NYC Memorial for Hercules, Chef Enslaved By George Washington

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Hercules was a prominent Black chef enslaved by George & Martha Washington. Famous in his own time, Hercules lived with the Washingtons in the President's House in Philadelphia where the First Family kept Hercules and up to 9 other African Americans enslaved over the Presidential terms. The Washingtons even worked around a Pennsylvania Law that granted enslaved persons freedom after six months in the state.

Hercules escaped on Washington's Birthday in 1797 and was only seen once more in Manhattan in 1801. For decades what happened to him was a mystery that remained unsolved until myself and fellow researcher Sara Krasne found proof that he had taken the last name Posey and lived the remaining years of his life as a cook in Manhattan where he died on May 15, 1812. He was laid to rest in the Second African Burying Ground which was formerly in Lower Manhattan between Stanton and Rivington  Streets (north/south) and Bowery and Chrystie St. (east/west).

In the mid 19th century the Burying Ground was disinterred and moved to Brooklyn but some burials that had been paved over remained. Hercules was likely among them. 

We are trying to get NYC Parks to place a memorial plaque/info panel about Hercules on the fence of Sara Roosevelt Park which faces the burial site as well as the Black community in which he lived. The site of the original Burying Ground itself is private property and outside of the purview of any city agency.

Given the difficulty of piecing together the lives of enslaved people it is nothing short of a miracle that we found him. Others have tried for centuries and failed. If you want to read the story of how Sara and I, who work together at Westport Historical Society, solved the 218 year cold case of Hercules fate, you can read that here.

I have personally spent nearly a decade researching and writing about Hercules for my historical novel about him, entitled The General's Cook. In a bizarre twist of fate, though I could not know it at the time, I ended my novel with Hercules living and working in Manhattan as a cook--mere blocks from his actual home.

We believe Hercules' spirit demanded he be found and he deserves to be memorialized. I have always called him America's First Celebrity Chef. He was a culinary artist who seized his own liberty from a man who fought for the freedom of a nation but enslaved other human beings. Hercules' story sheds a light on hidden truths of American History.