Of the 8,000 bottles recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic, over 1,500 examples represent food bottles, the third largest category excavated from the site (18.0% of the total). Included are a variety of pickled goods, sauces and preserved fruit. Most were retrieved empty, but a number of examples still contain their original 19th-century contents: well-preserved chunks of pineapple and rhubarb, sliced peaches, blueberries and gooseberries, as well as perfectly preserved red, green and yellow chili peppers, some floating in a murky liquid, now contaminated with sea water and ocean deposits. Most of the bottles were shipped as cargo, bound for merchants in New Orleans and perhaps for further trans-shipment up the Mississippi to the Western Frontier.
More than 200 of the food bottles are the ornately embossed cathedral pepper sauce type which was one of the earliest of the U.S. bottle styles strongly identified with foods. "Gothic" or cathedral-patterned bottles designed to emulate ornate church windows and arches, originated during the mid-19th century "Gothic Revival" era in America and Europe. The Gothic bottle style, as it was called by glassmakers of the period, was a distinctly American invention produced in scores of different and often very subtle decorative designs.
The cathedral or Gothic pepper sauce examples recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic are in varying shades of aquamarine, some with deeper tints of blue, and others with greener hues. They represent both the square and hexagonal cross-section shape commonly available in the mid-19th century. The elaborate patterns were an early and apparently successful attempt to use packaging to attract the eye of potential purchasers by stylistically emulating the already popular Victorian gothic design elements that were so fashionable at the time. They were also intended to effectively compete with similar imported English products sold in plainer bottles.
Pepper sauces were an important staple in the American diet, enjoyed for their distinctive flavor and for their ability to mask unpleasant tastes. They were typically used to season meat that had spoiled due to a lack of cold storage and were especially useful in hot and humid summers when unsavory foods were often served on a regular basis.