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Run, Hercules, Run!
February 22, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

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

The Philly Inquirer explores the life of Washington's top chef, the slave known as Hercules, who escaped on Washington's birthday: February 22, 1797.

Part Two of the Inquirer article.

Also:
NPR on slave chefs.
posted by mudpuppie (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is good.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2010


Great stuff, read over the weekend.
posted by fixedgear at 12:40 PM on February 22, 2010


I came for the irony, I stayed for the food porn:
During the week of May 19 [1794], for instance, the kitchen prepared 293 pounds of beef, 111 pounds of veal, 54 pounds of mutton, 129 pounds of lamb, 16 pounds of pork, calves' feet (for sweet colonial Jell-O), 44 chickens, 22 pigeons, 2 ducks, 10 lobsters, 98 pounds of butter, 32 dozen eggs, myriad fruits and vegetables, 3 half-barrels of beer, 20 bottles of porter, 9 bottles of "cyder," 2 bottles of Sauternes, 22 bottles of Madeira, 4 bottles of claret, 10 bottles of Champagne, and 1 twenty-eight-pound cheese.
I know that these were state banquets but holy crap.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:30 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, Washington was kind of a dick. His scheme to rotate his slaves out of Pennsylvania to keep them from being freed under the Gradual Abolition Act along with his treatment of Oney Judge makes him seem like a pretty enthusiastic slaver.

I guess his repayment is having his face stuck in countless g-strings, for eternity.
posted by mullingitover at 1:32 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Actually, it was probably Martha who was the bad actor here. She was the rich one in the family, and apparently called the shots about the slaves. Washington did leave provisions in his will to emancipate all his slaves . . . after Martha's death.
posted by bearwife at 1:43 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I came for the irony, I stayed for the food porn

Me too!

I'm thrilled that The Powers That Be deigned to redevelop their plans for the President's House site, too. There was some pooh-poohing initially about how unpleasant (!) it would be to deal head-on with slavery while we're busy extolling the awesomeness of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Good grief.
posted by desuetude at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2010


The second article states that Washington "...would be the only Founding Father to free his slaves, an act he added to his will in the last year of his life...", except, that's not true. Benjamin Franklin freed his two slaves in 1785, five years before his death, while John Jay, John Adams and (maybe) Alexander Hamilton never even owned slaves. (Fun Fact: as governor of New York in 1799, John Jay oversaw that largest emancipation of slaves in the US prior to the Civil War.)
posted by thewittyname at 2:05 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am amazed that the USA's constitution has a provision that protects the owners of fugitive slaves. I mean, really? Don't you think it's time to take that bit out?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:08 PM on February 22, 2010


Actually, it was probably Martha who was the bad actor here. She was the rich one in the family, and apparently called the shots about the slaves. Washington did leave provisions in his will to emancipate all his slaves . . . after Martha's death.
Hmmm. I don't know... From the article:

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

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

posted by verb at 2:15 PM on February 22, 2010


The second article states that Washington "...would be the only Founding Father to free his slaves, an act he added to his will in the last year of his life...", except, that's not true.

So he wasn't the first one - and by far not the only one - to know what he was doing was wrong all along.

What a great humanitarian. He freed his slaves. After he and his old lady had no further use of them. After keeping 319 human beings like farm animals while George and Martha were still alive. Mighty white of him.
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Gee, the comment threads on those are depressingly beset with racist trolls. Great articles though.
posted by Coaticass at 2:27 PM on February 22, 2010


Washington also told his secretary of state that if the states divided, he would side with the north. It's clear that he had his conflicts on the issue. (And also clear that his resolution of the conflicts lay with continuing to benefit from owning slaves.)

John Jay oversaw that largest emancipation of slaves in the US prior to the Civil War

Less fun fact: it wasn't much of an emancipation. Existing slaves continued to be slaves for life. Their children were born into servitude for 25 or 28 years (for females or males, respectively.) There was no comment on the civil rights of free blacks.

Due to similar grandfather clauses, there were instances of legal slavery in the north almost until the Civil War.
posted by Zed at 2:46 PM on February 22, 2010


From the article I linked to above:

George Washington's attitude toward slavery changed as he grew older. During the Revolution, as he and fellow patriots strove for liberty, Washington became increasingly conscious of the contradiction between this struggle and the system of slavery. By the time of his presidency, he seems to have believed that slavery was wrong and against the principles of the new nation.

As President, Washington did not lead a public fight against slavery, however, because he believed it would tear the new nation apart. Abolition had many opponents, especially in the South. Washington seems to have feared that if he took such a public stand, the southern states would withdraw from the Union (something they would do seventy years later, leading to the Civil War). He had worked too hard to build the country to risk tearing it apart.

Privately, however, Washington could -- and did -- lead by example. In his will, he arranged for all of the slaves he owned to be freed after the death of his wife, Martha. He also left instructions for the continued care and education of some of his former slaves, support and training for all of the children until they came of age, and continuing support for the elderly.


I would just add that although the articles in the post are fascinating, it is important to remember that Martha Custis was a rich window when Washington married her, seems to have maintained pretty active management of her "dower," which included the majority of their slaves, and to have been resistant to freeing slaves. Even after Washington's death, she only freed the slaves he had owned, not her "dower" slaves. Here's one source for all of that.
posted by bearwife at 3:50 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, this would make a great movie.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:14 PM on February 22, 2010


I guess his repayment is having his face stuck in countless g-strings, for eternity.

Like that'd bother him, he was a total horndog. Those signs that say "George Washington slept here" usually leave out "...with some tramp he picked up at the tavern." They don't call him the Father of our Country for nothing.
NOT CHERRYTREE-IST.

I am amazed that the USA's constitution has a provision that protects the owners of fugitive slaves. I mean, really? Don't you think it's time to take that bit out?

Taken care of in late 1865 (and in Mississippi in 1995).
posted by kirkaracha at 4:37 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


yes, a movie! Chris Tucker can play Hercules, with Jackie Chan as George Washington! Directed by Tommy Wiseau .... excellent.
posted by mannequito at 6:06 PM on February 22, 2010


What a great story. I was SO relieved to hear he escaped. I would love to see a movie that included speculation on his escape and adventures in freedom. I like to think he got his way onto a boat for France and lived in high style for the rest of his days.
posted by amethysts at 7:10 PM on February 22, 2010


God, never, EVER read the comments on an Inquirer article. They are just grotesque. I have no idea where the hell those people come from.

I was surprised to see that this article was by Craig LaBan, the Inquirer's food critic, but I guess I should have seen the signs in his loving descriptions of the food. The rest of his articles are similarly excellent.
posted by deafmute at 7:20 PM on February 22, 2010


Gee, the comment threads on those are depressingly beset with racist trolls. Great articles though.

I swear there's an organized effort. *sigh* Don't read any articles on the crime rate if you don't wish your eyes to need a scrubbing.
posted by desuetude at 7:23 PM on February 22, 2010


Chris Tucker can play Hercules

I'm thinking Tom Hanks.
posted by contraption at 8:53 PM on February 22, 2010


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