To make Alamode Beef
Take a Bullocks heart cut of ye Strings
Skinns & Deaf ears & fat then Stick it
with a Scewer in many Places, then take
an Ounce of Salt petre, with a little Salt
& rub it well in, then Cast on two handful
of Salt then lett it Stand 4 Days, then
Bake it in a Slow oven, then take it
out of the Liquor, then put it up with ye
Same weight of butter & Sewett as the
meat is, with a Nuttmeg & Little Cloves
& mace & half an ounce of Pepper; then
put it into a pot & put it into ye Oven
for half an hour
Jane Randolph Her Book, p.28
Sixty feet down at the southern end of the colonnade from the ice house and the eastern gable of the Curles mansion stood the kitchen. It was 54 feet in length, 22 feet in breadth, a single story with a garret, built of brick and roofed with wood. Though it had been destroyed a century and a quarter earlier, it’s outline was easy to see from the air, from the window of the small Cessna hanging at stall speed with its wings nearly perpendicular to the ground, no more than a hundred feet up. A stain of clay and brick-red dust lying at the edge of the terrace, in front of the site of the 95-foot long mansion, facing the James River. That’s how it appeared in the spring of 1985.
A decade of archaeology at Curles Plantation has taught us that the kitchen began life as a house built by William Randolph sometime after he acquired the tract in 1699 and before his death in 1711. By the time he reached his majority in 1715, Richard Randolph, William’s son, had come to possess Curles Plantation and it was here a few years later that he brought his bride, Jane Bolling Randolph. The house they first lived in is what we have come to call the kitchen, and it became a kitchen shortly after Richard and Jane settled in, for they soon built one of the grandest Georgian plantation houses to stand along the banks of the James.
There are no photographs or paintings of Curles; just a rough plan of some of the main buildings drawn for an insurance policy in 1806. We have identified traces of at least 45 buildings which once stood here. There were many more. All were gone before the Civil War ended. Nearly half a century before Richard and Jane Randolph arrived Curles had already been referred to as “an ancient seat.” The remains of an earlier mansion on the site, built by Thomas Harris about 1635, lay directly beneath the Randolph’s brick kitchen, and Nathaniel Bacon’s brick manor house, built in 1674, had stood just a few feet in front of the spot the kitchen occupied. The Harris house had lasted perhaps 25 years, and Bacon’s no more than 10. But the brick kitchen stood at Curles a century and a half until it was taken apart, brick by brick, by Union soldiers probably during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
Historical archaeology, we are often reminded, promises an opportunity to give voice to history’s unheard. Before the 19th century very few women were literate. Those who were came mainly from elite or gentry households, and, even so, they have left us very little in the way of diaries, letters or literature. Among the very few written works by women of the Colonial period are a handful of “receipt” books. These contain recipes for culinary and medicinal preparations, and they were frequently passed from mother to daughter over several generations. We are fortunate to have a manuscript–or, rather, a facsimile of a manuscript, for I have had no luck locating the original–of a receipt book from Curles Plantation. It is called Jane Randolph Her Book and it was begun by Jane Bolling Randolph and passed down, apparently, to her daughter, Jane, who married Anthony Walke in 1750. The book then apparently passed to Jane Bolling Randolph’s granddaughter then living at Curles: another Jane who added a few additional entries beginning in 1796. While the earliest entries are those of Jane Bolling Randolph, and date to as early as 1739, the majority of entries appear to be her daughter’s.i
My field school students have excavated the Curles kitchen and much of its environs over the past ten years, and throughout that time I have read and re-read Jane Randolph’s book. I have prepared dishes from some of the recipes. I have tried to identify people who are mentioned in the book–often as sources for recipes–and to determine their relationship with the women who kept the book. I have also combed other cookery manuscripts which were kept in 18th-century Virginia as well as published cookbooks available in Virginia at the time. I was convinced that, somehow, the kitchen and the book belonged together so naturally that the reading of one would interpret the reading of the other. At the bottom of this effort was my hope to say something more of women’s lives at Curles Plantation. Not just those of the plantation mistresses and their daughters, but also the enslaved cooks and their daughters who, after all, actually prepared most of the foods and medicines, dug and tended the gardens, gathered the roots and herbs, and ministered to the sick.ii
The cross reading of site and document, site as text, document as artifact, seems to be one of the most powerful and elegant methods of historical archaeology. At times we find text and material telling much the same story, one virtually illustrating and underscoring the other. Other times we find a friction or dissonance between documents and sites or artifacts, and here, too, lies grist for the interpretive mill. What I found reading cookbooks and digging bricks, bones and rusted lumps of kitchen equipage was two parallel stories: one of the architectural changes to a building and its setting, of emerging patterns of marketing, husbandry, butchering, ceramics preferences, bottle usage, gardening methods, of evolving technologies and aesthetics. The other is a story of continuity through networks, kinship, and traditions which seemed untouched by history. A woman’s world was described in some particular and limited ways through the receipt book, and it seemed that Jane Randolph’s followed a track already well-worn by the late Medieval period. Bringing parallel texts to convergence was the problem.
The first regional cookbook in America was Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife. Published in 1824, the book is an absolute marvel and a monument to one of history’s great cooks. Mrs. Randolph was married to David Meade Randolph, Jane Bolling Randolph’s grandson. David, or Davies as he was called, grew up at Curles, and I have no doubt he was nourished on foods and medicines prepared in the Curles kitchen from receipts like those in Jane Randolph’s book. But Mary’s and David’s lives were very, very different from those of their grandparent’s generation, and Mary’s book is not merely a 19th-century published version of a Colonial receipt book. It was here, then, I found a larger context that goes beyond Jane Randolph’s book kept through three generations to the end of the 18th century and the Curles kitchen and its associated trash pits, middens, drains, garden beds, wells, cisterns, etc. For the Early Republic world of David and Mary Randolph lay cleanly on the other side of Revolution and Enlightenment. Here was a focus, a point of convergence for the collocating or juxtaposing of separate texts which, if we accept Richard Rorty’s view of the matter, is one of the key paths to interpretation.iii
Remedy For the Chollick & Stone
Take a pint of white wine & make thereoff
a possett then take off the Curd & seeth it
again to Clarifye it then take of Mallow
seeds an ozce Alkalingey berrys an ounce
Philopendula roots an ounce Gallingall roots Do.
beat & Seeth these altogether in a posset
Drink then Strain it & Lett the Patient
Drink it as warme as he can & Lay him
Down to Sweat & within two hourse the
Stone will break & void & he shall be
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 39
The kitchen was built with foundations two-and-a-half bricks thick laid in English bond buried nearly three feet into the packed clay of the artificially constructed terrace. The foundation sat on a broad spread footing. Just above grade the brickwork changed to Flemish bond, as revealed by mortar patterns from the salvaged brick work. Hundreds of fragments of bricks with glazed headers indicate that the building had the familiar checkerboard look of early 18th-century brick buildings in Virginia. Perhaps the endwalls had been decorated with diaperwork like that which once adorned the chimney of this building’s near-neighbor and contemporary, Malvern Hill Plantation house. The building had been constructed originally with two rooms and a central chimney with small fireboxes facing each room. Sometime later, in the 1720s or 30s, another room had been added to the building, and the central wall had been demolished and rebuilt with an enlarged cooking hearth and bread oven facing the center room. A new firebox was constructed behind the main hearth, on the other side of the crosswall, in order to warm the eastern room. The large western room had been floored in small cobblestones. A perfect rectangle with no paving indicated the location of a boxed-in stair against the south wall leading to the garret quarters above. The eastern room contained a root cellar lying in front of the hearth. In it we found the remains of a large stoneware jar that had once held beer, or vinegar, or meat pickled in brine.
The partially robbed foundation trenches and adjacent middens contained fragmentary remains of kitchen hardware: a bit from a butcher-block plane, chain and dogs from a spit jack, iron hooks, cutlery, trivets, pots, and other pieces still unidentified. Outside the eastern door lay a rich midden with food remains, ceramics, and scattered arms and weights of one or more stillyard balances. Just south of the building we found the filled excavation of an underground cooler or meat house, abandoned in the late 18th century and filled with huge amounts of kitchen refuse. Likewise we found a kitchen well. It too was filled with trash at the same time as the meat house. A barrel cistern had stood at the southeast corner of the building and its overflow was carried by a deep drain to a “stew pond” which had watered and fertilized the kitchen garden beds lying at the foot of the terrace. The beds themselves were square and rectangular excavations paved, or “crocked” in the mid-18th century with broken pottery and bottles to provide drainage. Another drain ran from the laundry and brew-house to the stew pond and garden beds
From the door in the south facade of the building a brick wall ran out across the middle garden terrace towards the river. From the opposing door in the north facade ran the colonnade back to the mansion. This axis formed by the colonnade and brick wall divided the manor house complex into its east working half and its west formal half. The colonnade ran to a bulkhead entrance into the basement in the east gable end of the mansion, and there, in the basement, had been a warming kitchen and storage rooms paved with broken glass beneath a rammed clay floor to prevent vermin from getting to the food supply and wine cellar. Lying just below the kitchen at the foot of the terrace, alongside the brick garden wall, stood one of the small frame buildings which probably housed enslaved servants assigned to duties in the kitchen, garden, and elsewhere in the manor house compound. The stair in the kitchen led to garret quarters where the chief cook and her family lived.
We can conceive of the Curles manor house complex in the 18th century as having been divided axially into quadrants. Crossing the north-south axis formed by the colonnade and garden wall, passing through the kitchen, was an east-west line which ran parallel to the 95-foot-long mansion, continuing across the tract to the laundry, and on to the barn, then along a road and fenceline to one of several field quarters. South of this line lay the river face of the plantation, stretching out on three broad terraces fringed with yet another cluster of quarters for the enslaved workers and artisans that made the plantation work. The northern face of the complex faced towards the Curles Church, built by Richard Randolph, toward the Quaker’s Road, the guest quarters and overseer’s compounds. Lying immediately in front of the mansion was a parterre and a family burial plot. Later in the century the master stable, ice house, and store house were constructed here as well, and the northern end of the parterre was fringed with a lane lined with shops and more quarters.
The prime division was along the axis dividing east and west halves of the compound. The western border was yet another line of shops and quarters, and the steep rolling road to the vast Curles wharf and landing. The western rooms of the mansion, I believe, served as the dining room and parlor. East of the center passage were, I suspect, offices for the master and mistress to manage their respective domains.
Perhaps it isn’t too much of a structural stretch to see the west half of the plantation complex as male, oriented to public interaction, church and state. The eastern half seems to include the domains of work, of production, of activity. The east yard and eastern rooms were lighted and warmed by the morning sun. As day passed, the western yards and rooms gained the advantage of the late sun. The northern face was towards the neighborhood, the church, the Henrico community. The southern face was to the river, the colonial networks, commerce, the world accessed by water. The mistress’s charge included the eastern quarters of the manor house compound with the kitchen, the laundry, the vegetable and herb gardens, the stockyard, barns, and the houses of the servants who worked in the manor house compound.
The kitchen stood firmly in the southeastern yard, but walled off from the river entrance path, excluded from the broader colonial domain. It dominated and defined the eastern yard with its numerous quarters, shops, work spaces, pens, barns, and kitchen gardens. Leading east out of the compound was the principal road to the main field quarters. Tucked far to the south on the terrace edge, the kitchen, too was excluded from the neighborhood interaction, the social life centered around the church and courthouse, the primary world of three generations of Richard Randolphs. While the east yard, and especially the southeast or kitchen quadrant could be viewed as a female-gendered space, it would be a big mistake to see the domestic and managerial domain of the plantation as the sole sphere of the Randolph women.
Shugar Cakes the
Take 1 lb 3qrs. of good butter
Well washd in rose water
A pound of flower a pound
of D.R. Shugar Beat &
Sifted 10 Egs Leave out
1/2 the whites a whole
Nutmeg grated mix the
Butter & Shugar together
first then half the flower
then the Egs and Nutmeg
then the rest of the flower
put currants in some
Carriways in Some, &
Some plain Bake y’m in
Pr. Mrs Herbert
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 145
Like other receipt books of the period, Jane Randolph Her Book contains recipes for food and medicine preparations which were gathered from various sources. Many of these came from kinswomen and neighbors, others from chemists and physicians, and many were adapted from published sources and widespread oral traditions. The sources credited by the book’s authors are sometimes given in the receipt titles, such as “Mr Chowns receipt for fitts in children,” or, to give an example of a particularly descriptive title: “Mrs Barretts approv’d Oyntment For the Irruptilis or St Anthony fire or a blast or any Swelling in ye Breast or in any other part or to Anoynt a woman after hard Labour or for the Piles outward or inwardly given in a Glister useing it Instead of Oil for the Same or any other sort of Burn or Scald.”
Some other examples are:
–To make a Cake Madam Orlis’s way
–Dr Butlers Oyl
–The Lady Allens water
–Thomas Edwards Receipt for Sturgeon
— Mrs Chiswel’s Receipt for a Cake, very good
— Mrs Lanhorns way to Bottle Cherrys
— Mr Hinters Receipt, to harden Fat
— The old Talors Receit for a Purging.
— Barans Receipt for a Rumatism
— Eye Water, by Mrs Farquer.
— Doctor Jemmisons Diet Drink
— Mrs Dudlys Cake
–A Very Good Plumb Cake, Not too Rich Thise Reecipt is in the Book Mr Rees gave to Jenny Walke, and is exceeding good
This last receipt was probably entered by Jane Randolph Walke and may have come from her sister-in-law. One of my favorite receipts, and one which I have tried to duplicate with my amateurish brewing skills, is for “Good Ale.” This receipt is noted as “P[er] Mrs. Cary.” Mrs. Cary was a kinswoman of Jane Randolph.
Take 3 Bushels malt 1/2 high & 1/2 Pail
dry’d let your water boil them & put into your
Mashing tubb, When the Steem is gone
off, so as you may see your face; then put
your malt, & after mashing it well then
cover it with a blanket, Let it stand 2
hours, then draw it of Slow, then boil it
three or four hours, till the hops curdles
when boiled Enough, cool a little, & work
that with your yest, & so put the rest
of your wort in as it cools, which must
be let in small Tubs, let it work till
your yest begins to curdle then turn it
& stop your Barrel when it has done
working; Note to Every Bushels malt
a Quarter of pound of hops
The resulting beer is a dark sweetish brew and, in its 18th-century incarnation, it was probably embroidered with the “house flavors” of the wild yeasts and bacteria endemic to the Curles cellar, as well as the distinctive blending of lactic acid, acetic acid, tannic acid and complex esters and oxidation products one expects from open ferments in wooden tubs and storage in barrels. The very foreigness of my approximation to Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale serves well enough to remind me of the distance between history and present experience and expectation, but when I realize that I cannot imagine if the hops available to 18th-century Virginians were fresh, floral, spicy, cheesy or just bitter, then I am forced to admit the impossibility of knowing the past in those nuances which make all the difference.iv
Besides “Good Ale,” Mrs. Cary also contributed one of several plum cake recipes in the manuscript. There is a recipe for cookies titled “Mrs. Byrd’s Jumbels.” Mrs. Byrd was the mistress of neighboring Westover plantation. Other neighbors and kinswomen who contributed to the manuscript include Sally and Elizabeth Pleasants, who lived at the head of Curles Neck beside the Church, and Jane Randolph Walke’s sister, Elizabeth Randolph. A receipt credited to “AW” probably came from her husband, Anthony. There is also a recipe for metheglen credited to “Mrs. Mary Randolph,” probably Mrs. Cary’s grand-daughter. I will return to her shortly.
The trash pits and middens contained the bones of beef and hogs, sheep, deer and rabbit, tortoise and turtle, frogs, raccoons, catfish, sturgeon, and gar. Chickens, of course, and quail, and ducks, geese, and passenger pigeons and a bald eagle. And the leg of a bear.
For a broken Cancer
this Receipt Cost
the old Lady Rundell 200 L in germany
The Caustick powder
Take yellow Arsenick an Ounce Bole
Armoniack half an ounce make ym to
fine powder & mix them well together
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 35
The manor house complex is covered with broken wine bottle fragments. The garden beds were paved with them. The trash pits are full of them. Hundreds, probably thousands, of smashed wine bottles aerate the earth of the archaeological site of Curles Plantation. The first firm confirmation that we had, indeed, found the Curles site came from a wine bottle seal marked “R. Randolph, 1735.” Most of the few dozen seals we have recovered are marked with the initials of one of the Richard Randolphs, but other names occur as well, including the Randolph’s neighbors, the Pleasants, and the mens’ more distant colonial-elite cronies, such as Carter Braxton. But we don’t need archaeological artifacts to trace the networks of the Richard Randolphs of Curles, for these are inscribed in dozens of documents, through court proceedings, land transfers, marriages, etc.
No networks were more important to the 18th-century elite men of Virginia than those mapped out in kinship relations, and the cookery manuscript reveals that the women of Curles maintained equally extensive kin-based networks as well as neighborly relations. Some of the contributions to the book come from well beyond the neighborhood and the family, however. There is a “Philadelphia Receipt. for a Fever, & Ague.” Another is annotated: “Mr. Sylvanus Bevin Apothecary, Plow Court Lombard Street, London,” and there is one “Prescrib’d by Mr. John Watson of Suffolk.” And one can’t help but wonder what led “the old Lady Rundull (Randolph?) to spend 200 pounds on a receipt for “a broken cancer”–probably a cancor–in Germany.
Even more revealing insight into the nature of Jane Randolph’s domain at Curles comes from a precious few leaves from her plantation stores accounts which appear in the cookery manuscript. These records are for debits to accounts for disbursements from the plantation stores during the fall of 1739, along with credits tendered towards those accounts as late as 1743. The first account is that of “Mrs Margery,” who, on 19 October 1939 obtained various dry goods which, along with her debit of 1 shilling on “George’s acct.,” indebted her to Mrs. Randolph to the tune of 1 pound sterling. Nothing in the credit column suggests this debt was ever paid.
The next account is that of “Cate,” whose purchase if dry goods on the 21st and 22nd of October, 1739, cost 12 s, 4p., of which she immediately paid 1 shilling, but no other credit is noted. Also on the 21st, “Joan” received cotton valued at 7s 7p, but only after paying 1s 7p on an older debt. The following day “Sam” bought stockings and a worsted cap worth 5s. He paid half the bill only. And so it goes. In fact, there is little evidence that anyone every paid off their entire debt to Mrs. Randolph. One exception is “Joan,” who was finally credited with the 7s 7p she owed for cotton. She paid her debt on June 2nd, 1743. There are notes that some other accounts were settled. A relatively large debt of Mr. Peter Randolph, Mrs. Randolph’s brother-in-law, for dry goods, clothing and other goods was listed as having been settled by private account with “R R,” Jane’s husband, Richard.
From these account entries it seems that Mrs. Randolph’s world had three sorts of people in it. The first group comprises persons known primarily by their functional relation to Curles, such as “the gardener,” and a large number of persons of both genders known to Mrs. Randolph primarily by their given names: Cate, Joan, Sam, Ned, etc. There were also people she referred to by both given and family names, such as Mrs. Sackville Brewer, Mrs. Baugh, and Mrs. Joseph Hobson. Anyone familiar with local history will recognize most of this second group as middling and yeoman planters living in the neighborhood. The third group were gentry, many of whom were her or her husband’s relatives, such as “Beverly Randolph, Esqr.,” “Mr. Peter Randolph,” “Major John Bolling,” and “Madm. Carey.”
Jane Randolph handled the accounts of these three sorts of people differently. The singly named persons, like Joan, were expected to pay something on their debt immediately, even though the amount collected was often a small percentage of what was owed. Of the middling or small planters, most seem never to have repaid their debts even in part. For the great planters, there was some special treatment. Either a large debt was simply crossed out, as in the case of that of “Madm. Carey,” or, as with Peter Randolph, settled in private by Mrs. Randolph’s husband.
Rhys Isaacs has done an especially good job of describing the relations of debt which seem to have knit together Virginia society in the 18th century. The planters remained hugely indebted to their merchant factors in England and Scotland, while local middling and small planters remained perpetually indebted to the great planters like the Randolphs. There does appear to be one group from whom repayment was expected, and those were the folks with single names: mostly likely Curles servants, indentured or enslaved. One can only wonder, of course, what benefit accrued to Joan for settling her debt of seven shilling seven pence four years after she incurred it.
While Jane Randolph’s plantation store accounts speak of her relationships to a broader community of household, neighbors and kin, and of her responsibilities for managing at least a part of the commercial enterprise of the plantation, they also show the boundaries of her world. She was not, for instance, privy to the debt arrangements of her husband’s relations and peers. That was simply none of her business. On the other hand, she kept close track of the withdrawals from stores by her husband himself.
Those credits which do occur are for payments in cash. In fact, the accounting is all in sterling rather than in pounds of tobacco, which was the more common currency of the country. I suspect that her husband kept track of, and produced the bills and receipts for, exchanges valued in tobacco. These were the larger and, in many ways, more visible transactions of the plantation. But Mrs. Randolph’s handling of the stores accounts shows that she had access to an extremely scarce and highly valued resource. The culture of debt was a system of perpetual IOUs and bills for tobacco put up in cask in public warehouses. The ultimate reckoning lay in factors’ account books in London, Bristol, and Glasgow. Cash, many often complained, was practically unseen. William Byrd wrote of going for long periods of time without two coins to rub together in his pocket. But Mrs. Randolph had the keys to the storehouse, and she had cash in an economy of honor and promise among men.
A Receipt for a Purging
Take half an oz: of Kipscacuanna, decant it in one
equal quantity of Clarit, & Water. let it boil from a qut
to less than a pint. Strain it, & add one Spoonful of Oil
give it in a Glister. If the Patient be very weak, or
a Chid, you must infuse less, of the Root. a Dram
being a full Quanty for a Man–J Coupland
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 97
The recipes in Jane Randolph Her Book are notable for their almost complete lack of American ingredients and techniques. The recipe above is an exception. It is based on the American Indian purgative, Ipecac (Kipscacuanna), a member of the holly family. The rarity of American influence isn’t unusual, for most of the Colonial receipt books contain recipes which vary but little from their Renaissance and Medieval counterparts. Many of the recipes have almost exact parallels in other manuscripts and, indeed, in the most popular published cookery books of the era, such as those of Richard Bradley and Eliza Smith. The manuscript gives us no recipes using maize, or “Indian meal,” although we know from sources such as William Byrd and Phillip Fithian that corn and corn meal were regularly used in the elite plantation households of 18th-century Virginia. There are no recipes using beans (other than European-bred “French beans”), or squash, or pumpkins, or black-eyed peas, or watermelons, or rice. One of the few food recipes using New World Ingredients is for a pickle. It calls for the use of “long pepper” and “Jamaico” (sic) pepper, The first of these may refer to capsicum, while Jamaica pepper is allspice (pimento). Both of these ingredients appear in European recipes at least by the late 16th century, so while they are of New World origin, they are not Virginian, and they don’t reflect a local creole cuisine.
Like the purge receipt given above, another of the very few recipes in the Curles receipt book which is centered around an American ingredient is also medicinal. This receipt is unique in some other ways. It is one of the longest in the book, and while many of the medicinal preparations include a description lauding them for their efficacy in various cures, none approaches “The Oyntment of Tobacco” for its praise of nearly miraculous properties spoken in nearly liturgical tones.
The Oyntment of Tobacco
Take of Tobacco Leaves 6 pounds
hogs Lard Clarifyed 3 pounds Lett ye
Herb being bruised be infused in a pint
or read Sed wine a whole night in
the morning put the Lard to the
herbs & Lett it boyle Over a Slow
Fire to the Consuming of the wine
Then strain it of the Juice of Tobacco
a pint Rosin 12 ounces sett it on the
Fire again & Lett it boyle to ye consum
ption of the Juice then take it off
& Lett it stand a whole week then
Sett it on a Slow fire & when it boyls
Putt in a Little by Little of a time of
the Powder of round beachworck roots
6 ounces then Lett it Stand boyling
for half an hour Stirring it all the
Time with a wooden Stick then add
it half a pound of bee’s wax & when its
Melted take it off & Lett it Stand to
Settle then pour it off gently from ye
Dregs you must Stir it first nor Losse
it till its Cold
The Virtues of this Oyntment
It Cures humorous Apposthumus wounds
Ulcers Gun Shots blotches & Scabs Itch
Stinging with Bees or Wasps hornetts
Venemous Beasts wound made with
Poysned Arrows it helps Sealing with
burneing Oil or Lightning & that with
out a Scar it helps nasty Rotten
Intryfied Ulcers though in the Lungs
In Fistulaes though the bone be
Afflicted it Shall Seale it without an
Instrument & bring up ye flesh from
ye very bottom a wound Dresst with
This will never Putryfie a wound made
with a Weapon that [illeg.] Can follow
Oint with this & you need not fear any
Danger of your head Aches anoint ye
Temples & you Shall have Ease the
Stomach being Anointed with it no
Infirmety harbours there no not
Asthmas’s nor Consumptions of ye Lungs
the belly being Anointed with it
Helps the Chollick & Passion
it helps the Hermoroids & piles &
is the best for the Gout of all sorts
Jane Randolph Her Book pp78-80
Clearly tobacco held a very special place in the culture of Colonial Virginia. Its virtues for that period are more typically seen as economic ones, but here we can see that the magical properties which the Indians themselves once credited it with were appreciated by women charged with the responsibility for curing. I wonder from what source comes the testament of this ointment’s effectiveness against poisoned arrows! While many of Virginia’s young gentry, including several Randolph men, fought in the Indian wars on the frontier at mid-century, there surely was little call for such a cure in the precincts of Tidewater.
There seems to be little or no Indian or African influence in the culinary receipts, even though we know that African and Native American crops were widely grown and African- and Indian-influenced dishes were completely entrenched in the cuisine of the period. Certainly the fact that African and African-American women did nearly all of the gardening and food preparation helps to explain the widespread influence of African foodways on Southern cuisine to this day. So why is it so blatantly absent in the cookbooks of the 18th century? An answer suggests itself in reading Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife written in the following century.
The difficulties I encountered when I first entered on the duties of a House-Keeping life, from the want of books sufficiently clear and concise, to impart knowledge to a Tyro, compelled me to study the subject, and by actual experiment, to reduce every thing, in the culinary line, to proper weights and measures…The government of a family bears a Liliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the treasury must be known…A regular system must be introduced into each department…The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules: “Let every thing be done at the proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.”
Mary Randoph, from the preface of The Virginia Housewife (Hess 1984).
On the title page of her fine cook book, Mary Randolph had the publisher print an aphorism: “Method is the Soul of Management.” Mrs. Randolph’s preface stresses the notion that method and management are the sole of housewifery, a surprisingly modern concept expressed in language that almost presages the “scientific” cooking school which came to dominate American cookery at the end of the 19th century. But Mrs. Randolph’s rationalism is not a product of late modernity, of industrialism, but of its dawning: the Enlightenment. Enlightenment values permeate Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife in the subtleties of careful measurements which, the author assures us, she has refined through continual experimentation. Whether as the result of such rationality, or of pure talent and intelligent intuition, we cannot doubt the quality of the results. Mary Randolph was hailed as the finest cook of her day in Richmond. Apparently, people vied for invitations to her dinner parties, and when she opened a boarding house, it became the dining spot of the state’s capital city.
Her cook book differs from its predecessors in many other, more important, ways, however. Here we find many recipes that are purely American, based on American ingredients and prepared in ways that indicate centuries of creolized cultural practices. Her ingredients include corn, hominy, rice, squashes, chile peppers, and other staples of southern cooking. Recipes for johnny cakes, buckwheat cakes, cornbread and other commonplaces of our culture stand alongside the most sumptuously spiced creations tinged with European, East Indian, and Caribbean flavors and techniques. The Virginia Housewife reveals the unique touches of a talented and creative cook. This individual genius comes through loud and clear and proclaims a very different era in cookery books. No longer are ancient “receipts” — were they called that because they were “received” rather than created?–faithfully copied for the transmission of a cultural model that stretches back to the Medieval period. Here, instead, is a combination of brand-new creations with the old, tried-and-true ways transformed through an individual vision. And the old includes not only the academic, accepted “English” heritage, but the folk or country creole recipes passed through oral, living tradition rather than through meticulously copied canonical texts.
Mary Randolph, whose nick-name was Molly, was a great-granddaughter of Jane Bolling Randolph. She was born in August of 1762 and raised at Tuckahoe Plantation just west of Richmond. She married her second cousin, David Meade Randolph, a grandson of Jane Bolling Randolph. He grew up at Curles, just east of Richmond. David’s father, Col. Richard Randolph (II), had established a plantation for Davies and Molly just across the river from Curles, and it was here they lived through much of the 1780s and 90s. They were visited in 1796 by the Duc de la Rouchefoucault Liancourt at their farm, which they called “Presquile.” He wrote that “Mr. Davies Randolph is fully entitled to the reputation he enjoys of being the best farmer in the whole country.” The Randolphs, along with six adult and two child slaves farmed a plantation of 750 acres, most of which was forest or swamp. They produced primarily highly profitable harvests of wheat. From the James River they harvested sturgeon, shad, and herrings which, once salted, added an additional 800-900 dollars annually to their income.v
Thomas Edwardses Receipt to keep Sturgeon
You must wash & Scrap it very clean,
then take out the bones, and grisle,
then boile it in Salt and water, scum it
all the while tis boiling
when tis Colld enoug, lay it on clean straw to
drain, then take some vinegar, and the
liquor it was boild in, an equal guan-
tyt boil it together with pepper and
Salt, let it cool and settle, when cold,
wipe the sturgeon, and put it into the
Souce, put the oil on it and cover it close
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 161
To Boil Sturgeon
Leave the skin on, which must be nicely scraped, take out the gristle, rub it with salt, and let it lie an hour, then put it on cold water with some salt and few cloves of garlic; it must be dredged with flour before it is put into the water, skim it carefully, and when dished, pour over it melted butter with chopped parsley, a large spoon of mushroom catsup, one of lemon pickle, and one of pepper vinegar; send some of it to table in a sauce boat; the sturgeon being a dry fish, rich sauce is necessary.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (Hess 1984: p. 69)
Among the faunal remains recovered from late 18th-century trash deposits adjacent to the kitchen at Curles were the bones of sturgeon, catfish, and gar. Oddly, there were no white bass, striped bass, yellow perch, pickerels, shad, alewives, porgeys, or any of the other dozens of food fish species which are common to this stretch of the James River, and which play so important a part in the cuisine of the Chesapeake region. The Curles receipt manuscript contains only two recipes for fish, and neither are for preparing them for the table. Both are for preserving fish: the sturgeon recipe, above, and another for pickling herrings.
In contrast to the kitchen trash pit assemblages, remains from the root cellar of an 18th-century slave quarter at Curles contains a richly varied assemblage of fish remains. One possible reason for the paucity of fish at the manor house compound is that this class of food was perceived by the Randolphs primarily as either food for slaves, or as a product to be prepared for sale in local markets, or more likely, for export. The testimony of Liancourt from his visit to Presquile shows that some fish proved a valuable commodity.
Due, in part, to Davies’ poor health and to the burden of tremendous debt left him by his father, Davies and Molly sold Presquile before the turn of the century and moved to Richmond where they bought a large house which soon acquired an amalgam of their nicknames and became widely known as “Moldavia.” Davies had held an appointment as federal marshal of Virginia under Washington and Adams, but his federalist politics caused him to have a bitter falling out with his cousin, Jefferson, who fired him in 1802. While Davies proved to be a capable entrepreneur, and is credited with a number of inventions, the primary support of the Randolphs soon became the responsibility of Mary. One important bit of fall-out from the American Revolution was the end of the system of perpetual debt. The Treaty of Paris provided that Virginia’s planters would repay all their debts British factors, and those markers were called in. Richard Randolph’s debts had been no greater than those of most of his peers, but they were great enough to lead to the loss of numerous plantations. David Meade Randolph, his brothers, and their sons would fight much of their lives to avoid financial ruin from the debts of Richard of Curles. Mary Randolph’s boarding house and her extraordinary cooking skills kept her and her husband not only solvent, but centered in Richmond society, although they eventually had to sell their big town house.
I have little doubt that Mary urged the sale of the plantation and the move to Richmond. For reasons history doesn’t tell us, she eventually moved to Washington D.C. where she lived for a while apart from her husband, although he soon joined her. In Washington, Mary Randolph again became known for her cookery and hospitality. Here she worked to complete and publish her masterpiece, The Virginia Housewife. Four years after its first edition was issued, Mary Randolph died. She is buried at Arlington, then the home of some of her kin. Her epitaph tells us that “her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium.”
Mary Randolph was no housewife. Certainly not in the traditional sense conveyed, for instance, in Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife published a century before Mary Randolph’s book. Mary did not raise a family, and despite her plantation upbringing and the bucolic beginnings of her married life to Virginia’s “best farmer” –and I have little doubt that her management skills and creative efforts lent much to the success of that farm–she eschewed the role of home-maker. While working within the realm of the “domestic,” it is clear that Mary Randolph’s activities, like those of her husband, were primarily entrepreneurial. There is no hint in the meager documents of her life that she simply wielded her skills at cookery and hospitality to hold onto the fading glories of elite society; rather, she seems a person engaged, like a great many others of her age in the New Republic, in finding a way to turn her individual skills and efforts into a comfortable living. No longer content with the pre-ordained quarter of life carved out in the semiotics of a Georgian plantation landscape, Mary Randolph embraced both the Enlightenment and the Revolution and promises of individual accomplishment. And along with others in the urban society of post-Revolutionary Richmond, she embraced the liberty and pride of her American, creole heritage, and the place her new country’s status made for her in a world order of nations tied by diplomacy, trade, and cultural exchange. Born a colonial, Mary Randolph lived to help create, and enjoy, her own liberty.
About the time that Mary and David Meade Randolph moved to Richmond, just as the 18th century drew to a close, David’s older brother, the third Richard Randolph of Curles, was also forced by their father’s debts to sell Curles Plantation. Throughout most of the Antebellum years the estate was owned by absentee owners. Even the overseer lived elsewhere. The mansion house and kitchen became quarters for slaves and tenants. Curles became a kind of industrial farm, a vast 2500-acre tract worked by a hundred or more slaves. The old axial symmetry of the manor house compound remained partially intact, due to some remaining fences, but the kitchen gardens appear to have been abandoned. The stew pond dried up. The ditches which had fed it were filled in. A huge hog butchering shed and rendering hearth were erected right in front of the north facade of the mansion, bringing a dirty activity out of the kitchen yard and into the former parterre, defacing the ornamented house with an edifice of practical purpose. A storage shed was built across the southern facade of the kitchen, covering its century-old checkerboard brickwork. In 1812 the plantation was leased to the militia who trashed the mansion and yards. In 1814, John Randolph of Roanoke visited the old estate, probably on the occasion of his grandmother’s death, and complained of its dilapidated condition.
Federal soldiers camped at Curles through the Peninsula Campaign, and probably continually thereafter until the fall of Richmond. They tore down the kitchen, brick by brick, leaving behind their own trash. The hardware of fallen soldiers and horses were buried on the site to keep them from enemy hands. Soldiers hauled bricks, boards, nails and other useful things off to wherever they were needed to build their winter huts.
Structuralism is seductive. James Deetz’s brilliant book, In Small Things Forgotten, has influenced a generation of the brightest historical archaeologists in many good ways and, like most who teach the subject, I make my students read it carefully. But I worry about finding some essential structural property–a Georgian mind set, or whatever–an adequate summary of a people, a culture, a time. Reducing the contingencies of history and the vagaries of individual actions and motivations to an elegant corporate intuition, a frame described by a few limited axes of variation, to use Mary Douglas’s model, seems no different to me than attempting to describe all human life by a small set of simultaneous differential equations. The model may be real, but I’m not sure it tells us much.
It is not difficult to see Deetz’s “re-Angicization” model, originally proposed for 18th-century New England, reflected in the “Georgian” world of Virginia. But New England and Virginia were nonetheless very different places, and life for Jane Randolph followed a very different model than it did for Cate or Joan or Mrs. Margery, or Richard Randolph, for that matter. But the imposing of different frames upon the same scene can help animate the scenario. Jane Randolph Her Book is an example of an ancient model for women’s place in English culture, one which far pre-dates the Georgian formal division of space and action found in the structure of Curles Plantation. These two very different worlds are like a cross-polarized crystal specimen in a petrographic microscope. Illuminate them with the light of the Enlightened world of Mary Randolph, and the colors begin to dance. There is something to be said for seeking difference, rather than commonality, the playing of atoms in the interstices and at the margins of structure.
As a text for revealing “real life,” Jane Randolph’s manuscript is severely limited, because it is a document of culture transmission, not of cultural creation. It, too, is a frame, a structure into which the Randolph girls were to grow, and the enslaved cooks were to become enculturated. But history tells us that it didn’t work out that way. The kitchen and plantation provide us insights into the imposed spatial zonation of activity, but they give us little insight into individual actions within, across, in spite of those prescribed boundaries. Jane Randolph’s life was not lived by a cook book. She probably cooked very little, and the recipes in her manuscript probably reflect very poorly the nature of meals actually consumed in any given day at Curles Plantation.
Mary Randolph broke the frames, and while her time period permitted a more public display of initiative and performance by some women, we should not imagine that her female ancestors were somehow less innovative, less effective, less important in creating, testing, and re-creating their own cultural matrices. Nor should we believe that 18th-century Curles was somehow English and that only after the Revolution did culture take on American flavors. While The Virginia Housewife is surely the product of individual genius, it, too, is a cultural document, the product of those Georgian mind-sets and ancient traditions and treatises on housewifery. But also of a lived world that no longer had to be described in prescriptive, mythological terms.
For the Bite of a Dog
Take of grey ground Liverwort; in Powder, one
dram; of Elicampane Powder one dram; of black
Hellebore Root, in fine Powder, twenty grains;
of native or factitious Cinnabar, well levigated, ten
grains. mix them together for one Dose, to be taken
on an empty Stomach the first Morning, if possible,
after the Bite (fasting a few Hours after it) in a glass
of Wine; or Wine and Water.
This Medicine is such a powerful Alterative, that,
if taken in fortyeight Hours after the Bite (Temperance
strictly observed) it will not only resist and correct, but
soon expel the Poison. Innumerable Experiments have
been tried with the greatest Success, not only upon the
Human Species, but upon Dogs and other Animals;
when those that took it did well, and those who
took it not in a short time died raving mad.
Tho’ it may appear to some a Remedy of no consequence,
as most things do when once made public, it is,
notwithstanding found by Experience (if given in
due time) to be as infallible a Preservative in the
above mention’d case, as Mercury is in raising a
Salivation, or the peruvian Bark in curing a
Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 94
Like Mary Randolph, historical archaeology is partly a product of the Enlightenment: in its faith in method, and its quest for management; in its notion that a recipe is a repeatable experiment rather than an instantiation of history; in the belief that the human world can be adequately described as patterns and processes. But God, the devil, and the truth, are in the details, and I worry about the taste of Mrs. Cary’s “Good Ale,” and I am astonished at how little I can know about the world described in Jane Randolph’s book.
i . Jane Randolph Cook Book, Mss 5:5 W1507:1, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. My attribution of the majority of the receipts to Jane Randolph Walke follows that by historian Jane Carson, in a letter dated February 1, 1970 which accompanies the facsimile. As the 1796 and later entries include names of the Curles Randolphs of that era and their neighbors, I assume that this third Jane was the daughter of Richard Randolph (II) and Ann Meade. That makes her both a sister-in-law and a first cousin of Mrs. Mary Randolph, about whom I will write shortly. If my attribution is correct, then the receipt book may have remained at Curles throughout the 18th century, or else returned there after a sojourn with the Walkes in Princess Ann County.
ii . Some important published works include Rennaissance Lady’s Companion ***; Richard Bradley, The Country Housewife and Ladyís Director, Prospect Books, London, 1980 [originally published in 1727, 1732 and 1736]; Eliza Smith, The Complete Housewife, Studio Editions, 1994 [This is a facsimile of the 16th edition of 1758, but the recipes are most from the 17th and very early 18th century period]. A much earlier, but very useful source is The English Hus-wife by G. Markham. A facsimile of the 1615 edition is published by Walter J. Johnson, Norwood, 1973. For a classic Virginia manuscript that has been published in a very authoritative edition, see Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, edited by Karen Hess, Columbia University Press, 1981. Below I will discuss in greater length The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph. A facsimile of the original 1824 edition, along with additions from 1825 and 1828, is available with excellent scholarly comment and criticism by Karen Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 1984. For those interested in colonial cookery in general, two very good secondary sources are Jane Carsonís Colonial Virginia Cookery, Williamsburg Research Studies, 1968; and Nancy Carter Crumpís Hearthside Cooking, EPM Publications, McLean, Virginia, 1986. Crump’s book is the place to look for those who want to try their hand at hearthside cooking, or to prepare recipes based on colonial originals adapted for modern equipment.
iii . Rorty, Interprepation as Re-Contextualization.
iv . The Mrs. Cary referred to here and elsewere in the book was probably Mary Randolph Cary, Jane Randolph Walkeís sister, or, perhaps, it was her sisterís mother-in-law. The Cary’s lived at Ampthill, just a few miles away across the river from Curles.
v . Hess, Liancourt, and Odell