J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Adam Foutz and the General’s “French Cook”

So who was cooking all those robins for Gen. George Washington at his Cambridge headquarters? On 24 July 1775, the commander-in-chief recorded in his expense account that he had paid 2s.5d. “To a French Cook.”

The first scholar to edit this document, John C. Fitzpatrick, identified that cook as “Adam Foutz, later a member of the Commander-in-chief’s Guard.”

That line seems to have caught other authors’ attention. James Thomas Flexner, for example, wrote in the second volume of his Washington biography (later abridged into the volume at the right):

Adam Foutz had the panache of being French, but he soon shifted to guarding headquarters with a musket on his shoulder, we know not whether because he yearned for gunpowder or his sauces did not please.
Burke Davis’s George Washington and the American Revolution echoes that in saying:
The staff included…two cooks, one of whom, the Frenchman Adam Foutz, served briefly in the kitchen before joining Washington’s bodyguard.
Foutz even shows up in Jeff Shaara’s novel Rise to Rebellion, which depicts Washington as sending the man into the ranks because his idea of “worldly cuisine” included “an elaborate dinner whose main attraction was bugs.” No francophobia there!

I’ve been researching Washington’s life in Cambridge in 1775-76, and one small conclusion is that none of that is true. Foutz wasn’t the “French Cook,” he was never at Cambridge, and he never stopped being a cook.

(In addition, Shaara’s novel apparently shows the commander-in-chief still in the Harvard president’s house in October 1775, three months after he had moved to the John Vassall house.)

TOMORROW: The arrival of Adam Foutz.


Anonymous said...

Anything else I should know about Shaara's novel that's inaccurate?
I began to read it a couple months back, but didn't make it past the chapter where Franklin was in Ireland, and he was saddened over the plight of the Irish farmers. The book seemed to start off very strong, but then I got lost, and finally brought it back to the library.

J. L. Bell said...

I stopped reading Rise to Rebellion after checking out its scenes of the Boston Massacre. There were so many inaccuracies and so much presentism in describing a well-documented event that I had no confidence in the author’s research elsewhere.

The little detail about Foutz is relatively minor and understandable. Top experts on Washington had established the picture of Foutz as working in Cambridge and being sent into the ranks. I needed the Library of Congress’s online Washington papers and Google Books to realize that picture was mistaken.

In fictionalizing Foutz’s story, Shaara went beyond the little that historians wrote about the man—as a novelist can do. But the way he did it was also the way he fictionalized the Boston Massacre, treating the American elite and establishment uncritically while sneering at others, such as working-class Americans and foreigners.

Pvt.Willy said...

Quite sad to comment,but Jeff Shaara's writings are a very far cry from his father's excellent works.The Killer Angels is suberb.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, J.L. Yeah, I think I'll not read those then.
That first chapter had a couple of drawbacks as well that I noticed.
The part where Adams is talking to Abigail, and he says something to the effect of "a pregnant woman fighting? Now that's absurd."
I know for a fact that people back then never said the word "pregnant," and in the Adamses exact instance, John had said that Mrs. Adams was under the "circumstance."