Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Prince Edward, traveled through the United States on a diplomatic tour in the fall of 1860, only weeks before the presidential election that would spark the Civil War. Crossing over from Canada on September 20, the prince and his retinue of British peers visited Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Washington. They dined with President Buchanan at the White House, slipped down to Richmond for a brief look, and resumed their journey northward to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The trip ended at Portland, Maine. The future king, then a month short of his nineteenth birthday, was a welcome distraction from the nation’s political woes. He was enthusiastically feted at each stop, although nowhere more than in New York where the bustling newspapers whipped up a frenzy of excitement. His meals in the Empire State were prepared under the direction of some of the best chefs, hoteliers, and restaurateurs in the country. Five menus from this leg of the trip reveal American hospitality at its finest in the waning days of the antebellum period.
As heir apparent to the throne, Prince Edward was titled the Prince of Wales. He was ceremoniously greeted by the mayor upon his arrival and reviewed a military parade. The prolonged formalities caused a delay which annoyed New Yorkers who turned out in force to see the prince. Viewing the scene from a window of the New York Club, diarist George Templeton Strong noted that “all Broadway was one long dense mass of impatient humanity.” At last, the royal party was escorted past cheering crowds to the new Fifth Avenue Hotel where a large suite of rooms had been especially prepared for their stay. The luxury establishment featured the latest amenities, such as private bathrooms, a fireplace in every room, and one of the earliest passenger elevators. The hotel proved to be a sanctuary for the royal teenager. “So great was his relief to escape to the privacy of his suite,” a clerk later recalled, “that he and his immediate companions engaged in an enthusiastic game of leap-frog in the corridor.”
On Friday, the Herald published an article titled “What are the Southern states going to do?” Despite the angst about the upcoming election, such reports were temporarily overshadowed by news about Prince Edward as he began to make the rounds. The Times had already admitted as much, calling the royal visit “a passing truce in the conflict of politics.”
The prince went to Central Park, the Cooper Institute, the Women’s Library, the Astor Library, and various other places. That night, a ball was held in his honor at the Academy of Music. The grand event was attended by an estimated 5000 people, well above the official guest list. The crush was so great that the temporary dance floor collapsed. Carpenters were summoned and the festivities continued to the sound of hammers pounding. (News of the fiasco was greeted with glee by the leading citizens of Boston who were busy preparing their own ball for the prince.)
The late supper, which was catered by Delmonico’s in a tent adjacent to the Academy, was “a wonderful success,” according to the Times. “The crest of the Prince of Wales blazed out in plumes of diamond-like light over the floating folds of a vast tent of pink and white drapery, lined along one side with buffet-tables, singularly neat and brilliant in service, and attended to by a regiment of most faithful and active waiters, marshaled under the orders of Lorenzo Delmonico, and perpetually supplying…the delicacies which the house of Delmonico so justly prides itself on ‘creating’ with the true artistic power.”
The heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales comprises three ostrich feathers in a coronet with a ribbon below bearing the German motto “Ich dien,” meaning “I serve.” While it is not displayed on the silk menu from the ball, the heraldic badge appears on the other menus from the dinners he attended.
Saturday was another busy day. The royal party first went to Mathew Brady’s photography studio where they spent two to three hours having their pictures taken. Brady was given a large order with instructions to ship the photographs to England as soon as possible, and later that afternoon, received a note from one of the courtiers congratulating him on the success of his portrait of the prince.
The next stop was Barnum’s Museum. The crowd of visitors at the museum kept at a respectful distance so the royal guests could see the sea lion, the albino family, the “Siamese twins” Chang and En, and other attractions. “I suppose I have seen all the curiosities,” the prince said, “but where is Mr. Barnum? We have missed the most interesting feature of the establishment.” (Prince Edward met the great showman years earlier when Barnum was invited to Buckingham Palace with the dwarf performer General Tom Thumb.) At 3:30, the royal party rushed back to the hotel. Entering through a private entrance on 23rd Street, they were protected from “two solid walls” of curious spectators by policemen wielding “uplifted clubs.”
They dined at the hotel. A British theme is reflected by dishes like mackerel, à la Cornwall; venison cutlets, à la Newcastle; and boiled leg of mutton with an English sauce. However, this menu also offers vol-au-vent, à la financière and Canvasback duck, described as one of “the great American delicacies” by the British writer Frederick Marryat.1 The dinner would have been prepared by Gustave Feraud, a seasoned French-born chef who previously worked at the Revere House in Boston.2
Prince Edward later paid a courtesy call on General Winfield Scott, the 74-year-old hero of the Mexican War who would soon be overwhelmed as the first commander of the Union Army in the Civil War. That night, 6000 volunteer firemen marched past the hotel in a torch-light parade. Reviewing the procession from the balcony of his suite overlooking Madison Square, the prince was enthralled by the spectacle, spontaneously gushing, “This is for me, this is all for me!”
Prince Edward stepped onto the world stage during this goodwill tour, but it would be more than forty years before he would finally ascend the throne. He became King Edward VII when Queen Victoria died in 1901, the same year Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president after the assassination of William McKinley. The two men who were destined to lead the English-speaking countries at the dawn of the twentieth century would meet in due course, however in 1860, Roosevelt was only two years old, living with his parents a few blocks from the hotel. (Theodore’s great uncle, Judge James I. Roosevelt was one of the arrangers of the prince’s ball, along with John Jacob Astor, the committee chairman.)
The royal party dined at the hotel again on Sunday. In addition to the fish course and usual roasts, this dinner features petites noix de veau, à la Coburg; grives (thrushes) Américaines, à la Carrick; and timbales of macaroni. Macaroni, with its unbeatable combination of popularity and low cost, was a mainstay on daily table d’hote menus. It was a favorite of all social classes. Still, its inclusion on this short list of entrées suggests it may have been a food preference of the prince. As seen on the previous menu, there are only a few simple desserts, indicating there were no women at either of these hotel dinners.
On Monday morning, the royal party departed for West Point on the Harriet Lane, a revenue cutter provided courtesy of the U.S. government. Immediately upon boarding, Prince Edward went up to the pilot house to look around but soon emerged to get a good view of the city and the scenery along the river. “The orphan children from the Asylum at 75th Street came out, and ranging themselves along the bank of the river, cheered and waived their adieus,” reported the Times. “The inmates of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum (which the prince visited during his stay) also came out and paid their silent respects to the passing steamer…The scenery along the Hudson, docked out in the changing hues of autumn, never appeared more beautiful (and) the bracing air gave edge to appetite.”
A splendid repast on board was catered by John P. M. Stetson, manager of the Astor House. Stetson’s “greatness as an hotelier was revealed in the 1840s when he oversaw the hotel dining room and kitchens during the period when the Astor House redefined deluxe banqueting,” recounts culinary biographer David Shields.3 The menu below features thirteen salads and relevés, the large joints and birds that were carved at sideboards before being served. The tables were adorned with three sugar sculptures—the Prince of Wales on Horseback, Windsor Castle, and an English Pavilion. The so-called ornamental pastries were meant to be eaten.
It was on this day in Westfield, New York that eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Abraham Lincoln, advising the presidential candidate that he would look better if he grew a beard. Lincoln answered the letter and shortly thereafter, allowed his whiskers to grow.
After touring the U.S. Military Academy, the royal party departed on the luxury riverboat Daniel Drew which they chartered to take them to Albany. As the “Jewel of the Hudson” steamed northward at 20 miles an hour, crowds cheered from the stations on the banks, giving the impression of “one continued ovation.”
Even though the silk menu below depicts a different side-wheel paddle steamer, the design is basically the same as the day before, indicating that both menus were printed in New York City and that John Stetson may have also catered this meal. The bill of fare again begins with green turtle soup and offers about the same array of salads and relevés. It was certainly substantial enough to hold everyone over until the banquet that evening hosted by the state governor. Given all that was laid before Prince Edward, it is perhaps not surprising that his 29¼-inch waist would eventually balloon to 48 inches as he gorged and philandered his way through life while waiting to be king. His gluttony earned him the nickname “Tum Tum” although anyone foolish enough to address him that way was banished.
At about the same time the prince and his entourage were cruising up the river to Albany, a squadron of the Royal British Navy arrived in Portland, Maine, charged with bringing the future king back home. Ironically, the naval visit marked the 85th anniversary of the Royal Navy’s previous stopover at Portland in 1775 when it burned the city to the ground during the Revolutionary War.4 The relationship between the two countries, which deteriorated further after the War of 1812, had improved in recent years. The next evening, while the prince was being feted in Boston, the officers of the fleet were given a municipal banquet at Portland’s City Hall. The dinner was catered by R. L. Robinson, renowned for the quality of his ice cream and cakes. The silk menu below offers chockolate (sic), vanilla, and strawberry ice creams and a goodly number of cakes.
The royal party arrived in Portland on October 20. Two days later, they boarded the battleship H.M.S. Hero, fired a 21-gun salute, and set sail for England, leaving America to its fate.
1. Frederick Marryat, Diary in America, 1839.
2. Chef Gustave Feraud moved from the Revere House in Boston to the Fifth Avenue Hotel when it opened in 1859, most likely at the request of hotelier Paran Stevens, a principal proprietor of both establishments, as well as the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia; Battle House, Mobile; and Tremont House, Boston. Feraud presided over the kitchen at the Fifth Avenue Hotel for the next thirty years.
3. In his earlier role as the steward of the Astor House, John P. M. Stetson “set the menu and organized the greatest hotel banquet of the antebellum period in the United States, the 1841 feast honoring the Prince de Joinville, son of King Louis Philippe, France’s final monarch.” David Shields, The Culinarians, 2017.
4. The Burning of Falmouth on October 18, 1775 was an attack by a fleet of the Royal Navy on the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts which is now Portland, Maine, and not to be confused with the modern towns of Falmouth, Massachusetts or Falmouth, Maine.