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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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The “Baker General” of the Continental Army

On 3 May 1777, the Continental Congress appointed Christopher Ludwick “Superintendent of Bakers and Director of Baking for the Continental Army.”

When he passed that news on to Gen. George Washington, John Hancock wrote, “I make no Doubt he will do [that job] to the entire Satisfaction of the Troops, and in such a Manner as to save considerable Sums to the Public.”

Ludwick proved reliable. His name appears regularly in army documents from that date through 1782. At least once Washington referred to him as “Baker General” to the army.

On 17 Feb 1781 the Congress resolved:
That Mr. Christopher Ludwick, who has acted with great industry and integrity in the character of principal superintendant of bakers, be, and is hereby continued in that employment; and that he be empowered to hire or inlist any number of bakers, not exceeding thirty, on such terms as the Board of War shall think proper:

That Mr. Christopher Ludwick receive, as a compensation for all past services, one thousand dollars, in bills of the new emissions.
Unfortunately, by that point in the war the “bills of the new emissions” were losing value.

Four years later, in March 1785 Ludwick petitioned the Congress for “a Compensation or Bounty in Land or otherwise equal with other Officers who have served in the American Army,” saying he’d advanced considerable money to his bakers and that the big $1,000 grant had been “reduced by Depreciation.” He gathered certificates of his service signed by Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, Anthony Wayne, Timothy Pickering, and Thomas Mifflin.

And then Ludwick went for the big gun. On 29 Mar 1785 he wrote to Washington at Mount Vernon:
As Your Excellency often expressed a friendship and Regard for your old Baker Master, and well know what Service he was to the Army—I now beg leave to acquaint you that, finding my private Property greatly injured and diminished by my Attention to, and Exertions in the Public Service, and by necessary Advances of my remaining Cash to some near Relations of my Wife who by the Event of the Revolution have been reduced to indigent Circumstances, I have been obliged to apply to Congress for Compensation—Inclosed is a Copy of my Memorial to Congress, which I transmit for your Excellency’s Perusal.

Several Gentlemen late Officers in the Army have chearfully granted me their Recommendation, but in Order to ensure my Success I wish to have a Recommendatory Letter from Your Excellency in my behalf to Congress on the Subject of my Memorial—I flatter myself that You will not refuse me this favor, and am with great Respect & Esteem Your Excellency’s Most obedt & very humbe servt

Christopher Ludwick

P.S. should your Excellency grant my Request, a Letter by the Post will be very acceptable to C. Ludwick who is now 65 Years of Age.
Washington responded on 25 April:
I have known Mr Christr Ludwick from an early period of the War; and have every reason to believe, as well from observation as information, that he has been a true and faithful Friend, and Servant to the public. That he has detected and exposed many impositions which were attempted to be practiced by others in his department. That he has been the cause of much saving in many respects. And that his deportment in public life has afforded unquestionable proofs of his integrity & worth.

With respect to his losses, I have no personal knowledge, but have often heard that he has suffered from his zeal in the cause of his Country.

Geo. Washington
In June the Congress voted to grant Ludwick another $200. But the old baker reportedly found more value in Washington’s letter about him, “which he had neatly framed and hung up in his parlour.”

[Shown above, courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, are cookie molds that Ludwick brought to Pennsylvania when he immigrated in the 1750s.]


John U Rees said...

"’The essential service he rendered to the army ...’: Christopher Ludwick, Superintendent of Bakers,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/125310836/The-essential-service-he-rendered-to-the-army-Christopher-Ludwick-Superintendent-of-Bakers


"Give us day by day our daily bread."
Continental Army Bread, Ovens, and Bakers

Joe Bauman said...

This has been a delightful series about Christopher Ludwick, but it's disheartening that even with Washington's intervention he only received $200 compensation after the war. This leads me to wonder if you have researched the depreciation in Continental currency. Some from the war years promise repayment in Spanish milled dollars for the amount of the bills. Did Congress simply renege on that pledge?

J. L. Bell said...

The fluctuating value of money, and different kinds of money, baffles me even more than it baffles the people of the time. I don't know how $200 in 1786 compares to $1,000 in 1781 in real value, for example, but I suspect it wasn't exactly 20%.

Eventually the federal government was able to stabilize the currency issued during the war by the Congress and the state governments. That worked out to the benefit of people who had invested in the bills when others had been selling them at less than their face value—i.e., people who in the early and mid-1780s had capital to spare.