Thursday, March 16, 2023

Art and the Historical Imagination

Keith Rocco / NPS

The Ford Mansion served as George Washington’s headquarters from December 1, 1779 to June 23, 1780. The National Park Service commissioned artist Keith Rocco in 2014 to paint an imagined scene of Mrs. Martha Washington’s arrival at the mansion on December 31, 1779 to use in the park’s updated brochure. Since there are no eyewitness accounts of Mrs. Washington’s arrival, this painting may tell us more about the vision of her arrival than it tells us about the historical event. As we view this picture, we do not see what happened on December 31, 1779. Rather, this contemporary painting of an event that occurred hundreds of years earlier, serves as a visual tool for examining whether our own historical imagination matches the historical evidence.


As we look at the picture closely and carefully, we must ask ourselves:

1. Does anything or anyone in this picture conflict with the historical record?

2. Are the people portrayed realistically in authentic settings? What are they wearing? What are they doing? What is their relationship to other people in the painting?

3. What assumptions does the NPS/Rocco make and are they supported by the historical record?

4. How well does NPS/Rocco integrate historical facts into his artistic imagination?

At the foot of the stairs on the far left, General Washington, greets Mrs. Washington who wears a hooded cape. Two of Washington’s aides and Mrs. Ford stand behind the general on the stairs. A soldier of Washington’s headquarters “Life Guards” stands at his post on the extreme left.

Major Caleb Gibbs, the commander of the General’s Life Guards stands between the stairs and the sleigh. Mrs. Washington’s coach could not get out of Philadelphia due to deep snow; Gibbs was sent with a sleigh to bring her to Morristown. It took them two days to reach Morristown.

General Washington struggled to maintain troop morale and discipline under harsh conditions in Morristown in 1779: bitter cold, disease, and lack of provisions. Washington believed that uniforms represented the army’s professionalism and discipline. The Rocco painting accurately depicts Washington’s wool uniform worn from 1789-1799 and Mrs. Washington’s wool cloak worn over what was probably a wool dress for warmth.

Neither Mrs. Washington nor Mrs. Ford are wearing the fashionable hoop skirts worn with more formal clothing. Mrs. Ford greets Mrs. Washington wearing an informal dress, called “undress,” and shawl, both probably made of wool and a bonnet cap, made of cotton or linen trimmed with frilly edges and sometimes made of lace. Mrs. Ford’s informal attire reveals that she has work o do in her household which had been transformed from a family home for four people and a few enslaved servants to a military headquarters for Washington’s entourage of approximately 30 people (five aide-de-camp and more than eighteen servants and enslaved people, including William Lee, his enslaved valet). 

The house became two separate households – Washington’s and Mrs. Ford. Mrs. Ford was responsible for the food and shelter for everyone in her own household – herself, Timothy [age 17], Gabriel [age 15], Elizabeth [age 12] and Jacob III [age 8] and as many as three enslaved people, Pompey [age unknown], Jack [age 51] and Phillis [age 55]. Washington’s 18 enslaved and free Servants handled all the cooking and household needs of the military family and his guests.

At the glowing window in the center, Mrs. Ford’s twelve-year-old daughter, Elizabeth looks out the window. She and her mother shared the first-floor parlor [3 windows to right of main front door] while her three brothers shared the sitting room. Washington and his military family occupied the remainder of the house. Enslaved and free Servants slept in the rooms above the kitchen, in the attic, in hallways and in outbuildings on the property.

Two enslaved men carry food out of the front door of the kitchen. They had to carry the food outside to reach Washington’s dining room on the far side of the house. Otherwise, they would constantly be passing through the Ford’s rooms. Both men are dressed in attire that is meant to reflect the wealth and status of the people they were serving: the Washingtons and the general’s officers. Allowing Rocco’s art to influence our imagination, the enslaved man in the elegant blue suit could be Washington’s enslaved personal valet, William Lee, who accompanied him throughout the war. The enslaved man in the brown suit wears the more typical attire of someone serving in the dining room.

The woman watching the two servants is Mrs. Thompson, the 76-year- old Irish housekeeper who supervised Washington’s kitchen. Note that while Washington and his enslaved servants are dressed for a formal dinner, Mrs. Ford’s clothing is an ordinary, informal, day dress, inappropriate for a formal dinner.

A group of three officers on horseback and two soldiers gather on the far right. The headquarters was protected both by the headquarters guard who lived in huts near the Ford Mansion and other soldiers were sent from the camp in Jockey Hollow.

Because it is late afternoon, the bedrooms upstairs used by Washington, his aides, and servants are empty, cold, and dark. Everyone is downstairs working. Only the first-floor rooms; the general’s dining room [far left], Mrs. Ford’s room [three windows to right of front door] and kitchen wing are in use and show the glow of fireplaces and candle.

After taking a closer look at the painting, what have you learned about the arrival of Mrs. Washington at the Ford Mansion? Have any of your ideas about Washington’s time at the Ford Mansion changed? What else would you like to learn or ask a question about?


Morristown, NJ · George Washington's Mount Vernon

Eric Olsen, “Ford Family Slaves”, NPS

This post by Dr. Lillie Edwards, Professor Emeritus, Drew University 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Making of an Historical Park: Why Morristown?

MNHP dedication button, July 4, 1933.

By all accounts it was Mayor Clyde Potts who advocated earliest and most pointedly for some type of heritage tourism site at Morristown as early as 1930, immediately after the start of the Great Depression. What form or shape that might ultimately take was undetermined. Mayor Potts had as his close associate Lloyd W. Smith, who had recently purchased the bulk of the land known as Jockey Hollow from investor W. Redmond Cross and partners. It was likely Redmond Cross, through mutual acquaintances, who introduced NPS director Horace Albright to Clyde Potts and Lloyd Smith sometime in 1930 or 1931.

Morristown map depicting the location
of the Continental Army Encampment, 
dated June 1929.

Director Albright was interested from the start of his tenue with the NPS in acquiring national historic site for the creation of a new type of park, a National Historical Park. When he was introduced to Potts and Smith, Albright probably could not believe his luck. Potts and Smith presented Albright with what was in essence a ready-made historical park. Potts could provide the land at Fort Nonsense, and Smith could provide land at Jockey Hollow for a new National Historical Park. Albright's new chief historian, Vern Chatelain, was equally enthused by the idea of a historical park in Morristown. 

Close up of label from March 1931
blueprint of the "Proposed
Jockey Hollow Park" 

At some point in 1931, Albright became interested in the Ford mansion being included in the new national park taking shape in Morristown. While the exact sequence of events are not known, Albright likely promoted the idea of the Ford mansion being part of the park to the Washington Association of New Jersey, who owned and operated the mansion as a tourist site since 1874. The Depression, and lagging membership, made the Association receptive to Albright's overtures. By mid 1932, the Ford mansion, Jockey Hollow, and Fort Nonsense, where lined up as the first National Historical Park. Legislation was prepared, and Congress debated the measure in January 1933, sending the final bill to President Hoover for signature. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Morristown National Historical Park Celebrates 90 Years!

Welcome to Morristown National Historical Park’s 90th anniversary year. Among the various activities planned to commemorate public history becoming publicly funded, our social media sites will feature virtual exhibits from time to time looking at unique and rarely seen artifacts from the park's collections. We will look at the last 90 years through artifacts that will help explain the history of the park and the concept of public history which officially began when President Herbert Hoover signed the Morristown NHP into existence on March 2, 1933, as the first recognized national HISTORICAL park.


Stay tuned!

[Image description: MNHP’s 90th anniversary logo. A prominent dark green 90 is featured. Artistic icons representing each of our four park sites fills the zero. In the center is the tour road and three snow-covered soldier huts, representing Jockey Hollow. Moving clockwise is an image of the Ford Mansion, the Fort Nonsense cannon and park sign, and the New Jersey Brigade water tower and Cross Garden. Under the 90 the text reads, “Morristown NHP Celebrates 90 Years.” Artwork by visual designer, Chelsea Bakos-Kallgren.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


Indigenous Foodways of the Lenni-Lenape

This map shows the broad boundaries Lenapehoking but does not
account for the many Lenape polities, tribes, and matriarchies.
Image courtesy of Wiki Images.
Long before Europeans arrived in the mid-Atlantic region, Lenapehoking - the Land of the Lenape - consisted of a large swath of land that includes present day western Connecticut, southeastern New York (and Manhattan), all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware. The Lenni-Lenape prepared their food from hunted game, carefully tended crops, and gathered wild plants. Deer, elk, black bear, turkeys, ducks, and geese were frequently hunted game and fishing was an important core food source, with fish and crustaceans contributing to the bulk of the Lenni-Lenape diet. The Lenni-Lenape had a keen understanding of sustainability and selectively planned fishing, hunting, and planting practices to prevent resource depletion. 
Lenni-Lenape gardening favored the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash. Their innovative farming technique is famously called “The Three Sisters” in which corn, winter squash, and climbing beans were planted together to be self-fertilizing and pest resistant. These crops were also nutritionally balanced, providing a diet of all the necessary amino acids. Sunflowers, pumpkins, herbs, and tobacco plants were also grown. Wild food plants like roots, berries, fruits, mushrooms, and nuts were also collected. Gathered foods were often eaten when ripe, dried for long-term storage, or used as ingredients in a variety of food preparations. The acorn was particularly versatile and was used to make cooking oil, porridge, and bread. To preserve their farming resources, Lenape also practiced crop rotation and the utilized the slash-and-burn method to renew over-used or infertile soil with a new layer of nutrient rich ash.
Illustration of the Three Sisters planting method. 
Image courtesy of
In the 17th and 18th centuries, indigenous Americans were essential to the outcome of European colonists who learned from them how to survive in the climate of the Middle Colonies and New England. Across different locations and at different times, groups of European colonizers and Native Americans achieved working relationships, but these were usually contingent on the individual circumstances of the communities involved. Settlers often eschewed Indigenous methods, preferring the food and farming from home, but times of hardship made learning them a necessity. The story of Tisquantum (abbreviated incorrectly to "Squanto" by white settlers) and his relationship with the Plymouth colonists is emblematic of this. Tisquantum, who had been enslaved by a white trader early in his life, taught them how to fertilize soil and cultivate crops in the tradition of the Wampanoag and Ninnimissinouk peoples during a period of starvation. Early colonists in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region also took advantage of deserted settlements, whose soil yielded corn, squash, and beans, of which the original indigenous owners died during a massive disease outbreak brought by European traders.

A Lenape Fry-Bread Recipe
Courtesy of the Delaware Tribe 
Official Site of the Delaware Tribe
 Foods Eaten by the Lenape Indians
Europeans often misunderstood aspects of indigenous foodways, particularly labor and land-ownership practices, that led to discrimination, tension, and outright conflict. Nevertheless, Native American planting methods and ingredients would go on to sustain European settlements and become core parts of the colonial diet. The incorporation of corn is a particularly important contribution of indigenous foodways. Corn established as a far more reliable crop than those brought with the settlers, as well as North American bean plants, pumpkins, and squashes. The settlers quickly implemented the "Three Sisters" planting method, having learned by observation and instruction, which was very efficient for subsistence farming and gardening. Indigenous cooking methods included baking, frying, deep frying, boiling, and roasting; and European settlers that encountered these remarked upon the diversity and wholesome quality of their meals. Ingredients and dishes historically attributed to many indigenous groups in the colonial era became assimilated into the burgeoning American cuisine, appearing in cookbooks like Amelia Simmons' American Cookery (and many more).
By the end of the 18th century, however, most Lenni-Lenape had been driven away from their rightful lands by European expansion and fraudulent treaties (see: the Walking Treaty), and remaining populations were further impacted by brutal programs of systematic forced removal implemented in the 19th century. Despite removal and oppression, the Lenape people continue to inhabit New Jersey and many other regions of North America. As such, Lenape foodways continue to be practiced, preserved, and studied by modern indigenous practitioners and scholars. Innovations based on both traditional and modern indigenous methods continue to shape our contemporary culinary world.

Learn More about the Lenni-Lenape: 
- The Official Website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians: Official Site of the Delaware Tribe of Indians
- Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape People Tribal Website: Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape (
- Nanticoke and Lenape Confederation Learning Center and Museum: Nanticoke and Lenape Confederation (
- Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania: Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania (
- Ramapo Munsee Lenape Network [and Heritage Gallery]: Ramapo Munsee Lenape Network

- “Foods Eaten by the Lenape Indians,” The Official Website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians (2013)
- “Lenni Lenape Food in the Colonial Era,” Historic Fair Hill (n.d.)
- Walter Licht, Mark Frazier Lloyd, J.M. Duffin, and Mary D. McConaghy, “The Original People and Their Land: The Lenape, Pre-History to the 18th Century,” West Philadelphia Collaborative History (UPenn) (n.d.)
- Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (2005)
- Sunmin Park, Nobuko Hongu, James W. Daily III, "Native American Foods: History, Culture, and Influence on Modern Diets," Journal of Ethnic Foods 3.3 (2016)
- Emily Russell, "Indian-Set Fires in the Forests of the Northeastern Unites States," Ecology 64.1 (1983)
- Taylor Smith, "Lenni-Lenape: The Original Residents of New Jersey," Princeton Magazine (n.d.)

Friday, November 18, 2022


Evolution of Cookbooks

Recipe transcription is an ancient human tradition; in fact, the earliest "cookbook" was written on tablets about 4,000 years ago. Ancient Roman cooking instructions from the 1st, 4th, and 5th centuries have also survived, and there are many examples of ancient Arabic, Indian, and Chinese cookbooks that pre-date the spread of the practice in Western Europe. European cookbooks appeared in the 13th and 14th centuries, with most surviving examples written in German, Dutch, French, and Italian. The first English cookbooks emerged in the 14th century, the most notable of which was The Forme of Cury, which was written by the cooks of King Richard II. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, cookbooks usually documented the dishes that were prepared and eaten in royal courts, and rarely described the foods of common people. These were not meant to be sold but were rather a tool for the servants of noble houses and a status symbol that demonstrated the owners' ability to afford elaborate banquets.

Frontispiece of Hanna Glasse's Art of Cookery 
Courtesy of

The invention of the printing press had a somewhat democratizing effect on the cookbook, as they became less of a luxury and far easier to obtain. 16th and 17th century cookbooks available were still very stratified by class, however, as they were intended for use by the gentry - people of means who managed estates and had servants to prepare their food. The rise of the middle class in the 18th century greatly increased the market for cookbooks, owing in part to an increase in literacy and the aspirations of the middle class to achieve a more genteel lifestyle. Most 18th century recipe books took the favorite foods of the elite and rewrote them to feature simpler instructions and cheaper ingredients with methods that suited a household with few or no servants. Cookbooks were still divided by social status, however, and books intended for a bourgeoise audience intentionally excluded ingredients and dishes that poor people would have used; this was also the case with cookbooks intended for an aristocratic audience in contrast with middling sorts. As literacy rates increased in the 19th century, cookbook consumption also increased, giving way to formats that are much more familiar to us today.

Cookbooks had a somewhat unsteady start in the colonies. Few examples survive, although there are records that European settlers carried cookbooks with them. For the better part of a century, cookbooks were available to Americans in two formats: the family cookbook which was most often a personal document, and cookbooks that were published and distributed for mass consumption. These, however, were written and printed in Britain with British tastes and ingredients in mind. Some of the most popular cookbooks were Markham's The English Hus-Wife (1615), Eliza Smith's The Compleat Housewife (1727), and Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery (1747). A 1742 edition of Smith's cookbook was the first cookbook published in North America in a material sense, but it is not widely considered "American," because it did not innovate or adapt to American tastes and resources. The first true American cookbook was published after the American Revolution by Amelia Simmons.

Amelia Simmons

Although little is known about her, Amelia Simmons is among the most important figures in the history
of American food and cooking. In 1796, Simmons authored what is known as the first American cookbook: "American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, starts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes from the imperial plum to the plain cake: Adapted to this country and all grades of life." This extraordinarily long title is most often abbreviated to American Cookery

Cover page of American Cookery
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Besides being the first cookbook of American authorship published in the United States, the aforementioned adaptations and innovations make American Cookery the revolutionary text that it is. Simmons gave special attention to ingredients native to North America and explained how to use them in dishes that were original and variations on traditional recipes. The use of cornmeal as a substitute for oatmeal was one such variation, particularly in the johnnycake (also called a hoecake). Other native ingredients, like turkey and cranberries, were featured in a recipe for the very first time. Simmons' use of pearl ash also stands out as an important moment in food history. Pearl ash was a chemical leavener and early precursor to baking powder, which was invented later in 1843. Amelia Simmons introduced words like "slaw" and "cookie" to the American lexicon, as well as provided the blueprint for an All-American favorite: the pumpkin pie.  

Pumpkin Pudding Recipes in American Cookery
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Some details of Simmons's life can be extrapolated through the use of certain words and ingredients. The book was originally published in Connecticut, so many supposed she was from there. Although she never mentions her own geographical location, her use of pearl ash and a handful of Dutch words, suggest that she may have been local to the Hudson Valley area where pearl ash was produced and where there were many communities of Dutch origin. Later editions of the cookbook were printed in Albany, Troy, Poughkeepsie, and New York City, which could be seen as suggestive as a connection to the author. Although she did not provide a true autobiography, she did describe herself as an "American Orphan" and wrote about the plight of women who had no family to care for them and, as a result, took up domestic labor. The book documents the practices of domestic workers, and it is likely that she was one herself.

Recipe Adaptation, click to enlarge

Evidence suggests that Simmons was not literate - she worked with another writer to transcribe the recipes, but they were altered without her knowledge at a later date. The second printing of the book included a leaflet with corrections. Simmons paid for the original publication out of her own pocket and so chose to print inexpensive copies using cheaper materials. The affordability of the book combined with the demand for American goods, and her own credibility as a domestic, made American Cookery an instant best-seller. The second edition followed the first very quickly, and there were dozens - if not hundreds - more unauthorized printings and subsequent editions. 

The popularity of the book offers some food for thought: it operated at once as an expression of the political project of Federalism, while simultaneously an expression of life on the margins of American society. American Cookery's connection to the political conversation of Federalism can be found in its Hartford-based publisher. Federalist leaders, particularly in Connecticut where the book was printed, sought to move local agricultural communities away from subsistence farming and towards markets and commerce and promote education and modest consumption of goods as a means of achieving a genteel and enlightened society. Federalists who were well-connected to publishers, printers, and booksellers disseminated these ideas with zeal. Hudson & Goodwin printed many of works affiliated with Federalism, as well as new discourses that sought to capture the American identity. Although it is unlikely that Simmons intended for the cookbook to be read in this way, it is important to view it as part of a broader constellation of materials that contributed to political discourse and encouraged a particular vision of American identity. Beyond that, American Cookery appealed to sentiment, striking up sympathy for American women who lived in difficult circumstances. Simmons's notes about thrift and scarcity communicated the anxiety and precarious circumstances that come with being poor, underscoring the issue of class difference to her readership. Yet, American Cookery

Recipe Adaptation, click to enlarge
provided an aspirational path to the common housewife, who in it would find advice for elevating her own life and reassurances of American bounty.

In addition to the classic pumpkin pie, Simmons also published what is thought to be the first ever cupcake recipe, although they were not called as such until the 19th century. We have included these recipes for your own experimentation - please give them a try and let us know how they turn out!                                     

Recipe Adaptation, click to enlarge

Post by Amy Hester, Museum Technician


- Carol Fisher, The American Cookbook: A History (2006)
- Elizabeth J. Fleitz, "'An American Orphan: Amelia Simmons, Cookbook Authorship, and the Feminist Ethe," Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition (2020)
- Jennifer Gavin, Library of Congress's "Books That Shaped America: Twelve New Titles Join Original List," The Library of Congress (2013)
- Jan Longone, "Introduction to the Feeding America Project," Feeding America: The Historic American - Cookbook Project, Michigan State University (2002)
- Jan Longone, "Amelia Simmons," Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, Michigan State University (n.d.)
- Henry Notaker, "A 600 Year History of Cookbooks as Status Symbols," The Atlantic (2017) [see also: A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries (2017)]  
- Keith Stavely & Kathleen Fitzgerald, "What America's First Cookbook Says About Our Country and Its Cuisine," Smithsonian Magazine (2018) [see also: United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook (2017)]
- "Pumpkin Pie Recipe Adaptation," History in the Making: Recreating Historic Foods and Crafts (2020): Pompkin (Pumpkin Pie) – History in the Making (

Thursday, November 3, 2022



The division of labor in 18th century America was determined by gender, class, and ethnicity. Women and men operated under societal expectations that determined their respective roles within the home and their communities. During the early colonial period, men and women often shared the labor of survival. As European settlements became more established, and more family units formed on the American frontier, so too did gender roles. The ideal European family, in which a household was led by a man who presided over both family and business while a woman managed the home, took root in the decades preceding the Revolution and held fast in the period that followed. During this time, food preparation was labor that most often fell to women, especially in households of low to middling income. 

Although they worked alongside men in the running of shops and agricultural operations, the work of maintaining the household was usually performed exclusively by women. This included cleaning, spinning yarn and weaving cloth, care of livestock and gardens, and childrearing. Cooking, of course, was a prominent aspect of this work, consuming much of a woman’s time during the day. This was compounded by the issue of preparing food for her whole family in a time of high birthrates – about seven children per mother. Sometimes, a woman’s occupation – such as innkeeper – demanded even more time in the kitchen. Unmarried women without property often worked in other households as domestic servants, whose many responsibilities included food preparation. 

In wealthy households, however, cooking was often the responsibility of domestic staff. In such households, as with Martha and George Washington, the lady of the house would determine a menu for the day or week and leave the tasks of preparation and serving to indentured servants or the enslaved. Enslaved people, who were mainly Africans by this time, were forced to work in a variety of occupations that ranged from fieldhand, to skilled craftsman, to domestic servant. In these capacities, men and women (and children) worked side-by-side in bondage. Enslaved cooks and chefs did not have choice in their status or occupation and lived in a variety of conditions that depended on their geographical location (North versus South, urban versus rural) and the whim of their enslaver. Yet, despite having almost no control over their daily lives, enslaved cooks exerted a great deal of influence on the burgeoning American cuisine and crafted dishes and cooking techniques that we continue to use today. 


  • “Women and Children in Colonial America,” National Geographic Resource Library (n.d.)
  • “Africans in Colonial America,” National Geographic Resource Library (n.d.)
  • Ed Crews, “Colonial Foodways,” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Educational Journal (Fall 2004)
  • Kelly Fanto Deetz, “How Enslaved Chefs Helped Shape American Cuisine,” Smithsonian Magazine (2018)
  • Brooks Jones, “A Look at Eighteenth Century American Foodways,” Cookery in Colonial America (2012)
  • Jone J. Lewis, “Women and Work in Early America: Before the Domestic Sphere,” Thought.Co (2019)


Long before the the likes of Rachel Ray, Anthony Bourdain, and Bobby Flay, the culinary world had star cooks who were renown for their talents, skills, and innovations. Unlike celebrity chefs today, who publish autobiographies, open their own restaurants, and have their own television shows, they mainly worked behind the scenes. This was a function of status - most of the most prominent people in the American culinary world were servants and the enslaved. Their personal notoriety was tied to the notoriety of the households that they were bound to, inextricably linked to the people that they served. James Hemings and Hercules Posey were among the many enslaved culinarians who tremendously impacted the landscape of the American table. 


James Hemings was born in 1765 to Elizabeth Hemings, an enslaved woman who was brought to Monticello as human property in the inheritance of Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. Six of Elizabeth's children were fathered by John Wayles, making James Heming the younger half-brother of Martha. He was also the brother of Sally Hemings. At Monticello, the Hemings family were bound in slavery as tradespeople and domestic workers. As a young man, Hemings was tasked with acting as a personal attendant to Thomas Jefferson and, at times, as a hired valet to Jefferson's acquaintances.    

When Jefferson was appointed American minister to the French court in 1784, Hemings was summoned to accompany him to France. Jefferson chose Hemings with the explicit purpose of sending him for training in the art of French cookery. During his time in Paris, Hemings studied with Monsieur Combeaux, who had been hired to work in Jefferson's kitchen for a period of one year. After studying with Combeaux, Hemings was trained by a woman cuisiniere and studied under a master pastry chef. His most important training, however, was in the kitchen of the Prince de Conde at Chateau Chantilly. This kitchen was renown, with cooking widely considered superior to that of the Palace of Versailles. All the while, Hemings was undertaking intensive study of the French language. By the time his training was complete, Hemings could effectively supervise an entirely French kitchen. As the chef de cuisine, he was entitled to monthly wages that amounted to a regular income, although Jefferson paid him only half of what he paid to the previous chef cuisinier.

A diagram for the kitchen at Monticello, featuring a masonry stove used for French cooking.
Courtesy of,
By 1787, after just three years, he was made the head chef at Thomas Jefferson's residence in Paris (Hotel de Langeac) which was also the American embassy. Hemings's food was served to international guests, statesmen, and aristocrats. It was here that Hemings developed his own signature style of French fusion cooking, one of the earliest examples of such, that combined French and Virginian cuisines. This style, which Hemings conceived of in France and continued to develop back in the states, influenced Virginia plantation cooking as its popularity spread from the kitchen at Monticello. 

It is notable that by the time of his arrival in France, slavery had been abolished and enslaved people brought to France were entitled to petition the French courts for manumission. The French political scene was roiling with talk of revolution and the issue of slavery was central to that discourse. It is likely that Hemings, either by himself or with the assistance of an attorney, would have been able to successfully sue for his legal freedom. It is unknown why he chose to return to North America when his chances for obtaining manumission were better than most, but it is possible that Hemings may have used his return to negotiate more favorable arrangements for himself - such as receiving a wage - and his family.

His return to the United States in 1789 had an indelible impact on the American palate. In addition to bringing back his innovative French-fusion cuisine, Hemings is also credited for introducing foods like creme brulee, meringues, ice cream, French fries, and European macaroni and cheese to the American table. Hemings also brought back new kitchen technology with the "potage" stove, a precursor of modern stoves. In North America, Hemings continued to work for Thomas Jefferson, now the Secretary of State, and served food to the highest-ranking people in the country. In this capacity, Hemings served an important, but often uncredited, role in one of the most important political negotiations in American history. It was Hemings's carefully crafted food that was set upon the table on during the "dinner table bargain" of the Compromise of 1790. It was at this dinner that Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison resolved a congressional deadlock that allowed the federal government to assume state debts and designated the permanent location of the American capitol in the area now called the District of Columbia. This takes on a special significance when Jefferson's own beliefs about food are taken into account: Jefferson believed that a pleasurable table could "unite good taste with temperance" and communicate ideas about egalitarianism and citizenship. Although the contents of that dinner are lost to time, the menu and settings would have been intentionally calculated to convey national identity and Jefferson's own political ideology. Hemings was a key element of this and its unlikely that Jefferson would have been able to convey these ideas through food without the expert skill of an enslaved chef.

By law, enslaved people in Philadelphia could claim their freedom after a period of six months. As with his time in France, however, Hemings did not petition for his manumission when he was eligible. Rather, he bargained with Jefferson directly. This is documented in the manumission agreement written by Jefferson in 1794, during his final days as Secretary of State. This document confirmed the terms of Hemings's manumission, but witheld his freedom until he trained another enslaved chef to take his place. Hemings and Jefferson both followed through with the terms of this contract and, by 1796, Hemings left Monticello for the first time as a free man. After James left, his brother Peter Hemings took over his role as the head chef at Monticello. 

Inventory of kitchen utensils, written by James Hemings
shortly before his departure from Monticello.
Courtesy of

Hemings's life after slavery is sparsely documented, although some hints exist in a few of Jefferson's surviving correspondences. He first went to Philadelphia, where he likely would have had connections to the free and enslaved black community from his time working there. Beyond that, he is believed to have spent some time traveling, possibly to Europe, and at least contemplated a trip to Spain. Eventually, he settled in Baltimore and worked as a chef at the Columbian Hotel. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson - now President - sent for Hemings with a proposal to hire him as the White House chef. However, Jefferson did not approach Hemings directly as he would a free man, instead choosing to pass the summons through local white acquaintances. Hemings's response to Jefferson's messenger was that "he would not go until [Jefferson] should write to himself." Ultimately, Thomas Jefferson never wrote to Hemings directly with the job offer and ceased pursuing the matter. During his time as President, Thomas Jefferson hired a French chef, Honore Julien to work in the White House. During this time, Julien trained two enslaved women from Monticello in French cookery and it is likely they would have brought Hemings's French-Virginian style of cooking with them as well. One of these women, Edith Hern Fossett, went on to become the head chef at Monticello after Jefferson's retirement.

Not long after declining Jefferson's proposal, however, Hemings died at the age of 36. In 1801, his cause of death was reported to be suicide, but present-day scholars continue to investigate the circumstances of his passing. Regardless of cause, his untimely departure highlights the sheer amount of accomplishment in his short life and his enduring impact on American cuisine. 

This portrait, attributed to Gilbert Stuart, is often said to depict Hercules Posey.
This claim has recently been disputed.


Hercules Posey is another American chef whose life was constrained by slavery. Born around 1748, Hercules Posey was originally enslaved by Virginia planter John Posey, and worked as a ferryman on Posey's plantation. It is uncertain what year he was enslaved by George Washington, but he is listed for the first time in Washington's tax records in 1770, probably age 16. By 1786, Posey had joined the household laborers as a cook but, unlike his counterpart James Hemings, Posey did not receive formal training from professional chefs. Rather, he was trained by other hired and enslaved cooks that worked at Mount Vernon. He had an aptitude for cooking and management, and quickly rose through the ranks to serve as chef de cuisine. As a master of his craft, Posey was known to run a strict and efficient kitchen: 

“The chief cook gloried in the cleanliness and nicety of his kitchen. Under his iron discipline wo [sic] 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 judgement and execution went hand in hand…It was surprising the order and discipline that was observed [during the preparation of an important dinner]. 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."
(RPMW, 422-423)

Posey's skills made him a prominent person in his own right that was known across the communities in which he lived. He was also recognized as valuable to the Washington's political life; besides making their favorite foods, he was also responsible for preparing food for the statesmen, dignitaries, and other people that dined with the Washingtons. As such, he was among a select few taken along with the Washingtons to Philadelphia, the location of the first presidential residence, upon George Washington’s ascendency to the presidency. His status was unusual, as Posey oversaw paid white servants and was permitted to walk around Philadelphia freely. Posey also had a disposable income, earning one hundred to two hundred dollars per year by selling extra food from the presidential kitchen. This income allowed him to dress stylishly and expensively, a quality that he was known for. Of Posey's personal style, George Washington Parker Custis wrote: 

“Though homely in person, he lavished the most of these large avails upon dress. In making his toilet his linen was of unexceptionable whiteness, then black silk shorts, ditto waistcoat, ditto stockings, shoes highly polished, with buckles covering a considerable part of the foot, blue cloth coat 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…” 
(RPMW, 423-424)  
    “While the musters of the republic were engaged in discussing the savory viands of the Congress dinner, the chief cook retired to make his toilet [archaic: the act of dressing oneself] for an evening promenade…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 on beholding such 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 verist of dandy…”  (RPMW, 423) 

These special circumstances should not be misconstrued as freedom, however, as the Washingtons took special measures to prevent Posey from obtaining manumission. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 prohibited non-resident slaveholders from holding slaves in the state for more than six months – after which an enslaved person would be considered automatically free. Washington argued that the law should not apply to his household, but he did not challenge it in court. Rather, he used a loophole to work around the decree by rotating his enslaved servants between Pennsylvania and Virginia on a six-month basis so that they were never there long enough to qualify for manumission. This rotation included Hercules Posey and it would eventually aid him in his self-manumission.

NPS Photo. Mount Vernon ledger featuring notes about
the work of the enslaved people and Hercules Posey's escape.
MORR 12052.
Left behind at Mount Vernon after Christmas, he escaped bondage between February 22nd and 25th 1797 - around the time of George Washington’s birthday, which was a designated holiday at Mount Vernon. It is possible that Posey had been planning his escape for some time, as Washington admitted to such suspicions in a letter to William Pearce in November 1796. Morristown National Historical Park holds the record of Posey's exit from Mount Vernon; it is short and only reads, "Hercules absconded." The rest of the page contains notes about the tasks assigned to other enslaved individuals that day. His three children remained at Mount Vernon, and it is unknown if they ever reunited. When Louis-Phillipe of France visited Mount Vernon later that year, he noted in his diary (later published) a conversation with Posey's daughter: 

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."
(DMTA, 32)
Longworth's New York Almanack and Directory, 1808/9.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Records show that Washington immediately set about trying to apprehend him and that the search went on for more than a year. Posey’s escape proved to be permanent, however, and he never returned to Mount Vernon. He settled in New York City, where an 1809 directory shows a man by his name working as a cook at 3 Orange Street in Manhattan.* 

Almost nothing was known about Posey's remaining life, and death, until the research of Ramin Ganeshram and Sara Krasne, who discovered a record of his death and burial. Based on information in the documents held by the New York City Municipal Archives, it is likely that Hercules Posey died of tuberculosis in May of 1812 at the age of 64; he is buried at the Second African Burying Ground in Lower Manhattan (located on Chrystie Street). 

*Note: Orange Street was renamed Baxter Street in 1854, although that particular block has been demolished. 3 Orange Street was likely located in the area now occupied by Chatham Towers or Columbus Park.

Hercules Posey's death record, uncovered by
researchers Ramin Ganeshram and Sara Krasne.
Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives


  • Lina Mann, "The Enslaved Household of President Thomas Jefferson," The White House Historical Association (n.d.) 
  • Lina Mann, "Slavery and French Cuisine in Jefferson's Working White House," White House Historical Association (n.d.) 
  • "James Hemings, 1765 - 1801" [Biography], The James Hemings Society (n.d.)
  • "James Hemings" [Biography], Monticello (n.d.)
  • "The Culinary Legacy of James Hemings," Monticello Magazine (Summer 2019)
  • Norman J. Risjord, "The Compromise of 1790: New Evidence on the Dinner Table Bargain," William & Mary Quarterly (April 1976)
  • "Hercules" [Biography], The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, Mount Vernon (n.d.) 
  • "Hercules, Chef to the President," The James Hemings Society (2019)
  • George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of the Life and Character of George Washington (1860)
  • Louis-Philippe, King of the French, Diary of My Travels in America, translation by Stephen Becker (1977)
  • Ramin Ganeshram, "Hercules Posey: George Washington's Unsung Enslaved Chef," BBC World's Table (2022)
Post by Amy Hester, Museum Technician

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Featured Artifact: Varick Punchbowl

Varick Punchbowl. MORR 3757 (c. 1785) Photo: Morristown NHP

This past July this writer had the opportunity to research the life and times of Richard Varick at the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C. This opportunity was made possible through the generosity of a fellowship sponsored by the Massachusetts chapter of that organization. The Society of the Cincinnati is one of the oldest establishments in America and the treasures to be viewed at its Anderson House headquarters just off Dupont Circle are vast. For a week I delved into the Varick Papers, exploring the career of this Revolutionary War officer, ardent Federalist, and New York City mayor from 1789-1801. 

Swords carried by Colonel Varick. Image: Keith Muchowski
One special day the Museum Collections and Operations Manager graciously showed me artifacts owned by Colonel Varick, including portraits of Richard and wife Maria, swords he carried during the war, ceremonial ribbons, and other items. The research trip was an extraordinary experience. While there I told the librarians about one of the treasures on display here at Morristown National Historical Park: the Chinese porcelain Society of the Cincinnati commemorative punch bowl owned by Richard Varick two centuries ago.

Portrait of Richard Varick by Henry Inman
(c. 1831) Image: Wiki Images
The Varicks were an Old Dutch family who traced their lineage back to the earliest decades of European settlement in the New World. The matriarch of the clan in North America was Margrieta van Varick, who in the seventeenth century lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn with her second husband, Rudolphus. He was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and she maintained a tidy home and small shop that sold decorative housewares imported from around the world. Margrieta died in 1695 when just in her mid-forties, and her children and their own families spread across the Northeast. Great-grandnephew Richard was born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1753. Richard Varick grew up to become a successful New York City attorney. When the Revolutionary War came he served at different times under the commands of Generals Philip Schuyler, Benedict Arnold, and ultimately George Washington.

The Commander in Chief of the Continental Army recognized Varick’s organizing skills and in the later years of the war appointed him secretary of his voluminous documents. No one understood Varick’s contribution more than George Washington himself. On January 1, 1784—five weeks after Evacuation Day and eight days after the general’s return home to civilian life—Washington wrote to Varick from Mount Vernon: “The public and other Papers which were committed to your charge, and the Books in which they have been recorded under your inspection, having come safe to hand, I take this first opportunity of signifying my entire approbation of the manner in which you have executed the important duties of recording Secretary, and the satisfaction I feel in having my Papers so properly arranged, & so correctly recorded—and beg you will accept my thanks for the care and attention which you have given to this business. I am fully convinced that neither the present age or posterity will consider the time and labour which have been employed in accomplishing it, unprofitable spent.” (“From George Washington to Richard Varick, 1 January 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives) That same day Washington signed Richard Varick’s certificate of membership into the Society of the Cincinnati.

Americans that winter was eager to move on with their lives, build their new nation, and—quite literally—get down to business. On February 20 Richard Varick was appointed Recorder of the City of New York. Two days later—George Washington’s birthday—the Empress of China sailed from New York Harbor on its way to Canton in search of riches. She was the first American trading vessel to sail to China. In her hold were thirty tons of ginseng and $20,000 in Spanish silver specie. Aboard too was Samuel Shaw, one of the Empress of China’s two “supercargos” whose task was to represent the ship’s investors and negotiate the exchange of money and goods between the American emissaries and their Chinese counterparts. Shaw was a fortunate choice. A former military aide to General Henry Knox and himself a member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, Captain Shaw was an astute intermediary whose skills helped make the Empress of China’s voyage spectacularly profitable upon its return in May 1785. Others recognized Shaw’s talents; within a year of Shaw’s coming home, Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay appointed him to the post of Consul of the United States at Canton. In this capacity Shaw oversaw 
American economic interests in China. Chinese porcelain was especially coveted by Americans. Besides representing American business concerns, Shaw commissioned scores of items in a personal capacity for members of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Close up, Varick Punchbowl, MORR 3757. Photo: Morristown NHP
Chinese porcelain was not new to North Americans in the 1780s; the British and Dutch had been importing Chinaware to the New World for well over a century. The trade picked up heavily though in the earliest years of the republic. So great was the American market in the early years of the nation that porcelain was soon coming regularly by the tonnage, used literally as ballast in cargo holds on voyages home. Porcelain was an ideal trade commodity: imperishable, immune to fluctuations in heat or cold, and impervious to any dampness in the hatch down below.

Of the thousands of pieces of Chinese porcelain made specifically for the American market in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some were of simple decoration; others were elaborately painted to strict customer specifications. Richard Varick’s Society of the Cincinnati punch bowl fell into the latter category. Its provenance is unclear. It is not even known when the bowl was made, though most specialists agree that it was likely prior to 1790. Who commissioned it—Varick himself or someone else—is similarly unclear. Captain Shaw’s role, if any, in overseeing the punch bowl’s creation is also a mystery. Given Shaw’s own membership in the Society of the Cincinnati, his interest in both porcelain and creating an iconography for the fraternal organization, his job as a supercargo on the Empress of China, and later position as consul, it is safe to assume though that he was involved in at least some aspect of the process. At the very least Shaw would have been aware of its manufacture.

Close up, Varick Punchbowl, MORR 3757.
Photo: Morristown NHP

Varick’s punch bowl bears the text of his Society of the Cincinnati membership certificate, which means that either the original or a draft of it had to have been shipped to Canton for the artist to render. Because George Washington signed that document on January 1, 1784 and the Empress of China sailed six weeks later on February 22, it is entirely possible it was on that very first voyage. Still, that is entirely theorizing and conjecture. Whatever the details of the bowl’s creation, specialists agree that is one of the most exquisite examples of Chinese porcelain ever created. In her 1892 book “China Collecting in America” historian Alice Morse Earle declared that the bowl “is in perfect condition, and is one of the finest historical relics of early Federal times that I have ever seen.” (p. 223-24)

It must have been one of Richard Varick’s most prized possessions. A proud Revolutionary War veteran, Varick served as president of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati from 1806 until his passing in 1831. The bowl eventually fell in the possession of a grandnephew, Dr. Theodore Romeyn Varick of Jersey City. Upon his death in November 1887 the esteemed physician bequeathed the punch bowl and other items to the Washington Association of New Jersey. These caretakers of the Ford Mansion displayed it there until donating the historic house and all of the Association’s treasures to the American people via the National Park Service in March 1933. The Varick punch bowl has been loaned occasionally for public displays of precious Chinaware, most notably to the Newark Museum in 1979 to showcase Chinese porcelain held in New Jersey collections and the New-York Historical Society in 1984 for a bicentennial celebration of the Empress of China’s 1784 voyage. After that N-YHS exhibit the bowl was put in storage here at Morristown National Historical Park, where it sat for years until being rediscovered in the early 2000s by one of the trustees of the Washington Association. Since that time it has again held pride of place here in the museum for all to see.

Written by Keith J. Muchowski, Morristown NHP volunteer