November 20, 2020
Written by 
Cecilia Wright and Luke F. McCusker

Remembrance Room: Food Aboard Famine Ships

This series continues to present the realities of life for desparate emigrants aboard ship, new arrivals in America and the dramatic ways they cared for families as they settled in Baltimore. Food, of course, is central to any people's it is to our own experiences today as we make our own best decisions about meals during the present crisis.

Sarah Feeley was the woman of the house at our Museum location (918 Lemmon Street), and eventually had her first appliance. A "step-stove" was a big deal for her modest family...we thank reenactor Sandy Brunt (pictured) for her capable portrayal of a wife and mother preparing breakfast for her family, circa 1880.

Our "Remembrance Room” presents the practical realities of life aboard ship for the 3-8 week voyage among strangers, with the teeming Atlantic beating passengers and cooks about as they tried to prepare the simplest of meals. A cup of tea must have been a luxury; and what of the family in the next bunk that only had their hundreth consecutive bowl of stirabout to eat, without even a lacing of milk or sugar?

"High Kings of Baltimore" included men that had a career bringing food to market from surrounding truck farms to Baltimore's public markets, and then to the alley streets where some mothers shopped from the front stoop. These "horse and cart" men were not unlike the Arabbers of a later era, and most neighborhoods included stables: some committed to commerce. We hope you enjoy reading about the Kratz family today; neighbors of James and Sarah Feeley.

Our Remembrance Room: Elements and Elaboration

Food Rations Onboard Emigrant Ships

Cecilia A. Wright
Luke F. McCusker

The Irish who were fleeing the Great Hunger were initially expected to provide their own food for the two- month journey to America. This was nearly impossible, as any food they could manage to bring with them often spoiled, was eaten too quickly, or became inedible during the passage.

England’s Passenger Act of 1842 required the ship’s captain to issue food rations of 1 pound of flour and 3 quarts of water a day for each adult on board. The water was stored in old whiskey or chemical barrels, which often contaminated the water.

Supplies frequently ran short on the journey, due to extended time at sea, and ship captains could not issue the required rations. This worsened the emigrants’ suffering, especially for those with fever. Flour could also become contaminated with insects or even human waste, due to poor sanitary practices on board.

Passengers cooked their meals at scheduled times, on ship’s fires above deck. Cooking was not allowed during storms, when passengers were required to remain below deck and eat whatever was on hand, including food they had brought themselves.

Cooking fires on the wooden ships of the era sometimes became out of control, despite careful supervision by the ship’s crew. Fifty-seven emigrant ships, with about nine thousand passengers on board, were lost at sea between 1847-1853; many due to fire.


Whyte, Robert. Famine Ship Diary. Lancashire, UK: Mercier Pr. Ltd., 1995.

Crosbie, Duncan. Life on a Famine Ship: A Journal of the Irish Famine 1845-1850. Hauppauge, New York, B.E.S. Publishing, 2006. (Accessed 7/25/19). (Accessed 7/25/19).

Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress
High Kings of Baltimore: Walter A. “Buddy” Kratz Jr.

The railroading families of Baltimore lived in a vibrant neighborhood and shopped at nearby Hollins Market. Hucksters, or cart men of various types, brought items directly to homes. Some were known as "Arabbers", with their highly decorated horses and wagons that sold produce, door to door. Others led simpler carts along the narrow streets, selling coal, ice, seafood and other products. Their stables were interspersed with row houses, and horses and mules were cared for while carts were parked and maintained.

John Liberty was one of these cart men. He was the brother of Sarah Feeley, and eventually brought his nephew John J. Feeley into the business.

Walter A. “Buddy” Kratz Sr. was a successful produce huckster. He purchased a family home on S. Arlington Ave. from the Feeley family in 1920 (they remained neighbors, two doors down) and stabled his horses and carts at nearby Carlton Street, near Lemmon St. His descendants and fellow Arabbers maintained the stables into the 1980’s. (Some are still using these stables today).

Walter Sr. married Blanche M. Taylor, whose father Lafayette was also a huckster, and they raised five children at the Feeley’s former home at 119 S. Arlington Ave. Buddy’s hard work, and development of his network of Arabbers led to personal success, despite only having a third grade education. He eventually auctioned off eight properties he owned in the neighborhood, including real estate on S. Arlington, Lemmon, Carlton and S. Carrollton Sts.

Blanche was converted to the Catholic faith in her early thirties, during a medical crisis at University Hospital, and was baptized there. Her children had already been baptized at St. Peter’s Church, as a future child was.

Their son Walter Jr. (“Buddy”, pictured above) also became part of the horse and cart business, and lived at 918 Lemmon Street in the 1940’s and 1950’s....eventually moving to Lansdowne.

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