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“To Cash paid the Revrd.

John Mason for Servant Hannah’s wages …”
Hannah Till, General Washington’s Wartime Cook
John U. Rees
Gen. George Washington’s wartime military household had a retinue of cooks and other
servants, white and black, free and enslaved, with several supervisors to oversee the whole. Few
are known at all beyond mention in the household accounts. The best-known is William “Billy”
Lee, the commander-in-chief’s body slave; his biography is included in Douglas R. Egerton’s,
Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2009), pages 3-14. Hannah Till’s story, while not comprehensive, is nonetheless
fascinating, as much by what was set down on paper as for what can be read between those lines.
“1825 – Died at Philadelphia, Mrs. Hannah Till, a black women, who had been cook to General
Washington and General La Fayette, in all their campaigns during the war of Independence. The
latter at my instance went to see her, at No. 182 South Fourth street, when he was here in 1825,
and made her a present to be remembered.” (John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and
Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time, two volumes (Philadelphia: Published by Whiting and
Thomas, 1856), vol. I, 601.)

Detail from “Free Women of Color With Their Children and Servants in a Landscape”
by Agostino Brunias (Brooklyn Museum)

There are several references to Ms. Till in Washington’s wartime household records:
(Caleb Gibbs and Mary Smith and Elizabeth Thompson (housekeepers), 1776 to 1780,
Revolutionary War Household Expenses, Financial Papers, George Washington Papers, Library
of Congress)
Image 3
“Cash Paid to Servants Belonging to Genll. Washington’s Family”
1776
July: 15 Negro Hannah; 25 Sailor Jack, Negro Hannah
October: 7 “Servant Girl – Dismiss by Mr. Thompson”; 15 Negro Hannah, Negro Isaac –
servant”
1777
February: 17 Servant Jenny, Negro Hannah, Servant Isaac
April: 20 “To Cash Mr. Thompson paid Isaac”; 23 “To Cash paid Mr. Thompson for his
services,” “To Cash paid Servant Jane for Balance of Acct.,” “To Cash paid Sailor Jack on
balance for wages”
June: 3 “To Servant Isaac & Hannah pay up to this day paid”; 8 “To Cash paid Servant John as
hostler for 2 months”
1778
December: 19 “To Cash paid the Revrd. John Mason for Servant Hannah’s wages in full as pr.
receipt”
____________________
“Hannah Till
This is the name of a black woman whom I saw in March, 1824, in her 102d year of age – a
pious woman, possessing am sound mind and memory, and fruitful of anecdote of the
Revolutionary war, in which she had served her seven years of service to General Washington
and La Fayette, as cook, &c. I saw her in her own small frame house, No. 182, south Fourth
street, a little below Pine street. Her original name was Long Point – a name given her father for
his successful conflict with a buck at that place near Smyrna. She was born in Kent county,
Delaware. Her master, John Brinkly, Esq. sold her at the age of 15 years, when she was brought
to Pennsylvania. At 25 years of age she was sold to Parson Henderson, and went with hi m to
Northumberland. At 35 years of age she was sold to Parson Mason, of New York, with whom
she dwelt there until the war of the Revolution; she then bought her freedom, and with her
husband was hired into General Washington’s military family as cooks – serving with him in all
his campaigns for six and a half years, and for half a year she was lent into the service of General
La Fayette. With one or the other of these she was present in all the celebrated battles in which
they were engaged. She could speak, in a good strong voice, of all the things she saw in her long
life, with better recollection and readier utterance than any other narrator with whom I have had
occasion so to converse. I inquired regarding the domestic habits of Washington and others: she
said he was very positive in requiring compliance with his orders; but was a moderate and
indulgent master. He was sometimes familiar among his equals and guests, and would indulge a
moderate laugh. He always had his lady with him in the winter campaigns, and on such
occasions, was pleased when freed from mixed company and to be alone in his family. He was

moderate in eating and drinking. I asked if she knew that he prayed. She answered that she
expected he did, but she did not know that he practiced it. I was the more particular in this,
because I had heard directly from Isaac Potts, the public Friend at Valley Forge, that he actually
saw him, by chance, at prayer in the bushes at or near his place. I asked her if he ever swore; she
answered, that ideas about religion were not very strict, and that she thought that he did not
strictly guard against it in times of high excitements, and that she well remembered that on one
provocation with her, he called her c—d [colored] fool. General La Fayette she praised greatly –
said he was very handsome, tall, slender, and genteel, having a fair white and red face, with
reddish hair – that he spoke English plain enough – was always very kind. Her words were very
emphatic: - `Truly he was a gentleman to meet and to follow!’
As I was interested in the narratives of this old black woman, I thought she might afford some
gratification to Gen. La Fayette himself again to see her; I made him therefore acquainted with
the leading facts. As I never saw either of the parties afterwards, I may add from the
communications of my sister who knew her and visited her occasionally, especially in her 104th
year. She says she received from her questions, such answers as these – ‘I well remember the
arrival of the specie to pay the French army, for the house was so crowded that day that my
pastry room was used to lodge the specie in, even while she still used the room. She continued
with Washington till after Andre the spy was hung. On that day she saw many tears shed by our
officers.’ General La Fayette called on her with Messrs. [Tench] Tilghman and Biddle [likely
Clement or Nicholas]. To his question, Where was you when General Washington left
Morristown? she answered, I remained more than six months with you, Sir, in the same house.
He left her, promising to send her money by his son. The sequel was, that her house was
embarrassed for arrear groundrents, and she was soon after informed to make herself easy, for La
Fayette had cleared it off! and ‘the pious old soul blesses you and him for the interference.’ More
was said, but it might savour of gossip to say more in this article. She has since gone to her
reward.”
John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, & incidents
of the city and its inhabitants, (Philadelphia: For Sale by Uriah Hunt, 1830), 352-353.

July 1825
July 14 - Lafayette attends a banquet held in his honor at Sansay House in Morristown,
New Jersey.
July 15 - Lafayette attends a reception at Waverly House in then Bottle Hill, now Madison,
New Jersey, on his way to Springfield.
July 20 – Lafayette visits Germantown and Chestnut Hill, near Philadelphia. He
specifically visited Wyck Historic House and Cliveden.
July 25 – Lafayette again visits Wilmington, Delaware.
“Visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the United States”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visit_of_the_Marquis_de_Lafayette_to_the_United_States#1
825

To place Hannah Tills' service in context an excerpt from my draft article on a monograph on
Revolutionary general officers' servants (including General Washngton's household):
The number of people employed by the American commander-in-chief at any one time is
uncertain; it is known that in 1775 there was a cook, kitchen-woman, washerwoman, plus three
men and two women, at least two of whom were black, in addition to William “Billy” Lee,
Washington's black body-servant. Staff and servants seem to have changed considerably and
numbers varied during the war.9
Washington needed supervisors for his large household. Mrs. Mary Smith served as
housekeeper from mid-April to late June 1776; Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson succeeded her in July
1776, serving as housekeeper until the end of the war. Caleb Gibbs, captain of the Commanderin-Chief’s Guard, supervised household activities and expenses from 1776 until he left the Guard
in 1781. William Colfax succeeded Gibbs as commander of the Guard, but seems not to have
taken over his household responsibility.10
Likely due to Gibbs’ departure, in summer 1781 the commander-in-chief was trying to find, “a
trusty person” to serve as his steward, and asked the Board of War for assistance, stipulating, “A
Man who has served with reputation as Butler to a Gentleman[‘s] family, or as principal Waiter
and Caterer to a genteel Tavern would answer better than one unused to such offices, as setting
out a table ought to be part of his business as well as providing for it.” (Patrick McGuire had
served as steward from May 1776 to March 1778.) On August 9, while the allied armies were
preparing to march south to Yorktown, the Board replied that it had appointed “Mr. [John]
Loveday for Steward."11
As for servants, modern annotations to George Washington’s expense account (he recorded all
his service-related expenditures and was reimbursed after the war), provide names gleaned from
those records. Having been given command of the New England army investing Boston, George
Washington reached Cambridge on July 2, 1775. A note to the August 5, 1775 account entry
states, “A complete list of the names of the servants at Headquarters in 1775 is difficult to give.
Those we know were Edward Hunt, a cook; Mrs. Morrison, kitchen-woman; Mary Kettel,
washerwoman; Eliza Chapman, Timothy Austin, James Munro, Dinah, a negro woman, and
Peter, a negro man; William Lee, Washington's body-servant and generally known as ‘Billy,’
was there, of course.” Besides William Lee, the new army commander may have brought some
of the other named servants from his Virginia home. A supporting annotation to the September 1
1776 entry is even more expansive, providing some insights into a relatively large retinue:
The record of servants at Headquarters for the year 1776, while probably not entirely
complete, furnishes us with the following names in addition to those mentioned in the
preceding year: Patrick McGuire, who came from Philadelphia to act as steward and
served from May, 1776, until March, 1778; Hannah [Till], the negro servant of Rev. John
Mason; she was to receive 40s. a month which were to be left in the hands of Captain
Gibbs until £58 had accumulated, after which she was to receive her wages herself to be
applied to the purchase of her freedom; Servant Jack and Sailor Jack [these two appear to
be different individuals]; Margaret Thomas, who did sewing in February, 1776, and
washing from October, 1776, to February, 1778; Negro James; Stephen Sims; Negroes
Lydia, Jenny, Cato, and Isaac, the latter a servant of Captain John Johnson, of Bergen
county, New Jersey. He was to receive 40s. a month of his wages of £7; he also cooked
for Washington from June, 1777, to June, 1780; John and Frank, hostlers; a Mrs. Lake

and Peggy. John Whitehead also served at Headquarters from April, 1776, for one year at
a wage of $5 per month.
The difficulties in running such a large household may be imagined, but Washington provides
a few inklings. In one missive to James Mease on April 17, 1778 concerning apparel for the
army, he writes, “I hear, by report, of great quantities of Cloathing purchased on continental
account in every quarter. But where are they? I cannot get as much cloth as will make Cloaths
for my Servants, notwithstanding one of them, that attends my person and Table, is indecently,
and most shamefully naked, and my frequent applications to Mr. Kemper [assistant clothier
general] (which he says he has as often transmitted to you) in the course of the last two Months.”
And during his residence at the Ford house in Morristown, New Jersey the commander-in-chief
complained to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene on January 22, “I have been at my prest. quarters
since the 1st. day of Decr. and have not a Kitchen to Cook a Dinner in, altho' the Logs have been
put together some considerable time by my own Guard; nor is there a place at this moment in
which a servant can lodge with the smallest degree of comfort. Eighteen belonging to my family
and all Mrs. Fords are crouded together in her Kitchen and scarce one of them able to speak for
the colds they have caught. I have repeatedly taken notice of this inconveniency to Majr. Gibbs,
and have as often been told, that boards were not to be had. I acquiesced, and believe you will do
me the justice to acknowledge that it never has been my practice to involve the public in any
expence I could possibly avoid, or derive benefits which would be inconvenient or prejudicial to
others.” He goes on to acknowledge the problems involved, given that his army was building
huts to live in at the same time. Eventually, a separate kitchen was constructed for the general’s
staff to use.
For part one of officers’ servants in the War of the Revolution see, “’Was not in the battles
... being a Waiter.’ Enlisted Men and Civilians as Officers’ Servants during the War for
American Independence” - Part 1. “Our boys bring down something to eat ...”: Overview:
Field and Company Officers’ Servants
https://www.scribd.com/doc/260955648/Was-not-in-the-battles-being-a-Waiter-EnlistedMen-and-Civilians-as-Officers-Servants-during-the-War-for-AmericanIndependence?secret_password=OJ0XV4DLMfjssaEcdU34
See also, John U. Rees, World of the Common Soldier
(Master List of Articles and Monographs)
http://tinyurl.com/jureesarticles

Emmanuel Dabney in Washington's servants' livery.
(Courtesy of Neal Hurst and Colonial Williamsburg)