Wednesday, September 30, 2020

19c Home Remedies from the Garden - Headache

Woman with a Collard Leaf on her Head to Cure a Headache by Mary Lyde Hicks Williams 

Mary Lyde Hicks William (1866-1959) Mary's paintings of freed slaves reflect daily life she saw on her uncle's plantation during Reconstruction in North Carolina. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

From Garden to Table

Peter Jakob Horemans (1700-1776)  Gentleman at a Table Laden with Food (and a Flower) from the Garden   Detail

Monday, September 28, 2020

From Garden to Table - 1797 Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Slave Chef vs Pennsylvania Abolition

How Geo Washington dealt with a 1780 PA law of Gradual Abolition to keep his Enslaved Cook, 1797

Only a few of Early America's slave chefs went on to receive the acclaim many of them deserved.  One of them was George Washington's chef, Hercules.  Here is another of the articles written about him.
Once thought to be a Portrait of Chef Hercules who was an enslaved African held at Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia plantation on the Potomac River.  He was sold to George Washington as a teenage “ferryman” in 1767 by a neighbor, John Posey, as payment for a debt.  He was the head cook at the mansion in the 1780s, cooking for the Washington family and their guests. Hercules was one of two cooks listed in the 1786 Mount Vernon Slave Census.

After he became President of the United States, Washington was dissatisfied with the cook in the presidential residences in New York City, and brought Hercules to Philadelphia (then the national capital) in November 1790, to cook in the kitchen of the President's House. Hercules escaped to freedom from Mount Vernon in 1797, and later was legally manumitted under the terms of Washington's Will.

Hercules took Alice, one of Martha Washington's "dower" slaves, as his wife, and they had three children: Richmond (born 1777), Evey (born 1782), and Delia (born 1785). He, his wife, and the three children were listed in the February 1786 Mount Vernon Slave Census, which records him as one of two cooks in the Mansion House. Alice died in 1787.

He was one of nine enslaved Africans brought to Philadelphia in 1790 by Washington to work in the presidential household. The others were his son Richmond (then 13 years old), Oney Judge, Moll, Austin, Christopher Sheels, Giles, Paris, and Joe (Richardson).
1796 James Sharples (1751-1811). Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)

In the memoirs of G.W.P. Custis, Martha Washington's grandson, Hercules was recalled as "a celebrated artiste ... as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States." The cook was given the privilege of selling the extra food from the Philadelphia kitchen, which by Custis's estimate earned him nearly $200 a year, the annual salary of a hired cook. According to Custis, Hercules was a dapper dresser and was given freedom to walk about in the city.

Pennsylvania passed a gradual abolition law in 1780, which prohibited non-residents from holding slaves in the state longer than six months. If held beyond that period, the state's Gradual Abolition Act gave slaves the legal power to free themselves. Members of Congress were specifically exempted from the act. Officers of the executive and judicial branches of the federal government were not mentioned since those branches didn't exist until the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788.

When the national capital moved Philadelphia in 1790, there was a question about whether the state law would apply to federal officials. Washington argued that he was a citizen of Virginia, that his presence in Pennsylvania was solely a consequence of Philadelphia's being the temporary national capital, and that the state law should not apply to him. Rather than challenging the state law in court, Washington took the advice of his attorney general, Edmund Randolph, and systematically rotated the President's House slaves in and out of the state to prevent their establishing a six-month continuous residency. This rotation was itself a violation of Pennsylvania law, but no one challenged the President's actions. The U.S. Supreme Court later found Pennsylvania's 1788 amendment to the Gradual Abolition Act to be unconstitutional in Prigg v. Pennsylvania.

In reality, Washington left Hercules behind at Mount Vernon, when he returned to Philadelphia after Christmas 1796. The historian Anna Coxe Toogood found that the Mount Vernon farm records listed Hercules and Richmond at the plantation during the winter of 1796-97, where they were assigned as laborers, along with other domestic servants, to pulverize stone, dig brick clay, and grub out honeysuckle.

Hercules escaped to freedom from Mount Vernon, on February 22, 1797 – Washington's 65th birthday – which the president celebrated in Philadelphia. An entry in that week's Mount Vernon farm report noted that Hercules "absconded 4 [days ago]."

Louis-Philippe, the future king of the French, visited Mount Vernon in the spring of 1797. According to his April 5 diary entry: The general's cook ran away, being now in Philadelphia, and left a little daughter of six at Mount Vernon. Beaudoin ventured that the little girl must be deeply upset that she would never see her father again; she answered, "Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now."

Hercules remained in hiding. In 1798, the former-President's House steward, Frederick Kitt, informed Washington that the fugitive was living in Philadelphia: "Since your departure I have been making distant enquiries about Herculas but did not till about four weeks ago hear anything of him and that was only that [he] was in town neither do I yet know where he is, and that it will be very difficult to find out in the secret manner necessary to be observed on the occasion."

The 1799 Mount Vernon Slave Census listed 124 enslaved Africans owned by Washington and 153 "dower" slaves owned by Martha Washington's family. Washington's 1799 Will instructed that his slaves be freed upon Martha's death. Washington died on December 14, 1799.  At Martha Washington's request, the three executors of Washington's Estate freed her late husband's slaves on January 1, 1801. There is no evidence that Hercules knew he had been manumitted, and legally was no longer a fugitive.  In a December 15, 1801 letter, Martha Washington indicated, that she had learned that Hercules, by then legally free, was living in New York City. Nothing more is known of his whereabouts or life in freedom.

Because Alice had been a "dower" slave – owned by the estate of Martha Washington's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis – the children of Hercules and his wife were legally property of the Custis Estate. The children remained enslaved and were among the "dowers" divided among Martha Washington's four grandchildren following her 1802 death.

Read more about Hercules & the Washingtons  at The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington by Mary V. Thompson.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

From Garden to Table - Queen Cakes with Currants


Martha Washington (1731-1802) - From the Garden to the Table 

While George Washington oversaw most aspects of managing Mount Vernon's  pleasure gardens & grounds, Martha Washington oversaw the Kitchen Garden (The Lower Garden), allowing her to keep fruits and vegetables on the table year round.

The Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon

“…impress it on the gardener to have every thing in his garden that will be nece]ssary in the House keeping way — as vegetable is the best part of our living in the country.” – Martha Washington, 1792

Inside the Kitchen at Mount Vernon

Outside The Kitchen at Mount Vernon

In the matter of eating & drinking George Washington was temperate. For breakfast he ordinarily had tea & Indian cakes with butter & perhaps honey, of which he was very fond. His supper was equally light, consisting of perhaps tea & toast, with wine, & he usually retired at nine o'clock. Dinner was the main meal of the day at Mount Vernon, & usually was served at two o'clock. One such meal is thus described by a guest:  "He thanked us, desired us to be seated, & to excuse him a few moments.... The President came & desired us to walk in to dinner & directed  us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowls, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc. etc."   The General ordinarily confined himself to a few courses & if offered anything very rich, he would protest, "That is too good for me." He often drank beer with the meal, with one or two glasses of wine & perhaps as many more afterward, often eating nuts, another delicacy with him, as he sipped the wine.

Queen Cakes

This recipe for a little cake enjoyed at tea or on festive occasions is based on Hannah Glasse’s version. Traditionally, queen cakes were baked in “little fluted tin moulds in fancy shapes,” but mini-muffin pans lined with paper baking cups are more often used today. The origin of this confection’s name is unknown. 

One of the most valuable tools in the Mount Vernon kitchen was Martha Washington's copy of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy...By a Lady.  Martha's copy is in the Library at Mount Vernon. Hannah Glasse's (1708–1770) The Art of Cookery...was first published in 1747. It was a bestseller for a century after its first publication, dominating the English-speaking market. It was published in America from 1805.

Mrs. Washington may have owned a number of cookbooks, but her 1765 edition of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery and a manuscript cookbook (now at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania) are the only ones known to survive. The manuscript book  (under the title Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery) is a very early compilation of 16th and 17th century receipts and came into Martha's possession at the time of her marriage to Daniel Parke Custis who died in 1757.

This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.


3 large eggs, separated

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground mace

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 cup currants

Sanding sugar for sprinkling


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease five 12-cup mini-muffin pans with vegetable shortening.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl whisking by hand, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Pour into a separate bowl, and set aside. Put the egg yolks in the same bowl, and whip or whisk by hand until light and frothy. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating in each addition thoroughly before adding the next one. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the whipped egg whites, blending thoroughly. Beat in the egg yolks until well combined.

4. Sift the flour with the nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon. Reserve 2 tablespoons. Gradually add the remainder to the creamed mixture, blending in each addition well before adding the next one.

5. Add the reserved 2 tablespoons of spiced flour to the currants and mix. Gently fold into the batter until well combined.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar.

7. Bake the cakes for 12 to 14 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in their centers comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched. Set the cakes on wire racks for 5 to 6 minutes before carefully removing them from the pans to cool thoroughly.

Research plus images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, 

1764 Plants in 18C Colonial American Gardens - Virginian John Randolph (727-1784) - Currants

A Treatise on Gardening Written by a native of this State (Virginia)
Author was John Randolph (1727-1784)
Written in Williamsburg, Virginia about 1765
Published by T. Nicolson, Richmond, Virginia. 1793
The only known copy of this booklet is found in the Special Collections of the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.


Currants, or Corinths, so called from a near resemblance to a Corinthian Grape, (Ribes by the botanists) have many species; but the two principal are the red and white, of which the Dutch sorts are chiefly propagated in England. They are to be propagated from cuttings, planted in the fall, (September) and are directed to remain two years, when they are to be removed into beds, and planted in rows ten feet asunder, and four feet from each other. But the cuttings will succeed as well if planted in a rich light bed, to stand without any removal at all. They will grow either against walls, pales, or in espaliers. If some are planted against a south wall, or in a warm place, and othcrs in a colder situation under a north wall, the fruit will last a long time, as there will be a succession. The fruit grows on the former year's wood, on small snags, which come out of the old wood, wherefore in pruning, these snags ought to be preserved, and the young shoots shortened in proportion to their strength. In pruning, cut off the old wood, and not in heads. I find no directions as to keeping them on single stalks, but I believe this method is best. They will grow in any soil or situation, even under trees, though the open air is best. Your plantation must be renewed in seven or eight years.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

From Garden to Table - Family Memories of Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Slave Chef

The Washington family by Edward Savage. George Washington Parke Custis stands at the left next to his adopted father, George Washington

Enslaved men & women have had a significant impact on the nation's culinary traditions from the colonial period until today. They were forced to prepare food, usually raised or grown in the owners' fields, nearby waterways, & gardens for the owners & their guests.  

In most cases, fellow slaves had planted & tended the gardens & fields where the plants grew, cared for the animals destined for slaughter, & caught the fish in local rivers & nearby salt-waters. For their own food, many slaves received a weekly or monthly ration of vegetables, meat, & sometimes fish from their owners.  To add to this allocation, some owners allowed their slaves to grow a small garden near their slave quarters.

Archaeological discoveries, notes on "receipts" (or recipes), & plantation journals & records offer hints into the lives of enslaved plantation cooks from colonial times through emancipation. These men & women often lived & worked inside the sweltering conditions of Southern plantation house kitchens; & when the heat was unbearable, they slept on the ground very near the kitchen.  Fellow plantation slaves probably built the kitchen as well. 

These cooks drew upon skills & seeds brought with them from their African homelands to create complex, labor-intensive dishes such as oyster stew, gumbo, jambalaya, & fried fish.  From the gardens, they added African accents with hot peppers, peanuts, okra, & greens. Some methods of cooking that are well-known in the U.S. today were reported in West Africa before 1500, including deep frying fish & barbecuing meats.

Only a few of these slave chefs went on to receive the acclaim many of them deserved.  One of them was George Washington's chef, Hercules.  Here is an account of Hercules by a Washington descendant. 

George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of the 
Life and Character of Washington
Benson J. Lossing, ed. (New York, 1860), 422-24.

The chief cook would have been termed in modern parlance, a celebrated artiste. He was named Hercules, and familiarly termed Uncle Harkless. Trained in the mysteries of his part from early youth, and in the palmy days of Virginia, when her thousand chimneys smoked to indicate the generous hospitality that reigned throughout the whole length and breadth of her wide domain, Uncle Harkless was, at the period of the first presidency, as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary arts as could be found in the United States. He was a dark-brown man, little, if any above the usual size, yet possessed of such great muscular power as to entitle him to be compared with his namesake of fabulous history.

The chief cook gloried in the cleanliness and nicety of his kitchen. Under his iron discipline, wo[e] to his underlings if speck or spot could be discovered on the tables or dressers, or if the utensils did not shine like polished silver. With the luckless wights who had offended in these particulars there was no arrest of punishment, for judgment and execution went hand in hand.The steward, and indeed the whole household, treated the chief cook with such respect, as well for his valuable services as for his general good character and pleasing manners.

It was while preparing the Thursday or Congress dinner that Uncle Harkless shone in all his splendor. During his labors upon this banquet he required some half dozen aprons, and napkins out of number. It was surprising the order and discipline that was observed in so bustling a scene. His underlings flew in all directions to execute his orders, while he, the great master-spirit, seemed to possess the power of ubiquity, and to be everywhere at the same moment.

When the steward in snow-white apron, silk shorts and stockings, and hair in full powder, placed the first dish on the table, the clock being on the stroke of four, "the labors of Hercules" ceased.

While the masters of the republic were engaged in discussing the savory viands of the Congress dinner, the chief cook retired to make his toilet for an evening promenade. His prerequisites from the slops of the kitchen were from one to two hundred dollars a year. Though homely in person, he lavished the most of these large avails upon dress. In making his toilet his linen was of unexceptional whiteness and quality, then black silk shorts, ditto waistcoat, ditto stockings, shoes highly polished, with large buckles covering a considerable part of the foot, blue cloth with velvet collar and bright metal buttons, a long watch-chain dangling from his fob, a cocked-hat and gold-headed cane completed the grand costume of the celebrated dandy (for there were dandies in those days) of the president's kitchen.

Thus arrayed, the chief cook invariably passed out at the front door, the porter making a low bow, which was promptly returned. Joining his brother-loungers of the pave, he proceeded up Market street, attracting considerable attention, that street being, in the old times, the resort where fashionables "did most congregate." Many were not a little surprised to behold so extraordinary a personage, while others who knew him would make a formal and respectful bow, that they might receive in return the salute of one of the most polished gentlemen and the veriest dandy of nearly sixty years ago."

The National Park Service tells us that George Washington Parke Custis was born in 1781, as the grandson of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington through her first marriage. After his natural father, John Parke Custis, died in 1781, G.W.P. Custis went to live at Mount Vernon where George and Martha Washington raised him as their own son. During his childhood, Custis became very attached to his stepfather, George Washington. In 1802, Custis started the construction of Arlington House on land that he had inherited from his natural father. When completed in 1818, he intended the house to serve as not only a home but also a memorial to his stepfather, George Washington. In 1804, Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh. The two had four children, but only one, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, survived.

Custis derived his living from large inherited estates, worked by many enslaved people, though he was a poor manager and his properties were not very profitable. He devoted most of his energies to other activities, many and varied including painting, playwriting, music, oratory, and promoting the improvement of American agriculture. None of his endeavors were marked by great or lasting success. He frequently held celebrations, special programs and other social events which attracted thousands of visitors to the Arlington estate over the years. Regarding himself as the heir to the Washington tradition, Custis collected and displayed, a large number of Mount Vernon relics at Arlington. He was always eager to comment on the collection and the Washington legacy for famous guests and curious strangers.

Custis saw his daughter marry Lt. Robert E. Lee at Arlington in 1831. Robert and Mary Anna came to call Arlington home and Custis was a prominent figure in the lives of the seven Lee children. In his later years, Custis did not stray far from Arlington. He made his will in 1855, and he increasingly relied on his son-in-law, Col. Lee, to handle his tangled business affairs. Until his death, Custis retained his old bedchamber in the north wing of the mansion, where he died after a short illness on October 10, 1857.

Friday, September 25, 2020

From Garden to Table

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Garden to Table - Home-Made Five Currant Wines + a Currant Shrub Recipe


John Greenwood (American artist, 1727-1792) Sea Captains Carousing, 1758.  Detail

John Custis (1678-1749), a prominent citizen of Williamsburg, apparently had a most impressive garden. John Bartram, the Philadelphia naturalist and botanist, commented to Peter Collinson that Custis’ garden was second only to that of John Clayton, the English born Virginia naturalist of Gloucester County. The currants that John Custis grew in his 1730s - 40s gardens could easily been transformed into several wines. 

Old-Time Recipes for Home Made Wines Cordials & Liqueurs 1909 by Helen S. Wright

Take white currants when quite ripe, pick them off the stalks, and bruise them. Strain out the juice through a cloth, and to two quarts of the juice put two pounds of loaf sugar; when it is dissolved, add one gallon of rum, then strain through a flannel bag that will keep in the jelly, and it will run off clear. Then bottle for use.

Take four gallons of currants, not too ripe, and strip them into an earthen stein that has a cover to it. Then take two and one-half gallons of water and five and one-half pounds of double refined sugar; boil the sugar and water together, skim it, and pour it boiling hot on the currants, letting it stand forty-eight hours; then strain it through a flannel bag into the stein again, let it stand a fortnight to settle, and bottle it out.

The currants should be fully ripe when picked. Put them into a large tub, in which they should remain a day or two, then crush with the hands, unless you have a small patent wine-press, in which they should not be pressed too much, or the stems will be bruised, and impart a disagreeable taste to the juice. If the hands are used, put the crushed fruit, after the juice has been poured off, in a cloth or sack and press out the remaining juice. Put the juice back into the tub after cleansing it, where it should remain about three days, until the first stages of fermentation are over, and remove once or twice a day the scum copiously arising to the top. Then put the juice in a vessel,—a demijohn, keg, or barrel,—of a size to suit the quantity made, and to each quart of juice add three pounds of the best yellow sugar, and soft water sufficient to make a gallon. Thus, ten quarts of juice and thirty pounds of sugar will give you ten gallons of wine, and so on in proportion. Those who do not like sweet wine can reduce the quantity of sugar to two and one-half, or who wish it very sweet, raise to three and one-half pounds per gallon. The vessel must be full, and the bung or stopper left off until fermentation ceases, which will be in twelve or fifteen days. Meanwhile, the cask must be filled up daily with currant juice left over, as fermentation throws out the impure matter. When fermentation ceases, rack the wine off carefully, either from the spigot or by a siphon, and keep running all the time. Cleanse the cask thoroughly with boiling water, then return the wine, bung up tightly, and let it stand four or five months, when it will be fit to drip, and can be bottled if desired. All the vessels, casks, etc., should be perfectly sweet, and the whole operation should be done with an eye to cleanliness. In such event, every drop of brandy or other spirituous liquors added will detract from the flavor of the wine, and will not in the least degree increase its keeping qualities. Currant wine made in this way will keep for an age.

To every pailful of currants, on the stem, put one pailful of water; mash and strain. To each gallon of the mixture of juice and water add three and one-quarter pounds of sugar. Mix well and put into your cask, which should be placed in the cellar, on the tilt, that it may be racked off in October, without stirring up the sediment. Two bushels of currants will make one barrel of wine. Four gallons of the mixture of juice and water will, after thirteen pounds of sugar are added, make five gallons of wine. The barrel should be filled within three inches of the bung, which must be made air tight by placing wet clay over it after it is driven in. Pick your currants when ripe on a fair day, crush them well, and to every gallon of juice add two gallons of water and three pounds of sugar; if you wish it sweeter, add another one-half pound of sugar. Mix all together in some large vessel, then dip out into earthen jars. Let it stand to ferment in some cool place, skimming it every other morning. In about ten days it will be ready to strain off; bottle and seal, or put in a cask and cork tight. The longer you keep it the better it will be.

Into a five gallon keg put five quarts of currant juice, fifteen pounds of sugar, and fill up with water. Let it stand in a cool place until sufficiently worked, and then bung up tight. You can let it remain in the cask, and draw out as you want to use it.

Take ten quarts of fruit, bruise it, and add to it five quarts of water. Stir it well together, and let it stand twelve hours; then strain it through a coarse canvas bag or hair sieve, add eleven pounds of good Lisbon sugar, and stir it well. Put the pulp of the fruit into a gallon more water; stir it about and let it stand twelve hours. Then strain to the above, again stirring it; cover the tub with a sack. In a day or two the wine will begin to ferment. When the whole surface is covered with a thick, yeasty froth, begin to skim it on to a sieve. What runs through may be returned to the wine. Do this from time to time for several days, till no more yeast forms. Then put it into the cask.

Old-Time Recipes for Home Made Wines is a cookbook for those who want to make their own wines & liqueurs from available ingredients, including fruits, flowers, vegetables, & shrubs from local gardens, farms, & orchards. It includes ingredients & instructions for making & fermenting spirits, from wine & ale to sherry, brandy, cordials, & even beer. 

Colonial Era Cookbooks

1615, New Booke of Cookerie, John Murrell (London) 
1798, American Cookery, Amelia Simmons (Hartford, CT)
1803, Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter (New York, NY)
1807, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Rundell (Boston, MA)
1808, New England Cookery, Lucy Emerson (Montpelier, VT)

Helpful Secondary Sources

America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking/Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings, and Their Gardens/Frances Phipps Hawthorn; 1972
Early American Beverages/John Hull Brown   Rutland, Vt., C. E. Tuttle Co 1996 
Early American Herb Recipes/Alice Cooke Brown  ABC-CLIO  Westport, United States
Food in Colonial and Federal America/Sandra L. Oliver
Home Life in Colonial Days/Alice Morse Earle (Chapter VII: Meat and Drink) New York : Macmillan Co., ©1926.
A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America/James E. McWilliams New York : Columbia University Press, 2005.

Plant Lists - John Custis (1678-1749) & Peter Collinson (1694-1768)

Virginia's John Custis IV standing by a cut tulip blossom ca. 1740 attributed to Charles Bridges. (Courtesy of Washington and Lee University, University Collections of Art and History, Lexington, Va.)

John Custis (1678-1749) was a prominent citizen of Williamsburg with an apparently most impressive garden. John Bartram, the Philadelphia naturalist and botanist, commented to Peter Collinson that Custis’ garden was second only to that of John Clayton, the English born Virginia naturalist of Gloucester County.
Peter Collinson (1694-1768) was an English Quaker woolen merchant. Collinson traded in textiles from an office in Grace Street in the city of London, while he maintained an extensive correspondence with American naturalists. His famous garden at Mill Hill contained many American plants, often obtained from both John Bartram and John Custis. Custis’ correspondence with Collinson, the subject of Swemm’s Brothers of the Spade, depicts both the joys and trials experienced by early gardeners in their exchange of plants across the Atlantic. He used his commercial links with the world to introduce many new species of plants into Britain. His gardens at Peckham and, later, Mill Hill became sites of pilgrimage for 18C scholars in horticulture.

Plant List compiled by Peter Hatch from
Brothers of the Spade
Correspondence of Peter Collinson, of London, and John Custis, of Williamsburg, Virginia, 1734-1746
By E. G. Swemm, Director Emeritus, William and Mary College
Published by the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1949
Southern Garden History Plant Lists

Plants sent to Collinson by Custis
Botanical Name/ Common Name/ Date/ Custis’s Notes
?Arachis hypogaea peanut 1736 "Angola peas the pea grows in the
Ariseama triphyllum Jack-in-the-pulpit 1744 "Arum or Cuckow point, Lords &
Ladys, Skunk Weed or skunk Wort,
Indian Turnips"
?Asclepias tuberosa butterfly weed 1736/7 "Mountain or Orange [Clove?] Flower,
Dogs Bane, Apocinon"
Asimina triloba pawpaw 1743/4 papa, papaw
Canna indica Indian-shot 1735 "Indian frill, Cana Indica or Wild
Plaintain or Bonana”
Carya sp. 1735 "Hickerys"
Castanea pumila chinquapin PC 1735 "chinkapins"
Cercis canadensis 1735 "red bud"
Chionanthus virginicus 1735 "Fringe Tree"
Cornus florida 1735 "Dogwood Tree"
Cornus florida rubra 1736/7 "Red flowering Dogwood,” "peach
colour’d dogwood"
Cucumis melo 1738 "sweet smelling Mellon"
Cucumis sativus 1738/9 "long cucumber"
Curcurbita pepo melopepo 1741 "Bush squash that does not Run &
Ramble, eating squash”
Cypripedium acaule or Orchis
pink lady slipper or showy
1736/7 "Red [or?] White Moccasin flower"

Delphinium exalatum or D.
 1737/8 "Wild Larkspur"
Diospyros virginiana 1735 "persimmons or Indian plumb"
Gillenia stipulata or G. trifoliata 1736/7 "Ipacacuana”
Gleditsia triacanthos 1735 "sweet locust pods," "Locus," "Honey
Ilex vomitoria yaupon holly 1735 "yoppon or Carolina tea,” "cassenna”
Custis and Collinson
Iris verna or versicolor 1735 "Indian iris"
?Kalmia angustifolia sheep laurel 1735 "laurells,"[?]
Kalmia latifolia or K. angustifolia mountain laurel or sheep
1735 "ivy"
Lagenaria siceraria "pretty little gourd" 1741 "Little pear or snuffbox Gourd,"
Liquidambar styraciflua 1738 "sweet Gum"
Liriodendron tulipifera 1738 "Flowering poplar or Tulip Tree,"
?Magnolia grandiflora southern magnolia 1735 "laurells”
Magnolia tripetala Umbrella Magnolia 1737 "Umbrella," "umbrella tree"
Magnolia virginiana sweet bay magnolia 1736/7 "sweet White Flowering swamp Bay,"
"swamp flowering Bay smaller sort[of
magnolia that] grows with You in the
Swamps," "sweet flowering bay"[?]
Mertensia virginica Virginia blue-bells 1734 "mountain cowslip"
Morus alba 1736 "white Mulberry"
Myrica cerifera wax myrtle 1741 "candle myrtill berrys"
Oenothera biennis Virginia evening Primrose 1737/8 "anagra,” "Virginia Tree primerose”
Oxydendron arboreum sourwood 1736 “sorrellTree”
Panicum maximum or Sorghum
 1742/3 "Guinea Corn"
Passiflora incarnata and/or P.
1737/8 "Passion flower 2 sorts," "Virginia
passion flower"
Physalis sp. 1739/40 "Ground Cherry"
Polygala senega Seneca snakeroot 1736/7 "Rattle Snake Root"
Prunus americana or P. angustifolia American or Chickasaw
1742/3 "your Wild Scarlet plum"
Prunus Persica 1738/9 "peaches"
Prunus serotina 1739 "wild cherry"
Quercus phellos 1736/7 "narrow or Willow Leafed Okes"
Quercus virginiana 1736/7 "live oak acorns"
Rhus typhina staghorn sumach 1738 "sumach that produced Tufts of a Very
Bright scarlet," "Shomake"
Sanguinaria canadensis bloodroot 1735 "pocoone,” "pecoone”
Sassafras albidum 1737/8 "Sarsifrax,” "sassafras"
Taxodium distichum bald cypress 1736/7 "swamp Cypress Cones or Balls"
Viburnum prunifolium "Black Haws" 1737/8
Yucca filamentosa 1735 "silk Grass”
Zanthoxylum americanum 1736 "Toothache Tree"
Zea mays 1741 "Rair Ripe or Early Ripe Indian Corn"

"laurells" [1735] possibilities: Magnolia grandiflora,
Kalmia, Prunus caroliniana
"pearl tree” [1735]
"pellitory" [1742/3] Ptelea trifoliata?
Custis and Collinson
Plants sent to Custis by Collinson
Botanical Name Common Name Date Collinson’s Notes
Abies alba 1738 "silver fir"
Abies sp. 1741 "gilded firs ... which are natives of the
Aesculus hippocastanum 1734 "horse chestnuts"
Alcea rosea 1735 "Hollihocks"
Allium neapolitanum lily leek 1737 "white moley"
Amaranthus tricolor Joseph’s coat 1742/3 "Amaranthus Tricolor"
Arbutus unedo 1737 “strawberry tree,” "Arbutus"
Asphodeline lutea 1737 "yellow asphodel,” "yellow asphodill"
Asphodelus albus 1739/40 "white Asphodills"
Brassica oleracea 1736 "cabbage"
Buxus sempervirens cv. 1736 “striped box"
Callistephus chinensis 1736 "China Aster"
Cedrus libani 1735 "Cedar of Lebanon"
Celosia cristata 1738 "tall coxcombs"
Chamaecyparis thyoides 1739 "white cedr"
Citrullus lanatus 1736 'Astrican Water Mellon"
Convallaria majalis 1738 "lilly of the valley"
Cucumis melo 1736 "Affrican Mellon," "Calmuc Mellon
with fruite 2 feet long," "Italian
Melon," "Muscovy Mellon 3 sorts,"
"Sir Charles Wagers Melon,"
Cucumis sativis 1736 "Muscovy Cucumber,” "cucumber,"
"long cucumber"
Cupressus sempervirens 1735 "cypress"
Cyclamen sp. 1739/40 "Cyclamens"
Cyclamen coum 1742/3 "spring cyclamen"
Dianthus chinensis 1738 "Double Flowering China or India
pink," "India pinks"
Dictamnus albus gas plant 1742/3 "White Fraxinelloes"
Dictamnus albus ‘ruber’ 1742/3 "Red Fraxinelloes"
Digitalis purpurea 1738 "rose colored foxglove"
Digitalis purpurea ‘alba’ 1737 “flatt?] stalk full of white long hollow
blossoms," "White Fox Glove"
Echinops sphaerocephalus or E.
 1738 "globe [thistle?]"
Eranthis hyemalis 1739/40 "spring Acconite”
Fragaria chiloensis 1736 "Chili strawberry"
Fragaria vesca hautboy strawberry 1736 "Houtboye”
Fritillaria imperialis crown imperial lily 1739 "orange colord"
Fritillaria imperialis lutea 1737 "yellow ones," "lemon colord crown
Fritillaria imperialis cv. 1738 "striped"
Gomphrena globosa globe amaranth 1737 "Amarantheodes,” "Amaranthoides"
Helichrysum orientale 1736 "yellow everlasting flower"
Hesperis matronalis cv. dame's rocket 1735 "Double Rockketts,” "white double
Custis and Collinson
Hibiscus syriacus rose-of-Sharon 1736 "althea”
Ilex aquifolium cvs. 1738 "[gilded?] hollys," "silver holly," "gold
Ilex aquifolium "Ferox” 1736 "Hedge Hog Holley"
Jasminum sambac 1738 "Arabian jessamins"
Juniperus communis 1735 "juniper berrys"
Laburnum anagyroides golden chain-tree 1735 "laburnum"
Larix decidua 1736 “larch tree”
Laurus nobilis English laurel 1736/7 "Bay Berries,” "bays"
Lavandula stoechas French lavender 1735 "crysanthamum arabian stecus,”
?Lilium bulbiferum or
 1742/3 "fiery lily"
?Lilium martagon or chalcedonicum martagon lily? 1739 "red,” "scarlet," "sorts of martigons"
Lilium sp. 1736 "striped Lilly's”
Lonicera sp. 1740 "honey suckles"
Lonicera sp. 1735 "double honysuckles"
Lonicera periclymenum belgica Dutch Woodbine1740 "dutch [honeysuckles]"
Lycospersicon lycopersicon tomato 1742/3 "Apples of Love," "Tamiata”
Malus pumila var. paradisiaca paradise apple 1736 "dwarf apple trees [?] stocks"
Morus nigra 1738 "black mulberry"
Nerine sarniensis 1736 "Gurnsey Lillies"
Nicotiana sp. tobacco 1736 "tob: seed"
Phaseolus sp. 1737 "beans"
Phlomis tuberosa 1736 "Spanish sage trees"
Phoenix dactylifera 1735 "Dates"
Picea abies Norway spruce 1742/3 "spruce Firr"
Picea sp. 1738 "Spruces"
Pinus cembra Swiss stone pine 1738 “stone pines,” "Siberian Cedars"
Pistacia vera 1735 "Pistacioes Nutts, "Pistacios,"
Pisum sativum 1737 "peas"
Polianthes tuberosa 1735 "Tuberorse,” "Italian Tuberoses"
Polygonum orientale prince's feather 1736/7 "Oriental Persicary"
Primula x poliantha 1736 "polyanthus"
Prunus dulcis cvs. 1734 almonds: "green shell,” "brown shell,
"cornell,” "soft shell,” "hardshell,"
"thin shelld"
Prunus insititia damson plum 1736/7 "Bullice,” "Damosins"
Prunus padus or Cornus mas European bird cherry or
Cornelian cherry
1738 "cluster cherry"
Prunus persica cvs. 1737 "best peaches, "variety of peaches"
Prunus persica ‘Catherine’ 1740 "Catherine," "Katherine peach"
Prunus persica cv. 1734 "Double Blossome peach"
Prunus persica 'Nutmeg' 1736/7 "Nutmeg peach"
Prunus persica nucipersica 1737 "Nectarines"
Prunus sp. 1735 "chery seeds"
Prunus spinosa blackthorn plum 1736/7 "Sloes"
Pulmonaria officinalis lungwort 1735 "Jerusalem Cowslip"
Quercus suber cork oak 1736-37 "Evergreen Oke whose Bark is the
Cork wee use for Bottles"
Quercus ilex holly oak 1736/7 "Italian Evergreen Okes"
Ranunculus asiaticus Persian ranunculus 1741 "ranunculus"
Rancunculus ficaria 1737 "double yellow pile Wort"
Rhamnus cathartica 1742/3 "Buck thorn"
Ribes sativum 1738 'White Dutch'"White Currants,”
Custis and Collinson
 “dutch white currant bushes”
Rosa centifolia muscosa 1740 "Moss province"
Rosa x damascene var. 1740 "monthly rose"
Rosa x damascene versicolor 1742/3 "York & Lancaster Rose"
Rosa foetida Austrian briar rose 1736 "yellow rose"
?Rosa gallica versicolor Rosa Mundi 1740 “moonday rose"
?Rosa gallica 1736 "red rose"
Rosa x hemisphaerica 1735 "yellow province rose," "double yellow
rose," "other yellow rose"
Scilla peruviana 1737 "Blew & White Hyacinth of peru”
Spartium junceum 1736 "Spanish Broome"
Sternbergia lutea winter daffodil 1739-40 "Autumn Narciss with a yellow
Crocus Like flower"
Syringa vulgaris 1737 "lilacks" [other than "pale blew"]
Syringa persica 1738 "persian lilack, "persian lilock"
Tulipa cvs. 1735 "Double Tulips," "tulips," "early
Vigna unguiculata 1736 "Italian beans," "black eyed indian
Vitis vinifera 1736 "grape seeds," "Vines," "White Grape"

“mountain flax” [1742] Swemm says snakeroot but JC
requests this as a medicinal plant he
believes to be very common in
“Oriental [?], plant of
Spanish sage trees [1736] Phlomis tuberosa ?
“syringa[“?] [ 1741] listed among bulbs ?
Laurells [1736] "which I [JC] had very plenty of
before" Magnolia grandiflora, Laurus
nobilis, Prunus (Lauroceraus)
"The name of the flower white
on one side red on the other"
Possibly Asphodelus albus -- white
w/brown bracts
“Drassenis” 1741] Swemm indexes as "Dracaena”
"small bulbous roots like
 [1736] scilla?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

From Garden to Table - Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Slave Chef

Painting by Frederick Kemmelmeyer (c 1755-1821) of George Washington Reviewing the Western Army 1794

He was one of the first great chefs of Philadelphia - in fact, of the young nation. The chief cook in President George Washington's home here in 1790 had only one name: Hercules.

In the mansion's open-hearth kitchen, where elaborate banquets were prepared, where spitted meats sizzled and "fricaseys" simmered in cast-iron pans over hickory fires, underlings scurried to execute the orders of Hercules, "the great master-spirit," according to one account, who seemed to be everywhere at once.

To Washington, however, Hercules was what he called that "species of property" - a slave. And though his talents would earn Hercules extraordinary privileges, including an income, fine clothes, and freedom to roam the city, Washington also went to great lengths to maintain the bondage of his prized cook - with deception, slave catchers, and, eventually, an attempt to stash him at Mount Vernon.

Recent controversy over the President's House, at Sixth and Market Streets, has renewed interest in Hercules and the lives of the other eight slaves who worked for Washington during his presidency in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1797. Their story surged into the international spotlight with the 2007 dig that unearthed the kitchen foundation and an underground passageway leading to it, obviously used by servants. Ironically, the kitchen where Hercules toiled was just in front of the new Liberty Bell Center.

The attention, along with queries from The Inquirer, led to a reexamination of historical documents regarding Hercules' life and especially his escape in 1797, when he disappeared, never to be captured again.

One document, a Mount Vernon farm report, has established new facts: Hercules did not escape from his privileged post in Philadelphia in early March, as had been widely believed. He fled Washington's Virginia plantation, where he had been transferred and put on hard labor - and his disappearance was discovered on his master's 65th birthday.

Thus, the saga of Hercules has emerged as compelling historical drama - his rise from plantation slave to respected chef in the president's kitchen, his appearance as a loyal servant trusted to stroll the city's boulevards in fine clothes, and his clever escape...

Through the eyes of George Washington Parke Custis, the president's stepgrandson, who grew up in his Philadelphia home, Hercules was a "celebrated artiste" in the kitchen, "as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States." He also was the family's beloved "Uncle Harkless" and a gilded boulevardier, the "veriest dandy" of his age, Custis wrote in his 1860 memoir.

But contemporary historians such as Mary V. Thompson of Mount Vernon, Anna Coxe Toogood of Independence National Historical Park, David R. Hoth of the Washington Papers at the University of Virginia, and Edward Lawler Jr. of the Independence Hall Association have gone beyond Custis' memories to tease the outlines of Hercules' narrative from household account books, correspondences, and Mount Vernon farm reports.

"It helps people understand . . . freedom for whites was often built on the backs of enslaved people," says Gary B. Nash, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Slavery is liberty's evil twin brother. We think of them as polar opposites, and yet they're joined at the hip."

But who, in fact, was Hercules, and what is his legacy? Chef-patriot? Early African American hero? Or was he simply a man bent on finding his freedom despite being a favored servant of the nation's great hero? And what was it like for a Virginia slave to land in the cosmopolitan Philadelphia of the 1790s? It was not only the new nation's political center, but also the nexus of its abolitionist movement, not to mention the gastronomic capital of colonial America.

The Custis reminiscences provide ample color to stoke the quaint legend of the dandy chef, who, once those "savory viands" were served to the "masters of the republic," would shed his white apron for the black silks and polished shoe buckles of his evening promenade. The porter would bow low, Custis said, as Hercules passed through the mansion's front door with his hat cocked and a gold-headed cane in hand, then headed down High Street to join "his brother-loungers of the pave."

But on these jaunts about town, Hercules was most likely exposed to possibilities of life beyond slavery in Philadelphia, the "North Star" of American abolitionism, according to Nash's 1988 book, Forging Freedom.

"When Hercules went to market to buy fish or meat, he'd find himself amidst hundreds of free black Philadelphians," Nash says. "It must have been wonderful."

It must have also been confounding for a man of such great status who remained a slave.

A look through the kitchen window of the President's House, however, provides a picture of Hercules' life beside the blazing hearth that is far from a leisurely stroll.

George Washington was no gourmet. Unlike his political rival Thomas Jefferson, forever a foodie after his diplomatic years in France, Washington was steeped in the ritual of simple tastes. He ate hoecakes for breakfast at 7, the white corn-mush patties swimming in butter and honey (to soften them for his famously sore teeth), with three cups of black tea. For his informal Saturday evenings, the fish-loving Washington regularly ate a humble hash of boiled beets, potatoes, onions, and salt fish (conveniently supplied by New England's congressional delegation) covered with fried pork scraps and buttery egg sauce.

But the president could also host in capital style, with regular feasts for 30 or more guests: senators, foreign dignitaries, Indian chiefs. And he needed a kitchen that could carry it off.

Hercules, the brawny and charming father of four, was Washington's choice. Little is known about his early life; Washington is believed to have purchased him in 1767, when Hercules was a 13-year-old ferryman. But Hercules clearly learned his kitchen craft well at Mount Vernon from Martha Washington's longtime slave cook, Old Doll. By the time Hercules was about 36, the president tapped him to come north to Philadelphia. The white cooks who worked at the previous presidential residence in New York were "dirty figures," Washington wrote to his private secretary, Tobias Lear. They would "not be a pleasant sight in view (as the kitchen always will be)."

Washington was keenly aware of the political importance of dining room ceremony, and his regular Thursday dinners with members of Congress would set an impressive standard for the nation's first power meals.

These were the nights, Custis wrote, "when Uncle Harkless shone in all his splendor."

The kitchen staff, having toiled from the fire-stoking before dawn until the 4 p.m. service, would typically produce more than two dozen dishes laid out over two courses, plus a finale of fruits, walnuts, and sweet wines. The elegantly mirrored pedestal adorned with spun-sugar figurines was surrounded with puddings, soups, boiled meats, smoked gammon ham, game birds, fish, seasonal vegetables, jellies, and cakes.

With the president scooping pudding for guests and leading the meal in toasts, his wife the consummate hostess, and servants in the family's red-and-white livery, these were dignified affairs awash in Madeira, porter, cider, and French claret, but deliberately shy of aristocratic Euro pomp.

Addressing an incoming steward, Washington directed "that my table be handsomely, but not extravagantly, furnished." He had carefully logged each purchase coming into the house for seven weeks, in part because of overspending by the previous steward.

These detailed colonial logs, recently made available by Mount Vernon and never before published, provide a rare seven-week view into the president's larder and the sheer magnitude of this kitchen's task. With Congress drawing to a close and talk of avoiding another war with Britain likely swirling around the table, May 1794 brought forth a presidential gush of banquets.

During the week of May 19, for instance, the kitchen prepared 293 pounds of beef, 111 pounds of veal, 54 pounds of mutton, 129 pounds of lamb, 16 pounds of pork, calves' feet (for sweet colonial Jell-O), 44 chickens, 22 pigeons, 2 ducks, 10 lobsters, 98 pounds of butter, 32 dozen eggs, myriad fruits and vegetables, 3 half-barrels of beer, 20 bottles of porter, 9 bottles of "cyder," 2 bottles of Sauternes, 22 bottles of Madeira, 4 bottles of claret, 10 bottles of Champagne, and 1 twenty-eight-pound cheese.

Working in an 18th-century kitchen was backbreaking, with heavy iron pots swinging on cranes, whole animals turning on spit jacks, and tin reflector ovens beside the roasting-hot fires. Even the basic tasks, such as purifying sugar from large loaves, were a lengthy chore.

But the meat - regularly more than a quarter-ton each week, give or take a pig - was an astounding amount for a staff of roughly seven to butcher, boil, roast, or fry into "fricaseys," "ragoos," pastry-wrapped "coffin crust" pies, and scallopini-like "collops" rolled "olive-style" around forcemeat.

At least Hercules did not bake desserts. And contrary to Custis' image of him, he may not have always been in charge, either. The steward oversaw all the marketing, inspected each morning by Martha Washington after breakfast. The account books also contain numerous records of professional white cooks who worked for the household for various durations.

But while the hired cooks and stewards came and went, Hercules was the mainstay in the kitchen. And the Washingtons rewarded him with tokens of their approval. There were tickets to see a play at the Southwark Theater (The Beaux' Stratagem) and the spectacular riding acrobatics at Ricketts' Circus (America's first), according to account books. There were bottles of rum to mourn the death of his wife, Lame Alice, an enslaved Mount Vernon seamstress. A reluctant Washington also granted Hercules the favor of bringing his 13-year-old son, Richmond, to Philadelphia as a kitchen scullion and chimney sweep.

Most telling, though, was allowing Hercules the right to sell the kitchen "slops" - the remaining animal skins, used tea leaves, and rendered tallow that would have been compost on the plantation. In the city, these were lucrative leftovers, an income-producing perk traditionally bestowed on top chefs, including James Hemings, Jefferson's Paris-trained slave chef, who was paid a salary and soon to be freed.

For Hercules, that meant annual earnings of up to $200, if Custis is accurate, as much as the Washingtons paid hired chefs. That income was no doubt what allowed Hercules to buy his dapper wardrobe, his velvet-collared blue cloth coat with bright metal buttons, and a pocket watch dangling from a long fob.

He was dressed for adventure in a city that, for a country kitchen slave, must have been astounding on many levels.

As a food artisan, he found himself walking in what was the culinary capital of the United States, bursting with politicians and international diplomats, and a vibrant port that welcomed boats weekly from Europe, New England, and the Caribbean. That same week of May 19, 1794, according to the Philadelphia Gazette, there were casks of raisins and hogsheads of Tenerife wines from the Canary Islands waiting at the Walnut Street wharf, Grenadan rum just landed at Dock Street, Boston mackerel and "country gin" at Front and Spruce Streets, and, at 117 S. Front St., French hams, olives, brandied fruit, baskets of anisette, and Gruyère cheese.

According to local food historian William Woys Weaver, the bustling High Street market with arcaded stalls was teeming from the river to Fourth Street with local bounty: river shad, passenger pigeons, famously delicate salt-marsh mutton, Chester County cream cheese, and the yellow dessert apples Washington was known to covet. Ladies sold hot buckwheat cakes for breakfast, and black street vendors like Flora Calvil made spicy West Indies pepper pot stew.

The Caribbean and French influence grew exponentially during Hercules' stay in Philadelphia, as the Haitian slave rebellion and the French Revolution flooded the city by 1793 with well-trained European cooks. It's hard to imagine these exotic new flavors didn't have some influence on Hercules and the fashion-conscious Washingtons. Their cuisine was largely rooted, with plenty of Virginian embellishments, in English influences such as their well-thumbed edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse.

Use of the tomato, Weaver says, was becoming widespread in Philadelphia. And the ornately fluted ice creams known as "fromage glaces," made by Victor Collet at 127 N. Front St. in 1795, would become nationally renowned. The Washington account book for June 25 that year shows an ice cream mold purchased for $7.

Undoubtedly, Hercules also had ample opportunity to talk kitchen shop with Hemings, a fellow Virginia slave whose training in France under the chef of Prince Louis-Joseph de Bourbon gave then-Secretary of State Jefferson's table, just blocks away, a special sophistication.

But there was likely another topic simmering in the air between them, too: freedom.

Hemings could have claimed his liberty in France, where slavery was outlawed. But he returned with Jefferson on the promise that he would be freed if he passed his knowledge of French cookery onto Monticello's kitchen staff. Jefferson made good on that promise, freeing Hemings in 1796.

Pennsylvania had already become the first government in the New World to begin the abolition of slavery with its Gradual Abolition Act of 1780. And with the Quaker-backed Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery and Free African Society working on their behalf, there were 1,805 free blacks in the city in 1790, while only 273 remained enslaved, according to the federal census as noted in Nash's book. By 1800, the slave number had dropped to 55 among a black population of 6,436, about 10 percent of the city's population.

The Washingtons were deeply concerned.

To circumvent the Gradual Abolition Act, which allowed citizens of other states to hold slaves only six months before the slaves could claim their freedom, the Washingtons regularly and illegally shuttled their slaves across state lines before the deadline expired, thus resetting their residency at zero. And Washington wanted to keep it secret at all costs - even if it meant a lie.

"I wish to have it accomplished under the pretext that may deceive both them and the public," he wrote to Lear. ". . . This advise may be known to none but yourself and Mrs. Washington."

It wasn't long before the slaves figured out why they were being shuffled back and forth between Philadelphia and Virginia by stagecoach and boat, but Hercules, Lear wrote Washington in 1791, was "mortified to the last degree to think that a suspicion could be entertained of his fidelity or attachment to you."

"So much did the poor fellow's feelings appear to be touched that it left no doubt of his sincerity."

But was he? Or was Hercules, in fact, setting the Washingtons up for his own flight?

Martha Washington showed her trust by allowing Hercules to stay, at least once, beyond the six months. But the president clearly never relaxed.

He signed the Fugitive Slave Act that Congress had overwhelmingly approved in 1793, which allowed slave owners to retrieve their runaways anywhere, even if captured in non-slavery states. Then, after Martha Washington's maid, Oney Judge, escaped while the family was eating dinner in Philadelphia on May 21, 1796, Washington went on high alert.

There was cannon fire in Philadelphia on the morning of Feb. 22, 1797, as 16 rounds of salute - one for each state - rang out in celebration of the nation's greatest hero.

It was the 65th birthday of George Washington, the "man who united all hearts," as John Quincy Adams called him. And with Washington's final weeks as president ahead, the event was celebrated with "more sincere joy" than ever, according to the Philadelphia Gazette. People of all classes paraded to the President's House at Sixth and Market. At the ball that night, there were so many splendid dancing ladies and gentlemen "the room appeared like a grove of moving plumes," the paper wrote.

At Mount Vernon, however, Washington's birthday began with a sobering discovery: Hercules was gone.

Hercules had been the president's prized cook, a charismatic slave whom Washington had handpicked to come north to Philadelphia, where he prepared celebrated feasts for the Washingtons and their stream of high-profile guests.

But recent revelations in historic farm reports from Mount Vernon have turned up a new twist to the 213-year-old story of Hercules and his escape.

Contradictory to long-held beliefs, the chef did not flee from his vaunted position in Philadelphia at the end of Washington's second term. He had landed in distinctly less comfortable circumstances that miserable winter.

Washington was on guard to prevent another escape during his final months in Philadelphia, where in the spring of 1796 Martha's maid, Oney Judge, had run away. So when he returned to the capitol that fall, Washington left Hercules in Virginia.

Runaways from Washington's estate weren't uncommon, and though some managed to flee to the British during the Revolution, most failed, writes Wiencek. Four men escaped in 1761, only to be recaptured. A slave named Sam was caught several times trying to run away. One named Tom was caught and sent away in handcuffs to be sold in the West Indies. Hercules' literate contemporary Christopher was caught when a note to his wife detailing his escape plans was discovered.

Oney Judge proved Philadelphia was a risk. But back at Mount Vernon, surely, Hercules would be secure.

The once-trusted chef, also noted for the fine silk clothes of his evening promenades in Philadelphia, suddenly found himself that November in the coarse linens and woolens of a field slave. Hercules was relegated to hard labor alongside others, digging clay for 100,000 bricks, spreading dung, grubbing bushes, and smashing stones into sand to coat the houses on the property, according to farm reports and a November memo from Washington to his farm manager. "That will Keep them," he wrote, "out of idleness and mischief."

When Hercules' son Richmond was then caught stealing money from an employee's saddlebags, Washington made his suspicions of a planned father-son escape clear in a letter: "This will make a watch, without its being suspected by, or intimated to them . . ."

By February, after several days of working in the damp chill, Hercules had had enough. Before dawn on Feb. 22, 1797, he launched his quest for freedom.

The recent discovery by Mount Vernon historian Mary V. Thompson of this key detail in the weekly farm report from Feb. 25, 1797 - "Herculus absconded 4 [days ago]" - has finally solved two long-held mysteries: the place and timing of Hercules' flight.

Hercules' rough confinement at Mount Vernon reinforces the complexity of Washington's struggle with slavery. Ultimately, he would be the only Founding Father to free his slaves, an act he added to his will in the last year of his life, historian Henry Wiencek wrote in An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America.

It was a decision born both of Washington's evolving moral battle with the paradox of human bondage after the War for Independence and of the increasing failure of his plantation as a viable slave business. His slaves, however, were not to be free until the president and his wife were dead.

That Hercules chose his master's big day, Feb. 22, as the moment to escape has been greeted with cheers of poetic justice.

"Happy birthday, George!" Wiencek said of the news. "Hercules is a lot gutsier than we even thought. It was a lot harder to get out of Virginia than Philadelphia."

"The irony is absolutely perfect," said lawyer Michael Coard, a founder of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, an activist group dedicated to bringing attention to Washington's nine slaves at the President's House. It plans to hold a Hercules Freedom Day there today at noon. "It couldn't have been scripted better," he said.

Escaping Mount Vernon was no small feat. The estate where Washington's mansion overlooks the Potomac was an 8,000-acre plantation encompassing five farms with at least 316 slaves. And the dreary weather that February was bone-chillingly damp, according to farm reports, alternating between rainy 40-degree days and snow at night.

Historians such as David R. Hoth, associate editor at the Papers of George Washington, believe Hercules "almost for certain" would have first headed to Alexandria. The port city would have provided ships out of Virginia and the temporary safety of a community of free blacks.

But getting there would not have been easy. What today is a simple 15-minute drive north was in 1797 an arduous and winding route. To flee the hump of land that was Mount Vernon, surrounded by river, creek, and marsh, Hercules likely would have had to start veering northwest before connecting to River Road at Little Hunting Creek, says Pamela Cressey, Alexandria city archaeologist. He could have passed through woods, small paths, and fields on his way north. But there was likely only one ford across the Great Hunting Creek. Heading east then, he would have passed the high bluffs of Hoof's Run Creek into Alexandria, where there was an enclave of free blacks known as the Bottoms.

With the stormy weather and treacherous night travel, the journey would likely have taken at least two days, Cressey said. And for Hercules, the clock was ticking.

The Mount Vernon overseer would have noticed his absence at dawn, when slaves reported to work, says Thompson. "He only had a 12-hour head start, if that."

For more than two centuries, the supposed script of Hercules' escape has been different. Most historians believed he slipped away in Philadelphia, disappearing from the President's House on the morning in March 1797 when Washington left the presidency and headed home for Mount Vernon.

In a letter from March 10, 1797, the traveling Washington writes from Head of Elk, Md., to his secretary in Philadelphia, Tobias Lear: "I pray you to desire [steward Frederick Kitt] to make all the enquiry he can after Hercules, and send him round in the Vessel if he can be discovered & apprehended..."

But historians such as Thompson, Hoth, Ed Lawler, and Anna Coxe Toogood of Independence National Historical Park continued to tug at loose threads in the letters that didn't quite jibe.

Why would Washington, in a letter to dispatch his men to maintain the hunt for Hercules "at any expense," declare his certainty that the slave had "gone to Philadelphia" if it was from there he had escaped?

"The phraseology bothers me, too," Lawler wrote.

The mystery began to unravel when Toogood discovered in the farm reports references to Hercules digging clay at the time the president was hosting his farewell feasts in Philadelphia. Then Thompson, having learned of Toogood's finds from The Inquirer, turned to the farm reports again. She found what she was looking for in the 1797 report from Feb. 25: "Eureka!" she wrote in an e-mail.

The discovery changes much about the perception of Hercules' motivations. After years of being portrayed as a favored servant simply walking off into a Philadelphia famous for its abolitionist options, the revelation of his labors on the plantation lends a new poignancy to his escape.

"Hercules had occupied such a high position, this [hard labor] strikes me as a pretty severe punishment," Wiencek said. "It's certainly a humiliation. The community of slaves would all have looked up to him as tight with the boss, with the ability to earn his own money and live in the mansion with autonomy. And then he's just tossed down from the mountain, and he's one of the grunts."

Wiencek is one of several historians who has interpreted Hercules as a master manipulator, one of the few slaves who managed to negotiate privileges from Washington, including the perk to earn an income by selling kitchen "slops," and freedom to wander the city: "His competence gave him great value to the Washingtons."

Hercules may have also been "setting his masters up" with protestations of loyalty, Wiencek wrote in his book, noting a 1791 exchange when Hercules realized the Washingtons were concerned he would escape. Tobias Lear wrote the president that "he was mortified to the last degree to think that a suspicion could be entertained of his fidelity or attachment to you."

But the new information that Hercules did not escape from Philadelphia despite six years of opportunities may prove that he was more faithful than previously believed. Until, of course, he was put on clay-digging duty at Mount Vernon.

"That would have been a horrible, horrible circumstance," said historian Annette Gordon-Reed, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning tome on Thomas Jefferson's slaves, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. "Knowing he had a shot back in Philadelphia to become a free person, it had to have been a horrible feeling."

Family may have long been a factor delaying Hercules from leaving. He had at least four children at Mount Vernon who might have been punished. In a letter to his farm manager after Richmond's theft in 1796, Washington wanted Hercules' son to be "made an example of."

By the time Hercules fled in 1797, the three children he'd raised since his wife died 10 years earlier ranged from in age from 11 to 20. A fourth child, a daughter of 6, seemed to have understood her father's need to leave. A Mount Vernon visitor asked whether she was "deeply upset that she would never see her father again."

She replied, according to the future French king Louis-Philippe, in his Diary of My Travels in America: "Oh! sir, I am very glad, because he is free now."

There were northbound boats leaving Alexandria in early March 1797, according to Hoth, who cited the Columbia Mirror and Alexandria Gazette: The schooners Jerusha and Trial headed to Philadelphia, as did the sloops Dianna and Peggy. The sloop Polly left for Baltimore on March 2.

Either way, Hercules would have had to stow away, historians say, a difficult but not impossible task. Later in her life, Washington's runaway maid, Oney Judge, told a newspaper in New Hampshire that she had escaped from the President's House just eight months before Hercules, thanks to the abolition-minded sea captain John Bowles and her "friends among the colored people of Philadelphia."

If Hercules managed to reach Philadelphia, he could have accessed that network.

According to historian Gary Nash's book Forging Freedom, Philadelphia at the time had the largest free black population in the United States, with major clusters near Northern Liberties and Cedar Ward, near Fourth Street and modern-day South Street. Richard Allen, the pioneering abolitionist who founded the historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at Sixth and Lombard Streets, also had a chimney-sweep business that did work at the President's House, according to account books.

It is also a good possibility, Wiencek says, that Hercules had set aside a stash of money and clothing.

"Hercules was much better prepared than most to not only escape but to stay escaped," Hoth agreed.

Washington, in his ever-evolving conflict over slavery, lamented to his nephew George Lewis in November 1797, that the "inconvenient" fleeing of his cook had him reconsidering his vow never to buy another slave.

But he was convinced of Philadelphia's hold on his former chef. He sent two notes to former steward Kitt the following January, nearly a year after the escape, urging him to hire men to keep up the hunt: "If proper measures were employed to discover (unsuspectedly, so as not to alarm him) where his haunts are . . . it would render me an acceptable service as I neither have, nor can get a good Cook to hire."

There was one hearsay sighting later that month, Kitt replied. But then, for the nearly two remaining years of Washington's life, Hercules was gone.

Where Hercules ultimately landed we may never know.

"Doubtless, he finished his days working for someone very rich because he could handle the demands of that scene very well," Weaver said.

But in the small world of colonial America, where Washington could track down Oney Judge in Portsmouth, N.H., it's possible, historians say, that Hercules believed the United States was no longer safe.

"Canada's a possibility," Nash said. "That's where [several] Mount Vernon slaves who fled to the British ended up, in Nova Scotia."

A supposed portrait of Hercules in full cook's regalia that has been attributed to Gilbert Stuart has become one of the iconic images of the slave memorial being built at the President's House and now scheduled to open this year.
Once attributed to Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) Assumed to be a Portrait of Hercules, George Washington's Cook, 1797.

Along those lines, some, like Thompson, believe that a painting supposedly of Hercules purportedly by Washington's portraitist, Gilbert Stuart, might hold a clue, beginning with the aristocratic residences in Europe where it has hung, including the dining room of a famed socialite's Parisian mansion, a baron's manse in Gloucestershire, England, and its current home at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Spain.

Legend has it that Stuart was so impressed by Hercules' talents in Philadelphia that he painted a portrait of the president's cook, too, said Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, an associate professor of art history at the University of Pennsylvania who curated an exhibit with the painting Presumed Portrait of George Washington's Cook.

But questions regarding its provenance and age raise tantalizing possibilities of a later sitting and European journey for Hercules.

To begin with, Stuart experts do not acknowledge it as part of the artist's work.

"I'm familiar with it," said Ellen Miles, curator of painting and sculpture at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. "But it's never made it into the basic Stuart books."

The cut and fashion of the subject's white coat says late 18th century, Miles said. But his chef's hat is a tall toque that didn't become popular until the early 19th century, said Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, a librarian at the Culinary Institute of America.

Could it have been painted after the cook settled in Europe, perhaps after joining the household of a British diplomat?

"It's possible," Nash said, citing a Russian portrait of Jean LaPierre, who he believes is the former slave "Negro John" who returned to Europe with Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish military leader who fought as a colonel in Washington's Continental Army.

Either way, Hercules resurfaced at least once more in the United States. He was spotted in late 1801 by Col. Richard Varick, Washington's former recording secretary, who was then mayor of New York. In responding to his alert, Martha Washington wrote "to decline taking Hercules back again."

But the date is key. On Jan. 1, 1801, according to biographer Patricia Brady, Martha Washington decided to free all 123 of her late husband's slaves, despite his wish that they would not be freed until both he and his wife were dead.

Did the former slave know he'd been freed?

"Hercules," Nash chuckled, "was a clever, clever guy."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

1764 Plants in 18C Colonial American Gardens - Virginian John Randolph (1727-1784) - Featherfew

A Treatise on Gardening Written by a native of this State (Virginia)
Author was John Randolph (1727-1784)
Written in Williamsburg, Virginia about 1765
Published by T. Nicolson, Richmond, Virginia. 1793
The only known copy of this booklet is found in the Special Collections of the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.


Featherfew, Mutrecaria, from Matrix, being good against diseases of the womb, or Parthenium, from Parthenos, gr. a virgin, is to be propagated from seed or roots; if the former, they should be sown in March, and if the latter, the roots should be pricked out above eight inches asunder in May. If you do not want the seeds, cut the stems off when the flowers are past, as they often decay the roots.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Gentry Fishing in Early America

Fishing in the British American colonies was both a practical & a social sport, and the outcome was as unpredictable then as it is nowadays. Some estate owners included fishing ponds in their garden area, such as Thomas Jefferson did at Monticello. 

This poem appeared in the 1754 Maryland Gazette about preparing a list of items to take on a picnic & fishing trip on the Severn River in Annapolis.  This particular fishing trip sounds very social...
18C English woodcut

Six bottle of wine, right old, good and clear;
a dozen at least, of English strong Beer:
Six quarts of good Rum, to make Punch and Grogg
(the latter a Drink that’s now much vogue)
some Cyder, if sweet, would not be amiss:
Of Butter Six pounds, we can’t do with less.

A tea Kettle, Tea, and all the Tea Geer,
To treat the Ladies and also small Beer.
Sugar, Lemons, a Strainer, likewise a Spoon;
Two China Bowls to drink out of at Noon:
A large piece of Cheese, a Table Cloth too,
A sauce-pan, two Dishes, and a Corkscrew:

Some Plates, Knives and Forks, Fish Kettle or pot,
And pipes and Tobacco must not be forgot:
A frying pan, Bacon or Lard for to Fry:
a tumbler and Glass to use when we’re dry
A hatchet, some Matches, a Steel and a Flint,
Some touch-wood, or Box with good tinder in’t.
some vinegar, Salt, some Parsley and Bread
or else Loaves of Pone to eat in it’s stead:
and for fear of bad Luck at catching of Fish
Suppose we should carry- A READY DRESSED DISH