ELIZABETH THOMPSON was seventy-two years old when she accepted the position of housekeeper to George Washington and his military family. The Irish widow exhibited the stamina and vigor of a much younger woman, following Washington as he moved up and down the northeastern coast. Her duties included overseeing the cooking, cleaning, and the washing of clothes, as well as supervising female servants in the General’s household for which she received “50 £ New York money” a year. She replaced MARY SMITH who left (or was discharged) shortly before it became known that she was part of a loyalist group whose intention was to help the British secure New York City.( Above is Mary Smith’s signature indicating she had received of Caleb Gibbs $216 for the use of Washington and his family.)
Washington had asked the help of Colonel James Clinton in finding a replacement for Mary, as he was “entirely destitute” of a housekeeper, and had heard good reports of Thompson. He hired her but she served for less than a year (July 1776 to April 1777) when she was let go because the spring campaign was about to begin. Apparently Martha Washington was upset when she learned that her husband had dismissed Thompson without consulting her and urged him to rehire her, if not for his military household then for Mount Vernon. Mrs. Thompson was located and agreed to return—to army headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey.
Mrs. Thompson proved to be more than competent in discharging her many responsibilities—quite amazing considering that she could neither read nor write. When she retired in 1781 she was asked to “assist in the enquiries and examination” of a new cook. Washington preferred a German, “a Person that has an understanding in the business, who can order, as well as get a dinner; who can make dishes, and proportion them properly, to any Company which shall be named to him. . . .” Apparently someone satisfactory was found.
When Mrs. Thompson left Washington’s employ, the General invited her to come and live at Mount Vernon but she was too infirm to make the trip. On October 10, 1783 John Trumbull, writing for Elizabeth Thompson, sent a letter to George Washington.
When I had the favour of seeing your Excellency at Princeton you desired that I should make an Account for my Services in your Family to be laid before the Financier.
I came in to Your Excellency’s Service as Houskeeper in the month of June 1776 with a Zealous Heart to do the best in my Power. Although my Abilities had not the Strength of my Inclinations Your goodness was pleased to approve and bear with me untill December 1781 when Age made it necessary for me to retire.
Your Bounty and goodness in that time bestowed upon me the sum of £79 ..6..8 which makes it impossible for me to render an Account: my Service was never equal to what your Benevolence has thus rated them.
And being now in my Eightieth Year should I ever want, which I hope will not be the Case, I will look up to Your Excellency for Assistance where I am sure I will not be disappointed.
And that the Father of Mercies may pour on you his Choicest Blessings shall ever be the Prayer of
Old Devoted Servant
Thompson applied for and, in 1785, received a lifetime pension from the Continental Congress for her service: £100 a year. She died in 1788.