Adrien Petit

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Adrien Petit, a native of the Champagne district of France, first came into Jefferson's service on 22 May 1785. He had been maitre d'hotel, or butler, in the household of John and Abigail Adams at Neuilly. When the Adamses departed for London in 1785, Jefferson inherited Petit, who first served as his valet de chambre[1] and, in that capacity, accompanied him to London in 1786. On his return to Paris, Jefferson discovered the "embezzlements and depradations" of his butler Marc.[2] Marc was immediately dismissed and Petit rose to the top position, at a wage of 72 livres (412) a month.

Petit was maitre d'hotel at the Hotel de Langeac throughout the rest of Jefferson's residence in Paris. When Jefferson accepted appointment as Washington's secretary of state, he determined to have Petit "in the same capacity as housekeeper,"[3] asking William Short to persuade him to leave France for America. This Petit was reluctant do do, but he finally agreed and arrived in Philadelphia in 19 July 1791. He governed the household staff[4] (for a wage of $18.50 a month) until Jefferson's retirement in 1794, when he returns to France.

Jefferson's particularly valued Petit's honesty and fidelity--essential qualities in his position. A French maitre d'hotel was administrator of the entire household staff and was responsible for the purchase of food and supplies for the household. Because he selected the provisions at market and oversaw the dessert course he was also expected to have culinary talents (Jefferson's once wrote that "indispensable qualifications" for a maitre d'hotel were "honesty and skill in making the dessert.")[5] Petit's recipes for coffee and ice cream, for instance, were preserved, while a later butler, Eteinne Lemaire, left recipes for pancakes as well as meat courses.

--Original author, Lucia Stanton, 1989


  1. Petit briefly left Jefferson's service in November 1785 for employment as maitre d'hotel to a Paris banker.
  2. William Short to William S. Smith, 6 August 1786, PTJ, 10:213-214. Jefferson later compared Marc's and Petit's household accounts. Under Petit's regime the cost of the main meal of the day was twenty percent cheaper. See MB, 1:646-647.
  3. Jefferson to Short, 12 March 1790, PTJ, 16:229.
  4. At one point in this period a domestic dispute arose between Petit and Jefferson's coachman, Fracis Seche, and his wife. Petit threatened to return to France if they were not removed from the household. Jefferson, who wrote, "I have had such long experience of the fidelity of Petit, and value him so much," dismissed the Seches. See MB, 2:880.
  5. Jefferson to Philippe Letombe, 29 July 1801.