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More - Hercules & Hemings: African American Cooks in the Presidents Kitchen  
   
   
     
   
  Listen as historian William Seales, author of The President's House, describes the White House Kitchen during the Jefferson and Madison eras and the tells the story of John Freeman, the butler and Paul Jennings who worked in the kitchen—two slaves who stayed behind until the very end when the White House was being burned down by the British in 1814.  
 
 
Hercules as described by George Washington's adopted son.  
  George Washington Parke Custis, Washington's adopted son, grandson of First Lady Martha Washington, writes about Hercules in his published memoirs — Recollections and Private Memoirs of the Life and Character of Washington. Here is an excerpt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
Samuel Fraunces was another one of Washington's cooks. Born in Caribbean of black and white parents. Keeping with the fashion of the time, he wore a powdered wig. Fraunces owned one of the finest taverns in colonial New York City. When Washington arrived in Philadelphia in 1790 as President, Fraunces came with him as his personal cook and established a business referred to later as the Golden Tun Tavern. Fraunces's Tavern was the social center of the city. It was there in 1768 that the Commerce was organized. It was here in 1774 that the Sons of Liberty planned a New York "Tea Party." It was here finally that' George Washington bade farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Listen as culinary historian, organic gardener and author, William Woys Weaver describes Philadelphia's outdoor market where Chef Hercules shopped during the 1790s and where George Washington sent his kitchen staff out to buy up all of "George Washington's Favorite," a yellow apple, which is now extinct.

 

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  Black Caterers of Philadelphia  
     
  In the early 1800s, African Americans cornered the market in the catering business in Philadelphia. Historians Sharron Conrad and William Woys Weaver talk about how these catering families became the arbiters of taste for the wealthy white community.


W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that the African-American caterers "as remarkable a trade guild as ever ruled in a medieval city. [The caterers] took complete leadership of the bewildered group of Negroes, and led them steadily on to a degree of affluence, culture and respect such as has probably never been surpassed in the history of the Negro in America." We've included an excerpt from his book "Negro in Philadelphia: A Social Study " written in 1899 where he talks about the Guild of Caterers.
 
 
 
  Caterer  
 
 
  There are very few images of these men available. What you see here and others can be found in Charles L. Blockson's book, Philadelphia 1639-2000, The Black America Series.  
 
 
  Excerpt - Guild of the Caterers 1840-1870 - by W.E.B. DuBois
 
     
 

The outlook for the Negro in Philadelphia about 1840 was not encouraging. Riots and the tide of prejudice and economic proscription drove so many Negroes from the city that the black population actually showed a decrease in the decade 1840-50. Worse than this, the good name of the Negroes in the city had been lost through the increased crime and the undeniably frightful condition of the Negro slums. The foreign element gained all the new employments which the growing industries of the State opened, and competed for the trades and common vocations. The outlook was certainly dark. It was at this time that there arose to prominence and power as remarkable a trade guild as ever ruled in a mediaeval city. It took complete leadership of the bewildered group of Negroes, and led them steadily on to a degree of affluence, culture and respect such as has probably never been surpassed in the history of the Negro in America. This was the guild of the caterers, and its masters include names which have been household words in the city for fifty years: Bogle, Augustin, Prosser, Dorsey, Jones and Minton. To realize just the character of this new economic development we must not forget the economic history of the slaves. At first they were wholly house servants or field hands. As city life in the colony became more important, some of the slaves acquired trades, and thus there arose a class of Negro artisans. Indeed it is probable that between 1790 and 1820 a very large portion, and perhaps most, of the artisans of Philadelphia were Negroes. In 1837 only about 350 men out of a city population of 10,500 Negroes, pursued trades, or about one in every twenty adults.

To the more pushing and energetic Negroes only two courses were open : to enter into commercial life in some small way, or to develop certain lines of home service into a more independent and lucrative employment. The whole catering business, arising from
an evolution shrewdly, persistently and tastefully directed, transformed the Negro cook and waiter into the public caterer and restaurateur, and raised a crowd of underpaid menials to become a set of self-reliant, original business men, who amassed fortunes for themselves and won general respect for their people.

The first prominent Negro caterer was Robert Bogle, who, early in the century, conducted an establishment on Eighth street, near Sansoin. In his day he was one of the best known characters of Philadelphia, and virtually created the business of catering in the city. He was the butler of the smart set, and his taste of hand and eye and palate set the fashion of the day. This functionary filled a unique place in a time when social circles were very exclusive, and the millionaire and the French cook had not yet arrived. Bogle's place was eventually taken by Peter Augustin, a West Indian immigrant, who started a business in 1818 which is still carried on. It was the Augustin establishment that made Philadelphia catering famous all over the country. The best families of the city, and the most distinguished foreign guests, were served by this caterer. Other Negroes soon began to crowd into the field thus opened. The Prossers, father and son, were prominent among these, perfecting restaurant catering and making many famous dishes. Finally came the triumvirate Jones, Dorsey and Minton, who ruled the fashionable world from 1845-1875.

Such men wielded great personal influence, aided the Abolition cause to no little degree, and made Philadelphia noted for its cultivated and well-to-do Negro citizens. Their conspicuous success opened opportunities for Negroes in other lines. — Excerpt from Chapter 4 of W.E.B. DuBois's book "Negro in Philadelphia"

 
     
 
W.E.B. and Shirley Graham Du Bois with the sisters Nelson, Davia and Jessie. Los Angeles
 
 

Read more about the Black Caterers
Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia Caterer Thomas J. Dorsey by Sharron Wilkins Conrad
"The Shaping of Black America : Black & Green: the untold story of the African-American entrepreneur" by Lerone Jr. Bennett and Charles White.


 
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"Chefs and Slaves: The Cooks in Jefferson’s Kitchens.” - Leni Sorenson  
     
  For twenty-five years Leni Sorensen has lectured on African American history, and the lives of women in early America.  She is a graduate of the MA-PhD program at the College of William and Mary.  She lives in rural Virginia where she teaches and lectures on culinary history.  This is an excerpt from her foodways lecture series entitled “Fossett, Gillette, Hemings, and Hern: Putting Names to Monticello’s Cooks.”  Her lecture and research is part of a larger book project with the working title “Chefs and Slaves: The Cooks in Jefferson’s Kitchens.”  
 
 
   
 


“Fosset and Hern: Putting Names to Monticello Cooks”


           Edith Hern Fossett and Frances Gillette Hern, two young women from Monticello were trained at the President’s House to meet the demands of Thomas Jefferson’s dining preferences—food that was in a ‘half Virginian, helf French style.” In 1802, Edith Fossett, at age 15, began training as a cook under Jefferson’s chef Honoré Julian.  She was joined there in 1806 by her eighteen year old sister-in-law Frances Hern.  The results can be seen by the reports of their meals; “Never before had such dinners been given in the President’s House,” said one Washington resident.
            The main duty for the daughters of the white household was supervising stored goods.  Almost all foodstuffs were kept under lock and key.  Thus planning meals by checking on available resources, maintaining the condition of preserved vegetables and meats, and portioning out amounts for a day’s menu took a constant series of nuanced interactions between ‘she of the keys’ and ‘she of the kitchen.’  Edith and Frances cooked in Jefferson’s kitchen at Monticello for sixteen years.  During her long servitude head cook Edith Fossett also gave birth to ten children.           

            Epilogue: Thomas Jefferson died in the summer of 1826.  At the estate sale in 1827, among 130 other people, assistant cook Francis Hern, her husband David and their children were sold.  Edith’s husband, Joseph Fossett was freed in Jefferson’s will, but Edith and eight of their children were sold.  Fossett was finally able to buy and free Edith and several children.  By the late 1840s the Fossett family had moved to Ohio.
 
 
 
   
 
Slave gardens at the estate of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
 
   
 
Approximate ration of food (cornmeal, fish, and pork) given to each adult slave per week at Monticello
 
 
 
  photos courtesy of Monticello.org  
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