Tobias Lear to Daniel Grant
New York, February 28th 1790.
About 3 or 4 weeks ago I wrote to Philadelphia to know if a good Cook could be had from that City for the family of the President of the United States—I received for answer that a complete one could not be found there at that time,1 but that it was probable one might be obtained from Baltimore, and Mr Moyston had accordingly written to Baltimore for one who had lately gone thither from Philada. As I have received no information since upon the subject, and it being necessary that we should have a complete Cook established in the family (being now obliged to employ a temporary one) the President has directed me to write to you upon the subject—requesting that you will be so obliging as to inform me whether a person could be obtained from Baltimore, who perfectly understands the business of cookery in all its branches and is in other respects qualified to come into this family. The qualifications necessary, besides skill in the business, are honesty, sobriety, and good dispositions— The person who may come in this capacity will be wholly confined to the duties of a Cook—If you know any person of the above description, and who, from your own judgment, you may think competent to this place, you will oblige me by giving immediate information thereof,2 and at the same time let me know precisely the terms upon which he would engage.3 I am Sir, your most obedt Servt
S. P. U. S.
1. In a postscript to a letter of 7 Feb. 1790, Lear wrote to Clement Biddle: “I will thank you, if it is not giving too much trouble, to let me know if a compleat Cook can be had in Philadelphia, for the President—a competent & compleat knowledge of Cookery is all that is requisite in such a person—we have a Steward—&c. Mr [Edward] Moyston would probably be able to give information on this subject—The wages that will be expected by a Cook would be proper to be known also” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence). Biddle replied to Lear’s query on 10 Feb. 1790: “I enqu[i]red of Mr Moysten for a Cook he Knows of none at present that will Answer, but will make Enquiry & I shall do the same” (PHi: Clement Biddle Letterbook). A Mrs. Read had been employed as cook for the presidential household shortly before GW’s arrival in New York (see CtY: Household Accounts, passim), but because her services were unsatisfactory and there was apparently some question as to her honesty (see GW to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791), advertisements appeared in the newspapers between December 1789 and February 1790 for a new cook, stating that “No one need apply who is not perfect in the business, and can bring indubitable testimonials of sobriety, honesty, and attention to the duties of the station” (Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 93–94).
2. On 8 April 1790 Lear wrote again to Grant, stating “I have been duly favored with your letter of the 7th of March, and should have given it an earlier acknowledgment had I received an answer from Mr Moyston of Philada to whom I wrote upon receiving your letter to know the character and qualifications of the Cook whom you mentioned—as you informed me that he had lived with him several years—Not having received the information of which I expected from Mr Moyston—and daily experiencing the inconvenience of wanting an established and good Cook in the family—the President has again directed me to write to you upon the subject—requesting that you will be so good as to learn from the Man whom you mentioned the precise terms upon which he would engage to come into this family—what he expects or wishes to do with his wife and Children if he should come—and to let me know your opinion respecting the mans qualifications as a Cook, and his dispositions as a domestic—for the great confidence will be placed in your character of him.
“The highest wages we have given for the best Cook (and I am informed that none higher have been given in this place) is twelve dollars per month with his washing, lodging &ca. I mention this circumstance that if the man should think of making an extravagant demand to serve in the President’s family, he may know what has been given. Your attention to this matter, as soon as convenient, will oblige the President—and upon receiving your letter, an immediate and decisive answer will be given thereto with my best thanks for your trouble in this business.” Lear added a postscript stating that “The duties of a Cook are far from being hard or complicated—for we entertain company but seldom, and that regularly” (DLC:GW).
3. The difficulties in finding a new cook continued into the spring of 1791 after the household had moved to Philadelphia. Rachel Lewis, one of the kitchen maids, filled in for a time. Auguste Lamuir, a French cook, was hired for a period of one month but apparently proved unsatisfactory. In May 1790 John Vicar of Baltimore was employed at a salary of fifteen dollars per month. When the capital moved to Philadelphia, Vicar and his wife accompanied the household to Philadelphia where he remained until May 1791 (see Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 121, 152, 234).