Happy Thanksgiving month! In 1789, George Washington proclaimed a national thanksgiving day to be held on November 26th so that Americans could be publically grateful for the new nation and conclusion of the war. No doubt Washington’s personal celebrations involved lots of food which brings us to the postcard above, a picture of the Mount Vernon kitchen.
While the food served at Mount Vernon was relatively plain, the abundance of guests at the estate made the kitchen quite the scene. In order to prepare for a full dinner like the one possibly served on November 26th, 1789, the two enslaved cooks, Nathan and Lucy, and the housekeeper Mrs. Forbes would begin the day at 4 a.m. Stoking the fire and hauling and heating water were the first order of business. Breakfast was served at 7 a.m. and after the table was cleared preparations for the big dinner would commence. Martha Washington was an important part of the dinner process, consulting with the cooks and inspecting the food. Lucy and Nathan might have a short break around noon but the duration of the morning and early afternoon was spent cutting vegetables, getting meat ready, and baking various confections. Dinner was served promptly at 3 p.m.; the general being a stickler for punctual meals and meal attendance. Guests at Mount Vernon recall eating pork, lamb, roasted fowl, mutton, cabbage, potatoes, hominy, peas, artichokes, boiled beef, fried tripe, pickles, puddings, tarts, mince pies, and cheese, among other things. While family and visitors ate in one of the dining rooms, Lucy, Nathan, and Mrs. Forbes supped in the kitchen before getting ready for the next meal: tea.
The Washingtons were known for their gracious hospitality and surely the Thanksgiving celebration was no exception. But none of their elegant yet simple dinners would be possible without the hard work of Lucy, Nathan, Mrs. Forbes and the other members of the kitchen. This November, as think about our stomachs and our blessings, let’s not forget the oftentimes hidden yet essential members of Mount Vernon life!
The postcards featured in the MV Mailbox series and hundreds others are part of Mount Vernon’s postcard collection. They range vastly in age and subject matter, but have one underlying commonality: George Washington’s estate.