The Southern Ice Trade

In 1949 Robert Cummings pioneered the study of the Ice Trade with his book, The American Ice Harvests. In his introductory chapter he mentions the trade of natural ice taking place in Charleston, South Carolina as early as 1799.[1] Under closer inspection, one can pinpoint the trade of natural ice to Charleston as early as the 23rd of February 1798, when the Charleston City Gazette documented a sloop carrying sixty tons of natural ice destined for a Mr. Jeremiah Jessop docking in Charleston Harbor.[2] At this time in history, natural ice was commonly used as a ballast for ships leaving New York and Philadelphia bound for southern ports, however it is not known whether this particular ice intended as ballasts was used to supply such ports. By 1799 ship manifests, like the one for the brig Favorite, document the transportation of ice as cargo destined specifically for Charleston, South Carolina. The ice cargo originating from a pond in New York.[3]

Charleston became a key player in the southern ice trade very quickly. A Charleston hotelier Jeremiah Jessop was looking to utilize ice in several ways. His initial and most recognized contribution was that of being the first entrepreneur to sell the confection ice cream to Charlestonians in the summer of 1799.[4] He also sold “iced punch,” a mixture of liquor, commonly rum, with fruits or fruit juice over ice, and blocks of ice for household use as well.  The Charleston City Gazette, relates multiple advertisements related to Mr. Jessop and his Charleston Hotel, the earliest being in May of 1798,  where he promotes his “ice house,” which was built “at a considerable” expense in order to store ice for making ice cream.[5] By 1800, Mr. Jessop’s ice house was closed and his “ice house” sold at auction to pay his creditors.[6] Though several other merchants continued to sell ice cream in many delectable flavors after Jessop left Charleston, the actual trade of ice was put on hold until after the War of 1812 due to shipping difficulties.

At the conclusion of the War of 1812, and the lift of the Embargo Act of 1807 the so called Father of the Ice Trade, Frederick Tudor, began to ship ice to places along the Atlantic Coast line, including Charleston.[7] Though Tudor was in negotiations with Davenport & Co as early as 1812, it was not until 1816, that Tudor partnered with Samuel Davenport and his partner William Lindsay to supply and market ice to Charleston and its surrounding areas out of a temporary wooden structure on the Cooper River waterfront.[8] Tudor’s first shipment of ice specifically for consumption arrived on April 7, 1817.[9] The Charleston ice trade continued through 1861 uninhibited and saw a new key player in 1853.

Along with Frederick Tudor, another Bostonian, Addison Gage was too considered an Ice Trade pioneer. Addison in competition with Tudor utilized New York’s frozen ponds to supply ice to the Atlantic coast.  Addison’s brother, Alva Gage, who originally worked under his brother’s firm Gage & Hittenger, branched out on his own as Alva Gage & Co in 1853. Alva Gage is considered one of the pioneers of the southern ice trade for in 1853 Alva settled in Charleston to peddle the frozen product and continued to reside and market natural ice in Charleston until 1889. Alva Gage was considered an active and continuous player in the Charleston ice trade even establishing ice houses in Columbia, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia.[1] In 1889, the importation of natural ice into Charleston was halted due to the introduction of artificial ice to the market. At this time Alva Gage retired from active management of the ice business. Gage’s company was succeeded by Samuel Lapham V’s Charleston Ice Manufacturing Co. which built a 75-ton ice manufacturing plant to supply the Charleston area market.[2]

Unlike many cities that tout Tudor as their original natural ice vendor, Charleston began the trade of natural ice almost two decades in advance of Tudor’s intentions thanks to Jeremiah Jessop and his aim to stand out with the sale of Ice Cream on Broad Street. Charleston maintained an ice market well in advance of most southern states, including Virginia, due to the lack of established commercial ice houses prior to 1800.[3] When it comes to the southern ice trade, Charleston was a forerunner in the market.

**No portion of this article is to be used without proper permission by the author.**

[1] Ice and Refrigeration, Volume 11, October 1896, 248

[2] Ibid.

[3] Funderburg, 42.

[1]Richard Osborn Cummings, The American Ice Harvests a Historical Study in Technology, 1800-1918 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949)

[2]Nic Butler, “Charleston’s First Ice Age,” Charleston Time Machine, Charleston County Library, Janurary 19, 2018.

[3]Anne Cooper Funderburg, Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla a History of American Ice Cream (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1995), 42.

[4] Funderburg, 15

[5] Robert Moss, Southern Spirits: Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the American South with Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2016), 94.

[6] Butler, “Charleston’s First Ice Age.”

[7] 1812 is documented separately.

[8] Butler, “Charleston’s First Ice Age.”

[9] Ibid.

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