Hercules Posey (1748 - 1812): Father, ferryman, cook, enslaved property of George Washington. He was brought to the Mount Vernon plantation around the age of 13 in 1767 as payment for a mortgage owed to Washington by his neighbor John Posey. Hercules began his time as a ferryman for Washington at the Mansion House Farm.
By 1770 he married a dowry slave named Alice, and fathered three children with her before her eventual passing in 1777. The 1786 Mount Vernon slave census lists him as cook at the Mansion House, though it is not known when he first started working there. Washington's grandson mentioned Hercules as "a celebrated artiste . . . as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States."
In 1790 Hercules was taken to Philadelphia to head the kitchen in the President's home. He earned himself almost $200 a year, by being permitted to travel to the local markets not only to purchase food, but to sell the slop (left overs and scraps) from the kitchen and pocket the money for himself.
In 1780 Philadelphia passed a law called the Gradual Abolition Act, allowing for any enslaved person in Philadelphia for six consecutive months to petition for their freedom. Washington circumvented this by sending Hercules and others back and forth to Mount Vernon to restart their time in the city. It was during one of these returns to Mount Vernon that Hercules would make his escape.
On February 22, 1797, Washington's birthday, Hercules made his dash for freedom. It's believed with help from acquaintances from his time in Philadelphia, that Hercules finds himself working as a cook in New York. Washington stated that while he "had resolved never to become the master of another slave by purchase," because of Posey's absence, "this resolution I fear I must break."
Washington never located his prized cook.
Hercules remains a fugitive on the run until he is manumitted by Washington's will in 1801. He would eventually succumb to tuberculosis at the age of 64 and be burried in New York's Second African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan.
Image by Ronald Jackson