Portable Soup

Receipt for the Purchase of Portable Soup

Note written in pen and ink: the text is described on this page

National Archives and Records Administration

Among the supplies and provisions purchased for Captain Lewis in the spring of 1803 by Israel Whelan, the Purveyor of Public Supplies, was 193 pounds of portable soup made in Philadelphia by a cook named François Baillet,1 at a cost of $289.50. In the 1750s the British Navy had begun issuing 50 pounds of portable soup for every 100 sailors on long voyages, partly to vary the daily diet of salt-cured meats, and partly in the mistaken belief that it would prevent scurvy.2 It was also widely used as a supplement and an emergency ration during the Revolutionary Era.

Lewis obviously thought of it as a victual of last resort. He issued it to the men for the first time on September 14 at Killed Colt Camp, and for the last time at "Portable Soup Camp" on the nineteenth. By the twentieth they had, according to Whitehouse, only "a little" of it left. During those six days the 33 adults must have consumed nearly a pound of it per day per person, in a very thick concoction.

There had been hungry days before the Bitterroot crossing, and there were more before they got back to St. Louis, but portable soup was never mentioned again, except as part of the medical treatment of a sick Nez Perce chief.

1. Donald Jackson, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854 (2 vols, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:81.

2. Meryl Rutz, "Salt Horse and Ship's Biscuit: A Short Essay on the Diet of the Royal Navy Seaman During the American Revolution," http://www.navyandmarine.org/ondeck/1776salthorse.htm, accessed November 27, 2004. "Salt horse" was Navy slang for salt pork or beef. See also Leandra Zim Holland, Feasting and Fasting with Lewis & Clark: A Food and Social History of the Early 1800s (Emigrant, Montana: Old Yellowstone Publishing, 2003), 8-9.

Funded in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's Lewis and Clark Trail Committee