Washington, George

“busily employd in communicating the Infection”

Another view of the smallpox epidemic in 1776. Having returned to Cambridge from Concord, HANNAH WINTHROP wrote to her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in July after the British had evacuated Boston in March.

Last Saturday afternoon we went into Boston the first time since our removal from Concord . . . .

The reigning Subject is the Small Pox. Boston has given up its Fears of an invasion & is busily employd in
communicating the Infection. Straw beds & cribs are daily carted into the Town. That ever prevailing Passion of following the Fashion is as Predominant at this time as ever. Men Women & children eagerly Crouding to innoculate is I think as modish, as running away from the Troops of a barbarous George was the last Year. . . .

The British forces, threatened by cannon mounted on Dorchester Heights, left Boston in March 1776 for Nova Scotia. Many Loyalists departed as well; some blacks and Native Americans joined them. Those inhabitants who remained faced the scourge of smallpox. The disease had once again become widespread in 1775. George Washington, concerned for his troops, had advised them not to associate with Bostonians leaving the city during the siege. When the British evacuated they left behind their soldiers infected with the disease, which further fueled the outbreak. Washington sent an occupying force of 1,000 troops who had already had smallpox and were therefore immune. Many fearful residents sought to be inoculated, a precaution strongly recommended by Benjamin Franklin, in spite of possibly serious complications. Hannah Winthrop, rather scornfully, termed this surge of interest “modish.” In 1777, Washington ordered that new recruits who had not had smallpox be inoculated. It was one of the most important decisions he made as commander of the Continental Army.

The correspondence between Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The letter in this post can be read in its entirety HERE. The title page of Zabdiel Boylston’s An Historical Account of the Small-pox Inoculated in New England is from Wikimedia Commons.

Holiday Entertainments at Mount Vernon

Now that December is here it’s time to look into some holiday entertainments that are not only timely but informative. Depend on Mount Vernon to present an array of interesting seasonal programs. Plan a visit around those that appeal.

On view until the end of December is a splendid gingerbread replica of the mansion. Including animals in marzipan!

Candlelight tours scheduled throughout the month allow visitors to spend a few hours in the 18th century: visiting the kitchen where servants prepare holiday fare, admiring the dining table laid with beautiful china and traditional comestibles, mixing with costumed dancers and interpreters in the ballroom. There’s no better way to muster up some holiday spirit.

If I could make the trip I would attend a chocolate making demonstration (December 3-6). I never really appreciated the many steps involved in producing the chocolate that is the basis of that wonderful hot drink often served for breakfast back then. Enjoy a spell of spirited music with the fife and drum.

Perhaps the most unexpected and delightful event is a visit with Aladdin the camel. In 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon for the entertainment and delight of his guests and family. Today visitors can hear about his fascination with exotic animals and learn a few facts about camels.

If you can’t visit Mount Vernon do at least visit the online site, take a virtual tour, and enjoy the videos that accompany the holiday offerings.

posted December 2nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Food,Holidays,Mount Vernon,Washington, George

Hercules Revisited

Back in January of 2016 I posted two pieces about a slave named Hercules who was George Washington’s cook for many years both in Mount Vernon and Philadelphia. See them here and here. There was an additional post about Hercules in 2017. Hercules “absconded” in 1797 and could not be located although Washington made attempts to recover him, as did his widow.

This portrait, supposedly of Hercules, appeared in the post. Thought to be by Gilbert Stuart it is in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, a strange place for an artifact associated with George Washington. Who commissioned it is a mystery. Would Washington have wanted a portrait of the enslaved man who was his chef? Slaves had appeared in other paintings of Washington and his family but they were always subordinate characters. Could Hercules himself have commissioned it? He was quite the dandy and made a fair amount of money by selling leftovers from Washington meals.

A recent post by J.L. Bell brought new information about the portrait to my attention. Experts have come to the conclusion that both the subject and the artist have been misrepresented. Although the painting definitely dates to the 1700s, on careful examination the technique and details are not typical of Gilbert Stuart. As for the hat in the portrait, it was assumed to be the toque that chefs wore, but the toque in fact did not appear until the 1820s. The hat in the portrait is now thought to resemble the kind of headdress worn by men on certain islands in the West Indies, as seen in paintings by Agostino Brunias of Dominican Creoles in that era.

This article by Craig LeBan provides more information on Hercules. It turns out that Hercules as a teenager was sold to George Washington by a neighbor who owed him money. The neighbor’s name was John Posey. It was common for enslaved workers to take the last name of their owners, so Hercules’ last name was likely Posey. Since the last known location for Hercules was New York City, researchers checked death notices there and found a Hercules Posey, formerly of Virginia, who lived on Orange Street and died in 1812 at the age of 64.

It seems fair to conclude that the man whose death is recorded above is Washington’s cook. But the mystery surrounding the portrait still remains. Who is the man in the famous portrait and who painted it?

posted April 29th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Hercules,New York,Stuart, Gilbert,Washington, George

“a day of public thanksgiving”

A departure from my usual commitment to focus on women and their words, this post presents George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 3 October 1789 issued in New York City, the capital of the new nation of which Washington was president.

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington

“Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, found HERE. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 131–132.]

posted November 20th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Primary sources,Thanksgiving Proclamation,Washington, George

“perhaps infernal would not be too harsh a name”

In the days that followed the occupation of Philadelphia by the British SARAH LOGAN FISHER described action in and around the city. She had heard that 3,000 fresh troops arrived at New York from England. And that General Burgoyne was “in full march for Albany, where he was expected to be in 24 hours.”

October 9, 1777— A most agreeable piece of intelligence to all the real well-wishers of America, & as great a damp to its pretended friends, such as Washington, the Congress, Council, & all the group of what shall I call them—perhaps infernal would not be too harsh a name, for surely their characters deserve to be stamped with the blackest dye—who wish to raise their own fortunes by sacrificing thousands of lives & the total ruin of their country.

We know, as Sarah did not, that Burgoyne and his forces would be defeated at Saratoga on the 17th of the month. Regarding her husband and the other Quakers being held in Virginia, Sarah faced the “the gloomy prospect of their long confinement.” She missed her Tommy; “the loss of his company embitters every pleasure.”

Meanwhile British attempts to capture American forts on either side of the Delaware so that supply ships could reach Philadelphia were not immediately successful and because they did not control the surrounding countryside their soldiers and the people of Philadelphia began to experience shortages of food, cord wood and other supplies. “The prospect of suffering for want is such that it is dreadful to think what the distresses of the poor people are & must be…. One woman walked 2 miles out of town only for an egg … a thing she could neither borrow or buy.”

November 1, 1777— …. But now after feeling & being very much discouraged at the prospect of want, & having lost our cow & no milk scarcely to be procured, not any of butter or eggs at any price, & the prospect of my children having nothing to eat but salt meat & biscuit, & but very little of that, sunk me almost below hope.

Luckily a friend, from outside the British lines, brought Sarah butter and eggs and another friend bought two cows for her at £15 apiece, alleviating somewhat her concern for her children as well as that concern “naturally arising from an expectation of being hourly confined to my chamber.”

November 5, 1777— ….Felt a little poorly, but ate a hearty supper & went to bed well. Next morning at 4 o’clock dear little Hannah born.”

In early December Sarah was very upset to hear that British forces engaged in skirmishes with Americans were “plundering and ruining many people. Those who had always been steady friends to government fared no better than the rest.”

December 25, 1777— Christmas Day. Sent for Sister Fisher and her little Tommy to come & dine with me on a fine turkey …. Heard an account today of our mill being burnt down.

December 26, 1777— …. Felt very anxious to know how I should get a supply of hard money when what I had was gone & had some thought of selling my best Wilton carpet to raise some.

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958), 451, 455, 456, 458, 459.

posted October 24th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,British soldiers,Burgoyne, Gerneral John,Daily life,Fisher, Sarah Logan,Food,Loyalists,Philadelphia,Quakers,Washington, George

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