Samuel Fraunces

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Sam Fraunces, c. 1900 engraving, based on an undated ink sketch attributed to John Trumbull. The ink sketch is privately owned.[1]

Samuel Fraunces (1722/23[note 1] – October 10, 1795) was an American restaurateur and the owner/operator of Fraunces Tavern in New York City. During the Revolutionary War, he provided for prisoners held during the seven-year British occupation of New York City (1776-1783), and claimed to have been a spy for the American side.[3] At the end of the war, it was at Fraunces Tavern that General George Washington said farewell to his officers. Fraunces later served as steward of Washington's presidential household in New York City (1789–1790) and Philadelphia (1791–1794).

Since the mid-19th century, there has been a dispute over Fraunces's racial identity.[4] According to his 1983 biographer, Kym S. Rice: "During the Revolutionary era, Fraunces was commonly referred to as 'Black Sam.' Some have taken references such as these as an indication that Fraunces was a black man. ...[W]hat is known of his life indicates he was a white man."[2]: 147–148  Some 19th- and 20th-century sources described Fraunces as "a negro man" (1838),[5] "swarthy" (1878),[6] "mulatto" (1916),[7] "Negro" (1916),[8] "coloured" (1930),[9] "fastidious old Negro" (1934),[10] and "Haitian Negro" (1962),[11] but these date from at least several decades after his death.[12] As Rice noted in her Documentary History of Fraunces Tavern (1985): "Other than the appearance of the nickname, there are no known references where Fraunces was described as a black man" during his lifetime.[13]: 27 

The familiar oil-on-canvas portrait, long identified as depicting Samuel Fraunces and exhibited at Fraunces Tavern since 1913, was recently discredited by new evidence. German historian Arthur Kuhle found a portrait of the same sitter in a Dresden museum in 2017, and suspects that the sitter had been a member of Prussian king Frederick the Great's royal court.[14]


There is a tradition that Fraunces was of French ancestry and came from the West Indies.[2]: 125  There are claims that he was born in Jamaica,[15] Haiti,[11][16] Martinique,[17] and the possibility that he was related to a Fraunces family in Barbados.[13]: 25  Although his surname implies that he was of French extraction, there is no evidence that he spoke with a French accent.[2]: 125  There is also no record of where he learned his skills as a cook, caterer, and restaurateur.[2]: 125 


Fraunces Tavern (formerly the Oliver Delancey Mansion), Pearl & Dock Streets, New York City.
New York in 1776, Fraunces's tavern was at the west end of Queen Street (now Pearl Street). Vaux-Hall Gardens is at far left, above center.

The first documentation of Fraunces's presence in New York City was in February 1755, when he registered as a British subject and "Innholder."[18] The following year he was issued a tavern license,[19] but where he worked for the next two years is unidentified.[13]: 25  From 1758 to 1762, he operated the Free Mason's Arms Tavern at Broadway and Queen Street.[20]

In 1762 he mortgaged and rented out the Free Mason's Arms, and purchased the Oliver Delancey mansion at Pearl and Dock Streets.[21] He opened this as the Sign of Queen Charlotte Tavern, but within a year it was better known as the Queen's Head Tavern (possibly due to the queen's portrait on a painted sign).[13]: 29  In addition to the usual restaurant fare, Fraunces offered fixed-price dinners, catered meals delivered, and sold preserved items such as bottled soups, ketchup, nuts, pickled fruits and vegetables, oysters, jellies and marmalades.[22] Although the tavern featured five lodging-rooms, it was better known as a place for private meetings, parties and receptions, and card-playing.[13]: 50–51 

Fraunces rented out the former Delancey mansion in 1765, and moved his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, opening a Queen's Head Tavern on Front Street in that city,[23] then moving to Water Street in 1766.[23] He returned to New York City in early 1768, and sold the Free Mason's Arms. He resumed operation of his tavern in the former Delancey mansion in 1770.[24]

Spring Hill – a villa along the Hudson River under lease to Major Thomas James – was heavily vandalized in the November 1765 Stamp Act Riot.[25] Fraunces leased the property, opening it in 1767 as a summer resort: Vaux-Hall Pleasure Garden, (named for London's Vauxhall Gardens).[13]: 34–37  The villa featured large rooms, and its extensive grounds were the setting for concerts and public entertainments. Fraunces exhibited ten life-sized wax statues of historical figures (possibly modeled by him),[13]: 36  debuting them in a garden setting in July 1768.[26] He later exhibited seventy miniature wax figures from the Bible, and life-size wax statues of King George III and Queen Charlotte.[27] He operated Vaux-Hall through Summer 1773; in October, he auctioned its contents and sold the property.[13]: 38 

Fraunces continued to operate the Queen's Head Tavern through the early years of the Revolutionary War, but fled when the British captured New York City in September 1776.[20]

Revolutionary War[edit]

A month after the April 19, 1775, Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, the British warship HMS Asia sailed into New York Harbor. Its presence was a constant threat to the city. On August 23, revolutionaries stole the cannons from the fort on The Battery, which prompted The Asia to bombard the city with cannon fire that night. There were no deaths, but injuries and damage to buildings, including Fraunces's tavern. Philip Freneau wrote a poem about the bombardment, "Hugh Gaines Life," that included the couplet: "At first we supposed it was only a sham. Till she drove a round ball through the roof of Black Sam."[28]

The tavern was used for more than entertainment during the Revolutionary War. Fraunces rented out office space, and meetings of the New York Provincial Congress were held there. In April 1776, General Washington was present at a court-martial conducted at the tavern.[29]: Vol. 4, 485 

Washington's headquarters, April 17 to August 27, 1776, was Richmond Hill, a villa two miles north of the tavern. Fraunces claimed to have discovered and foiled an assassination plot against Washington.[3] The supposed plotter, Thomas Hickey, one of Washington's life-guards, was court-martialed, and executed on June 28:

Congress, I doubt not, will have heard of the plot, that was forming among many disaffected persons in this city and government for aiding the King's troops upon their arrival. No regular plan seems to have been digested; but several persons have been enlisted, and sworn to join them. The matter, I am in hopes, by a timely discovery, will be suppressed and put a stop to. Many citizens and others, among whom is the mayor, are now in confinement. The matter has been traced up to Governor Tryon; and the mayor appears to have been a principal agent or go-between him and the persons concerned in it. The plot had been communicated to some of the army, and part of my guard engaged in it. Thomas Hickey, one of them, has been tried, and, by the unanimous opinion of a court-martial, is sentenced to die, having enlisted himself, and engaged others. The sentence, by the advice of the whole council of general officers, will be put in execution to-day at eleven o'clock. The others are not tried. I am hopeful this example will produce many salutary consequences, and deter others from entering into the like traitorous practices. — George Washington to the President of Congress, 28 June 1776.[30]

Washington's Farewell to His Troops by Alonzo Chappel (1866)

British troops captured lower Manhattan on September 15, 1776, and soon occupied all of what is now New York City.[20] Fraunces and his family left "previous to its being taken Possession of by the British Forces," and fled to Elizabeth, New Jersey.[3] Fraunces was captured in June 1778,[20] brought back to New York City, and impressed into working as the cook for British General James Robertson.[20] Fraunces later claimed that he used this as an opportunity to smuggle food to American prisoners, giving them clothing and money, and helping them to escape.[3] He also claimed to have passed information about the British occupation and troop movements to General Washington and others.[3] According to the Jane Tuers legend,[31] Fraunces overheard British soldiers toasting Benedict Arnold, and sent the warning (through Tuers) that Arnold was a traitor.[32]

General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, but British forces continued to occupy New York City for more than two years. Fraunces's tavern was the meeting place for negotiations between American and British commissioners to end the 7-year occupation. Peace negotiations were held at the DeWint House in Tappan, New York in May 1783, where Fraunces provided meals for General Washington, British General Sir Guy Carleton, and their staffs.[33] Carleton's Book of Negroes – a ledger listing some 3,000 fugitive slaves who had fled to the British and been promised freedom in return for their service – was compiled at the tavern between April 26 and November 30, 1783.[34] The "Black Loyalists" were settled in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.[35] The British evacuation from New York City was celebrated by patriots with a November 25, 1783 dinner at the tavern.[36]

At a December 4, 1783 dinner in the tavern's Long Room, Washington said an emotional farewell to his officers and made his famous toast: "With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you: I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy, as you former ones have been glorious and honorable."[2]: 128, 132 

Memorial to Congress[edit]

In a March 5, 1785 memorial (sworn petition) to the U.S. Congress, Fraunces sought compensation for his service to the country in foiling an assassination plot against Washington, supplying provisions to American prisoners, and providing intelligence on British troops:[note 2]

That your Memorialist, being from Principle attached to the Cause of America, removed from the City of New York previous to its being taken Possession of by the British Forces, into Elizabeth Town in the State of New Jersey. That he was their [sic] made Prisoner by the Enemy who after plundering his Family of almost every necessary brought him to the City of New York.

That he was the Person that first discovered the Conspiracy which was formed in the Year 1776 against the Life of his Excellency General Washington and that the Suspicions Which were Entertained of his agency in that Important Discovery accationed [sic, occasioned] a public Enquiry after he was made a Prisoner on which the want of positive Proof alone preserved his Life.
That your Memorialist though for many Years before the War a Respectable Innholder in this City submitted to serve for some time in the Menial Office of Cook in the Family of [British] General [James] Robertson without any Pay or Perquisite whatever, Except for the Priveledge [sic] of disposing of the Remnants of the Table which he appropriated towards the Comfort of the American Prisoners within the City in whom the Exercise of the Commonest Acts of Humanity was at that time Considered a Crime of the deepest Dye.
That in this Station and other Periods of the War, he served with zeal, and at the Hazard of his Life, the Cause of America, not only by supplying Prisoners with Money, Food, and Raiments and facilitating their Escapes but by performing Services of a Confidential Nature and of the utmost Importance to the Operations of the American Army.

That your Memorialist in Consequence of the heavy Advances he has made to American Prisoners (the far greater part of which is not yet Reimbursed) and other solid Proof of his Zeal for the Cause of Freedom, is now reduced to so Critical a Situation as to see himself, his Wife and a numerous Family on the Precipice of Beggary unless the Generous and humane Hand of you Honorable House should be Extended to himself.[3]

Congress's report on Fraunces's memorial acknowledged his role as "instrumental in discovering and defeating" the assassination plot.[37] For debts incurred during the Revolutionary War, Congress awarded him £2000,[37] and a later payment covered accumulated interest.[38] The State of New York awarded him £200, and Congress paid $1,625 to lease his tavern for two years to house federal government offices.[39] Two weeks after the lease was signed, Fraunces sold the tavern and retired to a farm in Monmouth County, New Jersey.[13]: 78–80 

Presidential households[edit]

Samuel Osgood House in New York City
President's House in Philadelphia

George Washington got to know Fraunces during the Revolutionary War.[20] Their relationship was one of master and servant, but Washington clearly respected his judgment and repeatedly sought his recommendations on sundries such as glassware and china, and his advice on household management and hiring servants.[2]: 131 

Washington was Congress's unanimous choice to serve as first President of the United States. He arrived in New York City on April 23, 1789, and took up residence at the Samuel Osgood House, at Cherry and Franklin Streets. Fraunces came out of retirement to serve as steward of the presidential household, managing a staff of about 20,[2]: 150  including 7 enslaved Africans from Mount Vernon.[note 3] Washington was not entirely satisfied with Fraunces, and dismissed him in February 1790,[note 4] prior to the household's move to the Alexander Macomb House, at 39-41 Broadway.

Under the July 1790 Residence Act, Congress designated Philadelphia the temporary national capital for a 10-year period, while the permanent national capital was under construction in the District of Columbia. Congress convened in Philadelphia on December 6, 1790.[41] The household staff at the Philadelphia President's House was slightly larger, about 24 servants,[42] initially including 8 enslaved Africans from Mount Vernon.[note 5] Washington grew dissatisfied with his steward in Philadelphia, and persuaded Fraunces to come out of retirement again. Fraunces at first expressed skepticism about cooking alongside Washington's enslaved cook from Mount Vernon, Hercules,[note 6] but they appear to have worked smoothly together.[note 7] Fraunces headed the Philadelphia presidential household for three years, from May 1791 to June 1794.[46]

Following his retirement, Fraunces operated a tavern on 2nd Street in Philadelphia for a year. In June 1795, he assumed proprietorship of the Tun Tavern, at 59 South Water Street.[2]: 133 

Personal life[edit]

Fraunces may have had a first wife named Mary Carlile.[20] He married Elizabeth Dally at Trinity Church, Manhattan on November 30, 1757.[47] They had seven children: Andrew Gautier Fraunces, Elizabeth Fraunces Thompson,[48] Catherine Fraunces Smock, Sophia Fraunces Gomez, Sarah Fraunces Campbell, Samuel M. Fraunces, and Hannah Louisa Fraunces Kelly.[note 8] Andrew G. Fraunces worked in the U.S. Treasury Department until 1793,[50] and published a pamphlet denouncing Alexander Hamilton for his financial dealings.[51] Some of the other children ran hotels or boardinghouses.

Fraunces died in Philadelphia the year after retiring from the presidential household. His obituary appeared in the October 13, 1795, Gazette of the United States: "DIED - On Saturday Evening last, MR. SAMUEL FRAUNCES, aged 73 years. By his death, Society has sustained the loss of an honest man, and the Poor a valuable friend." He was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia.[4]

Samuel M. Fraunces, served as executor of his father's estate,[52] and was listed as an "Inn keeper" at 59 South Water Street in the 1795 Philadelphia Directory.[53]


Fraunces employed servants, including indentured servants, and held enslaved Africans in bondage.[20] In 1778, he advertised the sale of a 14-year-old male slave.[54] The 1790 United States Census for New York listed him as a free white male, with four free white women, and one slave in his household.[55]

Racial identity[edit]

Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois—co-founder of the NAACP and first editor of its magazine, The Crisis—tried to resolve the issue of Fraunces's racial identity. He strongly suspected that Fraunces had been of African descent, but could find no conclusive evidence.[56] Mrs. John Fraunces McCurley, a Virginia newspaper editor, assembled a large cache of historical documents and Fraunces references, and concluded that he had been white.[57] Biographer Kym S. Rice found no 18th-century references to Fraunces having been black: she noted his history as a slaveholder, his inclusion on the voter rolls (limited to white men of property), and his memberships in groups (such as the Masons) that at the time were restricted only to whites.[13]: 27  Charles Blockson, a Philadelphia local historian, found sources describing Fraunces as "Negro," "coloured", "Haitian Negro," "mulatto", "fastidious old Negro," and "swarthy".[4][12][58] Cheryl Janifer Laroche, a historian who worked on the 2007 President's House excavation in Philadelphia, noted conflicting stories depicting his family as both mulatto and white.[58] In 1838, Samuel Cooper, a supposed witness to Washington's 1783 New York farewell to his officers, called Fraunces "a negro man."[5]

Jennifer Patton, Director of Education at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, wrote: "The use of " black" as a prefix to a nickname was not uncommon in the 18th century and did not necessarily indicate African heritage of an individual. For instance, Admiral Richard Lord Howe (1762- 1799), one of Britain's best known and respected seamen – and a white man – was commonly called "Black Dick," a nickname his brother Sir William Howe gave to him as descriptive of the Admiral's swarthy complexion."[59] She concluded: "The issue of Samuel Fraunces' racial identity is still a passionate topic of discussion to this very day. As debate rallies on for conclusive evidence, the actual truth is that we may never know for sure."[59]


Portrait of a Gentleman, unknown artist, oil on canvas, Fraunces Tavern Museum, New York City. This portrait was formerly identified as Samuel Fraunces but now appears to be the portrait of a gentleman in the court of Prussian ruler Frederick the Great[14]

The oil-on-canvas portrait to the right has been exhibited at Fraunces Tavern since 1913.[60] Purchased at auction for the Sons of the Revolution, it was unveiled at their December 4, 1913 annual meeting.[note 9] The painting came from the collection of Anna E. Macy of Riveredge, New Jersey, and was auctioned at Merwin Sales Company, November 17, 1913.[60] The auction catalogue described it as: "Artist Unknown / Colonial Period / Portrait of Samuel Fraunces / Canvas. Height 29in: width, 23in."[60] Art forensic experts examined the portrait in October 2016, and concluded that it dated from the 18th century.[60]

In 2017, however, German historian Arthur Kuhle recognized the sitter in Fraunces Tavern's portrait as being the same as the unidentified sitter in a portrait titled Cavalier at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, Germany.[14] Kuhle was researching Frederick the Great and his court painters, Antoine Pesne and Joachim Martin Falbe. He suspects that the Fraunces Tavern portrait and the Dresden portrait depict a member of the Prussian king's royal court.[14]

The engraving at the top of this article is from an ink sketch that descended in the Fraunces family. The undated sketch is attributed to John Trumbull, signed with a cipher of his initials, and inscribed: "from Fraunce [sic] of Fraunces Tavern."[13]: Appendix 33–34  The engraving was used as an illustration in Alice Morse Earle, Stagecoach and Tavern Days (1900), page 184. Earle credited it as: "Sam Fraunces. From original drawing. Owned by Mrs. A. Livingston Mason, Newport, R.I."[62]

Phoebe Fraunces legend[edit]

Richmond Hill, Washington's headquarters in Manhattan, April – August, 1776

The legend tells that the life of General George Washington was saved during the Revolutionary War by a daughter of Samuel Fraunces named Phoebe. Thomas Hickey, one of Washington's guards, became romantically involved with Phoebe and enlisted her in a plot to poison the general's food. Phoebe reported Hickey (to Washington or her father), and pretended to play along with the plot. Hickey was caught red-handed poisoning the general's food, and was court-martialed and hanged.[63]

Popularization by Lossing[edit]

Antiquarian Benson J. Lossing popularized the Phoebe Fraunces legend.

George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857), the grandson of Martha Washington, wrote a series of articles for American newspapers recollecting the personal side of his step-grandfather, George Washington.[45]: 68  Following Custis's death, Lossing edited his writings for publication as Recollections and Private Memoirs of George Washington (1860).[45]: 4  Custis had written three anecdotes about Samuel Fraunces (page 411, page 420, pages 420-22), and mentioned him indirectly in a fourth (pages 422-23).[45] To one of Custis's anecdotes, Lossing added a footnote describing an assassination attempt on General Washington:

When Washington and his army occupied the city in the summer of 1776, the chief resided at Richmond hill, a little out of town, afterward the seat of Aaron Burr. Fraunces's daughter was Washington's housekeeper, and she saved his life on one occasion, by exposing the intentions of Hickey, one of the Life-Guard (already mentioned [page 257]), who was about to murder the general, by putting poison in a dish of peas prepared for his table.[45]: 411 

Lossing expanded on the "poisoned peas story" in his three-volume Life of Washington (1860), published the same year.[64]: Vol. 2, 175–77, Vol. 3, 112  He repeated the story a decade later in his Washington and the American Republic (1870):

Washington was very fond of green peas, and it was agreed that when a dish of them was ready for the general's table, Hickey should put the poison in it. Meanwhile the housekeeper disclosed the plot to the general. The peas were poisoned. Washington made some excuse for sending the dish away, and Hickey was soon afterward arrested. The peas were given to some hens, in his presence, when they immediately sickened and died.[*]
Hickey and his associates of the guard, were arrested immediately after dinner, on the twenty-third; and, according to a letter written at New York the next day, "the general's housekeeper was taken up," on suspicion of being an accomplice. She was the daughter of Samuel Fraunces, a noted innkeeper at that time ... It was chiefly on the testimony of this woman that Hickey was arrested, tried, and condemned.
[*]These facts were related to a friend of the writer (Mr. W.J. Davis), by the late Peter Embury, of New York, who resided in the city at the time, was well acquainted with the general's housekeeper, and was present at the execution of Hickey.[65]: Vol. 2, 175–76 

In the patriotic build-up to the 1876 Centennial Celebration, Lossing's story was retold in Scribner's Monthly Magazine, but with Samuel Fraunces's anonymous daughter identified as "Phoebe":

A daughter of "Black Sam," Phoebe Fraunces, was Washington's housekeeper when he had his headquarters in New York in the spring of 1776, and was the means of defeating a conspiracy against his life. One part of the plan was the poisoning of the American commander. Its immediate agent was to be Thomas Hickey, a deserter from the British army, who had become a member of Washington's body guard. Fortunately the conspirator fell desperately in love with Phoebe Fraunces, and made her his confidant. She revealed the plot to her father, and at an opportune moment the dénouement came. Hickey was arrested and tried by court-martial. A few days afterward he was hanged ...[63]: 311 

The legend was repeated in the 1932 bicentennial celebration of George Washington's birth, although the location of events was switched from Richmond Hill to Fraunces Tavern.[note 10]

Disputed claims[edit]

Fraunces biographer Kym S. Rice presented new evidence discrediting the Phoebe Fraunces legend in the 1980s.[2][13]

The story that Washington had been the target of an assassination plot by poisoning was published in England as early as 1778: "Advise is received from America that two persons, a man and a woman who lived as servants with General Washington, have been executed in the presence of the army for conspiring to poison their master." — The Ipswich Journal, October 31, 1778.[67]

Washington's headquarters in Manhattan, from April 17 to August 27, 1776, was at Richmond Hill.[68] Initially, his housekeeper there was a widow named Mary Smith.[69] Washington apparently dined at the Queen's Head Tavern at least twice, on April 13, with his aides: "Dinner at Sam's - [£]5.3.6",[70] and (probably) on June 6, with Martha Washington: "Saml Frances, Alias Black Sam - for Dinner - [£]3.14.0".[71] On June 15, one of his guards, Thomas Hickey, was arrested on charges of "attempt[ing] to pass counterfeit Bills of Credit."[note 11] Washington approved mass arrests of suspected Loyalists for the night of June 23–24,[73] and among those arrested was his housekeeper, Mary Smith.[74] Samuel Fraunces also was arrested that night, but eventually released for lack of evidence.[3] Hickey faced a court-martial at Richmond Hill on June 26, and was found guilty of mutiny and sedition.[75][note 12] He was sentenced to death, and hanged on June 28.[76] Smith later fled to England, where she received a £20 Loyalist pension from the British government.[77]

In a 1785 petition to Congress, Fraunces swore that he had thwarted an assassination plot against Washington.[3] Regarding an assassination plot, Rice concludes: "There must have been some truth to Fraunces's statement (because it was later validated by a congressional committee)."[13]: 71  Regarding the Phoebe Fraunces legend, Rice concludes: "The story has no basis in fact ... Lossing called her 'Phoebe'—Fraunces had no daughter by that name.[note 13] Records of Washington's household [at Richmond Hill] do not list any of Fraunces's children as employees."[13]: 72 

Elizabeth Thompson, a 72-year-old widow, became Washington's housekeeper at Richmond Hill on July 9, 1776.[78][79] Rice suggests that confusion created by Thompson's name may have led Lossing, writing 84 years after the events, to misidentify Fraunces's daughter as Washington's housekeeper:[2]: 149 n.26  At the time of Hickey's June 1776 hanging, Fraunces's eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was a 10-year-old child.[48] But thirteen years later she married Atcheson Thompson,[80] and became, coincidentally, another Elizabeth Thompson.[note 14]

Children's books[edit]

Lossing's Phoebe Fraunces legend was largely forgotten, until it was re-introduced in Judith Berry Griffin's 1977 children's book, Phoebe and the General (later renamed Phoebe the Spy).[82][note 15] The fictional 13-year-old Phoebe character is Samuel Fraunces's daughter, and he tells her that he's overheard something about an assassination plot against Washington. Phoebe sees Thomas Hickey sprinkle something on the general's food, and throws a plate of poisoned peas out the window, where chickens eat them and fall down dead. Hickey is immediately arrested, and Fraunces and Phoebe are commended by General Washington.[84]

Another children's book based on the legend is the 2016 title by C. R. Cole, Ainsley Battles, and Breanna Dubbs: Phebe and the Peas. In this re-telling "Phebe" is identified by the authors (who all claim to be descendants of Samuel Fraunces) as the young Elizabeth Fraunces. The story of the poisoned peas is given as a true family story passed down through the generations.[85]

In popular culture[edit]

Schoolchildren in 1910 portraying Jane Tuers and Sam Fraunces as an African American (using blackface)
  • Bergen Celebration, a 1910 historical pageant celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of Jersey City.[86] In a reenactment of the Jane Tuers legend, Fraunces was portrayed by a student in blackface.
  • Dinner for the General, a 1953 teleplay by Reginald Lawrence for Hallmark Hall of Fame, Season 2, Episode 2-26, aired on NBC, February 22, 1953—a teenaged Phoebe Fraunces falls desperately in love with Thomas Hickey, and is horrified when she uncovers his plot to poison General Washington[87]
  • Washington's Farewell to His Officers, a 1955 teleplay by Goodman Ace for You Are There, aired on CBS, February 27, 1955—Samuel Fraunces serves a banquet for General Washington and his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War[88]
  • The Ballot and Me, a 1956 play by Langston Hughes, featured a free-black Samuel Fraunces as a character[89]
  • Who Is Carrie? a 1984 historical novel for young adults by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier—Carrie is an enslaved kitchenmaid working for Samuel Fraunces[note 16]
  • Beyond Harlem, History of Black New York Downtown, a 2005 teleplay by Dara Frazier for NYC Media
  • Shades of War, a 2006 off-Broadway play by Dara Frazier-Harper, portrays Samuel Fraunces as a free-black, ultra-rich, Michael Bloomberg-like character[91]
  • Rough Crossings, a 2007 BBC "drama documentary" based on a book by Simon Schama, portrays both Samuel Fraunces and the "fictional" Phoebe Fraunces as free-blacks. It faced criticism on several fronts.[92][93]
  • The Book of Negroes, a 2007 novel by Lawrence Hill about the life of slaves during the American Revolution, portrays Samuel Fraunces as a freed mulatto from Jamaica who runs his namesake tavern, participates in historical events, and later moves to Mount Vernon to run George Washington's household.
  • Fraunces is portrayed by an African-American actor in a 2010 video at the President's House Memorial in Philadelphia.
  • Black Entertainment Television presented a 2015 miniseries, The Book of Negroes, based on Hill's 2007 novel. African-American actor Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed Fraunces.


  • Fraunces Tavern, at Pearl & Broad Streets in New York City, is a national historic landmark and museum
  • Fraunces created a tableau of wax figurines and seashells as a gift for Martha Washington.[94] It survives at Tudor Place, the Washington, D.C. home of her granddaughter.[95]
  • A Pennsylvania state historical marker at 2nd & Dock Streets in Philadelphia marks the location of the tavern he first operated after leaving Washington's presidential household[96]
  • On June 26, 2010, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia honored Samuel Fraunces by inscribing his name on an obelisk in the churchyard[97]


  1. ^ The year of his birth is computed from his October 13, 1795 obituary in the Gazette of the United States, which listed his age as 73.[2]: 125 
  2. ^ Fraunces's 1785 sworn petition to Congress documents the 1776 assassination plot against Washington.[3] At least 4 contemporaneous sources mention the plot: Dr. Solomon Drowne to his sister Sally Drowne, New York, June 24, 1776; Dr. Solomon Drowne to his brother William Drowne, New York, July 13, 1776; both quoted in Henry Russell Drowne, A Sketch of Fraunces Tavern and Those Connected with Its History (New York: Fraunces Tavern, 1919), pp. 8, 10;[1] Peter T. Curtenius to Richard Varick, New York, June 22, 1776, quoted in Robert Hughes, George Washington (New York: 1927), p. 392; and Joseph Hewes to Samuel Johnson, Philadelphia, July 8, 1776, in William Powell, ed., Correspondence of William Tryon 2 (1768-1818) (Raleigh, NC: 1981), p. 862.
    Significantly, Congress's report on Fraunces's petition acknowledged the existence of the assassination plot.[37]
  3. ^ The enslaved Africans held in New York were Moll (nanny for Martha Washington's grandchildren), Oney Judge (Martha Washington's body servant), Will Lee (Washington's body servant), Christopher Sheels (assistant to Will Lee), and Austin, Giles and Paris (stable workers).
  4. ^ The incident that prompted Fraunces's dismissal involved his serving wine to the household staff, contrary to Washington's orders.[40]
  5. ^ The enslaved Africans held in Philadelphia initially were Moll, Oney Judge, Christopher Sheels (Washington's body servant), Hercules (cook), Richmond (kitchen worker and Hercules's teenage son), Austin, Giles and Paris. Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act made the temporary capital a hostile place for slaveholders, and Washington returned some of the enslaved to Mount Vernon, replacing them with white servants. Following Austin's December 1794 death, "Postilion" Joe was brought up from Mount Vernon. Oney Judge escaped to freedom from Philadelphia in May 1796.[43]
  6. ^ "Fraunces arrived here on Wednesday [May 11], and after signing his Articles of Agreement—going over the things in the house & signing an inventory thereof, entered upon the duties of his station. I think I have made the agreement as full, explicit & binding as any thing of the kind can be. In the Articles prohibiting the use of wine at his table—and obliging him to be particular in the discharge of his duty in the Kitchen & to perform the Cooking with Hercules—I have been peculiarly pointed. He readily assented to them all (except that respecting Hercules, upon which he made the following observation—'I must first learn Hercules' abilities & readiness to do things, which if good, (as good as Mrs Read's) will enable me to do the Cooking without any other professional assistance in the Kitchen; but this experiment cannot be made until the return of the President when there may be occasion for him to exert his talents'—)."[44]
  7. ^ "The chief cook would have been termed in modern parlance, a celebrated artiste. He was named Hercules, and familiarly termed Uncle Harkless. ... [He] was, at the period of the first presidency, as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States. ... The steward, and indeed the whole household, treated the chief cook with much respect, as well for his valuable services as for his general good character and pleasing manners. ... It was while preparing the Thursday or Congress dinner that Uncle Harkless a shone in all his splendor. ... [H]e, the great master-spirit, seemed to possess the power of ubiquity, and to be everywhere at the same moment. ... When the steward in snow-white apron, silk shorts and stockings, and hair in full powder, placed the first dish on the table, the clock being on the stroke of four, "the labors of Hercules" ceased."[45]: 422–23 
  8. ^ Fraunces listed his 7 children in his Will. He named his son Samuel as Executor of his Estate, and Guardian for his minor daughter Hannah.[49]
  9. ^ "We have also recently acquired the old portrait of Samuel Fraunces, the original proprietor of Fraunces Tavern, which will be an interesting addition to display in the entrance hall."[61]
  10. ^ "It was during this period that Washington first stopped at Fraunces Tavern, Broad and Pearl Streets. Here Phoebe Fraunces, serving as the General's housekeeper, discovered her lover, a deserter from the British, to be in a plot to assassinate him. Phoebe must have loved her country more than she did her sweetheart, for she unhesitatingly went to Washington with the entire story and the traitor was sent to his death. As a reward Washington, when he became President, made Samuel Fraunces, Phoebe's father, his steward."[66]
  11. ^ Hickey was in jail at the time of the supposed poisoning attempt: "New York Provincial Congress: Die Sabbati [Saturday], A.M. June 15, 1776. Ordered, That the said Micha Lynch and Thomas Hickey be committed to the Guard in the City-Hall, where Israel Youngs and others are now confined, and that copies of the Affidavits and Examinations related to that matter be delivered to his Excellency General Washington."[72]
  12. ^ The minutes of Thomas Hickey's court-martial contain no testimony by a housekeeper.[75]
  13. ^ "Phoebe Fraunces" does not appear in Samuel Fraunces's will,[49] or in the birth, baptism, or death records of Christ Church, Philadelphia or Trinity Church, New York.[2]
  14. ^ "I have Sir—the honour of being personally known to your Excellency, being the Daughter of Mr Fraunces, and one that was so happy as to have offers of friendship from you Soon after your arrival in this place." Eliza. Thompson.[81]
  15. ^ Note from Fraunces Tavern Museum: "A sweet book, but one needing some comments. Although the cover calls it a true story, Phoebe and the plate of poisoned peas never existed. Samuel Fraunces had five daughters, but none were named Phoebe. The story of Phoebe Fraunces apparently began in B.J. Lossing's Life of Washington (New York: 1860). Lossing claimed to have heard the story from an unnamed friend of Fraunces."[83]
  16. ^ In an epilogue to Who Is Carrie? entitled "How Much of This Book Is True?" the Colliers wrote: "Samuel Fraunces is a particularly interesting character. He was generally called "Black Sam" Fraunces during his lifetime, and it has been assumed by some historians that he was a black. However, our research indicates that he was in fact considered white, despite the nickname" (page 157).[90]


  1. ^ "Portrait of Samuel Fraunces" in Rice, Kym S. (1985). A Documentary History of Fraunces Tavern: The 18th Century. New York: Fraunces Tavern Museum. Appendix B, pp. 33-34.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Samuel Fraunces" (biographical sketch) in Rice, Kym S. (1983). Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers. Chicago: Regnery Gateway. ISBN 978-0-89526-842-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Memorial of Samuel Fraunces," March 5, 1785, "Memorials Addressed to Congress, 1775-88," Papers of the Continental Congress, Record Group 360, M.247, Reel 49, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ a b c Booker, Bobbi (2009-03-22). "Racial identity of "Black Sam" debated". Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  5. ^ a b "Biographical Sketch of Captain Samuel Cooper". Southern Literary Messenger. 4 (8): 522–523. August 1838. Retrieved 2013-12-28. Emphasis in original.
  6. ^ Joseph Nerée Balestier, Historical Sketches of Holland Lodge, with Incidental Remarks on Masonry in the State of New York (1878), p. 38.
  7. ^ Frederic J. Haskin, The Washington D.C. Evening Star, August 11, 1916, p. 10.
  8. ^ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Crisis (December 1916), p. 85.[3]
  9. ^ James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (Perseus Books Group, 1930).
  10. ^ William Hornor, Jr., The Philadelphia Bulletin, February 22, 1934, p. 8.
  11. ^ a b Charles Henry Thompson, The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 31 (1962), p. 475.
  12. ^ a b Blockson, Charles L. "Black Samuel Fraunces: Patriot, White House Steward and Restaurateur Par Excellence". Temple University Libraries. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Rice, Kym S. (1985). A Documentary History of Fraunces Tavern: The 18th Century. New York: Fraunces Tavern Museum.
  14. ^ a b c d Phillips, Jessica B. (2017). "Samuel Fraunces: Revealed?". Fraunces Tavern Museum. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  15. ^ Cole, C. R. (2009). Samuel Fraunces: "Black Sam". Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4363-9104-7. Cole argues that Fraunces was 11 years younger than stated in his obituary, born in 1734, rather than 1722/23.
  16. ^ Donald Peebles, Haiti's Contributions to the World (2010).
  17. ^ F. Donnie Ford, Caribbean Americans in New York City 1895–1975 (Arcadia Publishing, 2002), p. 7.[4]
  18. ^ February 5, 1755, "Roll/Register of freemen in the City of New York," reprinted in New-York Historical Society Publication Fund Series 18 (New York, 1866), p. 181.
  19. ^ Tavern Keeper's License Book, 1756-66, (manuscript, New York Historical Society).
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h "Samuel Fraunces," from Fraunces Tavern Museum.
  21. ^ Fraunces Tavern Historic Structures Report, (New York: Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, Columbia University, 1979), p. 12.
  22. ^ Eugene P. McParland, "Colonial Taverns and Tavern Keepers of British New York," The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (July 1974), p. 158.
  23. ^ a b Walter C. Brenner, A List of Philadelphia Inns and Taverns, (typescript, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1928)
  24. ^ The New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, May 7, 1770.
  25. ^ Henry B. Dawson, New York City during the American Revolution (New York: Mercantile Library Association, 1861), pp. 41-49.[5]
  26. ^ The New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, July 25, 1768.
  27. ^ The New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, March 19, 1770; July 27, 1772.
  28. ^ Freneau, Philip M. (1786). The Poems of Philip Freneau; Written Chiefly During the Late War. Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, at Yorick's Head, in Market Street. p. 321.
  29. ^ John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, DC, 1931-39).
  30. ^ The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 4, Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. (New York & London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1889), pp. 187-88.
  31. ^ Shalhoub, Patrick B (1995). Jersey City. Arcadia Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-7524-0255-0.
  32. ^ Jane Tuers, from New Jersey City University.
  33. ^ "Samuel Fraunces," Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 8 (1937), p. 1.
  34. ^ James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870, (University of Toronto Press, 1992), p. 12.
  35. ^ Commissioners of Embarkation at New York to George Washington, January 18, 1784 (note 3), from National Archives.
  36. ^ Evacuation Day: New York's Former November Holiday, from New York Public Library.
  37. ^ a b c "Report of the Committee on Samuel Fraunces Memorial, March 28, 1785," Papers of the Continental Congress, printed in Journals of the Continental Congress, 28, National Archives, Washington, D.C.: 1933.
  38. ^ "Report of the Board of the Treasury," March 21, 1786. Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  39. ^ Indenture between Samuel Fraunces and Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, April 7, 1785. Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  40. ^ G. Kurt Piehler, "Samuel Fraunces," American National Biography, Volume 8 (1999), p. 414.
  41. ^ The Senate Moves to Philadelphia, United States Senate, retrieved 2017-04-12
  42. ^ The President's House Site: Presidents Washington and Adams, from Independence National Historical Park.
  43. ^ President's House Site; Enslaved People in the Washington Household, from Independence National Historical Park.
  44. ^ Tobias Lear to George Washington, May 15, 1791, from National Archives.
  45. ^ a b c d e George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of George Washington (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860).
  46. ^ George Washington to James Germain, June 1, 1794 (note), from National Archives.
  47. ^ Samuel Francis and Elizabeth Dally, from Trinity Church Marriage Records.
  48. ^ a b Records of Christ Church, Philadelphia list Elizabeth Fraunces's birth as December 26, 1765, and her baptism as January 27, 1766.
  49. ^ a b Philadelphia Register of Wills, Book X (ten), page 348, proven October 22, 1795.
  50. ^ Andrew G. Fraunces to George Washington, March 7, 1792, The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, Volume 10, March–August 1792, (University of Virginia Press, 2002), pp. 46-47 (see note).
  51. ^ An appeal to the legislature of the United States, and to the citizens individually of the several states Against the conduct of the secretary of the Treasury. By Andrew G. Fraunces, citizen of the state of New-York, late in the Treasury of the United States. (1793)[6]
  52. ^ "All Persons indebted to the ESTATE of SAMUEL FRAUNCES, late of this City, INNKEEPER, deceased, are requested to make payments to the Subscribers... Samuel M. Fraunces, Acting Executor, South Water Street, No. 59." Gazette of the United States, October 28, 1795.
  53. ^ Edmund Hogan, The Prospect of Philadelphia and Check on the Next Directory, Part 1, (Philadelphia: Francis & Robert Bailey, 1795), p. 110.[7]
  54. ^ The Royal Gazette (New York City), August 29, 1778, p. 3, cited in Rice, Kym S. (1985). A Documentary History of Fraunces Tavern. p. 74, n. 129.
  55. ^ "Dock Ward, New York City," in Heads of Families at the First United States Census Taken in the Year 1790 - New York (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1908), p. 117.
  56. ^ W.E.B. Du Bois to Dr. F.E. Norman, 1 October 1954, The Papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, Correspondence.[8]
  57. ^ Mrs. John Fraunces McCurley, "Samuel Fraunces in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (b. 1722 - d. October 10, 1795)" (1958) Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Copies at Fraunces Tavern Museum and New York Historical Society.
  58. ^ a b Robin Skeates; Carol McDavid; John Carman, eds. (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-161250-3. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  59. ^ a b "Fraunces Tavern Museum, Pre-Visit Materials," p. 19.
  60. ^ a b c d "Artifact Highlight: Sam Fraunces Portrait," from Fraunces Tavern Museum.
  61. ^ Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, Report of the Board of Managers ... for the year ended December 4, 1913, p. 30.[9]
  62. ^ Alice Morse Earle, Stagecoach and Tavern Days Archived 2006-09-12 at the Wayback Machine (New York: MacMillan Company, 1900), page xii.[10]
  63. ^ a b J. F. Mines, "New York in the Revolution," Scribner's Monthly Magazine, vol. 11, no. 3 (January 1876), New York, p. 311.[11]
  64. ^ Benson J. Lossing, Life of Washington, (New York: Virtue & Company, 1860), vol, 2, pp. 175-77;[12] and vol. 3, p. 112.[13]
  65. ^ Benson J. Lossing, Washington and the American Republic (New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1870), vol. 2, p. 176.[14]
  66. ^ Alice Rogers Hager, "Washington in New York: Epochal Years," The New York Times, May 1, 1932, p. 12.[15]
  67. ^ The Ipswich Journal, October 31, 1778.[16] from 1778 Ipswich Journal newspaper archive.
  68. ^ The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 5. p. 132, see note.
  69. ^ George Washington to Col. James Clinton, 28 June 1776 (note 1), from National Archives.
  70. ^ Expenses of Journey to New York, 4–13 April 1776, from National Archives.
  71. ^ Expense Account of Journey to and from Philadelphia, 21 May–12 June 1776 (also see note), from National Archives.
  72. ^ American Archives, Series 4, vol. 6, p. 1406.[17] p. 18.
  73. ^ "Extract of a letter dated New-York, June 24, 1776." American Archives, Series 4, vol. 6, p. 1054.[18]
  74. ^ "Yesterday [June 23] the general's housekeeper was taken up; it is said she is concerned." The Pennsylvania Journal, June 26, 1776. quoted in Frank Moore, Diary of the Revolution, Volume 1, (New York: Charles Scribner, 1960), p. 256.[19]
  75. ^ a b "Court Martial for the trial of Thomas Hickey and others," American Archives, Series 4, vol. 6, pp. 1084-86.
  76. ^ American Archives, Series 4, vol. 6, p. 1148
  77. ^ Revolutionary War Receipt Book, 1776 - 1780 (see note), Library of Congress.
  78. ^ "New York. 9th July 1776. This day Mrs Thompson came to keep house for his Excellency General Washington —" George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers, Revolutionary War Receipt Book, p. 2.[20]
  79. ^ "Elizabeth Thompson," Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington,[21] from George Washington's Mount Vernon.
  80. ^ Trinity Church New York, Marriage Records, January 14, 1789
  81. ^ Elizabeth Thompson to George Washington, 18 August 1789, from National Archives.
  82. ^ Phoebe the Spy from
  83. ^ "Fraunces Tavern Museum, Pre-Visit Materials," p. 18.
  84. ^ Phoebe the Spy: Plot summary, from Thriving Family.
  85. ^ Cole, C. R.; Battles, Ashley; Dubbs, Breanna (2016). Phebe and the Peas. Page Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1682891315.
  86. ^ Jane Tuers and Sam Fraunces Depicted by Schoolchildren in 1910, from Rutgers University Libraries.
  87. ^ Dinner for the General from imdb
  88. ^ Washington's Farewell to His Generals
  89. ^ The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Gospel plays, operas, and later dramatic works. University of Missouri Press. 2004. p. 465. ISBN 978-0-8262-1477-5.
  90. ^ Who Is Carrie? from
  91. ^ Shades of War, from Dara Writes.
  92. ^ "Rough Crossings". 1807 Commemorated.
  93. ^ "Simon Schama Should Be Ashamed, & So Should the BBC."
  94. ^ Samuel Fraunces to George Washington, 4 December 1783. from National Archives.
  95. ^ New Research on the Tudor Place Tableau, from The Decorative Arts Trust.
  96. ^ PA Historical Marker from Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
  97. ^ Dedication of the obelisk on YouTube.

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