Charleston Museum acquires pap boat

A silver pap boat was donated to the Charleston Museum by two members of the Pinckney family.

An artifact of a 18th-century childhood feeding scheme blamed with elevating the infant mortality rate is one of the newest additions to the Charleston Museum's collection.

Chief Curator Grahame Long received the silver pap boat from two members of the Pinckney family, who also donated a hulking wine trolley and a hot water urn to the museum.

Although pap boats were sometimes used to feed sick patients and wounded soldiers, Long suspects the boat made by Thomas You delivered pap to the children of Harriott, Thomas or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

"My understanding of the method of which these little things were used is by way of the spout," Long says. "Using the bowl end to mash up the food, the pointed spout was then placed in the user's mouth while the caretaker held the bowl and slowly tipped the gruel or pap down the spout and into the patient's mouth."

Long isn't aware of any surviving Lowcountry recipes for pap, but the online Baby Bottle Museum describes a common formula as containing water and flour, although sugar, beer, wine, raw meat juice, drugs and soap were sometimes added to the mix.

Because the wet grain wasn't particularly nutritious, the pap practice has been linked to post-weaning deaths.

Pap boats, particularly Southern pap boats dating back to the 1750s, are exceedingly rare.

"Mainly they get bashed up, or in the case of the nonmetal ones like porcelain, they get broken," Long explains. "Additionally, at some point in the mid-19th century, craftsmen started attaching handles to the ends of them calling them gravy boats, and thus began their move away from the medical arena and onto the dining room table."