Doing a little presidential research I came across a name of a person who was associated with the first President of the United States. Hercules was listed as the Chef with no last name, at that moment I wanted to see his picture. My instincts were correct, Hercules was a slave of George Washington. I was immediately interested in how he was able to gain the position? What must it had been like being a slave an cooking large meals for the great general and President George Washington and his family and friends?
Hercules was said to have been born around 1755, either as a slave to the President his whole life or a slave from Martha the President’s wife’s family. He would end up being married and having 3 children on the plantation. He was moved as the Chef to Philadelphia with a number of other slaves. George Washington’s grandson J.W.P. Curtis once was quoted as saying,
“a celebrated artiste … as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States.”
He was a dapper dresser and known to have been able to walk the streets. He could afford the clothes as the hired Chef at the white house being paid $200 ($5,082.20 in 2016) a year and give the ability to sell his food. In 1780 things changed for slavery in the state of Pennsylvania as the Gradual Abolition Act was passed in congress. This required that slave owners may only own slaves in the state for 6 months. If a slave was owned longer than set period they had the right to free themselves. George Washington’s attorney argued he was only a resident by force of position as the White House was now temporarily in Philadelphia. There was also the argument that the laws that applied to the state should not apply to members of congress. Instead of fight he started moving his slaves in and out of the state on 6 month terms, even though it was illegal to do so no one challenged him.
It’s believed that he and his son Richmond may have been working together to plan his escape. In 1796, Richmond was implicated in plantation papers to have been involved in a theft of money from the home. Papers also show President Washington left Hercules behind to do work with other slaves around Mt. Vernon. Hercules finally escaped to his freedom February 22, 1797, The Presidents 65th Birthday.
I found his daughters response to the future King of France Louis Phillipe who was visiting at the time to be amazing. Louis thought she must be hurt she would never see her father again she surprised him with her response, “Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now.”
No one is sure of his death or where he ended up but it was believed by Martha the Presidents widow to be living in New York. The Washington’s spent many years and expenses trying to track down the whereabouts of the now former Chef and Slave. Upon the death of George Washington he was granted his freedom as we know he didn’t wait for permission. No one was able to tell him this as once he left he never looked back and was never seen again. This just goes to show that even a slave given more than most free people would rather be FREE.
For Peace and Justice,