Michigan State University

Introductory Essay

The House Servant's Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants' Work
By Robert Roberts
Munroe and Francis; New York: Charles S. Francis, 1827.

This book is an American milestone. It is the first book of any kind written by an African American to have been published in the United States by a major publisher. It was first published in Boston in 1827 and had two additional printings, one in 1828 and another in 1843. It is a fascinating work, more a household manual than a cookbook, although it contains recipes.

We have selected five major works by African Americans to represent their contributions to American cookery.

See also

Roberts was butler and major domo in the household of the Honorable Christopher Gore, Senator and Governor of Massachusetts.

The book in no way reflects African American cooking; it is a solid New England work - proper management of an upperclass New England household. It gives advice to servants on how to behave, how to perform their work, and how to utilize the variety of new household utensils and equipment then becoming increasingly available. Roberts comments on the responsibilities of the the employer but is generally more interested in teaching servants how to act. His work is one of the first to help encourage young Black men to become the finest of professional house servants. He offers specific annd detailed suggestions to them to insure their advancement and tenure.

There are household recipes (receipts) for furniture oil, varnish, stoveblack, mastic for mending China and glass, and a shampoo (A Wash for the Hair Most Superb) that utilizes egg yolks, rum, and rose water. The culinary recipes include: Currant Jam, Raspberry Vinegar, A Cod's Head, A Haunch of Venison and A Leg of Mutton. In addition, there are instructions for how to market, how to carve, and how to preserve.