Conjectural timeline based on 18th-century documentation

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4:00 AM

The Washingtons’ cooks, Nathan and Lucy, wake up.

Lucy’s mother, Doll, had been the Washingtons’ cook for many years.

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4:30 AM

Nathan and Lucy revive the fire in the kitchen, and draw and heat water. Enslaved butler Frank Lee or hired housekeeper Eleanor Forbes sets the table for breakfast.

(The house bell system enabled the Washingtons to call slaves and servants to various rooms of the mansion when needed.)

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6:00 AM

Nathan and Lucy make hoecakes (cornmeal pancakes), coffee, tea, and drinking chocolate for breakfast.

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6:30 AM

Martha Washington visits the kitchen to ensure that breakfast is underway.

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7:00 AM

The bell rings to announce that breakfast is served in the dining room. The Washington family and their guests sit down to eat.

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7:30 AM

The enslaved gardener, George, stops by the kitchen with ripe fruits and vegetables.

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8:00 AM

Frank Lee and enslaved waiter Marcus clear the dining room table. Lucy and her assistant, possibly her daughter Patty, clean pots and pans. Martha Washington discusses the dinner menu with the cooks. She and Nathan select a turkey for dinner.

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9:00 AM

Nathan and Lucy begin preparing the turkey and washing and chopping vegetables.

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9:45 AM

Nathan makes a portable lunch for George Washington, who is about to leave on his daily rounds of the plantation.

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12:00 PM

Lucy takes a few minutes to sit down. Picking up her knitting, she resumes work on a pair of stockings. 

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2:00 PM

Lucy bakes bread while Nathan tends the pots on the hearth. Martha Washington visits the kitchen to oversee dinner preparations.

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2:45 PM

The plantation bell rings to alert the Washingtons and their guests that dinner is ready. Frank Lee, Nathan, and Lucy transfer foods into serving dishes. Waiters carry the dishes to the dining room.

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3:00 PM

The Washingtons and their guests enjoy dinner. Nathan and Lucy eat dinner in the kitchen.

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4:30 PM

Frank Lee and the waiters clear the table and clean the dining room. The cooks’ assistant washes dishes. 

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5:00 PM

Nathan replaced the Washingtons’ cook Hercules after he escaped to freedom in 1797.

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6:00 PM

Nathan and Lucy brew tea and slice bread and leftover cold meat for tea.

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6:30 PM

Frank Lee and Christopher Sheels serve tea to the Washingtons.

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7:00 PM

Martha Washington oversees as Lucy measures ingredients and mixes bread dough and hoecake batter for the next day.

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8:00 PM

Nathan and Lucy clean the kitchen and bank the fire for the night. They return to their quarters to see their families, tend to their personal gardens, and rest.

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Food

The standard rations Washington allotted enslaved people were cornmeal and salted fish—almost all harvested by slaves themselves.

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The content on this page was adapted from Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, an exhibition on view in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center from 2016–2020.

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