Thursday, April 30, 2020

18C Jane Colden (1724-1766) 1st female American Botanist

Jane Colden (1724-1766) was described as the "first botanist of her sex in her country" by 19C botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888) in 1843. Although seldom mentioned in early botanical publications, she wrote a number of letters resulting in botanist British naturalist John Ellis (1711-1778) writing to Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) of her work applying the Linnaean system of plant identification to American flora, "she deserves to be celebrated." Contemporary scholarship also maintains that she was the first female botanist working in America. She was regarded as a respected botanist by many prominent botanists such as: John Bartram, Peter Collinson, Alexander Garden, & Carl Linnaeus. Colden is most famous for her manuscript without a title, in which she describes the flora of the New York area, & draws ink drawings of 340 different species of them.

Colden was born in New York City, the 5th child of Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776), who was a physician who trained at the University of Edinburgh and became involved in the politics & management of New York after arriving in the city from Scotland in 1718, & his wife Alice Christy Colden, the daughter of a clergyman, brought up in Scotland in an intellectual atmosphere. Daughter Jane Colden was educated at home; & her father provided her with botanical training following the new classification system developed by Carl Linnaeus.  His scientific curiosity included a personal correspondence between 1749-1751 with Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778).

Her father thought women should study botany because of "their natural curiosity & the pleasure they take in the beauty & variety of dress seems to fit them for it."  It was true that floral illustrations filled British American colonial homes on English textiles and soft paste & porcelain tableware ordered by the gentry through their factors or sent in the holds of English ships to be sold in local shops.

Moreover, he viewed such study as an ideal substitute for idleness among his female children, when he moved his family to the country in 1729. He believed gardening & botany "an Amusement which may be made agreable for the Ladies who are often at a loss to fill their time."  He went so far as to recommend that perhaps from Jane's example "young ladies in a like situation may find an agreable way to fill up some part Of their time which otherwise might be heavy on their hand May amuse & please themselves & at the same time be usefull to others."
1748-52 John Wollaston (American colonial era painter, 1710-1775) Cadwallader Colden

The family's move to a 3,000-acre estate in Orange County stimulated the botanical interests of both Cadwallader & Jane Colden. Cadwalleder Colden had been the first to apply the system of botanical classification developed by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (Linnaean Taxonomy) to an American plant collection & he translated the text of Linnaeus’ books into English.

A letter of 1755 from Colden to Dutch botanist Jan Gronovius (1666-1762) her father explained. "I have a daughter who has an inclination to reading and a curiosity for natural philosophy or natural History and a sufficient capacity for attaining a competent knowledge. I took the pains to explain to her Linnaeus' system and to put it in English for her to use by freeing it from the Technical Terms which was easily done by using two or three words in place of one. She is now grown very fond of the study and has made such progress in it as I believe would please you if you saw her performance. Tho' perhaps she could not have been persuaded to learn the terms at first she now understands to some degree Linnaeus' characters notwithstanding that she does not understand Latin."

Jane Colden far surpassed her father's idleness theory. She was the 1st scientist to describe the gardenia. She read the works of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) in translation, and she mastered the Linnaean system of plant classification perfectly. She cataloged, described, & sketched at least 400 plants. She actively collected seeds & specimens of New World flora & exchanged them with others on both sides of the Atlantic.

Due to the lack of schools & gardens around the area, her father wrote to Peter Collinson, where he inquired about getting sent "the best cuts or pictures of [plants] for which purpose I would buy for her Tourneforts Institutes & Morison’s Historia plantarum, or if you know any better books for this purpose as you are a better judge than I am I will be obliged to you in making the choice" in order for Jane to continue her studies of botanical sciences.

In addition to obtaining books & illustration samples for his daughter, Cadwallader also surrounded her with like-minded scientists, including Peter Kalm & William Bartram. In 1754, a notable gathering with South Carolina scientist Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-1791) & William Bartram sparked Jane's interests even more & allowed the fruition of the collaboration & friendship between Jane & Garden to flourish. Garden, an active collector of his local flora, later corresponded with Jane, exchanged seeds & plants with her, & instructed her in the preservation of butterflies.  Garden wrote in a letter to British naturalist John Ellis (1711-1778) in 1755, that Jane Colden “is greatly master of the Linnaean method, and cultivates it with assiduity.” 

Of his daughter, Cadwallader wrote in a 1755 letter to Dr. John Frederic Gronovius, a colleague of Linneaus, that she possessed "a natural inclination to reading & a natural curiosity for natural philosophy & natural history." He wrote that Jane was already writing descriptions of plants using Linnaeus' classification & taking impressions of leaves using a press. In this letter, Cadwallader sought to earn her a position with Dr. Gronovius sending seeds or samples.

Between 1753 & 1758 Colden cataloged New York's flora, compiling specimens & information on more than 400 species of plants from the lower Hudson River Valley, & classifying them according to the system developed by Linnaeus. She developed a technique for making ink impressions of leaves, & was also a skilled illustrator, doing ink drawings of 340. For many drawings she wrote additional botanical details as well as culinary, folklore or medicinal uses for the plant, including information from indigenous people.

On January 20, 1756, Peter Collinson (1694-1768) wrote to John Bartram that "Our friend Colden's daughter has, in a scientific manner, sent over several sheets of plants, very curiously anatomized after this [Linnaeus's] method. I believe she is the first lady that has attempted anything of this nature." 

Colden participated in the Natural History Circle where she exchanged seeds & plants with other plant collectors in the American colonies & in Europe. These exchanges within the Natural History Circle encouraged Jane to become a botanist.

Through her father she met & corresponded with many leading naturalists of the time, including Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778). Carolus Linnaeus knew of Jane's work.  He corresponded directly with her father; and in a 1758, letter to British naturalist John Ellis (1711-1778) tells Linnaeus that he will let Jane know "what civil things you say of her."  One of her descriptions of a new plant, which she herself called Fibraurea, was forwarded to Linnaeus with the suggestion that he should call it Coldenella, but Linnaeus declined calling it Helleborus (now Coptis groenlandica).  Collinson reported to Carolus Linnaeus, "Your system, I can tell you obtains much in America. Mr. Clayton and Dr. Colden at Albany of Hudson's River in New York are complete Professors....Even Dr. Colden's daughter was an enthusiast."   He later wrote to Linnaeus, that  Jane Colden “is perhaps the first lady that has so perfectly studied your system. She deserves to be celebrated.” 
In 1756 Colden discovered the Gardenia & proposed a name after the prominent botanist Garden. In her manuscript she wrote that this plant was without an Order under the Linnaean system. In her description Colden wrote, " The three chives only in each bundle, & the three oval-shap'd bodies on the seat of the flower, together with the seat to which the seeds adhere, distinguish this plant from the hypericums; & I think, not only make it a different genus, but likewise makes an order which Linnaeus has not."  However, the name was not allowed because an English botanist named John Ellis had already named the Cape jasmine as Gardenia jasminoides, & was entitled to its use because of the conventions of botanical nomenclature.
1963 Reprint of the British Museum copy of Jane Colden's manuscript

Colden's manuscript, in which she had ink drawings of leaves & descriptions of the plants, was never named. Colden's original manuscript describing the flora of New York has been held in the British Museum since the mid-1800s. Her manuscript drawing consisted only of leaves & these drawings were only ink outlines colored in with neutral tint. Her descriptions  were "excellent-full , careful, & evidently taken from living specimens."  Colden's descriptions include morphological details of flower, fruit, & plant structure, as well as ways on how to use certain plants for medicinal or culinary purposes. Some of the descriptions include the month of flowering & the habitat where they are found.  Latin & common names for the plants are given.

In her section "Observat" (now known as observations) she pointing out to Linnaeus that "there are some plants of Clematis that bear only male flowers, this I have observed with such care that there can be no doubt about it." This shows the long hours she spent doing observations, which were consistent, accurate & replicable.

Colden married Scottish widower Dr. William Farquhar on March 12, 1759. She died in childbirth only 7 years later at the age of 41, along with the newborn. There is no evidence that she continued her botanical work after her marriage.

Her work on plant classification was noted in a Scottish scientific journal in 1770, 4 years after her death. Americans did not become aware of Colden's manuscript until 75 years later, when Almira Lincoln stated that another female botanist before her was the first American lady to illustrate the science of botany.  In spite of all of Colden's accomplishments, she was never formally recognized during her lifetime by having a plant named after her. The genus Coldenia is named after her father.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Gardener, Nurseryman & Seed Dealer - Thomas Bridgeman 1786-1850

Thomas Bridgeman –(1786-1850)–New York City, New York–
1843 The Fruit Cultivator’s Manual by Charles E. Weir (American artist, 1823-1845)

Thomas Bridgeman was born in Abingdon, England, and sailed for America c 1820-24. He had married Catheine Hannah Eastmond on May 23, 1807 at St. Helena's Church in Abingdon, England.  At least 3 of his children, Thomas, Deborah, & Amelia were born in England. He opened a seed store in 1824.

Bridgeman was an English gardener, who came to New York in 1824, leased land on what is now 874 Broadway, where he built greenhouses & sold seeds. "Like so many of the gardeners of the Old World, at that date, he was a man of broad intelligence, and he wrote valuable works on fruits, vegetables and flowers. His “Young Gardener’s Assistant” (published in 1829) went through several editions, and has a good sale even unto this day. He died in 1850."  See: Meehans' Monthly: A Magazine of Horticulture, 1899.

Thomas Bridgeman authored
The Young Gardener’s Assistant (1832)
Florist’s Guide (1835)
The Kitchen Gardener’s Instructor (1836)
The Fruit Cultivator’s Manual (1844)
The American Gardener’s Assistant (1867) with his son, Alfred Bridgeman

The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste from of 1858 reviewed a late edition of the Young Gardener's Assistant with these details:
"We like to record the success of practical men. In the case of the Messrs. Bridgemans, we find an industrious and thoughtful father successful through a lengthened career, and leaving his sons established in the same business and in the someplace, after his death.

"Nos. 876 and 878 Broadway, New York, are now the property of the two sons, Andrew and Alfred. The seed department is managed by Alfred, and the greenhouses by Andrew Bridgeman, in two well-built stores, with their dwellings above. 

"The business was first commenced in 1828, by the father, and continued by him until 1850 (the period of his decease), when the sons erected two four-story houses, well adapted to their objects; the southerly one is devoted to the sale of vegetable, herb, flower, and grass seeds, horticultural books, and garden tools and implements; the walls are plastered on all sides with cement, and the floor is of concrete, making it secure from dampness and the attacks of vermin. In the house devoted to the plant department, the basement is divided into a flower-room for keeping and making-up cut flowers, and a packing-room and general stowage; the store is appropriately fitted up with shelvings, counters, &c, and floored with encaustic tiles; in connection with it is a greenhouse, eighteen feet wide and one hundred and thirty feet long. A neat fountain with gold fishes in the front part, attracts much attention from the Broadway loungers. 

"This greenhouse is heated by two of Hitching's hot-water apparatus, advertised in this journal, and which Mr. B. assures us answer admirably. 

"The country establishment is at Astoria, where there is a fine propagating house, five greenhouses, two rose-houses, one rose pit, and about forty sashes of frames for violets, pansies, &c. The grounds are ornamented with different varieties of fruit-trees, and are occupied principally in growing roses, ornamental and flowering shrubs, fruit, herbaceous and greenhouse plants, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, &c. &c.  Mr. B. is prepared to execute orders to any amount for forest trees, dwarf pears, &c.

"In the city store will be found one of the finest collections of bulbous roots; a number of each kind are potted for those who desire to have them already started —a convenience which many salesmen cannot afford. Here will also be found fancy flower-pots, bulb-glasses, and baskets for flowers, of which latter ornaments they fill innumerable orders during the winter season, as well as hand-bouquets and designs for parties and suppers. The greenhouse in the city is filled with plants suited for private houses during winter, and, in spring, they are replaced with bedding-out plants, for which the establishment is famous throughout the Eastern and Middle States..." 

The 1885 edition of New York's Great Industries reported:
"Alfred Bridgeman, Importer, Grower and Dealer In Vegetable, Farm and Flower Seed, No. 37 East 19th Street.

"Among the old established houses which have been identified with the growth and development of the metropolis and which have kept pace with the improvement and progress of the time, is that of Mr. Alfred Bridgeman, importer, grower and dealer in vegetable, farm and flower seed.  

"This business was established in 1824, and has always enjoyed a career of prosperity. The house was for many years located at No. 876 Broadway, and some time ago was removed to the present elegant quarters. The premises now occupied are of modern construction and are artistically finished in a most pleasing manner. 

"A large and valuable stock is carried and a business is done which extends to all points in the United States. Mr. Bridgeman is an old resident of this city, and is one of our old time merchants. During a long and busy career he has always maintained the principles of integrity and honorable dealing. He has always taken an active interest in every movement that has for its object the advancement and welfare of his fellow citizens, and is esteemed by all with whom he has had business transactions." 

In 1913, Volume 17 of Horticulture Magazine from the Horticultural Publishing Company in Boston offered these intriguing details, "The British Encyclopedia of National Biographies says that Thos. Bridgeman who settled in New York in 1824 and wrote on horticulture is a descendant of the Bridgeman who planned the Kew Gardens and who is mentioned by Horace Walpole in his “Memoirs” as the one who revolutionized landscape gardening in England and who was a friend of Alexander Pope."

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Cookbooks in Early America,- America's Earliest Cookbook Author

Woman Bundling Asparagus, 1771, John Atkinson (British artist, fl 1770-1775)  

Amelia Simmons. American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life. By Amelia Simmons, an American orphan. Hartford: Printed for Simeon Butler, Northampton, 1798.

Biography of Amelia Simmons

Very little is known of Amelia Simmons, the author of the first American cookbook. She seems to have appeared for the publication of American Cookery and then disappeared back into obscurity. There may be a faint clue to her identity in the title page reference to herself as an "American Orphan," followed by a discussion of the trials of orphanhood in the preface. She may have been unmarried, had little education, and was quite possibly illiterate. She writes of "those females who have parents, or brothers, or riches," and how female orphans may be "reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics," from which one may infer that she was employed as a cook. Her lack of education evidently led to some intrigue and a loss of control over the book's content: two different versions of the first edition appeared in 1796, the second of which is supplemented by what food historian Mary Tolford Wilson describes as "a sheet of obviously dissimilar paper" on which is printed an "Advertisement." It states:

The author of American Cookery, not having an education sufficient to prepare the work for the press, the person that was employed by her, and entrusted with the receipts, to prepare them for publication, (with a design to impose on her, and injure the sale of the book) did omit several articles very essential in some of the receipts, and placed others in their stead, which were highly injurious to them, without her consent-which was unknown to her, till after publication.

She then lists the corrections to the specific recipes. In Rice Pudding No. 2, for example, just 1/2 pound of butter and eight eggs should be used, not 1 pound butter and 14 eggs as originally stated. (Note: If you check her Rice Pudding No. 2 recipe in this 1798 edition, as well as the other recipes she cites as erroneous, you will find the errors remain uncorrected. Unfortunately for the users of her books as well as for Amelia Simmons's reputation, her attempts at rectification never completely caught up with the printings of her original recipes," writes Wilson in her introduction to the 1958 facsimile of the 1796 first edition, which does contain the list of errata and corrections.)

To make matters worse, when the second edition of American Cookery was published (not in 1800, as commonly noted, but in 1796, as per the findings of bibliographer Eleanor Lowenstein), Simmons claimed to have been shocked to find material in the first edition that she did not write, and had not authorized.

Nearly the whole of seventeen pages in the first edition, was filled with rules, and direction, how to make choice of meats, fowls, fish, and vegetables: this is a matter, with which, the Authoress does not pretend to be acquainted, much less to give directions to others; nor does she consider any way connected, with that branch which she has undertaken which is, simply to point out the most eligible methods of preparing those various articles for the tables when procured. This was done by the transcriber, without her knowledge or consent; and may with propriety be considered as an affront upon the good sense of all classes of citizens.

She goes on to say that her audience, whether city or country folk, know the difference between good and bad market produce, and do not need a guide for such matters. This sentiment may seem puzzling to a modern audience which will find the first seventeen pages of American Cookery (included in this 1798 first edition, of course) to be an informative, useful guide similar to passages found in modern cookbooks as well as cookbooks from the nineteenth century. It apparently, however, was not the work of Simmons.

Although she may not have been an authority at judging market meats, fish and produce, her book certainly establishes Simmons as a skillful cook: as food historian Karen Hess points out, she often calls for a variety of herbs in her cooking, as well as wine, and sets down "extraordinarily fine roasting techniques, English techniques that were admired even by the French." Since English culinary tradition formed the basis of early American cooking, this naturally follows; colonists brought over family recipes (and the well-to-do would ship bound cooking books) from England, and had no opportunity to purchase an American-published cookbook until 1742, when a Williamsburg printer, William Parks, published an American edition of the British cookbook, The Compleat Housewife. Though Smith excluded recipes with ingredients unavailable in America, the chosen recipes continued the same English tradition of cooking. When, in 1772, Susannah Carter published The Frugal Housewife in Boston, she made no concession for American ingredients or habits. Although Simmons "borrowed" heavily from Carter, copying word for word her entire section on creams and syllabubs, she incorporated common early American foods - cornmeal, pumpkins, and molasses -- into these English traditions. Most notably, she was the first cookbook author to use the leavening agent pearl ash, which is derived from leaching large amounts of wood ash, and was common in early America because of the proliferation of timber operations.

Where was Amelia Simmons' home? Some say Hartford, since the book was first published there. In late Colonial times, however, the Albany area was a center for the production of potash, i.e., the unrefined source of the pearl ash used in Simmon's recipes. Hess, seeing this as a clue, suggests Simmons may be from the Albany area or somewhere in the Hudson River Valley. Though American Cookery was initially published in Hartford, the second edition was published in Albany in the same year. Several later places of publication centered around the Hudson River Valley, namely one in Albany in 1804, Troy in 1808, Poughkeepsie in 1815 and New York in 1822. Though other copies hailed from other locales, this cluster of publishers may suggest a meaningful connection with the author. Hess also points out that American Cookery uses a number of Dutch words common to the Hudson River area at that time. These words are slaw, from sla, meaning salad, and cookey, from koekje, meaning cookie (the British would use the phrase "small cake.")

Finally, there is the question of whether Simmons made money from this book. Though it is impossible to say, she may have been a shrewd, business-minded author who founded a marketing strategy with the words of her title: "Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life." Not only was this the first cookbook to incorporate popular and plentiful American foods into a traditional cookbook, but it was affordable to many. It sold for two shillings and threepence (the equivalent of about $1.75 today), and contained just 47 octavo pages printed on durable rag paper. The first edition was published "For the Author." which probably meant that Simmons paid the printing costs and kept the sales profits and the publication rights. The book did sell well, for Simmons writes in the 1796 second edition preface that "the call has been so great, and the sales [of American Cookery] so rapid that [the author] finds herself not only encouraged but under a necessity of publishing a second edition." The second edition was widely reprinted but some were possibly unauthorized, because Amelia Simmons' name did not always appear on the title page. Then there were the outright piracies of the work, like the 1805 book, New American Cookery . . . By an American Lady, published in New York, which tacked on some original material, and the 1819 book, Domestic Cookery by Harriet Whiting, which was published in Boston and was devoid of any new material, not even the corrections Simmons called for back in 1796. It is fair to say that Simmons probably made some money, and was probably cheated of some money too. Her book remains an historical marker in American cookery, just as her life story remains a question mark in American biography.  From The Historic American Cookbook Project: Feeding America

Sources:
Hopley, Claire. "American Cookery," American History. 31, no. 2 (May 1, 1996):16 - 19, 65 - 66.
Ridley, Glynis. "The First American Cookbook," Eighteenth-Century Life. 23, no. 2 (1999): 114 - 123.
Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life. By Amelia Simmons, an American orphan. Hartford: Printed for Simeon Butler, Northampton, 1798.
----------. American Cookery . . .Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1796. Facsimile, with introduction by Mary Tolford Wilson, New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.
----------. American Cookery . . . Albany: Charles R. and George Webster, 1796, second edition. Facsimile, with introduction by Karen Hess, Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 1996.
von Biel, Victoria. "Profiles in Cooking: Amelia Simmons," Bon Appetit. 43, no. 10 (October 1, 1998): 73, 76 - 77.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens -Chicory - GW


George Washington experimented with chicory as a field crop. This blue-flowered perennial is common as a roadside weed, but has a long history of being used as an edible or fodder. Latin Name - Cichorium intybus  Also Known As Wild Endive, Succory, Coffeeweed.  Arthur Young had sent GW the seeds of Cichorium intybus in January 1791. Young praised the plant, known as chicory, succory, or wild endive, as an “admirable grass which I beleive will prove more beneficial than Lucern or any other” (Arthur Young to George Washington, 25 Jan. 1791).   

George Washington wrote to to William Pearce, 18 January 1795. "There is a grass, or rather a substitute, which was sown opposite to Stuart’s house at River farm, called chicorium or chicory, which from Mr (Anthony) Whiting’s dislike to it, was neglected. If any of it remains, I desire you will save all the Seed you can from it the coming season. There is, or was some of it also in the little garden by the Salt house. I have lately had a character of it from some English G⟨ardene⟩rs who are well acquainted with it, which has convinced me that to cut & feed it green, in the manner of Lucern or clover, that it is a valuable thing for soiling either horses or cattle, especially the former.  GW’s “small” or botanical garden, which he often referred to as “my little garden,” was located a short distance west of the mansion between the upper garden & the north lane. Here GW conducted experiments in cultivating both ornamental & useful plants for his estate. Part of the 4–acre vineyard enclosure, south of the lower or kitchen garden, served as an orchard & fruit garden, while the other section was an experimental garden.

On 12 Sept. 1795 Thomas Jefferson wrote to GW that he was giving alfalfa or lucerne up because, even with manuring, he had experienced less success with it than with chicory.  

For George Washington's correspondence, see the National Archives website Founders Online.  Portrait of Washington by Folk Artist Tim Campbell of Keene, NH. To learn more about this plant, see George Washington's Mount Vernon Plant Finder App.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Garden Structures & Ornaments - Cooking the Birds in the Dovecote - Warning - Cock-birds..are quarrelsome

Interior of a kitchen with woman plucking poultry. Attributed to Justus Juncker (1703 - 1767, German artist)

The American Domestic Cookery by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell New York 1814

"Pigeons: Bring two young ones at a time: and breed every month, if well looked after, and plentifully fed. They should be kept very clean, and the bottom of the dovecote be strewed with sand once a month at least. Tares and white peas are their proper food. They should have plenty of fresh water in their house, Starlings and other birds are apt to come among them, and suck the eggs. Vermin likewise are their great enemies, and destroy them. If the breed should be too small, put a few tame pigeons of the common kind, and of their own colour, among them. Observe not to have too large a proportion of cock-birds: for they are quarrelsome, and will soon thin the dove-cote.

"Pigeons are fond of salt, and it keeps them in health. Lay a large heap of clay near the house, and let the salt-brine that may be done with in the family be poured upon it.

"Bay salt and cummin seeds mixed, is a universal remedy for the diseases of pigeons. The back and breasts are sometimes scabby: in which case, take a quarter of a pound of bay salt, and as much common salt, a pound of fennel seeds, a pound of dill seed, as much cummin seed, and an ounce of sassafras; mix all with a little, wheaten flour, and some fine worked clay; when all are well beaten together, put it into two earthen pots, and bake them in the oven, when cold put them on the table in the dove-cote; the pigeons will eat it, and thus be cured."

Saturday, April 25, 2020

George Washington as Farmer - Servants & Overseers

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer  (1915)
Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Servants & Overseeers

"In colonial Virginia, as in most other new countries, one of the greatest problems that confronted the settlers was that of labor. It took human muscle to clear away the forest & tend the crops, & the quantity of human muscle available was small. One solution of the problem was the importation of slaves, & of this solution as it concerned Washington something will be said in a separate chapter. Another solution was the white indentured servant.

"Some of these white servants were political offenders, such as the followers of Monmouth, who were punished by transportation for a term of years or for life to the plantations. Others were criminals or unfortunate debtors who were sold in America instead of being sent to jail. Others were persons who had been kidnapped & carried across the sea into servitude. Yet others were men & women who voluntarily bound themselves to work for a term of years in payment of their passage to the colonies. By far the largest number of the white servants in Washington's day belonged to this last-mentioned class, who were often called "redemptioners." Some of these were ambitious, well-meaning people, perhaps skilled artisans, who after working out their time became good citizens & often prospered. A few were even well educated. In favor of the convicts, however, little could be said. In general they were ignorant & immoral & greatly lowered the level of the population in the Southern States, the section to which most of them were sent.

"Whether they came to America of their own free will or not such servants were subjected to stringent regulations & were compelled to complete their terms of service. If they ran away, they could be pursued & brought back by force, & the papers of the day were full of advertisements for such absconders. Owing to their color & the ease with which they found sympathizers among the white population, however, the runaways often managed to make good their escape.

"...For the most part he bought them in order to obtain skilled workmen. Thus in 1760 we find him writing to a Doctor Ross, of Philadelphia, to purchase for him a joiner, a brick-layer & a gardener, if any ship with servants was in port. As late as 1786 he bought the time of a Dutchman named Overdursh, who was a ditcher & mower, & of his wife, a spinner, washer & milker; also their daughter. The same year he "received from on board the Brig Anna, from Ireland, two servant men for whom I agreed yesterday--viz--Thomas Ryan, a shoemaker, & Cavan Bowen a Tayler Redemptioners for 3 years service by Indenture." These cost him twelve pounds each. The story of his purchase of servants for his western lands is told in another place, as is also that of his plan to import Palatines for the same purpose.

"On the day of Lexington & Concord, but before the news of that conflict reached Virginia, two of his indentured servants ran away & he published a lengthy advertisement of them in the Virginia Gazette, offering a reward of forty dollars for the return of both or twenty dollars for the return of either. They were described as follows:  "THOMAS SPEARS, a joiner, born in Bristol, about 20 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches & a half high, slender made. He has light grey or blueish colored eyes, a little pock-marked, & freckled, with sandy colored hair, cut short; his voice is coarse, & somewhat drawling. He took with him a coat, waistcoat, & breeches, of light brown duffil, with black horn buttons, a light colored cloth waistcoat, old leather breeches, check & oznabrig shirts, a pair of old ribbed ditto, new oznabrig trowsers, & a felt hat, not much the worse for wear. WILLIAM WEBSTER, a brick maker, born in Scotland, & talks pretty broad. He is about 5 feet six inches high & well made, rather turned of 30, with light brown hair, & roundish face.... They went off in a small yawl, with turpentine sides & bottom, the inside painted with a mixture of tar & red lead."

"In the course of his business career Washington also employed a considerable number of free white men, who likewise were usually skilled workers or overseers. He commonly engaged them for the term of one year & by written contracts, which he drew up himself, a thing he had learned to do when a boy by copying legal forms. Many of these papers still survive & contracts with joiners & gardeners jostle inaugural addresses & opinions of cabinet meetings.

"As a rule the hired employees received a house, an allowance of corn, flour, meat & perhaps other articles, the money payment being comparatively small.

"Some of the contracts contain peculiar stipulations. That with a certain overseer provided: "And whereas there are a number of whiskey stills very contiguous to the said Plantations, & many idle, drunken & dissolute People continually resorting the same, priding themselves in debauching sober & well-inclined Persons the said Edd. Voilett doth promise as well for his own sake as his employers to avoid them as he ought."

"Probably most readers have heard of the famous contract with the gardener Philip Bater, who had a weakness for the output of stills such as those mentioned above. It was executed in 1787 and, in consideration of Bater's agreement "not to be disguised with liquor except on times hereinafter mentioned," provided that he should be given "four dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk four days & four nights; two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars at Whitsuntide to be drunk for two days; a dram in the morning, & a drink of grog at dinner at noon."

"Washington's most famous white servant was Thomas Bishop...He had been the personal servant of General Braddock, & tradition says that the dying General commended him to Washington. At all events Washington took him into his service at ten pounds per year and, except for a short interval about 1760, Bishop remained one of his retainers until death. It was Bishop & John Alton who accompanied Washington on his trip to New York & Boston in 1756--that trip in the course of which, according to imaginative historians, the young officer became enamored of the heiress Mary Phillipse. Doubtless the men made a brave show along the way, for we know that Washington had ordered for them "2 complete livery suits for servants; with a spare cloak & all other necessary trimmings for two suits more. I would have you choose the livery by our arms, only as the field of arms is white, I think the clothes had better not be quite so, but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings & facings of scarlet, & a scarlet waist coat. If livery lace is not quite disused, I should be glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion best, & two silver laced hats for the above servants."

"When the Revolution came Bishop was too old to take the field & was left at home as the manager of a plantation. He was allowed a house, for he had married & was now the father of a daughter. He lived to a great age, but on fair days, when the Farmer was at home, the old man always made it a point to grasp his cane & walk out to the road to see his master ride by, to salute him & to pass a friendly word. He seems to have thought of leaving Mount Vernon with his daughter in 1794, for the President wrote to Pearce: "Old Bishop must be taken care of whether he goes or stays." He died the following January, while Washington was away in Philadelphia.

"Custis tells an amusing story of Bishop's daughter Sally. Following the Revolution two of Washington's aides-de-camp, Colonels Smith & Humphreys, the latter a poet of some pretensions, spent considerable time at Mount Vernon arranging the General's military papers. One afternoon Smith strolled out from the Mansion House for relaxation & came upon Sally, then in her teens & old enough to be interesting to a soldier, milking a cow. When she started for the house with the pail of milk the Colonel gallantly stepped forward & asked to be permitted to carry it. But Sally had heard from her father dire tales of what befell damsels who had anything to do with military men & the fact that Smith was a fine-looking young fellow in no way lessened her sense of peril. In great panic she flung down the pail, splashing the contents over the officer, & ran screaming to the house. Smith followed, intent upon allaying her alarm & ran plump into old Bishop, who at once accused him of attempting to philander with the girl, turned a deaf ear to all the Colonel's explanations, & declared that he would bring word of the offense to his honor the General, nay more, to Mrs. Washington!

"In great alarm the Colonel betook himself toward the Mansion House pondering upon some way of getting himself out of the scrape he had fallen into. At last he bethought himself of Billy Lee, the mulatto body servant, & these two old soldiers proceeded to hold a council of war. Smith said: "It's bad enough, Billy, for this story to get to the General's ears, but to those of the lady will never do; & then there's Humphreys, he will be out upon me in a d--d long poem that will spread my misfortunes from Dan to Beersheba!" At last it was decided that Billy should act as special ambassador to Bishop & endeavor to divert him from his purpose. Meanwhile Bishop had got out his old clothes--Cumberland cocked hat & all--of the period of the French War, had dressed with great care and, taking up his staff, had laid his line of march straight to the Mansion House. Billy met him midway upon the road & much skirmishing ensued, Billy taking two lines of attack: first, that Smith was a perfect gentleman, and, second, that Bishop had no business to have such a devilishly pretty daughter. Finally these tactics prevailed, Bishop took the right about, & a guinea dropped into the ambassador's palm completed the episode.

"In due time Sally lost her dreadful fear of men & married the plantation carpenter, Thomas Green, with whose shiftless ways, described elsewhere, Washington put up for a long time for the sake of "his family." Ultimately Green quitted Washington's service & seems to have deserted his wife or else died; at all events she & her family were left in distressed circumstances. She wrote a letter to Washington begging assistance & he instructed his manager to aid her to the extent of £20 but to tell her that if she set up a shop in Alexandria, as she thought of doing, she must not buy anything of his negroes. He seems to have allowed her a little wood, flour & meat at killing time & in 1796 instructed Pearce that if she & her family were really in distress, as reported, to afford them some relief, "but in my opinion it had better be in anything than money, for I very strongly suspect that all that has, & perhaps all that will be given to her in that article, is applied more in rigging herself, than in the purchase of real & useful necessaries for her family."

"By his will Washington left Sally Green & Ann Walker, daughter of John Alton, each one hundred dollars in "consideration of the attachment of their father[s] to me."

"Alton entered Washington's service even before Bishop, accompanying him as a body servant on the Braddock campaign & suffering a serious illness. He subsequently was promoted to the management of a plantation & enjoyed Washington's confidence & esteem. It was with a sad heart that Washington penned in his diary for 1785: "Last night Jno. Alton an Overseer of mine in the Neck--an old & faithful Servant who has lived with me 30 odd years died--and this evening the wife of Thos. Bishop, another old Servant who had lived with me an equal number of years also died."

"The adoption of Mrs. Washington's two youngest grandchildren, Nelly Custis & George Washington Custis, made necessary the employment of a tutor. One applicant was Noah Webster, who visited Mount Vernon in 1785, but for some reason did not engage. A certain William Shaw had charge for almost a year & then in 1786 Tobias Lear, a native of New Hampshire & a graduate of Harvard, was employed. It is supposed that some of the lessons were taught in the small circular building in the garden; Washington himself refers to it as "the house in the Upper Garden called the School house."

"Lear's duties were by no means all pedagogical & ultimately he became Washington's private secretary. In Philadelphia he & his family lived in the presidential mansion. Washington had for him "a particular friendship," an almost fatherly affection. His interest in Lear's little son Lincoln was almost as great as he would have bestowed upon his own grandson. Apropos of the recovery of the child from a serious illness he wrote in 1793: "It gave Mrs. Washington, myself, & all who knew him sincere pleasure to hear that our little favourite had arrived safe & was in good health at Portsmouth--we sincerely wish him a long continuance of the latter--that he may be always as charming & promising as he now is--that he may live to be a comfort & blessing to you--and an ornament to his Country. As a token of my affection for him I send him a ticket in the lottery that's now drawing in the Federal City; if it should be his fortune to draw the Hotel, it will add to the pleasure I feel in giving it."

"...The next May, Washington wrote to Lear, then in Europe on business for the Potomac Navigation Company, of which he had become president: "Often, through the medium of Mr. Langdon, we hear of your son Lincoln, & with pleasure, that he continues to be the healthy & sprightly child he formerly was. He declared if his ticket should turn up a prize, he would go & live in the Federal City. He did not consider, poor little fellow, that some of the prizes would hardly build him a baby house nor foresee that one of these small tickets would be his lot, having drawn no more than ten dollars."

"Lear's first wife had died the year before of yellow fever at the President's house in Philadelphia, & for his second he took the widow of George A. Washington--Fanny--who was a niece of Martha Washington, being a daughter of Anna Dandridge Bassett & Colonel Burwell Bassett. This alliance tended to strengthen the friendly relations between Lear & the General. In Washington's last moments Lear held his dying hand & later penned a noble description of the final scene that reveals a man of high & tender sentiments with a true appreciation of his benefactor's greatness. Washington willed him the use of three hundred sixty acres east of Hunting Creek during life. When Fanny Lear died, Lear married Frances Dandridge Henley, another niece of Mrs. Washington. Lear's descendants still own a quilt made by Martha Washington & given to this niece.

"During part at least of Washington's absence in the French war his younger brother John Augustine, described in the General's will as "the intimate friend of my ripened age," had charge of his business affairs & resided at Mount Vernon. The relations with this brother were unusually close & Washington took great interest in John's eldest son Bushrod, who studied law & became an associate justice of the Federal Supreme Court. To Bushrod the General gave his papers, library, the Mansion House Farm & other land & a residuary share in the estate.

"..,.during 1757-58 John Augustine did not have charge, as Mount Vernon seems to have been under the oversight of a certain Humphrey Knight, who worked the farm on shares. He was evidently a good farmer, for in 1758 William Fairfax, who kept a friendly eye upon his absent neighbor's affairs, wrote: "You have some of the finest Tobacco & Corn I have seen this year," The summer was, however, exceedingly dry & the crop was good in a relative sense only. Knight tried to keep affairs in good running order & the men hard at work, reporting "as to ye Carpentrs I have minded em all I posably could, & has whipt em when I could see a fault." Knight died September 9, 1758, a few months before Washington's marriage.

"Washington's general manager during the Revolution was Lund Washington, a distant relative....written soon after his assumption of command at Cambridge, the General speaks disparagingly of some New England officers & says of the troops that they may fight well, but are "dirty fellows." When the British visited Mount Vernon in 1781 Lund conciliated them by furnishing them provisions, thereby drawing down upon himself a rebuke from the owner, who said that he would rather have had his buildings burned down than to have purchased their safety in such a way. Nevertheless the General appreciated Lund's services & the two always remained on friendly terms.

"Lund was succeeded by Major George Augustine Washington, son of the General's brother Charles. From his youth George Augustine had attached himself to his uncle's service & fought under him in the Revolution, a part of the time on the staff of Lafayette. The General had a strong affection for him & in 1784 furnished him with money to take a trip to the West Indies for his health. Contrary to expectations, he improved, married Fanny Bassett, & for several years resided at Mount Vernon. But the disease, consumption, returned and, greatly to his uncle's distress, he died in 1792. Washington helped to care for the widow until she became the wife of Tobias Lear.

"Two other nephews, Robert Lewis & Howell Lewis, were in turn for short intervals in charge of affairs, but presently the estate was committed to the care of an Englishman named Anthony Whiting, who was already overseer of two of the farms. Like his predecessor he was a victim of consumption & died in June, 1793. Washington showed him great kindness, repeatedly urging him not to overexert, to make use of wines, tea, coffee & other delicacies that had been sent for the use of guests. As Whiting was also troubled with rheumatism, the President dropped affairs of state long enough to write him that "Flannel next the skin [is] the best cure for, & preventative of the Rheumatism I have ever tried." Yet after Whiting's death the employer learned that he had been deceived in the man--that he "drank freely--kept bad company at my house in Alexandria--and was a very debauched person."

"William Pearce, who followed Whiting, came from the eastern shore of Maryland, where he owned an estate called "Hopewell." His salary was a hundred guineas a year. A poor speller & grammarian, he was nevertheless practical & one of the best of all the managers. He resigned in 1797 on account of rheumatism, which he thought would prevent him from giving business the attention it deserved. Washington parted from him with much regret & gave him a "certificate" in which he spoke in the most laudatory terms of his "honesty, sobriety industry & skill" & stated that his conduct had given "entire satisfaction." They later corresponded occasionally & exchanged farm & family news in the most friendly way.

"The last manager, James Anderson, was described by his employer as "an honest, industrious & judicious Scotchman." His salary was one hundred forty pounds a year. Though born in a country where slaves were unknown, he proved adaptable to Virginia conditions & assisted the overseers "in some chastisements when needful." As his employer retired from the presidency soon after he took charge he had not the responsibility of some who had preceded him, for Washington was unwilling to be reduced to a mere cipher on his own estate. Seeing the great profusion of cheap corn & rye, Anderson, who was a good judge of whisky, engaged the General in a distillery, which stood near the grist mill. The returns for 1798 were £344.12.7-3/4, with 755-1/4 gallons still unsold.

"Washington's letters to his managers are filled with exhortations & sapient advice about all manner of things. He constantly urged them to avoid familiarities with the blacks & preached the importance of "example," for, "be it good or bad," it "will be followed by all those who look up to you.--Keep every one in their place, & to their duty; relaxation from, or neglect in small matters, lead to like attempts in matters of greater magnitude."

"The absent owner was constantly complaining that his managers failed to inform him about matters concerning which he had inquired. Hardly a report reached him that did not fail to explain something in which he was interested. This was one of the many disadvantages of farming at long range.

"In 1793 Washington described his overseers to Pearce, who was just taking charge, in great detail. Stuart is competent, sober & industrious, but talkative & conceited. "If he stirs early & works late ... his talkativeness & vanity may be humored." Crow is active & possessed of good judgment, but overly fond of "visiting & receiving visits." McKoy is a "sickly, slothful & stupid fellow." Butler, the gardener, may mean well, but "he has no more authority over the Negroes he is placed over than an old woman would have." Ultimately he dismissed Butler on this ground, but as the man could find no other job he was forced to give him assistance. The owner's opinions of Davy, the colored overseer at Muddy Hole Farm, & of Thomas Green, the carpenter, are given elsewhere.

"In the same letter he exhorted Pearce to see what time the overseers "turn out of a morning--for I have strong suspicions that this, with some of them, is at a late hour, the consequences of which to the Negroes is not difficult to foretell. All these Overseers as you will perceive by their agreements, which I here with send, are on standing wages; & this with men who are not actuated by the principles of honor or honesty, & not very regardful of their characters, leads naturally to indulgences--as their profits whatever may be mine, are the same whether they are at a horse race or on the farm."

"From the above it will appear that he did not believe that the overseers were storing up any large treasury of good works. In the Revolution he wrote that one overseer & a confederate, "I believe, divide the profits of my Estate on the York River, tolerably between them, for the devil of anything do I get." Later he approved the course of George A. Washington in depriving an overseer of the privilege of killing four shoats, as this gave him an excuse when caught killing a pig to say that it was one of those to which he was entitled. Even when honest, the overseers were likely to be careless. They often knew little about the stock under their charge & in making their weekly reports would take the number from old reports instead of actually making the count, with the result that many animals could die or disappear long before those in charge became aware of it.

"Washington's carpenters were mostly slaves, but he usually hired a white man to oversee & direct them. In 1768, for example, he engaged for this purpose a certain Jonathan Palmer, who was to receive forty pounds a year, four hundred pounds of meat, twenty bushels of corn, a house to live in, a garden, & also the right to keep two cows.

"The carpenters were required not only to build houses, mills, barns, sheds & other structures, but also boats...The carpenter whose name we meet oftenest was Thomas Green, who married Sally Bishop. I have seen a contract signed by Green in 1786, by which he was to receive annually forty-five pounds in Virginia currency, five hundredweight of pork, pasture for a cow, & two hundred pounds of common flour. He also had the right to be absent from the plantation half a day in every month. He did not use these vacations to good advantage, for he was a drunken incompetent & tried Washington's patience sorely. Washington frequently threatened to dismiss him & as often relented & Green finally, in 1794, quit of his own accord, though Washington thereafter had to assist his family.

"The employment of white day labor at Mount Vernon was not extensive. In harvest time some extra cradlers were employed, as this was a kind of work at which the slaves were not very skilful. Payment was at the rate of about a dollar a day or a dollar for cutting four acres, which was the amount a skilled man could lay down in a day. The men were also given three meals a day & a pint of spirits each. They slept in the barns, with straw & a blanket for a bed. With them worked the overseers, cutting, binding & setting up the sheaves in stools or shocks.

"Laziness...In his early career a certain "Young Stephens," son of the miller, seems to have been his greatest trial. "Visited my Plantations," he confides to his diary. "Severely reprimanded young Stephens for his Indolence, & his father for suffering it." "Visited my Quarters & ye Mill according to custom found young Stephens absent." "Visited my Plantations & found to my great surprise Stephens constantly at work." "Rid out to my Plantn. & to my Carpenters. Found Richard Stephens hard at work with an ax--very extraordinary this!"

"...when paper currency depreciated to a low figure he, of his own volition, wrote to Lund Washington that he would not hold him to his contract, but would pay his wages by a share in the crops, & this at a time when his own debtors were discharging their indebtedness in the almost worthless paper.

"... William M. Roberts, an employee who feared that he was about to get the sack. "In your absence to Richmond," writes anxious William, November 25, 1784, "My Wife & I have had a Most Unhappy falling out Which I Shall not Trouble you with the Praticlers No farther than This. I hapened To Git to Drinking one Night as She thought Two Much. & From one Cros Question to a nother Matters weare Carred to the Langth it has been. Which Mr. Lund Washington will Inform you For My part I am Heartily Sorry in my Sole My Wife appares to be the Same & I am of a pinion that We Shall Live More Happy than We have Don for the fewter."

1790 Contract to manage Farms & Gardens at Mount Vernon

East Front of Mount Vernon by Edward Savage (American, 1761 - 1817), c. 1787-1792

George Washington offered Anthony Whiting the position of manager for Ferry and French’s plantation in April 1790, and George Augustine Washington signed an indenture with him on 20 May.  When George Augustine Washington died in early 1793, Whiting took over the management of Mount Vernon for the few months remaining until his own death in June 1793.
West Front of Mount Vernon by Edward Savage (American, 1761 - 1817), c. 1787-1792.

On 20 May 1790 George Augustine Washington completed an indenture with Anthony Whitting on GW’s behalf:

“Articles of Agreement made and entered into this twentieth day of May one thousand seven hundred and ninety between Anthony Whiting late Manager of the Estate of the deceased General Cadwalader (but at present of Alexandria Virginia) of the one part, and George A: Washington of Mount Vernon in Virginia in behalf of the President of the United States, of the other part; Witnesseth that the said Anthony Whiting for the wages and other considerations hereafter mentioned doth agree to serve the said President for the space of one year to commence the first day of June next as an Overlooker of his two Farms, which are united and distinguished as the Ferry & Frenches, and that he will faithfully & diligently attend to the duties thereof; using his best skill to carry into effect the present rotation system of Cropping practised on the said Farms, or such other course as shall be approved by the said President through his agent George A: Washington. 

That he will hold it as an incumbent duty to suggest such changes and alterations in the present system of management as to him shall appear better calculated from the soil or other circumstances to promote œconomy and to encrease the profits of the Farms, but to make no actual change therein without permission; as matters for some time have been tending to the present mode, and ought not to be departed from but under the ful’est conviction of the superior advantages of an other; and in the accomplishment of whatever plan shall be adopted 

That he will use every possible œconomy consistent with good management in the execution

That he will be particularly attentive to the Negroes which shall be committed to his care—to the work Oxen and Horses—to the stock of every denomination—and to all the Tools and impliments of husbandry of every sort belonging to the Farms entrusted to his care--

That he will be particularly attentive to the Inclosures endeavouring as far as time and the means with which he may be furnished will admit, to substitute Ditching and Hedging to dead fences--

That he will see the labourers at their work as soon as it is light in the morning, and (unless he is called of for other purposes benificial to his employer or absent with leave if for purposes of his own except on Sunday when he may occasionally go to Church, and as he will not be allow’d to keep a Horse the use of one belonging to the Farms will be granted when necessary—) 

That he will always be with the people while they are at their labour, as the only sure means of geting the business done and the work properly executed without punishment—

That he will consider it as an essential part of his duty—by this close attention to see that the work is carried on with diligence and propriety especially the Plowing part of it, as the goodness of all Crops depend materially upon the preparation that give birth to them—

That he will pay the utmost attention to the Stocks of every kind, will use every endeavour to encrease and properly distribute the manure on the Farms, and also will improve to the best of his judgment the implements of husbandry necessary thereto—and will instruct as occasion may require, and opportunities offer the labourers therein how to Plow, Sow, Mow, Reap, Thatch, Ditch, Hedge &c., in the best manner—

That he will have proper attention given to the Ferry and a regular return with the proceeds rendered once a week (Saturday) with a report of the labour of the People, the encrease and decrease of the Stock, the receipts and disbursement &c. (a form of which will be furnished with a plan of the Farms—). 
1797 George Washington visits the field hands Colored Lithograph

The retail of liquors is particularly restricted as such a practise must be attended with pernicious consequences, and to avoid enumeration it is only necessary to observe that no emolument will be allow’d but what will hereafter be specified nor no departure from this agreement, as dismission or the claim of the penalty will be resorted to—Lastly if instead of being confined to the cares of those Farms it should be found from circumstances, more expedient to remove and extend his superintendance, that he is still to be governed by the principles here mention’d, although his attention will be more divided and in either case is to consider himself under the controul of the said George A: Washington who acts agreeably to directions received from the said President, And will conduct himself soberly honestly and with the most exemplary industry. 

In consideration of services thus fully and faithfully performed on the part of the said Anthony Whiting the said George A: Washington for and on behalf of the said President of the United States doth agree to allow the said Anthony Whiting the sum of forty Guineas per annum, to commence the first day of June next—Will allow him three hundred weight of Pork and one hundred weight of Beef at killing time but such provision as may be furnished untill that time will be deducted therefrom, if in Bacon such a proportion as shall be deemed equivalent—also f⟨our⟩ hundred weight of Flour distinguished as midlings—the use of a Cow—the privelege of raising Fowls for his own consumption, and the use of a Boy or Girl which can be most conveniently spared to cook &c. And in case his superintendance should be extended will allow him the use of a Horse to enable him to discharge with more convenience & facility, the business which will be required of him. For the true and faithful performance of this agreement the parties each to the other doth hereby bind themselves in the penal sum of One hundred Dollars, the day & year first written."

Mount Vernon tells us that "following Whiting's death, when George Washington was searching for a replacement, he wrote glowingly about his former farm manager. Washington explained that, "The death of my late Manager, Mr. Anthy. Whiting, making it necessary for me to look out for some person to supply his place. . .In fine, if I could [find] a man as well qualified for my purposes as the late Mr. Whitting (whom I presume you know, as he managed an Estate of Gen. Cadwallader's in your neighborhood for some years) I should esteem myself very fortunate."

"Several months later, while instructing Whiting's replacement about the duties of the job, it was obvious that Washington's feelings had shifted significantly with new information. Washington wrote that, "Nothing will contribute more to effect these desirable purposes than a good example, unhapply this was not set (from what I have learnt lately) by Mr. Whiting, who, it is said, drank freely, kept bad company at my house and in Alexandria, and was a very debauched person, wherever this is the case it is not easy for a man to throw the first stone for fear of having it returned to him. . ."

"Moreover, Washington expressed his opinion that Whiting's lack of attention to details were problematic, explaining that "Mr. Whiting did not look more scrupulously into the conduct of the Overseers, and more minutely into the smaller matters belonging to the Farms; which, though individually may be trifling, are not found so in the agregate; for there is no addage more true than an old Scotch one, that 'many mickles make a muckle.'"

Friday, April 24, 2020

Garden Root Cellars

Root Cellars in Early America

There are several references to root cellars in early records in British colonial America. A root cellar was a space used for storage, usually of roots as well as vegetables & fruits & drinks made from them overwinter, which could be located above ground, or partially submerged, or entirely submerged.  Most root cellars were part of a building, but some were constructed as detached storage areas sheltered with roofs.  These separate storage buildings were often called cellar houses. Sometimes spelled as celler, sellar, & seller in 17th & 18th century references, they were also called storerooms and storehouses.

1643 in Surry County, Virginia a contract noted, "a framed house conteyning forty five foot in lengthy and twenty foot in breadth...and a cellar adjoining to it also of fifteen foot square."

1694 in York County, Virginia, an advertisement for "English framed dwelling house with a good cellar under it."

1708 The Boston News-Letter carried an ad for "a Convenient Dwelling House having a Cellar, Low Room, Chamber, and Garret."
                
1713 At St Peter's Parish in New Kent County, Virginia, the vestry ordered a new glebe house with "a seller three feet in the ground and three feet above."

May 30, 1715 In The Boston News-Letter, a Gentleman offered to sell "fine, bottl'd Sydar" (cider) from his "Sydar Cellar" for 3 pence per quart.
                
1718  Court records in Richmond County, Virginia, mentioned a plantation with "a cellar with a good roof over it."

1735 The South Carolina Gazette. January 11, 1735, advertised for sale, "good planting Land, containing 150 Acres...with a convenient Brick Dwelling-house 40 feet long & 30 wide, and good Cellars below."

1741 The South Carolina Gazette.  April 9, 1741, reported a storm during which, The Waters rose up to the Gate of Robert Lesly, Esq; and came into his Cellar and fill'd it, and carried the Liquors off their Stillings, and damnified all Things in it, and is still full of Water.

1748 The South Carolina Gazette. July 25, 1748, noted, "A very good Shop on the Bay, a good Cellar , and a well furnish'd lodging Room, to be lett."

1763 The South Carolina Gazette. April 30, 1763, advertised for sale a "plantation on James-Island, lately belonging to William Henperson, situated on Wappoe-Creek, about four miles from Charles-Town, containing 263 acres...a good two story dwelling-house with piazzas and good dry cellars."

1766 The Virginia Gazette. August 22, 1766, advertised for sale in "Cumberland, County...636 acres, with... a large dwelling-house, with...a good cellar, and underpinned; a large kitchen, with two rooms... a large garden, with sundry kinds of medicinal roots and plants."

The Virginia Gazette. November, 13 1766, noted, "A SPECIOUS BRICK HOUSE, upwards of 50 feet in length, with 4 rooms below and 3 above, and a good cellar under the same in 3 apartments, together with a storehouse and counting room under the same roof... in the town of Smithfield."

The specific term "root cellar" does not come into common use until about 1767, when an ad in the The New-York Journal, or General Advertiser in March offered for sale a house on Corlear's Hook which had a "root cellar 22 feet by 11 feet, stoned up all around."   

 1768 The Pennsylvania Gazette. January 21, 1768, advertised for sale in "Allentown...a large commodious well finished dwelling house, with a kitchen and store, having extraordinary good cellars under them, a garden adjoining, with a variety of roots and flowers."

1782 The Pennsylvania Gazette. October 9, 1782, advertised in "Hartford Town, Maryland, an excellent brick dwelling house, accommodated with...excellent garden, abounding with useful roots and flowers. The house is large, and every way convenient, with cellars under the whole."

In October 28, 1771, The New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury advertised a farm for sale on York Island on the Hudson River with about 300 apple trees and a good "root cellar."

On April 6, 1784, the New Brunswick, New Jersey, Political Intelligencer offered a farm with "a very excellent garden, well paled in, with a root cellar at the bottom."  

In 1797 New York City, The Minerva, & Mercantile Evening Advertiser advertised for rent on Broadway, "A Room suitable for an office...with an excellent, dry root cellar."

In 1744, Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac about using cellars to store wine. "Begin to gather Grapes from the 10th of September (the ripest first) to the last of October, and having clear'd them of Spider webs, and dead Leaves, put them into a large Molosses- or Rum-Hogshead; after having washed it well, and knock'd one Head out, fix it upon the other Head, on a Stand, or Blocks in the Cellar."    

Annapolis, Maryland, silversmith and avid gardener William Faris (1728-1804) used pots to store his fragile plants away from the Annapolis winters, dutifully recording in his diary each year, “I moved the Potts into the seller for the Winter.”  Sometimes he euphemistically referred to his cellar as “the greenhouse.”

In the 1790s, Samuel Deane wrote in his New England Farmer of his method of preserving Winter apples, "I gather them about noon on the day of the full of the moon which happens in the latter part of September, or beginning of October. Then spread them in a chamber, or garret, where they lie till about the last of November. Then, at a time when the weather is dry, remove them into casks, or boxes, in the cellar, out of the way of the frosts; but I prefer a cool part of the cellar. With this management, I find I can keep them till the last of May, so well that not one in fifty will rot...In the Autumn of 1793, I packed apples in the shavings of pine, so that they scarcely touched one another. They kept well till some time in May following; though they were a sort which are mellow for eating in December. Dry sawdust might perhaps answer the end as well. Some barrel them up, and keep them through the Winter in upper rooms, covering them with blankets or mats, to prevent freezing. Dry places are best for them."
Root cellars were also mentioned often in Bernard M'Mahon's 1806 American Gardener's Calendar. published B. Graves, no. 40, North Fourth-Street, Philadelphia.  Following are M'Mahon's observations on the use of root cellars in the New Republic.

Broccoli.

The early sown broccoli plants, should now be planted out into beds of good rich earth, in an open situation; the purple kind at two feet and a half distance, every way, and the white at the distance of three feet.

Broccoli seeds of both these kinds, as well as of any other variety which you would wish to cultivate, should be sown early in this month for a second principal crop, for winter and spring use. Sow them in a bed or border of rich earth, in an open exposure, each kind separate and rake them in regularly.
In the middle and eastern states, where the frost is too powerful, for the standing out of these plants during winter, on its approach, they must be taken up, and planted in earth up to their leaves, either in CELLARS, or under sheds, where they can be protected from wet and very rigorous frosts, and they will continue to produce their fine heads, during all the winter months ; which are equal to any cauliflowers. On the opening of spring, plant out the stalks of the purple kind, and they will produce abundance of the most delicious sprouts; the white, do not answer for that purpose.

These plants even if hung up in a CELLAR, would shoot forth their flowers or heads, pretty much about their usual time.

Forcing Asparagus

Hot-beds for forcing early asparagus, may be made any time this month, for which purpose you must be provided with proper plants; these are previously raised in the natural ground from seed, as hereafter directed, which being transplanted from the seed-bed into others duly prepared for their reception, and having two or three years growth there, they then are of the proper size and strength for forcing. But observe, that in those parts of the Union where the ground is subject at this season to be bound up by frost, previous precaution will be necessary, in order to secure a supply of plants when wanted for this purpose; therefore, before the setting in of the severe winter frost, cover a sufficient number in the beds wherein they are growing, with as much dry litter or leaves of trees, &c. as will effectually keep the ground from being frozen, so that you can remove it, and take up the plants conveniently when wanted.
Or you may, on the approach of severe frosts, take up a sufficient quantity with as little injury to the roots as possible, which may be planted in sand or dry earth in a warm CELLAR, in the same man-, ner as directed for planting them in the frame, covering their crowns about an inch, observing not to croud the plants for fear of their becoming mouldy; and in mild weather ventilate the CELLAR as often as possible, to prevent any bad effect to the roots from stagnant air: but when it can be done, it will be much better to take up the plants out of their beds according as you want them.

The different pressings being mixed as you think proper, should be immediately put into clean casks or hogsheads, placed in a warm room or dry CELLAR, and filled to within two inches of the bungholes, which should be covered with pieces of cloth, laid loosely on, to prevent dirt from falling into the liquor.

Wine

When the 1iquor is drawn into clean sweet casks, place them in the CELLAR, fill them up within an inch or two of the top, and lay a piece of leather with a small weight on it over each bung-hole that may yield to a second fermentation, which generally takes place. When the wine has sealed or ceased to ferment, bung the casks as close as possible, and the subsequent treatment is exactly the same as directed for white wines.

A wine CELLAR should be dry, so deep under ground as that the temperature of it heat, may be nearly the same winter and summer: it should be at a distance from streets, highways, workshops, sewers and necessaries; if arched over, the better.

Fruits

According as the fruits are gathered, carry them into the fruitery, or into some convenient dry, clean, apartment, and lay them carefully in heaps, each sort separate, for about ten days, or two weeks, in order that the watery juices may transpire; which will make them keep longer, and render them much better for eating, than if put up finally as soon as pulled.

When they have lain in heaps that time, wipe each fruit, one after another, with a clean, dry cloth, and if you have a very warm dry CELLAR, where frost is by no means likely to enter, nor the place subject to much dampness; lay them singly, upon shelves, coated with dry straw, and cover them with a layer'of the same.

Another method, and a very good one, is to be provided with a number of large earthen jars, and a quantity of moss, in a perfectly dry state; and when the fruits are wiped dry as befort directed, your jars being also dry, lay therein layer about of fruit and moss, till the jars are near full, then cover with a layer of moss.

Suffer them to remain in this state for eight or ten days, then examine a stratum or two at the top to sec if the moss and fruits are perfectly dry; and if you find them in a good condition, stop the jars up with good cork plugs, and cover them with some melted rosin to keep out air. The pears and apples to be used this way should be of the latest and best keeping kinds, and such as are not, generally, fit for use till February, March, or April.

After the jars are sealed as above, place them in a warm dry CELLAR or room on a bed of perfectly dry sand, at least one foot thick ; and about the middle of November, or sooner if there is any danger to be apprehended from frost, fill up between the jars with very dry sand, until it is a foot thick round and over them. Thus you may preserve pears in the greatest perfection, for eight, or nine months, and apples twelve.

Be particularly careful to examine every fruit as you wipe it, lest it is bruised, which would cause it soon to rot and communicate the infection, so that in a little time much injury might be sustained, in consequence of a trifling neglect in the first instance: but above all things, place your fruit whatever way they are put up, completely out of the reach of frost.

Greenhouse Plants

The deciduous Green-house plants, such as the Lagerstramia indica, Punica grana, or double flowering pomegranate, Croton tebiferurn, or tallow-trec, &c. may be placed on a platform erected at the back of the stage, as noticed in page 82, or they may be preserved very well during the winter, in a dry warm CELLAR, that has windows to admit light, air, &c. as necessity may require.

Preserving Cabbages and Borecole, for Winter and Spring use.

Immediately previous to the setting in of hard frost, take up your cabbages and savoys, observing to do it in a dry day; turn their tops downward and let them remain so for a few hours, to drain off any water that may be lodged between the leaves; then make choice of a ridge of dry earth in a well sheltered warm exposure, and plant them down to their heads therein, close to one another, having previously taken off some of their loose hanging leaves. Immediately erect over them a low temporary shed, of any kind that will keep them perfectly free from wet, which is to be open at both ends, to admit a current of air in mild dry weather. These ends are to be closed with straw when the weather is very severe. In this situation your cabbages will keep in a high state of preservation till spring, for being kept perfectly free from wet as well as from the action of the sun, the frost will have little or no effect upon them. In such a place the heads may be cut off as wanted, and if frozen, soak them in spring, well, or pump water, for a few hours previous to their being cooked, which will dissolve the frost and extract any disagreeable taste occasioned thereby.
Some plant their cabbages, after being taken up and drained as above, in airy or well ventillated CELLARS, in earth or sand up to their heads, where they will keep tolerably well, but in close, warm, or damp CELLARS, they soon decay.

Others make a trench in dry sandy ground, and place the cabbages therein, after being well drained and dry, and most of their outside loose green leaves pulled off, roots upward, the heads contiguous to, but not touching each other; they then cover them with the dryest earth or sand that can be conveniently procured, and form a ridge of earth over them like the roof of a house; some apply dry straw immediately'round the heads, but this is a bad practice, as the straw will soon become damp and mouldy, and will of course communicate the disorder to the cabbages.

Upon the whole the first-method is in my opinion the most preferable, as there is no way in which cabbages will keep better, if preserved from wet; and besides, they can be conveniently obtained, whenever they are wanted for use

The green and brown curled borecole being very hardy, will require but little protection; they may now be taken up and planted in a ridge tolerably close together, and during severe frost covered lightly with straw, this will preserve them sufficiently, and during winter the heads may be cut off as they are wanted for use; the stems if taken up and planted in rows, as early in March as the weather will admit, will produce abundance of the most delicious sprouts.

In the southern states, and even in warm, soils and exposures in the middle states, borecole will stand the winter in open beds without any covering whatever.

Cauliflowers and Broccoli

Your late cauliflowers, and broccoli, will now be producing their heads; therefore it will be necessary to break down some of the largest leaves over the flowers, to preserve them from the effects of sun, rain, and frost.
Italian Botanical Print

Such plants of either sort as are not likely to flower before the commencement of severe frost, should be taken up and planted as recommended in the first instance for cabbages, where if roellprotected from wet and frost, they will continue to produce fine flowers all winter.

Or they may be planted in a dry warm CELLAR in the same manner as directed for cabbages, where they will also flower in winter; indeed I have had tolerable good flowers from strong plants. 

Preserving Turnips, Carrots, Parsneps, Beets, and Salsafy.

Previous to the commencement of severe frost, you should take up with as little injury as possible, the roots of your turneps, carrots, parsneps, beets, salsafy, scorzonera, Hamburg or large rooted parsley, skirrets, Jerusalem artichokes, lurnep-rooted celery, and a sufficiency of horse-radish for the winter consumption; cut off their tops and expose the roots for a few hours till sufficiently dry. On the surface of a very dry spot of ground in a well sheltered situation, lay a stratum of sand two inches thick, and on this a layer of roots of either sort, covering them with another layer of sand (the drier the better) and so continue layer about of sand and roots till all are laid in, giving the whole on every side a roof-like slope; then cover this heap or ridge all over with about two inches of sand, over which lay a good coat of drawn straw up and down as if thatching a house, in order to carry off wet and prevent its entering to the roots; then dig a wide trench round the heap and cover the straw with the earth so dug up, to a depth sufficient to preserve the roots effectually from frost. An opening may be made on the south side of this heap, and completely covered with bundles of straw so as to have access to the roots at all times, when wanted either for sale or use.

Some people lay straw, or hay, between the layers of roots and immediately on the top of them; this I do not approve of, as the straw or hay will become damp and mouldy, and very often occasion the roots to rot, while the and would preserve them sweet and sound.

All these roots may be preserved in like manner in a CELLAR; but in such a place they are subject to vegetate and become stringey earlier in spring. The only advantage of this method is, that in the CELLAR they may be had when wanted, more conveniently during winter, than out of the field or garden heaps.

Note. All the above roots will preserve better in sand than in common earth, but when the former cannot be bad, the sandiest earth you can procure must be dispensed with.
Celery, Endive, and Cardcons

Continue during the early part of this month to blanch your Celery, endive and cardoons, as directed in the preceding months; but when the severe frosts approach, they must be preserved therefrom, either in the following or some other more convenient and effectual manner.

Every third row of the celery may be suffered to stand where growing, opening a trench on each side of every standing row, within six or eight inches thereof, for the reception of the plants of the other two rows, which are to be carefully taken up with as little injury as possible either to their tops or roots, and planted in those new trenches, in the same order as they formerly stood. The whole being thus planted, three rows together, they are to be earthed up near the extremities of their leaves, and as soon as the frost becomes pretty keen, in a very dry day cover the whole with straw, and over this a good coat of earth.

When this plan is intended, the celery should in the first instance be planted in rows, east and west, so that when the whole is covered for winter use as above, the south side, especially if protected a little with straw, &c. may be easily opened to take out the plants when wanted for use.

Or if you have the convenience of a deep garden-frame, you may almost fill it with fresh sand, and then take up and plant therein, so close as nearly to touch one another, a quantity of your best and largest celery, and so deep as to be covered within five or six inches of their tops; place on yeur glasses, immediately, and suffer neither rain or water to reach the plants, except a very gentle shower, occasionally, in warm weather.

When severe frosts set in, lay dung, tan, leaves of trees, or other litter round the sides and ends of the frame, and cover the glasses with mats, be. sp as to keep out the frost. By this means you can have celery during winter in the greatest perfection and as convenient as you could desire.

Or celery may now be taken up when dry, well aired, and planted in sand in a dry CELLAR, in the same manner as directed for planting it in the frame; observing, in either case, to lay up the stalks and leave neat and close, and to do as little injury to either as possible.

The beds of celery which were planted as directed in page 433, should, in the early part of this month, be earthed up to within six or eight inches of the tops of the plants, tnd on the approach of hard frost, additionally earthed to the very extremities of their leaves; then lay a covering of dry sandy earth on the top of each bed, the whole iength, so as to give it a rounding; on this, place a coat of dry straw, drawn and laid on advantageously to cast off the wet, and of a sufficient thickness to effectually resist the frost; after which cut a trench round the bed to carry off and prevent any lodgement of water. Here you can have access to your celery, and it will continue in a high state of preservation during the whole winter and early spring months.

Endive may be preserved in a frame, or CELLAR, as directed for celery.

Cardoons may be preserved either in sand in a CELLAR, or by banking up a sufficiency of earth to them where they grow, and covering the tops, &c. with straw or long litter.

N. B. All the above work must be performed in dry weather and when the plants are perfectly free from wet, otherwise they will be very subject to rot.

Forcing Asparagus

This is a very proper time to begin to force asparagus in hotbeds

You should now, previous to the setting in of hard frost, cover the asparagus-beds, containing the plants which you intend to force during the ensuing months, with as much straw, or light litter of some kind, as will prevent the ground from becoming frozen, so that you can take up the roots with convenience and without injury when wanted. This method is preferable to taking them up and depositing them in a CELLAR, in sand or earth, which is practiced by some gardeners.