Hercules (chef)

A slave who worked at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia Plantation on the Potomac River.  known as “Herculas” or “Uncle Harkless” head cook at the mansion in the 1780’s, cooking for the Washington family and their guests. In 1790 President Washington brought him to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (then the temporary national capital) to cook in the kitchen of the President’s House.  Born around 1755, and was either the child of Washington’s slaves or was purchased following Washington’s 1759 marriage to the widow Martha Custis. He would have grown up on the plantation. 

Hercules was recalled as “a celebrated artiste as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States.” The cook was given the privilege of selling the extra food from the Philadelphia kitchen which, by Custis’s estimate, earned him nearly $200 a year, the annual salary of a hired cook.

At Mount Vernon he was sent to work in the kitchen and clearly learned his kitchen craft well from Martha Washington’s longtime slave cook, Old Doll. It was Old Doll and other black slave cooks like her who created the first British fusion cooking, incorporating more than 1,000 years of English, Irish, Welsh, & Scottish cookery with its legacy of Roman occupation, and creating a delicious new cookery. Old Doll and others stirred it all into a big iron pot, along with Native cooking traditions, seasoning it with African spice, flavor, and ingenuity, creating the basis of colonial Virginian cookery.  James Hemings, while in Paris as Jefferson’s chef, fused this new Virginian cookery with fine French Cuisine, codifying another level to Southern cuisine. It was the new James Hemings fusion that was preferred by both Washington and Jefferson.


Martha Washington S 

Booke Of Cookery


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