George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 6 December 1797]

6. Mer. 18–32. River all most closed. Mrs. Forbes our House keeper arrived here this day. Wd. South.

The steady stream of visitors to Mount Vernon put quite a strain on Mrs. Washington. There was no steward or housekeeper at Mount Vernon, and to make matters worse, their slave cook, Hercules, had run away sometime in the early fall. GW wrote several friends requesting them to help him find either a housekeeper or a steward and a cook, either slave or for hire. He also inserted an advertisement in the newspaper for a housekeeper “competent to all the duties of that office in a large family—for such, one hundred and fifty dollars per annum will be allowed. OR In place of a house-keeper, a household steward, well acquainted with the duties of a Butler, and skilled in the art of cookery (the manual part of which would not be required of him) would be employed at the above, or greater wages, if his qualifications entitled him to them” (Columbian Mirror [Alexandria], 12 Aug. 1797). The choice fell upon Mrs. Eleanor Forbes, a 50–year-old English widow who had served as housekeeper for Robert Brooke during his term as governor of Virginia. Mrs. Forbes was, according to Brooke, “active & Spirited in the execution of her business—sober & honest—well acquainted with Cookery & . . . capable of ordering & setting out a table . . . her appearance is decent & respectable & such is her general deportment” (Bushrod Washington to GW, 8 Nov. 1797, ViMtvL). Mrs. Forbes was due to come to Mount Vernon immediately but was unable to come until December (GW to Bushrod Washington, 22 Nov. 1797, DLC:GW; Bushrod Washington to GW, 8 and 26 Nov. 1797, ViMtvL). She proved satisfactory and remained at Mount Vernon until after GW’s death.

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