James Hemings and Hercules Posey are two prominent figures who have been hidden in American and African American history for too long. These two gems not only created American cuisines, but fed two of America’s most famous presidents, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
James Hemings, the brother of Sally Hemings, was a slave of Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson served as a diplomat in France, James Hemings began training as a cook in Paris, learning how to cook French cuisines and learning many cooking skills he would use upon his return to the United States.
Being a fast learner, he learned very quickly while being trained under only the best chefs in France, one being the chef under the prince de Conde.
In 1787 Hemings began cooking at Jefferson’s private residency, cooking and serving for royalty.
Hemings is most famous and known for creating his signature cuisine of half-Virginia half-French style cuisine that influenced the Virginian’s plantation style of cooking.
Hemings is noted for introducing meringues, French fries, European style macaroni and cheese and ice cream to America. He is the first American chef to cook at an American diplomatic embassy and inspired other slave cooks and black caterers the importance of fine dining and how to accomplish it within food.
When Hemings desired freedom, Jefferson refused due to the fact that no one could cook the cuisines and foods Jefferson preferred considering James Hemings was trained to learn how to cook those foods.
Hemings trained his younger brother Peter Hemings how to cook French cuisine until he cooked it perfectly, which ultimately made James Hemings free and spread his cooking skills up North where he would later die a freed man.
Hercules Posey on the other hand, was Geroge Washington’s slave who not only was known for his impeccable style, but for his amazing food that was enjoyed by only the highest of the highest.
Hercules Posey was a perfectionist as some would describe. He was a confident man that wanted a confident team of cooks which is why he is a pioneer chef and the first slave to ever demand respect.
Posey’s biggest skill would be not only his skillful techniques but his ability to cook in a fireplace meaning he would have to learn how to cook with utensils, maintaining a fire, and many other complex skills needed to be successful in this style of cooking.
Many people, including George Washington himself, enjoyed Hercules’ food so much that they would practically beg for leftovers.
Some of Hercules’ food would include but not limited to: Puddings, braised fish oyster stew, and custards.
He enjoyed roaming the streets of Philadelphia in his fashionable attire, not only feeling like a free man, but a popular one, which is something he couldn’t do back home at Mount Vernon in Virginia.
Hercules frequently had to travel back and forth to Philadelphia and Virgnia suggested by Washington so that he would remain a slave because if a slave lived in Philadelphia for more than 6 months, they were free, which Washington did not want.
It wasn’t until Washington’s 65th birthday did Hercules decide to run for his freedom, Washington not thinking he would do so since he was his most prominent chef.
Hercules Posey more than likely died a freed man however, nothing more is known about him.