From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
James Hemings (1765-1801) was a slave and cook for Jefferson, who inherited Hemings by marriage. He was nineteen years old when Jefferson decided to bring him to France "for a particular purpose." Hemings spent the next three years as an apprentice with a variety of French caterers and cooks, and then he took charge of the kitchen in Jefferson's residence on the Champs-Elysées. His creations were served to authors and scientists, and a succession of European aristocrats from the Duc de la Rochefoucauld to the Princess Lubomirska.
From Trainee to Trainer
Back in America, James Hemings was Jefferson's chef in Philadelphia and at Monticello. When he asked to be freed, his manumission was made contingent on training another Monticello slave in "the art of cookery." His brother Peter was thus the next head cook at Monticello. (A Frenchman, however, became the next chef in the President's House when James Hemings declined the post.)
Soon, African-American apprentices from Monticello were at work in Washington under Jefferson's chef, Honoré Julien. Edith Fossett and Fanny Hern spent several years at the President's House, and took over the Monticello kitchen on Jefferson's retirement from the presidency in 1809. There, they transformed what Jefferson called "plantation fare" into "choice" meals.
The skills and recipes that came to Monticello were passed from one family member to another, so that when Edith Fossett's son (and James Hemings's great-nephew) Peter Fossett became free in 1850 and moved to Cincinnati, he used some of those same talents to build up one of that city's most successful catering firms.
Primary Source References
1784 May 7. (Jefferson to William Short). "I propose for a particular purpose to carry my servant Jame with me. I must therefore ask the favor of you to hire an express at my expence to carry the inclosed to Capt. Key with your instructions to him, adapted to the event of your own determination. If you conclude to join me I would wish you to order Jame to join and attend you without a moment's delay. If you decline the trip, be so good as to direct that he shall immediately come on to me at Philadelphia."
1784 May 7. (Jefferson to John Key). "To send Jame."
1784 May 14. (William Short to Jefferson). "The Moment I recieved [sic] your Letter, I looked out for an Express to send to Albemarle. Whilst in this Search I was informed Jame was in Town with a Mr. Martin whome he accompanied as a riding valet. I sent immediately to his Lodgings and was told he had set out that Morning to some Place and would return probably in a Day or two. To-day he returned. To-morrow Jame goes off on his Way to Albemarle."
1784 May 15. (William Short to Jefferson). "Jame sets out to Albemarle this Morning. My Intention was, as it was impossible for me to set out immediately that he should go on from Monticello to the Northward. But a Gentleman who is going from hence immediately to Philadelphia wishes very much that he should accompany him. As it will be much more secure for him to travel under his Wing than alone, I have agreed, if the Gentleman, whether he can await his Return from Monticello and this is to determine his Route...Jame has this Moment come here and says Capt. Bohannon cannot set out as soon as he had intended by 10 or 12 Days. He will therefore go on from Albemarle. He has been Yesterday Evening and this Morning in Search of an Horse to hire. I understood from him last Night that he had procured one, but this Mornings he tells me the Man of whome he was to have the Horse has disappointed him."
1784 May 15. (Henry Martin to Jefferson). "Your servant James has attended me some time ( a boy which I had being ill) and conducted himself much to my satisfaction as he has been very careful and assiduous. Immediately upon hearing your intention I put him under the direction of Mr. Short."
1786 February 5. (Jefferson to Anthony Giannini). "James is well. He has forgot how to speak English, and has not learnt to speak French."
1786 June 9. (Anthony Giannini to Jefferson). "Betty Hamen...dara i suoi compliment a James da parta sua."
1786 August 25. (Jefferson to Paul Bentalou). "I have made enquiries on the subject of the negro boy you have brought, and find that the laws of France give him freedom if he claims it, and that it will be difficult, if not impossible, ti interrupt the course of the law. Nevertheless, I have known an instance where a person bringing in a slave, and saying nothing about it, has not been disturbed in his possession. I think it will be easier in your case to pursue the same plan, as the boy is so young that it is not probably he will think of claiming freedom..."
1787 April 17. (Philip Mazzei to Jefferson). "On the subject of Jams, the Prince de Conde's cook because of the Prince's absence took James to the place of a pupil of his, who gave him lessons for one day in the city, 5 days in the country, and 4 more days after returning. James says that in the country he learned that the cost, including room and board, would be 12 francs per day. The other fellow says that he told him before they left. I knew nothing except when it was all over. I explained to James that even if it was true that he was not told before going to the country, his staying four days more after his return is not excusable. The new cook says that he will take him for 100 francs monthly for a full year, or for 200 by the month. The Price de Conde's cook will continue to have him on the same terms as before when the Prince is in Paris and will try to take him to Burgundy when that Parlement [sic] is in session. My opinion would be to opt for the latter and let the other go by paying him the five louis which James's carelessness and indiscretion have made, I ttink, unavoidable. I beg you to let me have your opinion or decision."
1789 January 9. (Perrault to Jefferson translated from the French). "On 6 Jan. he came to demand the 24 livres owed him by TJ's chef de cuisine for teaching him French grammar during the past 20 months. This sum had previously been refused with the harshest insults. He then asked Adrien Pettit's aid. Gimme (James) then attacked him with kicks and punches, which forced him to take to his bed since that time, and tore an overcoat ("Redingotte") from him which is the only article of clothing he has against the rigors of the season, thus putting it out of his power to earn his living, since it is so cold and he daren't appear with his clothes in pieces. Please help him recover his salary, he having always acted well in your respectable house. Your porter was a witness, as were others of the ignominious treatment I received at your hotel."
- ↑ This article is based on Lucia Stanton; condensed from an essay, "From Plantation Fare to French Cuisine," Monticello Newsletter 4(1993).
- ↑ Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
- ↑ PTJ, 7:229.
- ↑ Letter not found but sentence found in Jefferson's SJL. See Ibid, 7:228.
- ↑ Ibid, 7:255.
- ↑ Ibid, 7:256-257.
- ↑ Ibid, 7:259.
- ↑ Ibid, 7:279.
- ↑ Ibid, 9:254.
- ↑ Ibid, 9:624.
- ↑ Ibid, 10:296.
- ↑ Marchione, Margherita, ed.Philip Mazzei: My Life and Wanderings. (Morristown N.J.: American Institute of Italian Studies, 1980), 1:548.
- ↑ PTJ, 14:426.
- ↑ Ibid, 20:381.
- ↑ Ibid, 20:415.
- Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Available for purchase at Monticello Museum Shop
- Stanton, Free Some Day. Available for purchase at Monticello Museum Shop
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Getting Word. http://www.monticello.org/gettingword/index.html
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Plantation Database. http://plantationdb.monticello.org/nMonticello.html
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The Monticello Classroom. http://classroom.monticello.org/kids/resources/profile/83/James-Hemings-an-enslaved-cook/