest in an invention of his for preserving beef. During their visit, the Houstouns boarded the 111-ton steamer Dayton, Captain D. S. Kelsey, for the trip up Buffalo Bayou to Houston:

It was about two o’clock in the afternoon of a bright frosty day, that we put ourselves on board the Houston steamer – Captain Kelsey. She was a small vessel, and drew but little water, a circumstance very necessary in these small rivers. The American river steamers differ very much in appearance from those to which an European eye is accustomed. They have the appearance of wooden houses, built upon a large raft; there is a balcony or verandah, and on the roof is what is called the hurricane deck, where gentlemen passengers walk and smoke. On the occasion of our taking our passage both ladies and gentlemen’s cabin were quite full, and I therefore preferred spending the evening in the balcony in spite of the cold. I had many kind offers of civility, but I could not help being amused at the terms in which some of them were couched. The question addressed to me of “do you liquor, ma’am” was speedily followed by the production of a tumbler of egg-noggy, which seemed in great  request, and I cannot deny its excellence; I believe the British Navy claims the merit of its invention, but this is matter of dispute.

“Mrs. Houstoun,” as she styled herself at the time, would publish her first novel, Recommended to Mercy, in 1862, and go on to become one of the best-known female novelists in 19th century Britain. This excerpt, and the image of Galveston above, is from her travelogue, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, or Yachting in the New World, vol., II, published in 1844.


2 Responses

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  1. Brad said, on October 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

    In the lower Bowery in New York there is a street called Houston Street but it’s pronounced How-ston, in a way similar to that of your protagonist. By the way, the street is named after William Houston from Georgia, who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and who is buried in New York City.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

      Yes, I give a lot of coverage to Mrs. Houstoun in one part of the book, because she left one of the most detailed passenger accounts of traveling by steamboat in that period, and (because she was a stranger to this region) she remarked on all sorts of small quirks of speech and behavior that the locals wouldn’t have noticed or bothered to record. Vivid stuff. But it was a challenge to keep the Houstouns straight from the Houstons, and I’m not sure I caught them all on the proofing.

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