Hercules Posey: George Washington’s unsung enslaved chef

As a result of Posey was notable in his personal time, there are extra data of his life than of others like him – though this info remains to be extremely sparse. Nevertheless, Washington’s step grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, selected to immortalise the chef in an biographical sketch in his guide Reflections and Personal Memoirs of Washington. A lot what we learn about Posey’s towering persona is gleaned in Custis’ single description. Recalling his childhood within the presidential mansion, he wrote about Posey as “a culinary artiste” and “dandy”, with “nice muscular energy” and a “grasp spirit”, whose “underlings flew to his command” (amongst these underlings have been paid white servants).

Posey was probably a young person when he got here to Mount Vernon, Washington’s property in Virginia, about 150 miles south-west of Philadelphia. He apprenticed there underneath the enslaved cooks Doll and Nathan, who managed the kitchen for a lot of many years, and he mastered his craft so nicely that Washington introduced him to prepare dinner on the President’s Home in Philadelphia in 1790. It was right here in Philadelphia that Posey was uncovered to and impressed by components and cooking strategies from all through the nation – and the world.

Within the time the chef resided in Philadelphia, the town was positioned ideally in the course of the nation, and due to the broad, navigable Susquehanna, Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, regionally produced greens, fruits, meats and dairy merchandise like milk and butter arrived often at its open-air Excessive Avenue Market. The remainder of nation equipped what wasn’t accessible regionally. From the north got here salted New England codfish and prized Connecticut onions together with upstate New York cheese. From the south there was Carolina rice and indigo, in addition to tobacco from Virginia and Maryland.

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Moreover, by the 1760s, Philadelphia’s retailers had come to understand there was an untapped secondary market within the Caribbean (outdoors of the sugar, molasses and rum that went to ports like New York and Boston), and the town got here to guide the nation in imports of ginger, allspice and black pepper, whereas controlling half of all espresso imports. Nutmeg, limes, pineapples, coconuts additionally made their strategy to Philadelphia as a part of this strong West India Commerce, and all have been on provide within the metropolis’s ports for export, in addition to its public markets and lots of taverns.

And, the place the Excessive Avenue Market sheds met the Delaware River, the harbour was jammed with buying and selling ships loaded with olive oils from Spain; wines and oranges from Portugal, France and Germany; and tea from China – all a part of the huge business community that made Philadelphia the busiest port on the American continent.