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Gingerbread maker Christopher Ludwick brought a recipe list of skills to the Continental Army and earned the respect of General Washington in the process.

Early Life

Born on October 17, 1720, in the small town of Giessen in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, Christopher Ludwick was introduced to baking by his father, a prosperous baker named Heinrich Ludwig.

At the age of 17, Ludwick enlisted in the German emperor’s army and fought against the Turks, took part in the siege of Prague, and eventually joined the Prussian Army. When the war ended, Ludwick decided to put his baking knowledge to use by becoming a baker aboard an East India Company ship.

A replica colonial wood-burning clay oven, used by chef Justin Cherry. (MVLA)

After more than a decade at sea, both as a baker and as a common sailor, Ludwick traveled to London to complete his bakery training. It was there that Ludwick learned the craft that would help define his life: gingerbread-making.

In 1754, the ambitious baker emigrated to America in search of opportunity. He set up a shop in Philadelphia, specializing in gingerbread, and married a young widow. By the time of the American Revolution, Ludwick owned nine houses, a farm, and enjoyed his reputation as a respected, and wealthy, Pennsylvanian.

Joining a Revolution

Risking everything he had earned, Ludwick jumped at the opportunity to support the American cause. He served as an elected representative for Pennsylvania in conventions from 1774 to 1776, gaining the admiration of many Founding Fathers in the process. When Thomas Mifflin stated the need for funds to raise arms for the new militia, many legislators sat silent—that is, until Ludwick stood and announced in his accented English, “Mr. President, I am but a poor gingerbread baker, but put my name down for two hundred pounds.”1

In the spring of 1776, Ludwick returned to his former occupation as a soldier when he volunteered for the “Flying Camp,” a militia force organized to assist Washington in his defense of New York. Ludwick was 56 years old.

“Mr. President, I am but a poor gingerbread baker, but put my name down for two hundred pounds.”

- Christopher Ludwick

German Persuasion

Ludwick’s background offered another interesting opportunity to serve the American cause: as a translator for captured Germans.

As many Germans, known as Hessians, were hired as mercenaries for the British army, Congress saw an opportunity to convince these hired hands to give up their fight. Ludwick was an ideal agent for such a mission. In August 1776, Ludwick rowed to Staten Island, posing as a deserter, and spoke glowingly of America to the Hessians he encountered.

Later, placed in charge of Hessian prisoners, Ludwick urged, “Let us take them to Philadelphia and there show them our fine German churches. Let them see how our tradesmen eat good beef, drink out of silver cups every day, and ride out in chairs every afternoon; and then let us send them back to their countrymen, and they will all soon run away, and come settle in our city…”2

Ludwick’s efforts proved successful, with some estimating that he was responsible for hundreds of Hessian desertions from the British army.

Baker General

George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette on horseback at winter quarters in Valley Forge. Library of Congress.

George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette on horseback at winter quarters in Valley Forge. Library of Congress.

Bread was the engine of an 18th-century army. So when the Continental Congress began looking for a knowledgeable baker to oversee the army’s breadmaking operations, they turned to a gingerbread maker who had already proven his devotion to the cause: Christopher Ludwick.

On May 3, 1777, Congress commissioned Ludwick superintendent of bakers (or baker general).

Ludwick immediately set to work hiring bakers and building bake ovens in strategic locations across the colonies. He faced significant obstacles, namely a lack of labor, supplies, and funds. When Washington’s army was encamped at Valley Forge, Ludwick advanced his own money to purchase baking supplies and even sold a house to obtain cash.

Despite the logistical challenges, Ludwick performed his duty admirably, inspiring the Board of War to note that Ludwick “has acted with great industry and integrity in the character of principal superintendent of bakers…”3

Ludwick's descendants carefully preserved this carved wooden cookie board or mold as a memento of their ancestor’s role in the founding of the United States. They donated it to the Valley Forge Historical Society, the Museum of the American Revolution’s predecessor organization, in 1953. Courtesy Museum of the American Revolution.

Relationship with Washington

In his role, Ludwick often communicated with General Washington to align the production and delivery of bread with troop movements.

Washington was happy to hear of Ludwick’s appointment, writing two days later, “I trust the appointment of Mr Ludwick as Superintendant of Bakers, will have the salutary consequences you mention. I have been long assured, that many abuses have been committed for want of some proper regulations in that department.”

"Sir, I imagine you must be this time have a considerable parcel of hard Bread baked. I am moving towards Philadelphia with the Army, and should be glad to have it sent forward."

- General Washington to Christopher Ludwick, Pompton Plains, New Jersey, July, 25, 1777

Read the letter

An illustration of an 18th-century French bake oven. Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., " A Diderot Pictorial Encyclopedia of Trades and Industry: Manufacturing and the Technical Arts."

An illustration of an 18th-century French bake oven. Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., " A Diderot Pictorial Encyclopedia of Trades and Industry: Manufacturing and the Technical Arts."

At Valley Forge, Ludwick is said to have had frequent interactions with Washington, who invited him to dinners and addressed him in company as his “honest friend.” Ludwick, toting a china bowl engraved with his own name, entertained those around him by drinking from his bowl with the toast, “Health and long life to Christopher Ludwick and wife.”4

It appears that Ludwick also performed some private baking for the General. In 1778, while at Valley Forge, Ludwick submitted a bill to Washington, which the commander in chief would pay 10 months later.5

As Washington’s army prepared to besiege Yorktown, he wrote in his general orders, “It is expected that bread of a good quality will be furnished by Mr Ludwick superintendant of the Bakers, nearly sufficient for the Army…”

Philanthropy

Following his wartime service, Ludwick worked to rebuild his business and personal finances, both of which had suffered greatly. He successfully appealed to Congress to recoup a small sum of what he had sacrificed during the war, aided in his petition by testimonials from notable officers—as well as General Washington.

Among other things, Ludwick is remembered for his uncommon generosity. During Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1797, he chose to stay in the city and bake free bread for the poor, at great personal risk.

After his death in 1801, the eccentric baker distributed his estate generously to schools, churches, hospitals, and charitable organizations. Of what remained, Ludwick started a fund in Philadelphia to educate poor children from any background.

Today, the Christopher Ludwick Foundation trust has grown to almost $6 million, and grants amounting to over $250,000 are awarded each year.

Behind the Object


Take a closer look at Christopher Ludwick's cookie molds, courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution.

Footnotes

1. Rush, Benjamin. An Account of the Life and Character of Christopher Ludwick: Late Citizen of Philadelphia, and Baker-General of the Army of the United States during the Revolutionary War (Philadelphia: Garden and Thompson, 1831), pages 10-11.

2. Ibid., 12

3. Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 147, VI, 165.

4. Watson, John F., Annals of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1844), II, 44-45. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AAW1040.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext

5. Washington Papers, XCVII, 124, Library of Congress.

 

Bibliography

Condit, William Ward. “Christopher Ludwick, Patriotic Gingerbread Baker,” published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. LXXXI, No. 4, October, 1957. https://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/41309/41030

Rees, John U. “‘Give us day by day our daily bread.’: Continental Army Bread, Ovens, and Bakers,” published in Food History News, Vol. 9, No. 1, Summer 1997, and Vol. 17, No. 1, Summer 2005. https://www.academia.edu/14097070/_The_essential_service_he_rendered_to_the_army_Christopher_Ludwick_Superintendent_of_Bakers

Santorum, Rick. 2012. American Patriots: Answering the Call to Freedom. Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House.

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General George Washington led the American army to victory during the Revolutionary War.

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