Monday, March 8, 2010

Historical notes: Sam Fraunces, First Presidential Steward of the United States

Portrait, Sam Fraunces, property Sons of the Revolution

Fraunces, as Sam Francis styled himself after the Revolution, was a mulatto born in the French West Indies, and had served as the proprietor of a New York tavern, the Mason Arms, before 1763. In that year he became master of the establishment that made him famous, known before the war as the Queen's Head and situated in in what had been the DeLancey Mansion on the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets. A dapper figure, he was, like most noted professional hosts, a connoisseur, an extrovert, and an autocrat. Above all, a sworn revolutionary. The Revolution itself was fomented in the urban "public houses" of the colonies and it was at the Queen's Head that the Sons of Liberty and Vigilance Committee met in 1774 to protest the landing of British tea and to lay plans for dumping it.

Fraunces Tavern,

Fraunces Tavern today, 54 Pearl at Broad Street, Lower Manhattan, a brick Georgian recreation of the Queen's Head tavern which was destroyed in the fire of 1900.

On April 30, 1789, Washington took the presidential oath at Federal Hall.

"He may discharge me, he may kill me if he will, but while he is President of the United States, and while I have the honor to be is Steward, his establishment shall be supplied with the very best of everything that the whole country can afford." These are strange words to come thundering down the annals of our history, and definitely an unusual twist to the theme of revolutionary defiance.

First in Peace, representing the Arrival of George Washington at the Battery, New York, April 23rd, 1789, Joseph Laing, 1888

In fact, General Washington, a careful man who had won his country's liberty on a shoestring, was now faced with the inflexible standards of Sam Fraunces, the finest tavern keeper in New York, and the first in an unbroken chain of culinary perfectionists to terrorize its kitchens.

This particular outburst of pride was occasioned by a shad which had caught Fraunces eye when shopping for the presidential breakfast. When it was served, delicately broiled and perfectly boned, Washington examined it with practiced suspicion and inquired as to its price, which happened to be three dollars.

The tirade that followed was not recorded verbatim, but it is known that Washington, despite his fondness for Fraunces, eventually discharged him for extravagance, only to reengage him when it was discovered that subsequent stewards were equally as extravagant but far less capable.

- On the Town in New York, Michael and Ariane Batterberry (Routledge, 1999)


Laura said...

This is a great story, thanks for sharing it!

I came across your blog the other day, and will be back again. :)

LPC said...


little augury said...

This is great, history, tyranny and culinary delightful. How wonderful to unearth these treasures so on topic- just like you to.xo,pgt

tintin said...

Fraunces was favorite watering hole back in the mid 80's but no more. I think you can get a piece of Shad there today for $3.

How do you like the Batterberry's book? I think it's treasure trove.

The Blushing Hostess said...

Laura - thank you.

LPC - is that your pic that is up on your profile now? I love it! Knew you were gorgeous.

LA - and Tintin - Actually came to this book reading The Trad and I will likely be needing another copy, I have already dog-earred and mashed into my bag too many times. History girl, you know, so there could not have been a better recky for me. Thanks again, Tintin.

Housewife Bliss said...

I am with LPC, simply fab. I love coming here for the unexpected.