February 3, 2020

Who Made George Washington's Breakfast?

by Brandon Marie Miller
(Activity: Make Hoe Cakes)

1799, Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington

Enslaved cooks Lucy and Nathan rise well before dawn to begin meal preparations-- coaxing embers into flame, lugging buckets and heating water. Nathan replaced the Washington's former male cook, Hercules, who ran away to freedom in 1797. Butler Frank Lee, also enslaved, sets the table in the family dining room which is painted a deep bright green, the former president's favorite color.

The kitchen at George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington prefers a simple breakfast-- hoe cakes, a corn meal pancake, with a cup of tea. Lucy has prepared the hoe cake batter the night before. Her mother, Doll, had also been a cook at Mount Vernon for many years. Doll was one of the enslaved people the widow Martha Custis brought with her to Mount Vernon when she married George Washington. Lucy's daughter Patty may be one of the assistants, learning kitchen skills at her mother's side.

Mrs.Washington arrives in the kitchen to check preparations and at seven o'clock the Washington family sits down to eat. Food is carried from the kitchen, a separate building, to the main house.Washington likes his hoe cakes dripping with butter and honey. It is a soft breakfast for a man who has painful issues with his false teeth.

The dining room at George Washington's Mount Vernon
After breakfast the table is cleared, pots and pans cleaned. Mrs. Washington discusses dinner plans with Lucy and Nathan. Enslaved gardener, George, brings in fruits and vegetables grown in Mount Vernon's gardens. Lucy, Nathan, and their assistants face a long day ahead, chopping, cooking, roasting, baking bread and cleaning up. The Washingtons nearly always have guests and family to entertain. Lucy and Nathan often prepare large quantities of food.

George and Martha Washington benefitted every day from the care, comfort, and labor of enslaved people they owned like Lucy, Nathan, Frank Lee, Patty and gardener George. And though George Washington freed the slaves he owned when he died in December 1799, the Custis slaves Martha brought to the marriage were not freed.


  1. Are you kidding me? I'm the first to post about this intriguing, want-to-know-more, history book? I love the topic, pictures and recipe.