Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hunting leads to Building a Deer Park at Mount Vernon

 Hunting, Shooting, Dogs & Building a Deer Park at Mount Vernon.

George Washington was decidedly an outdoor man. Being six feet two inches tall, & slender, he was well fitted for athletic sports...
outdoor sports he seems to have enjoyed hunting most. He probably had many unrecorded experiences with hunting deer & shooting turkeys when a surveyor & when in command upon the western border, but one of his journeys filled with wild game was his trip to the Ohio in 1770. Though his party was on the move most of the time & was looking for rich land rather than for wild animals, they nevertheless took some hunts.

On October twenty-second, in descending the stretch of the Ohio near the mouth of Little Beaver Creek & above the Mingo Town, they saw many wild geese & several kinds of duck & "killed five wild turkeys." Three days later they "saw innumerable quantities of turkeys, & many deer watering & browsing on the shore side, some of which we killed." 
He does not say whether they shot this game from the canoe or not, but probably on sighting the game they would put to shore...Their success was probably increased by the fact that they had two Indians with them.

Few are aware of the fact that what is now West Virginia & Ohio then contained many buffaloes. Below the mouth of the Great Hockhocking the voyagers came upon a camp of Indians, the chief of which, an old friend who had accompanied him to warn out the French in 1753, gave Washington "a quarter of very fine buffalo." 
Fourteen miles up the Great Kanawha the travelers took a day off & "went a hunting; killed five buffaloes & wounded some others, three deer, &c. This country abounds in buffaloes & wild game of all kinds; as also in all kinds of wild fowls, there being in the bottoms a great many small grassy ponds, or lakes, which are full of swans, geese, & ducks of different kinds..."

When at home, Washington now & then took a gun & went out after ducks, "hairs," wild turkeys & other game, & occasionally he records fair bags of mallards, teal, bald faces & "blew wings," one of the best being that of February 18, 1768, when he "went a ducking between breakfast & dinner & killed 2 mallards & 5 bald faces." In fact, he much preferred chasing the fox with dogs to hunting with a gun.

Fox hunting...was brought over from England & perhaps its greatest devotee was old Lord Fairfax, with whom Washington hunted when still in his teens. Fairfax, whose seat was at Greenway Court in the Shenandoah Valley, was so passionately fond of it that if foxes were scarce near his home he would go to a locality where they were plentiful, would establish himself at an inn & would keep open house & welcome every person of good character & respectable appearance who cared to join him.

The following are some typical entries from Washington's Where & how my time is Spent: "Jany. 1st. (1768) Fox huntg. in my own Neck with Mr. Robt. Alexander & Mr. Colville--catchd nothing--Captn. Posey with us." There were many similar failures & no successes in the next six weeks, but on February twelfth he records joyfully, "Catchd two foxes," & on the thirteenth "catch 2 more foxes." March 2, 1768, "Hunting again, & catchd a fox with a bobd Tail & cut Ears, after 7 hours chase in wch. most of the dogs were worsted." March twenty-ninth, "Fox Hunting with Jacky Custis & Ld. [Lund] Washington--Catchd a fox after 3 hrs. chase." November twenty-second, "Went a fox huntg. with Lord Fairfax & Colo. Fairfax & my Br. Catchd 2 Foxes." For two weeks thereafter they hunted almost every day with varying success. September 30, 1769, he records: "catchd a Rakoon." 

On January 27, 1770, the dogs ran a deer out of the Neck & some of them did not get home till next day...January 4, 1772, the hunters "found both a Bear & a Fox but got neither..."

In November, 1771, Washington & Jack Custis went to Colonel Mason's at Gunston Hall, a few miles below Mount Vernon, to engage in a grand deer drive in which many men & dogs took part. Mason had an estate of ten thousand acres which was favorably located for such a purpose, being nearly surrounded by water, with peninsulas on which the game could be cornered & forced to take to the river... 

One of Washington's most remarkable hunting experience occurred on the twenty-third of January, 1770, when he records: "Went a hunting after breakfast & found a Fox at Muddy hole & killed her (it being a Bitch) after a chase of better than two hours & after treeing her twice the last of which times she fell dead out of the Tree after being therein sevl. minutes apparently well." 
A hunting day usually ended by all the hunters riding to Mount Vernon, Belvoir, Gunston Hall, or some other mansion for a bountiful dinner...

Being so much interested in fox hunting, Washington proceeded, with his usual painstaking care, to build up a pack of hounds. The year 1768 was probably the period of his greatest interest in the subject & his diary is full of accounts of the animals. Hounds were now, in fact, his hobby, surpassing his horses. Among his dogs in this period were "Mopsey," "Taster," "Tipler," "Cloe," "Lady," "Forester" & "Captain." August 6, 1768, we learn that "Lady" has four puppies, which are to be called "Vulcan," "Searcher," "Rover," & "Sweetlips..."

The Revolution interrupted Washington's sports, but upon his return to Mount Vernon he soon took up the old life. Knowing his bent, Lafayette sent him a pack of French hounds, two dogs & three bitches, & Washington took much interest in them. According to George Washington Custis they were enormous brutes, better built for grappling stags or boars than chasing foxes, & so fierce that a huntsman had to preside at their meals. Their kennel stood a hundred yards south of the old family vault, & Washington visited them every morning & evening...

The biggest of the French hounds, "Vulcan," was so vast that he was often ridden by Master Custis & he seems to have been a rather privileged character. Once when company was expected to dinner Mrs. Washington ordered that a lordly ham should be cooked & served. At dinner she noticed that the ham was not in its place & inquiry developed that "Vulcan" had raided the kitchen & made off with the meat. Thereupon, of course, the mistress scolded & equally, of course, the master smiled & gleefully told the news to the guests.

Billy Lee, the slave  valet who had followed the General through the Revolution, usually acted as huntsman and, mounted on "Chinkling" or some other good steed, with a French horn at his back, strove hard to keep the pack in sight, no easy task among the rough timber-covered hills of Fairfax County.

On a hunting day Washington breakfasted by candlelight, generally upon corn cakes & milk, & at daybreak, with his guests, Billy & the hounds, sallied forth to find a fox...When a fox was started none rode more gallantly or cheered more joyously than did he...Jefferson asserts, he was "the best horseman of his age, & the most magnificent figure that could be seen on horseback..."

The French hounds were, at least at first, rather indifferent hunters. "Went out after Breakfast with my hounds from France, & two which were lent me, yesterday, by Mr. Mason," says Washington the day of the first trial; "found a Fox which was run tolerably well by two of the Frh. Bitches & one of Mason's Dogs--the other French dogs shewed but little disposition to follow--and with the second Dog of Mason's got upon another Fox which was followed slow & indifferently by some & not at all by the rest until the sent became so cold it cd. not be followed at all."  
Two days later the dogs failed again & the next time they ran two foxes & caught neither, but their master thought they performed better than hitherto, December 12th:

"After an early breakfast [my nephew] George Washington, Mr. Shaw & Myself went into the Woods back of the Muddy hole Plantation a hunting & were joined by Mr. Lund Washington & Mr. William Peake. About half after ten O'clock (being first plagued with the Dogs running Hogs) we found a fox near Colo Masons Plantation on little Hunting Creek (West fork) having followed on his Drag more than half a Mile; & run him with Eight Dogs (the other 4 getting, as was supposed after a Second Fox) close & well for an hour. When the Dogs came to a fault & to cold Hunting until 20 minutes after when being joined by the missing Dogs they put him up afresh & in about 50 Minutes killed up in an open field of Colo Mason's every Rider & every Dog being present at the Death."

Washington described one hunt as follows: "Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday with Ferdinando Washington & Mr. Shaw, after a very early breakfast.--found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation & after a Chase for an hour & a quarter with my Dogs, & eight couple of Doctor Smiths (brought by Mr. Phil Alexander) we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, & in the Pincushion put up another Fox which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed--We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his Trail & in half a Mile he took to another hollow tree & was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift--finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, & came home to dinner..."

Another slave was Tom Davis, whose duty was to go shooting to supply the Mansion House with game. With the aid of his old British musket & of his Newfoundland dog "Gunner" he secured many a canvasback & mallard, plus quails, turkeys & other game. 
See George Washington: Farmer (1915) by Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 

Research plus images & much more are also directly available from the website. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Fisheries - Feeding People & Fertilizing Gardens & Fields

Businessman Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Three Potomac Fisheries

 From Mount Vernon

"This River…is well supplied with various kinds of fish at all Seasons of the year…the whole shore in short is one entire fishery." George Washington to Arthur Young, December 12, 1793

The three fisheries along the Potomac River reflect Washington’s entrepreneurial spirit. For almost 40 years, these fishing operations brought in food for his enslaved and paid workers, fertilizer for the soil of the gardens & cultivated fields, and selling the surplus, for additional profits. 

Each spring, when fish began running past Mount Vernon's ten-mile shoreline, enslaved workers, overseers, and indentured servants dropped everything and headed to the river to haul in and process more than a million fish, in a matter of weeks.  The fish were sorted, gutted, cleaned and salted before being packed into barrels for storage and shipping. Refuse from the fish were loaded onto wagons and hauled to Washington’s gardens and fields to be worked into the soil as fertilizer. Various domestic activities, including cooking, provided for the needs of enslaved workers housed at the fisheries, as they toiled around the clock while the fish were running.

Washington wrote of Mount Vernon that the ten miles of shoreline at his estate were “one entire fishery.” The Potomac River, he boasted, was “well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and in the Spring with the greatest profusion of Shad, Herring, Bass, Carp, Perch, Sturgeon &ca.”  Washington, of course, never expected the fishery to be his main source of income – he first intended to make his fortune on tobacco, and then on wheat and other grains when tobacco failed – but the river did become one of the many ways he turned the natural resources of his Mount Vernon estate into profit. Enslaved workers at the plantation caught hundreds of thousands of fish every year, especially herring and shad, which Washington sold both locally and internationally.   

Washington’s development of his Potomac fisheries coincided with the downfall of Virginia’s tobacco market in the mid-eighteenth century. Tobacco required notably more labor than other crops, and Washington’s conversion to wheat in the mid-1760s resulted in a surplus of slave labor. He worked to diversify his sources of income, assigning his enslaved workers new tasks, such as spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, and fishing. The fishing venture in particular built upon Washington’s existing interests; he had grown up on the water and was certainly acquainted with the Potomac’s opportunities. Even in 1760, when Washington was still growing tobacco, he began testing the fishing grounds and wrote in his diary that he “hauled the Sein and got some fish,” seemingly by himself.

Although Washington may have used the fisheries of the Potomac on his own, and certainly enjoyed fishing for sport, large-scale fishing for economic benefit soon became work for his slaves. Washington’s enslaved workers were probably already familiar with the abundance of the Potomac – archeology has shown that they supplemented their rations considerably with wild species, both fish and game. However, their duty for Washington as fishermen was to catch impressive yields of herring and shad, some of which Washington turned around and doled out as rations, but which he also sold as near as Alexandria and as far as the West Indies. 

Commercial fishing was a seasonal job, conducted when the shad and herring ran in spring from April through May. For this reason, no enslaved person at Mount Vernon was a full-time fisherman, but rather labor was drawn from around the plantation. This meant that fishing brought together enslaved workers who did not usually have contact with each other, since they generally worked and were housed with people performing similar tasks. Washington considered fishing to be especially important work, as it was one of the services for which he awarded extra rations of rum or other spirits. 

To conduct commercial fishing, Washington ordered seine nets that were twelve feet in height and several hundred feet wide. Dropped in an arc by two men in a rowboat, the net formed a barrier that could trap thousands of fish, which slaves collected in baskets as teams onshore pulled the net in. 

Polish traveler Julian Niemcewicz, who visited Washington in 1798, “went out with the steward Anderson and some negroes to catch fish,” and noted that while the method of fishing was similar to the one used in Europe, the fish were smaller. (By twenty-first century standards, Washington’s Potomac was filled with enormous fish – six-foot sturgeon, and oysters up to 14”.) Niemcewicz also commented on the racial division of the catch; the gar and one species of catfish, “which is black, is left for the blacks,” while the white catfish, perch, and “tobacco box” fish were considered fit for whites to eat. 

Once the fish were removed from the net, they were brought to tables where the fish heads were removed and the fish were drawn, the innards being removed. Enslaved workers were required for these tasks as well, down to the construction of barrels for fish to be stored in. Fish were rinsed in a brine solution and then packed in barrels, about 800 to a barrel with alternating layers of fish and salt. The fish were packed head to tail, with the backs down and the open stomachs up, rather than flat. This allowed the stomach cavity to be filled with salt.

The combined weight of fish and salt tended to compress the packing and excess water was poured off as it collected on top. Then the barrels were moved to storage. This method of preservation allowed the fish to remain edible for incredibly long periods of time, well in excess of a year. 

Contemporary preservation techniques meant that the fish would be gutted and packed in salt, tightly layered in barrels, head to tail and upside-down so salt filled the interior cavities. 

Herring from the Potomac at Mount Vernon were the common blueback. In Washington's time, they were about 15 to 18 inches in length and about ¾ pound in weight.

One issue to be met before each fish run was obtaining an adequate supply of salt. The best and only really acceptable salt was Lisbon salt. It was made by flooding large land areas with salt water, allowing the sun to evaporate the water and leaving the salt, a slow process. This provided a product that was stable and did not hydrate or draw up moisture rapidly. Thus it did not melt easily in contact with, for example, wet herring. It preserved well, was easily transported, and easily stored.

However, this salt was very difficult to come by, because it had to be imported from Libson, Portugal. By English law, Virginia and the other southern colonies were unable to import Lisbon salt directly. If a Virginia ship took a cargo to Lisbon, traded and bought salt, the ship had to sail to England, clear customs, pay duty on the salt, then sail for the colonies. Many times the salt was required to be delivered first to a northern colony for transshipment to Virginia. This added to the time for delivery and substantially increased the cost.

Salt from Liverpool, England, in contrast, was made by boiling sea water and resulted in a salt not much different from that in use today, although much more crude. This salt was allowed to enter the southern colonies and was preferred for domestic use. However, it was found, by long experience in warm climates, to be too weak to accomplish preservation. The fish or meat preserved or cured with it turned rusty in color and, in six or eight months, was unfit for eating. 

If packed correctly, herring could last up to a year, if not more, making it an ideal ration for enslaved people as well as a promising export. In his young days as master of Mount Vernon, Washington owned two vessels capable of navigating rivers and oceans for trade. One of these, a schooner with no recorded name, was built in 1765 at Mount Vernon by enslaved carpenters trained by John Askew. The schooner carried timber, grain, and other goods along the rivers of Virginia, and brought herring as far as Antigua. Washington also used the vessel for recreational fishing trips. 

In 1774, Washington acquired the brig Fairfax, a vessel that he had originally hired to ship flour from Mount Vernon. The captain, however, had failed to pay Washington, and a court order put the brig up for sale. Washington wrote in that year that he “had no desire of being concerned in Shipping,” having realized that seagoing vessels were too expensive to maintain himself, but nevertheless he bought the brig when no other buyers came forward. Renamed the Farmer, it carried fish and other goods to such destinations as Portugal and Jamaica, before Washington resold it in 1775.

Although Washington managed his own shipping for only a few years, his Potomac fisheries were an important source of revenue for the rest of his life. He held shares in other shipping vessels, and routinely sold his fish to merchants. Washington was also a careful businessman, trying his best to get the highest price. Even while president, he wrote from Philadelphia telling his manager William Pearce that he hoped to sell his surplus to Alexander Smith of Alexandria, but asked Pearce to enquire after better prices before committing to Smith’s, which were “very low.” While he was away he also had his manager help him rent out his “best” landing, modeling his business venture on that of his neighbor George Mason. 

Fish were clearly profitable; as early as 1772, Washington sold surplus herring and shad for 184 pounds and by 1797, sold them for 165. Through his different ventures, fisheries remained an annual source of income from Washington’s earliest years as master of Mount Vernon to the end of his life.

Research plus images & much more are directly available from the website. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) From Pleasure Garden Fishponds to Sport Fishing

In his biography George Washington: Farmer (1915) by Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936), he tells us that Washington's fishing was mostly done with a seine as a commercial proposition, but he seems to have had some interest in angling. Occasionally he took trips up & down the Potomac in order to fish, sometimes with a hook & line, at other times with seines & nets. 

Washington fished with his brothers and friends purely for sport, which he sometimes did with nets, but also with tackle and live bait, including blood worms. Washington wrote to a friend that the waters of the Potomac River flowing before Mount Vernon were, "well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and in the Spring with the greatest profusion of Shad, Herring, Bass, Carp, Perch, Sturgeon &ca."

From his diaries and tackle kits that Mount Vernon possesses, it is clear George Washington also enjoyed fishing for sport with his younger brothers, John Augustine (Jack), Charles, and Samuel. On September 3, 1770, for example, he remarked: "Went in the Evening a fishing with my Brothers Samuel and Charles," or five days later near Mount Vernon, he noted, "Went a fishing towards Sheridine Point. Dined upon the Point."
George Washington's Fishing Tackle  Library of Congress

Washington & Dr James Craik (1727-1814) took fishing tackle with them on both their western tours & made use of it in some of the mountain streams & also in the Ohio.  James Craik was one of Washington’s oldest and closest friends. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, then joined the British Army as an army surgeon in the West Indies until 1751. They met while serving in the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War and later Craik served under Washington during the American Revolution. 
After the Revolution, Washington persuaded him to move his practice to Alexandria, Virginia. In both 1770 and 1784 he went on surveying (and fishing) expeditions with Washington, examining military claims in Pennsylvania and what is now West Virginia. In 1781 Dr. Craik was appointed “chief physician and surgeon of the army” by Congress. Both Crail and Washington were active Masons. He was also Washington’s personal physician and one of 3 doctors who attended George Washington on his deathbed in 1799. 

While at the Federal Convention in 1787 Washington & Gouverneur Morris went up to Valley Forge partly perhaps to see the old camp, but ostensibly to fish for trout. They lodged at the home of a widow named Moore. On the trip the Farmer learned the Pennsylvania way of raising buckwheat and wrote down much more about this topic than about trout. 

A few days later, with Gouverneur Morris & Mr. & Mrs. Robert Morris, he went up to Trenton & "in the evening fished," with what success he does not relate. When on his eastern tour of 1789 he went outside the harbor of Portsmouth to fish for cod, but the tide was unfavorable & they caught only two. More fortunate was a trip off Sandy Hook the next year, which was thus described by a newspaper: "Yesterday afternoon the President of the United States returned from Sandy Hook & the fishing banks, where he had been for the benefit of the sea air, & to amuse himself in the delightful recreation of fishing. We are told he has had excellent sport, having himself caught a great number of sea-bass & black fish--the weather proved remarkably fine, which, together with the salubrity of the air & wholesome exercise, rendered this little voyage extremely agreeable."

Paul Haworth tells us that Washington was fond of eating fish & took great pains to have them on his table frequently. At Mount Vernon there was a slave, reputed to be a centenarian & the son of an African King, whose duty it was to keep the household supplied with fish. On many a morning he could be seen out on the river in his skiff, beguiling the toothsome perch, bass or rock-fish. Not infrequently he would fall asleep & then the impatient cook, who had orders to have dinner strictly upon the hour, would be compelled to seek the shore & roar at him. Old Jack would waken & row to shore to deliver the day's fish.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Tho Jefferson's (1743-1824) Monticello Fish Ponds: Decorative & Functional Features

Thomas Jefferson by Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (1746-1817)

 Monticello Fish Ponds: Decorative and Functional Features

by Bill Bergen (Monticello Guide)

Thomas Jefferson must have tired of presidential life by January 1807, complaining to a friend that his was a life of "unceasing drudgery & daily loss of friends." With two years left to serve, Jefferson found comfort in dreaming of his retirement, and his thoughts turned to Monticello's flower garden and for the means to retain water and keep fish.

Jefferson designed garden beds, developed a planting scheme to keep flowers blooming throughout the growing season, and mapped out winding walks for his West Lawn. He also considered his need for water; Jefferson knew his mountaintop house was problematic because, given the shovel-and-pick technology of the day, it would be difficult to dig a well deep enough to obtain reliable water.

He excavated his first well in 1769; although with a depth of 66 feet, it often "failed" as Jefferson noted in his Memorandum Book. Water then had to be obtained from a spring further down the mountain. During the final stages of house construction, Jefferson addressed this problem by designing a system for catching rainwater on his two terraces that formed the roof over his dependencies. Beneath the boarded walkway, he devised a sophisticated under-roof designed to shunt runoff into four cisterns. But as ingenious as this solution was, it did not fully solve the problem. Even in his final years, Jefferson was looking for ways to waterproof the sides of his cisterns because they, like the well, would run dry in a drought.

Jefferson also planned a pond for the West Lawn. In his earliest notes about Monticello's gardens, Jefferson envisioned a "fish pond to be visible from the house;" while his goal was a water feature to adorn the garden, the pond could also store water. A pond was built near the South Pavilion, a structure better known today as the "Honeymoon Cottage" (where he and his wife Martha first lived on the mountain). With typical precision, Jefferson recorded the pond's dimensions: "the fish pond near the S. pavilion is an Ellipsis 5. Yds. Wide, 10 yds. long = 40 sq. yds." The Garden Club of Virginia restored today's fish pond on the West Lawn in 1940, but whether the pond ever held fish is unknown. Jefferson paid enslaved workers for fish they caught and live fish may have been kept in the pond as it was near the kitchen.

Jefferson even decided to try fish farming. In 1805, he surveyed an area near his brickyard for ponds in which he could grow fish. Completed in 1812, Jefferson began soliciting fish for his ponds from friends, business associates, and his brother Randolph Jefferson. Jefferson's correspondence reflects the difficulty of obtaining the requisite number of fish. Typical of his efforts was a letter sent to his brother: "Supposing the shad season not to be quite over, and that in hauling for them they catch some carp, I send the bearer with a cart and cask to procure for me as many living carp as he can to stock my fishpond." Randolph Jefferson replied that he had no shad "at all" but would check with neighbors. Other problems included a July 1814 rainstorm that caused the pond to overflow, washing away the carp purchased the previous spring. Another time a shipment of fish died when the worker transporting them neglected to change their water overnight.

Other holding ponds were located elsewhere on the plantation and were specifically named for the type of fish they held, such as chub. Among Jefferson's many records is an 1819 notation stating, "the uppermost pond is for eels."  In providing water to the mountaintop, Jefferson demonstrated ingenuity and determination while fulfilling his two design themes of beauty and utility. Attempting to farm fish also reflects his restless ambition to try all things while rendering his plantation more self-sufficient.

See:  The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia at

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) Plans the Views Out of & into Mount Vernon


Mount Vernon Vistas

The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington tells us that Washington's vision for the layout of his Mount Vernon estate adopted fashionable ideas in landscape design borrowed from various English sources and wedded them with the natural advantages of the lush Virginia countryside and its breathtaking view of the Potomac River. Over a period of four decades Washington enlarged and embellished his house during two separate major campaigns of building, constructed a new set of outbuildings to complement the expanded dwelling, and completely reorganized the surrounding gardens and grounds to create an appropriate setting for a tasteful country gentleman's seat.

Washington's interests in creating an appropriate landscape setting for his home and for reinventing Mount Vernon as the very model of a modern agricultural enterprise lead him to extend the plan outward to the far boundaries of his 8,000-acre holding. The layout of the road system, the configuration of the farms and the fields, the placement and arrangement of outlying slave quarters and agricultural buildings, the creation of scenic vistas, and even the design of fences and gates all held prominent places within Washington's thinking. These activities and interests all reflected Washington's deeply held belief in the symbolic power of appearance as well as his conviction that the look of one's property—as with a nation's public buildings and internal improvements—were an accurate indication of the owners' character.

One element of the overall design that Washington devoted considerable attention to over the years was the management of access to the mansion. Washington was a firm believer in the lasting importance of first impressions and this concern was translated into a careful consideration of visitors' experiences as they entered his estate. During Washington's lifetime most visitors to Mount Vernon came to the estate overland on horseback or via carriage, using the relatively arduous system of roads in existence at the time. Over the years, Washington carried out a number of improvements to the approach, including cutting vistas to allow travelers to glimpse the Mansion in the distance.

Washington was engaged in establishing vistas beginning as early as 1785, with the intent for the vistas to serve as avenues to view attractive scenes. This was a feature that was encouraged by any number of proponents of the English "naturalistic" school of landscape designers. As might be expected, at Mount Vernon the mansion was the focal point of all of the vistas.

In the eighteenth century the road from Alexandria to Colchester and southwards to Fredericksburg was divided into an inland or "back road" and a "river road," as it passed through the Mount Vernon vicinity. On the south the road forked at a point just north of Pohick Creek, a few miles from Colchester, and reunited at Hunting Creek, a few miles south of Alexandria. Following the line across the smoothest terrain, the inland road followed a mainly north-south running ridge; the river road provided a more convenient link to major waterfront land holdings like Mount Vernon and crossed several streams at the first fording area above its junctions with the Potomac River.

Travelers following the river road to Mount Vernon from the south turned onto a smaller road, or lane near Washington's gristmill that lead to Posey's ferry landing. From that point travelers traversed a second road north to the West Gate entrance to the Mount Vernon estate. When traveling from the north visitors navigated the river road until they reached Gum Springs, the crossing point over Little Hunting Creek, then turning onto the road leading to West Gate. Around 1770 a more direct route for travelers coming from the south was provided by a road (in later years referred to as Mount Vernon "avenue" or "lane") running in a direct line from a point on the river road north of Washington's gristmill to Mount Vernon's West Gate. With only minor modifications, this basic road configuration remained in place until after the Civil War.

 by Dennis J. Pogue, Ph.D.

All this research plus images & much more is directly from the Mount Vernon website - to begin exploring, just click the highlighted acknowledgment above. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Garden to Table - Poplar Forest's “Simple Plantation Fare” of Poultry & Vegetables.

Cheney McKnight interpreting Hannah in 2019, the enslaved cook at Poplar Forest

Poplar Forest featured “Simple Plantation Fare”

Poplar Forest researchers tell us that dining at Poplar Forest consisted of “simple plantation fare”  mostly poultry and vegetables. As the years went on and Jefferson began inviting nearby neighbors to dinner, visitors would bring a variety of foods to the dinner table. Ellen Randolph Coolidge noted the various foods given represented “the products of rich farms and an abundant country.” 

Though the family received these gifts, and also purchased a variety of food from the enslaved community, Jefferson continued to utilize the term “simple plantation fare” when describing Poplar Forest cuisine. In July of 1819, Jefferson sought to remedy this by reaching out to a supplier and ordering foods not often found at the Poplar Forest dining room table. Jefferson wrote, “We are here, Ellen, Cornelia, and myself for two months to come, and living on plantation fare this may be considerably improved if you can send us by a Lynchburg boat, addressed to Mr. Archibl. Robertson a keg of tongues and sounds, a small keg of crackers, a small box of raisins, and a good cheese.”

Born in 1770 at Monticello, Hannah and her family were moved to Poplar Forest when she was a teenager. There she met and married Solomon. Like others who married within the plantation community, Hannah established a new household with her husband...The fate of Solomon is unclear, but he was no longer living at Poplar Forest by the mid-1790’s. He left behind his wife and three young children.

By 1810, Hannah married Hall, a plantation blacksmith and hog-keeper. The couple lived together with her five younger children. Hannah’s last child was born in 1812.

Hannah worked in the fields and probably spent some of her time spinning flax...Her mother, Cate, trained girls to spin, and Hannah might have learned that skill at an early age. By 1811, she served as Jefferson’s housekeeper, preparing the house for his visits, cooking and washing for him, and greeting visitors in his absence...a cabin was built for her near Jefferson’s vegetable garden.

Hannah could read and write, skills that she probably shared with other slaves. Archaeologists discovered pieces of a writing slate at a slave quarte...A single surviving letter written in 1818 from Hannah to Jefferson describes the state of the house and sends wishes for his health. Hannah also expressed her Christian faith in the letter, one of the few hints that survive of the spiritual beliefs of people living at Poplar Forest.

While Hannah’s letter points to the importance of Christianity in her life, other Poplar Forest slaves maintained spiritual and healing practices derived from Africa. When Hall became ill in 1819, he believed that only a conjurer could cure him. Hannah’s brother Phill used medicine from a “negroe doctor” provided by a fellow slave. Both men died that year.

Hannah’s life is last recorded in an 1821 provision list. Whether she lived beyond the sale of her son William and the breakup of the community following Jefferson’s death is 1826 is unclear.

The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia explains that Poplar Forest was Jefferson's retreat plantation in Bedford County, Virginia. William Stith originally patented the land in the mid-eighteenth century & probably chose the name "Poplar Forest." John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law, purchased the property in 1764. When Wayles died in 1773, his daughter & her husband inherited the 4,819-acre tract. Jefferson operated Poplar Forest primarily as a tobacco plantation, managed by overseers & worked by a community of nearly 100 enslaved laborers. 

Working from his own designs, Jefferson began building a residence at Poplar Forest in 1806....Construction was nearing completion when Jefferson's presidency ended in 1809. Throughout his retirement years, Jefferson would make Poplar Forest his personal retreat from the busy, crowded scene at Monticello.

Before 1809, Jefferson managed Poplar Forest from a distance, but that practice changed with retirement. Freed from government service, Jefferson made at least three annual visits to Poplar Forest. He traveled to Bedford at the height of spring, in late summer, & in early winter. He described his retreat as "the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen."

Though Jefferson enjoyed the privacy of Poplar Forest, he was not entirely alone there. Two of his granddaughters generally accompanied him. His granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge later recalled Jefferson's days in Bedford County. "At Poplar Forest," Ellen wrote, "he found in a pleasant home, rest, leisure, power to carry on his favorite pursuits—to think, to study, to read—whilst the presence of part of his family took away all character of solitude from his retreat. His young grand-daughters were there to enliven it for him, to make his tea, preside over his dinner table, accompany him in his walks, in his occasional drives, & be with him at the time he most enjoyed society, from tea till bed time."

All this research & image & much more is directly from the Poplar Forest website - to begin exploring, just click the highlighted acknowledgment above. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Garden to Table - African Influence on Southern Cuisine


The Soul of Food: Slavery’s Influence on Southern Cuisine by Christina Regelski

...The influences for many of the Southern foods we enjoy come directly from colonial & antebellum slave quarters. Southern food, often perceived as the quintessential American cuisine, is actually derived from a complex blend of European, Native American, & African origins that found realization in the hands of enslaved people. While Southern food has evolved from sources & cultures of diverse regions, classes, races, & ethnicities, African & African American slaves have one of the strongest yet least recognized roles. For enslaved people, cooking was about culture & community as much it was about survival. 

...When enslaved people reached North America (5% of Africans who were enslaved in the transatlantic trade were sent to North America), rations were often used as a powerful form of control on many plantations. By supervising food, slave-owners could regularly establish their authority over enslaved people, while also attempting to prove their “generosity” toward their slaves. Slaves’ diets were frequently a primary point of debate between abolitionists & slaveholders, with pro-slavery supporters using rations to “prove” the good quality of life African Americans had under slavery.

James Madison defended slavery by arguing that slaves have better diets than the lower classes in Europe: “They are better fed, better clad, better lodged, & better treated in every respect…With respect to the great article of food particularly it is a common remark among those who have visited Europe, that it [slave diet] includes a much greater proportion of the animal ingredient, than is attainable by the free labourers even in that quarter of the Globe.”

... Pork, along with corn, was the primary ration issued to slaves on many plantations. Though rations could vary widely, slaves typically received an average of three pounds of pork per week. Slaves, however, would usually be issued what was considered to be the lesser cuts of the hog, such as the feet, head, ribs, fatback, or internal organs. To hide the poor flavor of these cuts, enslaved people drew inspiration from traditional African cooking & used a powerful mixture of red pepper mixed with vinegar on their meat. West African cuisine relied heavily on the use of hot spices, & slaves continued this tradition by growing various peppers in their gardens to add to their dishes... 

If barbeque is the heart of Southern cooking, cornbread is the backbone...Introduced to settlers by Native Americans, corn was an early staple for Euro-Americans. Corn, however, had a particularly strong hold in the South. Corn could grow well on less fertile land, which made it an ideal staple for planters who saved the best land for cash crops, such as cotton. Corn was the most common ration for enslaved people in the South.

Since enslaved people ate form of corn at almost every meal, they created a variety of ways to prepare it drawing inspiration from their Native American neighbors. In the seventeenth century, many enslaved Africans may have noticed similarities between their cultures. Historian Jessica B. Harris noted that drawings of Native Americans in North Carolina made by English colonist John White in the sixteenth century depict communal eating from a bowl, which was also a common practice in West Africa. Native Americans shared their expertise of growing & preparing maize with both African & Europeans, including the art of making bread from corn instead of wheat. To prepare this bread, Native Americans created dough from cornmeal & water, covered the dough with leaves, & then placed the covered dough in hot ashes to bake. This recipe & technique is almost identical to the ways many slaves would make breads variously called hoecake, ash-cake, spoonbread, corn pone (the word pone comes from the Algonquian word apan), & cornbread. 

Irene Robertson, a former slave from Arkansas, had the following recipe for bread:“Sift meal add salt & make up with water, put on collard leaf, cover with another collard leaf put on hot ashes. Cover with hot ashes. The bread will be brown, the collard leaves parched up…” 

Polly Colbert, a former slave from Oklahoma, recognized the strong influence that Native Americans had on the large variety of corn recipes her & her family made. Colbert recalled that “we cooked all sorts of Indian dishes: Tom-fuller, pashota, hickory-nut grot, tom-budha, ash-cakes & pound cakes besides vegetables & meat dishes. Corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes.”

Bill Heard, a former slave from Georgia, recalled that “Marse Tom fed all his slaves at de big house; he kept ‘em so regular at wuk dere warn’t no time for ‘em to do their own cookin’.” 

Cornbread was also an easy food to prepare for enslaved children, many of whom remember being fed from a trough like the animals.Robert Shepherd, a former slave from Georgia, remembered dinner of vegetables & cornbread as a child on the plantation & that “Aunt Viney crumbled up dat bread in de trough & poured de veg’tables & pot-likker [water from boiled vegetables] over it.”

Developing from Native American influences in hands of enslaved cooks, cornbread varieties eventually made their way into the cookbooks of plantation households. James Monroe’s family recorded recipes for egg bread & spoon bread that, while they employed similar techniques as ash-cake made by enslaved people & Native Americans, utilized the richer ingredients of milk & butter that planters’ kitchens had access to.  One of George Washington’s favorite breakfast foods was hoecakes drizzled with honey & butter. 

... Today’s greens are typically collards, a leafy cabbage-like vegetable, flavored with hot peppers, pork, & other spices. Inspired by boiled vegetables & one-pot meals common to West African cuisine, slaves often prepared a dish that is extremely similar to modern greens, but with a much more diverse repertoire of vegetables.

Slave would gather & boil various kinds of leafy foods, such as collards, kale, he tops of beets & turnips, or wild weeds. In various instances, slaves boiled greens that were traditional to some Native American cuisines, such as marsh marigold & milkweed.  Slaves would flavor the dish by boiling a piece of pork fat or bacon with the vegetables. Since slaves received such poor cuts of meat, their rations were often more ideal for flavoring foods, rather than serving as a meal itself. Many archaeological excavations at slave quarters turn up small, fragmented animal bones, which suggest that slaves often used their small meat rations in soups or stews. 

 Easter Huff, a former slave from Georgia, remembered greens & cornbread:“Victuals dem days warn’t fancy lak dey is now, but Masrster allus seed dat us had plenty of milk & butter, all kids of greens for bilein’, ‘tatoes & pease & sich lak. Chilluns et cornbread soaked in de pot liquor what de greens or peas done been biled in. Slaves never got much meat.” 

Enslaved cooks who were in charge of preparing meals for the entire community constantly struggled with cooking for so many people with limited ingredients, materials & time. Greens were an ideal food since they could be cooked with little attention, in a single pot. Carol Graham, a former slave from Alabama, noted this challenge: “There were so many black fo’lks to cook fuh that the cookin was done outdoors. Greens was cooked in a big black washpot jus’ like yo’ boils clothes in now. An’ sometimes they would crumble bread in the potlicker an give us spoons an we would stan’ roun’ the pot an’ eat.” 

...Sweet potatoes are hearty vegetables that grow well in less ideal soil, which made them an ideal crop for enslaved people & lower class whites.  Slaves often gardens grew sweet potatoes in their gardens, utilizing skills that African Americans passed down from generation to generation. 

Anthony Taylor, who was enslaved as a young child in Arkansas, remembers learning how to grow potatoes on the plantation after freedom & he continued to raise sweet potatoes in his older age. “We stayed on the old plantation for seven or eight years before we had sense enough or knowed enough to get away from there & git something for ourselves. That is how I come to raise such big potatoes. I been raising them fifty years. There are hill potatoes. You have to know how to raise potatoes to grow ‘em this big." 

Like corn, the prevalence of sweet potatoes in Southern food is a marriage of African & Native American practices. The sweet potato is native to the Americas & was a familiar staple to many Native American nations. Posing a strikingly similar resemblance to the yams of West Africa, enslaved people could apply their traditions & techniques previously reserved for yams to the sweet potato with relative ease.  Sweet potatoes were a flavorful starch that could be easily & quickly cooked. Slaves could roast potatoes in hot ashes while wrapped in leaves, like they would with cornbread or ash-cake, or cook them over the fire with other foods. Nellie Smith, a former slave from Georgia, remembered her grandmother would bake potatoes alongside a roast... 

 One vegetable that is particularly favored as a fried delicacy in the South is okra. Native to Ethopia, okra is one of the many food staples that traversed the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Americas & is one of the most prominent food associated with the influence of African culture on the New World.  Even the word okra is derived from the Igbo word for the vegetable, okuru.  Following the forced relocated of enslaved people, okra spread to North America from the Caribbean by the 1700s. In West Africa, okra was often used as a thickening agent for soups & one-pot meals & many slaves grew okra in their gardens.

Through slaves’ influence & the transatlantic trade, okra began to appear in planters’ gardens as well. In the popular 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, two stews appear that used okra, including the now-familiar & much loved dish called gumbo. Gumbo is referred to as a “West India Dish” which reflects how the influences for the meal traveled from Africa, to the Caribbean, to North America. The recipes are as follows: 

“Ochra & Tomatos. Take an equal quantity of each, let the ochra be young, slice it, & skin the tomatos; put them into a pan without water, add a lump of butter, an onion chopped fine, some pepper & salt, & stew them one hour.

Gumbo—A West India Dish. Gather young pods of ochra, wash them clean, & put them in a pan with a little water, salt & pepper, stew them till tender, & serve them with melted butter. They are very nutritious, & easy of digestion.” 


Published in Paw Paw, Michigan in 1866, Malinda Russell's A Domestic Cook Book... is the oldest known cookbook authored by an African American. One copy of this rare book was found among the collection of California cookbook author & food writer Helen Evans Brown. This little book precedes Abby Fisher’s 1881 "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking" by 15 years, making it a landmark in African American culinary publishing history. 

African Americans also wrote 2 early household manuals including information on buying, storing, preparing & serving food & drinks: The House Servant's Directory (1827) by Charleston-born to famous New Englander Robert Roberts(1777-1860) & Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters & Housekeepers' Guide (1848) by Tunis G(Gulic) Campbell(1812-1891).

In her cookbook's section “A Short History of the Author,” Malinda Russell, who was born in 1812,  notes that she was born & raised in Tennessee, as a member of “one of the first families set free by Mr. Noddie of Virginia,” Russell set out with a party destined for Liberia at age 19. However, when her money was stolen, she remained in Lynchburg, Virginia & found work as a cook, companion, & nurse. After a brief marriage, she was left widowed with a young son. Russell returned to Tennessee, where she kept a boarding house & later a pastry shop. When she was robbed again in 1864, Russell determined to leave the south “at least for the present, until peace is restored,” & settle in Michigan.  Russell states that she learned her trade from Fanny Steward, “a colored cook, of Virginia, & have since learned many new things in the art of Cooking.” She also notes that she cooks "after the plan of the ‘Virginia Housewife," a reference to Mary Randolph’s cookbook The Virginia House-wife (1824). 

Russell’s own cookbook consists primarily of desserts & baked goods, a logical focus, given her ownership of a pastry shop. Most of her recipes were for elegant deserts, like floating island, puff pastry & rose cake, along with main course dishes like catfish fricassee, Irish potatoes with cod, & sweet onion custard, but a few recipes such as "Sweet Potato Baked Pudding” reflected specifically Southern cuisine. In her book, she also provided recipes for ointments & colognes

Abby Fisher who was born in 1831 was still operating her business in 1890. She initially worked as a plantation cook in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She moved with her family to San Francisco in 1877, where she taught Southern cooking.  "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking" is a cookbook published in 1881. It contains mostly dishes of English origin, such as roast beef, roast lamb with mint sauce, & plumb pudding, mostly seasoned with salt & pepper or with herbs & spices common in well-to-do English families. "Southern" innovations are found in biscuits (ultimately of British origin), cornbread (of Native American origin), & in a few African-influenced gumbo recipes. Gumbo soups & a simple jambalaya (‘Jumberlie – a Creole Dish’) are Southern as well.

Garden to Table - Early Cookbooks on Google Books for Free

Google Books has these free, digitized books completely searchable. Simply open a book, enter a word in the search window, and the search engine will show you the word’s occurrences in that book.  

18th Century Cookbooks

The Whole Duty of a Woman, (London). First published in 1701. Free editions available on Google Books: 1707, 1737.

A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts, Mary Kettilby, (London). First published in 1714. Free editions available on Google Books: 1714, 1734.

The Compleat Confectioner, Mary Eales, (London). First published in 1718. Free editions available on Google Books: 1742, 1767.

The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, (London). First published in 1723. Free editions available on Google Books: 1723, 1724.

The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, R. Bradley, (London). First published in 1727. Free editions available on Google Books: 1732, 1736.

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, (London). First published in 1727. Free editions available on Google Books: 1739.

The Compleat City and Country Cook, Charles Carter, (London). First published in 1732. Free editions available on Google Books: 1732, 1736.

The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book, Sarah Harrison and Mary Morris, (London). First published in 1733. Free editions available on Google Books: 1739, 1760.

The Complete Family Piece, M.L. Lemery, (London). First published in 1736. Free edition available in Google Books: 1737.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, (London). First published in 1747. Free editions available on Google Books: 1774, 1780, 1784, 1805,

The London and Country Cook, Charles Carter (London). First published in 1749. Free editions available on Google Books: 1749.

English Housewifery, Elizabeth Moxon, (London). First published in 1749. Free editions available on Google Books: 1764.

The Art of Confectionary, Edward Lambert, (London). First published in 1750. Free editions available on Google Books: 1761.

The Prudent Housewife, Mrs. Fisher, (London). First published in 1750. Free editions available on Google Books: 25th Edition.

A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Elizabeth Cleland, (Edinburgh). Free editions available on Google Books: 1755.

 A Complete System of Cookery, William Verral, (London). First published in 1759. Free editions available on Google Books: 1759.

The Complete Confectioner, Hannah Glasse & Maria Wilson (London). First published in 1760. Free editions available on Google Books: 1800.

The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald, (Manchester). First published in 1769. Free editions available on Google Books: 1769, 1803, 1806.

The Lady’s, Housewife’s, and Cook-maid’s Assistant, E. Taylor, (Berwick Upon Tweed). First published in 1769. Free editions available on Google Books: 1769.

The Professed Cook, B. Clermont, (London). First published in 1769. Free editions available on Google Books: 1812,

The Court and Country Confectioner, Mr. Borella, (London). First published in 1770. Free editions available on Google Books: 1770.

Cookery and Pastry, Susanna MacIver, (Edinburgh, London). First published in 1773. Free editions available on Google Books: 1789.

The Lady’s Assistant, Charlotte Mason (London). First published in 1777. Free editions available on Google Books: 1777, 1787.

The London Art of Cookery, John Farley, (London) First published in 1783. Free editions available on Google Books: 1783, 1785, 1792, 1797, 1800.

The English Art of Cookery, John Briggs, (London). First published in 1788. Free editions available on Google Books: 1788, 1798.

The Complete Confectioner, Frederick Nutt (London). First published in 1789. Free editions available on Google Books: 1790, 1807, 1819.

The Practice of Cookery, Mrs. Frazer, (Edinburg). First published in 1790. Free editions available on Google Books: 1791, 1820.

Every Woman Her Own Housekeeper, John Perkins, (London). First published in 1790. Free editions available on Google Books: 1796.

The Universal Cook, Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, (London). First published in 1792. Free editions available on Google Books: 1792, 1797, 1806.

The New Experienced English Housekeeper, Sarah Martin, (London). First published in 1795. Free editions available on Google Books: 1795.

The Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter, (Philadelphia). Free editions available on Google Books: 1796, 1822.

The Accomplished Housekeeper, T. Williams, (London). First published in 1797. Free editions available on Google Books: 1797.

Early 19th Century Cookbooks

The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined, John Mollard, (London). First published in 1801. Free editions available on Google Books: 1802, 1808.

The New Practice of Cookery, Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Donat, (Edinburgh). First published in 1804. Free editions available on Google Books: 1804.

Culina Famulatrix Medicinae, Alexander Hunter, (York). First published in 1804. Free editions available on Google Books: 1804.

The Housekeeper’s Instructor, William Henderson (London). First published in 1804. Free editions available on Google Books: 1805.

A Complete System of Cookery, John Simpson, (London). First published in 1806. Free editions available on Google Books: 1806, 1816.

A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, (Exeter). First published in 1807. Free editions available on Google Books: 1808, 1840,

The Female Economist, Mrs. Smith (London). First published in 1810. Free editions available on Google Books: 1810.

Apicus Redivivus; or, The Cook’s Oracle, William Kitchiner (London). First published in 1817. Free editions available on Google books: 1817, 1822, 1823, 1825, 1827, 1836, 1845, 1860,

American Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, (New York). Free editions available on Google Books: 1823.

The Art of French Cookery, A.B. Beauvilliers, (London). Free editions available on Google Books: 1827.

Houlston’s Housekeeper’s Assistant, (Wellington, Salop). Free edition available on Google Books: 1828.

The Cook’s Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Directory, Richard Dolby (London). Published in 1830. Free editions on Google Books: 1830.

Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, Eliza Leslie, (Boston). Free editions available on Google Books: 1830, 1836.

The Cook’s Own Book, N.K.M. Lee, (Boston). Free editions available on Google Books: 1832, 1840, 1842, 1854.

The Complete Economic Cook, Mary Holland, (London). First published in 1836. Free editions available on Google Books: 1837.

A Treatise on Bread and Breadmaking, Sylvester Graham, (Boston). Free editions available on Google Books: 1837.

The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph, (Baltimore). First published in 1838. Free editions available on Google Books: 1838.

The Good Housekeeper, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, (Boston). Free editions available on Google Books: 1839.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Garden to Table - Home-Made Barley Wine


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

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

Take one-half pound of barley and boil it in three waters, and save three pints of the last water, and mix it with one quart of white wine, one-half pint of borage water, as much clary water, a little red rose-water, the juice of five or six lemons, three-quarters pound of fine sugar, the thin yellow rind of a lemon. Brew all these quick together, run it through a strainer, and bottle it up. It is pleasant in hot weather, and very good in fevers.

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.

w Garden to Table - Distillery for Rye, Wheat, Barley & Corn into Whiskey

Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Distillery turned his Rye, Wheat, Barley & Corn into Whiskey

After serving eight years as President, George Washington retired from public life to spend his remaining two-and-a-half-years at his beloved Mount Vernon.  At this time in George Washington’s life, he was actively trying to simplify his farming operations and reduce his expansive land holdings. But always keen to enterprises that might earn him extra income, Washington became intrigued by the profit potential that a distillery might bring in.

In January 1797, Scotsman James Anderson, a newly hired manager, proposed that George Washington begin rye and corn whiskey production. Anderson was raised on his father's farm about 40 miles north of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he managed a farm. In the early 1790s, he moved his family to the United States, where he rented a farm in Fairfax County for 2 years, while he managed farms for other people. He agreed to work as a farm manager for George Washington in October of 1796.

Trusting his farm manager's expertise, Washington ordered a stone still house and a small malt house to be built adjacent to the gristmill on Dogue Creek, about two miles from the Mansion. Construction began in October of 1797 for a stone still house large enough for five stills. The foundation was large river rocks brought from the Falls of the Potomac, and the walls of the distillery were made of sandstone quarried from Mount Vernon.

The still house was furnished with copper stills, boilers, and tubs. Wooden troughs were constructed to channel water from the creek to cool the vapor of the heated mash.  That Washington was willing to commit to distilling by building  a relatively large distilling operation is evidence of his desire to pursue the most innovative and creative farming practices of the day. Despite having no prior experience in distilling, he quickly became acquainted with the process.

Washington's distillery had five copper pot stills, made by George McMunn, an Alexandria coppersmith, which held a total capacity of 616 gallons. Fifty mash tubs, large 120-gallon barrels made of oak, were located at Washington’s distillery in 1799. In Washington’s day, cooking the grain and fermenting the mash all happened in the same container. The boiler, where the hot water would have come from, held 210 gallons. 

Washington attempted to persuade Anderson to choose a site closer to the Mansion in order to keep a closer eye on his new distillery. Washington was later convinced that the distillation process made proximity to water crucial. The busy complex on Dogue Creek included a substantial merchant mill, a distillery, a cooper's shop, the miller's house, and livestock pens, all located on the main road to Alexandria or to points south. Recognizing the area as Mount Vernon's economic center, Anderson requested to relocate his residence to the center of activity.

By the spring of 1798 the distillery was in operation. In 1799—the year of Washington's death—over eighty transactions are noted for a total sale of 10,942 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,674. In 1799, Washington's distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons, making it one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America. 

Enslaved distillers Hanson, Peter, Nat, Daniel, James, and Timothy performed the hot and tiring work of making whiskey from a combination of rye, wheat, corn, and malted barley. These men likely slept above the distillery during the busy season.

Alcohol played a large role in the lives of most people in the 1700s. It was drunk at home & during social occasions and used medicinally. It also served as a trading commodity. Washington enjoyed a variety of beverages, among his favorites were old-fashioned elderberry wine & sweet fortified wines like Madeira and Port. He also drank beer, rum punch, porter, and whiskey. 

Customers listed in his records included neighboring farmers, merchants, family, and Mount Vernon overseers. Washington’s whiskey was sold to neighbors and in stores in Alexandria and Richmond, VA. His best customer was his close friend George Gilpin, Alexandria's surveyor, mapmaker, politician, wharf owner, collector of customs, 1st judge of the Orphans Court, harbor master, inspector of tobacco & flour, postmaster & more. Gilpin was also a member of the same Masonic Lodge as Washington and was a pallbearer at Washington's funeral. Gilpin apparently also owned a store in Alexandria, where he sold the whiskey. Other Alexandria merchants also bought large quantities to resell. 

Local farmers purchased or traded grain for whiskey. Many of the people who worked at Mount Vernon also purchased whiskey. The common whiskey cost about 50 cents per gallon. The rectified and fourth distilled whiskey was about $1.00 a gallon, and brandy was a little more. Consumers would pay in cash or sometimes barter goods. Whiskey was also exchanged for services in the case of family physician James Craik and the farm overseers, and for goods such as corn and rye, which would then be converted into more whiskey.

The most common beverage produced at Washington’s distillery was a whiskey made from 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. This rye was distilled twice and sold as common whiskey. Smaller amounts were distilled up to four times, making them more expensive. Some whiskey was rectified (filtered to remove impurities) or flavored with cinnamon or persimmons. Wheat was also distilled when rye was scarce. Apple, peach, and persimmon brandies were produced and also vinegar.

Washington’s whiskey was not bottled or branded. The whiskey coming from the distillery was poured into wooden barrels, usually 31 gallons in size, and shipped to nearby merchants.

Prior to the American Revolution, rum was the distilled beverage of choice. But after the war, whiskey quickly grew to displace rum as America’s favorite distilled beverage. Rum, which required molasses from the British West Indies, was more expensive and less easily acquired than locally grown wheat, rye, and corn. Whiskey was also easier to produce than rum, requiring relatively simple processes and equipment.

Distilleries were very common in early America. In the 1810 census, there were more than 3,600 distilleries operating in the state of Virginia alone. At its time Washington’s distillery was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the country. It measured 75 x 30 feet (2,250 square feet) while the average distillery was about 20 x 40 feet (800 square feet).

As with his mill, Washington processed the harvests from his own farms but purchased & traded for grain from outside sources as well. Washington was clearly not interested in simply supplying the needs of his plantation community, but considered the enterprise to be a thriving moneymaker. 

The distillery also offered an important subsidiary benefit. Washington’s interest in the distillery operation was further heightened by his knowledge that much of the waste (or slop) from the fermentation process could be fed to his growing number of hogs. Washington created a hog pen near the distillery which held upwards of 150 pigs.

In 1798, Polish visitor Julian Niemcewicz toured the site and noted: "If this distillery produces poison for men, it offers in return the most delicate and the most succulent feed for pigs. They keep 150...of the Guinea type, short feet, hollow backs and so excessively bulky that they can hardly drag their big bellies on the ground. Their venerable and corpulent appearance recalled to me our Dominican convents, like so many priors."

1800 Detail of Painting by Frederick Kemmelmeyer of General George Washington during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion  

Washington paid tax on the output of his distillery. In the 1790s a federal excise tax was collected from distilleries based upon the capacity of the stills and the number of months they distilled. In 1798, Washington paid a tax of $332 on 616 gallons operating 12 months. This “whiskey tax” was enacted during his presidency, and it immediately raised strong protests from westerners who saw this tax as an unfair assault on their growing source of income. By the middle of 1794, the armed threats and violence against tax collectors sent to secure the revenue came to a head. Under great pressure to deal with this insurrection, Washington called out the militia and led 12,950 men into Western Pennsylvania. Confronted by the Commander in Chief and this sizable military force, the Whiskey Rebellion was put down and the right of the Federal government to tax its population was sustained.

Despite the controversial tax, whiskey proved to be the most profitable of Washington's many business ventures. Anderson remained at the plantation as farm manager until Martha Washington's death in 1802.

All this research plus images & much more is directly from the Mount Vernon website - just click the highlighted acknowledgment above. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Garden to Table - Brewing Beer in Early America

When Ben Franklin wrote, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," he was speaking for many Americans of his day. Beer, and the art of brewing, was one of the first things European settlers needed America in the 17th century.  

The Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock in the winter of 1620. They’d actually landed on Cape Cod in November & tried to sail south to their intended destination—The Virginia Colony, still 220 miles south—eventually ending up in Plymouth Rock. The choice to land was due in part to treacherous shoals & breakers facing Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones off the cold coast of Cape Cod—but it was also due in large part to a dangerous shortage of beer.

When he became alarmed that his ship's supply of beer was running low, Captain  Jones  decided to land at Plymouth Rock (rather than sailing further south) to "winter" there. It was determined that the passengers & servants should go ashore to  seek out new water (hopefully to make more beer). Captain Jones sent all passengers off the ship into the frigid New England winter on December 19th, 1620. 

The ship's crew remained on the moored vessel, reserving the beer for themselves. One passenger, William Bradford, complained that he & other passengers "were hastened ashore & made to drink water, that the seamen might have the more beer." And even though the pilgrims discovered clean streams ashore, they were suspicious of the New World liquid & not altogether fond of its taste. As one colonist was quick to write, "I dare not prefere it before good beere" 

To the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, beer had become an essential part of daily life. Even the children drank beer. "Ship's beer" as it was known, did not have high alcohol content. Neither did the even weaker "small beer," of which passengers drank a quart per day. Beer was stored on board many seagoing ships; because after being stored for long periods of time, a ship's water would become a contaminated, germy affair. Beer, on the other hand, could be stored & ingested for weeks & months without ill effect, making it the ideal beverage for a lengthy journey — as long as there was enough to go around.

At Plymouth Rock, the Wampanoags reportedly taught them how to ferment alcohol, but not beer. Along the Atlantic coast, hops were scarce. Some settlers did manage to find hops growing in the wild, but their supply was quickly exhausted, leaving them in the same awful situation they were in, when they were dropped off by the sailors here in the first place. 

In Jamestown, Virginia, the situation was even worse. Somehow, the Virginia Company had sent the early settlers to the colony without thinking to bring someone who actually knew how to make beer. The settlers planted a field of barley, put an ad in a 1609 London paper asking for two brewers to sail over; and later in 1609, they finally brewed beer. The remnants of the very first “brewery” in America can be seen at Historic Jamestowne.

The early colonist's desire for beer was both a born-in cultural habit as well as what was then a common-sense approach not to drink strange water and possibly die in any one of a myriad of unappealing ways. Prior to the advent of breweries and taverns in America, beer was brewed at home. 

Early American brewers took malted barley and cracked it by hand. They would then steep, or soak, the grains in boiling water. They called the process mashing. Mashing allowed the brewer to extract the sugars from the barley. Brewers took the mash they had created, which had the consistency of oatmeal, and dumped it into a sawed-off whiskey barrel. The modified tub acted as a sieve, filtering the sugary liquid from the grain. The colonial brewer returned the strained liquid to the boil kettle, or the copper as it was called, for a 2-hour boiling. He added hops, chilled the brew, sprinkled it with yeast, and drained the final product into wooden kegs. The brewer then placed those kegs in a cellar for three weeks to a month.

Brewing did not always turn out well. For some Early American brewers, beer went bad quite often. In a letter dated 1623, George Sandy of the Virginia colony wrote, "It would well please the country to hear he had taken revenge of Dupper for his Stinking [sic] beer, which hath been the death of 200." Like most food or beverage products, beer is not immune to bacterial growth or becoming rank from improper brewing practices.

By the 1700s beer was big business, although recipes differed. Farmers planted fields of barley and hops, beer's chief ingredients, to help keep the liquid flowing. Many people, especially rich gentlemen, built private brew houses, handcrafting most of the equipment from wood (except the copper kettle, of course). Thomas Jefferson and George Washington built breweries on their plantations. In fact, Jefferson's wife brewed 15 gallons of low-alcohol beer every two weeks.

Thomas Jefferson grew hops at Monticello for brewing, and also purchased them in fairly large quantities from others. Jefferson's memorandum books record a handful of purchases by both Jefferson and his wife in the early 1770s, mostly from local slaves. These hops were most likely used for brewing batches of "small beer."

George Washington’s instructions for making Small Beer: 
Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler, put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Molasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold, cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask — leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working — Bottle it that Week it was Brewed. — From a notebook (c. 1757) kept by George Washington

Jefferson also mentions hops in Notes on the State of Virginia, in Query VI, in a list of native esculent plants: "Wild hop - humulus lupulus."1 Regarding his own culture of the plant, Jefferson first lists hops in his "Objects for the garden" in 1794.

In 1812, Jefferson began brewing beer at Monticello on a large scale, and that same year he lists hops in his garden calendar. They also appear on his garden "agenda" for 1813. Despite growing hops, Jefferson continued to record purchases of hops from various other sources until 1820.

Amelia Simmons 1796 American Cookery, the first cookbook written by an American, using ingredients available to Americans, gives a recipe for spruce beer containing hops, water, molasses and “essence of spruce.”   (The essence was produced by boiling the young fresh shoots of the spruce tree and reducing the liquid to a concentrated extract.)  

In 1824, Mary Randolph included a similar recipe for spruce beer in The Virginia Housewife, calling for a handful of hops, and twice as much of the chippings of sassafras root, one gallon of molasses, two spoonfuls of essence of spruce, two of powdered ginger, and one of powdered allspice.

Eliza Leslie's, 1837 Directions for Cookery included recipes for spruce beer, ginger beer, molasses beer  and sassafras beer, (as well as for  fox grape shrub and cherry bounce): Sassafras Beer– Have ready two gallons of soft water; one quart of wheat bran; a large handful of dried apples; half a pint of molasses; a small handful of hops; half a pint of strong fresh yeast; and a piece of sassafras root the size of an egg… Leslie gives instructions for boiling the mixture, straining through a hair sieve, and putting into open jugs to ferment. 

Even up into the later 1800s, some households were producing their own beer. This recipe for beer comes from a community cookbooks, Housekeeping in the Blue Grass compiled by the Southern Presbyterian Church Missionary Society of Paris, Kentucky, in 1875: Beer- Two quarts of wheat bran, two and a half gallons of water, a few hops, one pint of molasses, and one pint of yeast. –Miss Kate Spears.

Spruce and molasses, along with hops and malt, continued to be employed in home brewing well into the 19th century.  Lydia Maria Child, the noted American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, journalist, Indian rights advocate, and successful author, uses all of these ingredients and more in her recipes  from The Frugal Housewife, which was reprinted at least 35 times between 1829 and 1850:
Beer– Beer is a good family drink. A handful of hops, to a pailful of water, and a half-pint of molasses, makes good hop beer. Spruce mixed with hops is pleasanter than hops alone. Boxberry, fever-bush, sweet fern, and horseradish make a good and healthy diet-drink. The winter evergreen, or rheumatism weed, thrown in, is very beneficial to humors. Be careful and not mistake kill-lamb for winter-evergreen ; they resemble each other. Malt mixed with a few hops makes a weak kind of beer ; but it is cool and pleasant ; it needs less molasses than hops alone. The rule is about the same for all beer. Boil the ingredients two or three hours, pour in a half-pint of molasses to a pailful, while the beer is scalding hot. Strain the beer, and when about lukewarm, put a pint lively yeast to a barrel. Leave the bung loose till the beer is done working; you can ascertain this by observing when the froth subsides. If your family be large, and the beer will be drank rapidly, it may as well remain in the barrel; but if your family be small, fill what bottles you have with it; it keeps better bottled. A raw potato or two, cut up and thrown in, while the ingredients are boiling, is said to make beer spirited.

New Yorker John Nicholson wrote about early American beer in The Farmer's Assistant in 1820,
"To make Spruce beer. Boil some spruce boughs with some wheat-bran till the water tastes sufficiently of the spruce; strain the water, and stir in at the rate of 2 quarts of molasses to a half-barrel; work it with the emptyings of beer, or with yeast if you have it. After working sufficiently, bung up the cask, or, which is better, bottle its contents.

"To make Molasses beer. Take 5 pounds of molasses, half a pint of yeast, and a spoonful of powdered ginger; put these into a vessel, and pour on 2 gallons of scalding hot soft water; shake the whole till a fermentation is produced; then add of the same kind of water sufficient to fill up your half barrel...Let the liquor ferment about twelve hours; then bottle it, with a raisin or 2 in each bottle.

"If honey instead of molasses be used, at the rate of about 12 pounds to the barrel, it will make a very fine beverage, after having been bottled a while.

"To make Beer with Hops. Take 5 quarts of wheatbran and three ounces of hops, and boil them 15 minutes in 15 gallons of water; strain the liquor; add 2 quarts of molasses; cool it quickly to about the temperature of new milk, and put it into your half barrel, having the cask completely filled. Leave the bung out for 24 hours, in order that the yeast may be worked off and thrown out; and then the beer will be fit for use. About the 5th day, bottle off what remains in the cask, or it will turn sour, if the weather be warm. If the cask be new, apply yeast, or beer-emptyings, to bring on the fermentation; but, if it has been in this use before, that will not be necessary.

"Yeast, particularly the whiter part, is much fiter to be used for fermenting, than the mere grounds of the beerbarrel ; and the same may be observed, in regard to its use in fermenting dough for bread.
"To recover a cask of stale Small beer. Take some hops and some chalk broken to pieces; put them in a bag, and put them in at the bunghole, and then stop up the cask closely. Let the proportion be 2 ounces of hops and a pound of chalk for a half-barrel.

"To cure a cask of Beer. Mix 2 handsful of beanflour with one handful of salt, and stir it in.

"To feed a cask of Beer. Bake a rye-loaf well nutmeged; cut it in pieces, and put it in a narrow bag with some hops and some wheat, and put the bag into the cask at the bunghole.
"To clarify Beer. For a half-barrel, take about 6 ounces of chalk, burn it, and put it into the cask. This will disturb the liquor and fine it in 24 hours.  It is also recommended, in some cases, to dissolve some loaf-sugar and add to the above ingredients.

"We omit going into any description of the method of making strongbeer, as the necessity for it among Farmers, as a household beverage, seems to be greatly obviated by that of smallbeer, which is much less intoxicating, and by cider, a stronger drink, which is readily afforded from apple-orchards, which are more or less natural to almost every part ot the United States, except a little of its southern border, where the grape can be cultivated to advantage...

"It is indeed true, that many Farmers in Great Britain brew their own strongbeer; but there is but little of that country where apple-orchards are natural...It is an expensive liquor tor the Farmer to make much use of, as it requires 4 bushels of malt to make a barrel, even of common ale, and 8, for a barrel of beer ot the strongest kind."