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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Thursday, September 02, 2021

“To day I have recd the Lt. Governors Cheese”

In 1797, Moses Gill (1734-1800, shown here in 1764) was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. He was a Republican candidate for governor that spring, but came in a distant third after superior court justice Increase Sumner and attorney general James Sullivan. He handily retained the lieutenant governor’s office, though.

Gill was born in Charlestown and started his career as a merchant in Boston, but since 1767 he had lived the life of a country gentleman. Twice widowed and childless, Gill was the patriarchal squire of the town of Princeton and also the recent namesake of the town of Gill.

On 27 March, Lt. Gov. Gill wrote from Boston to the newly inaugurated second President of the United States, John Adams:
my Dear Sir.

By Capn. Constant Norton of the Schooner Jay you will receive a large Princeton Cheese, as by the inclosd. receipt, which you will Please to Accept from me, as a Small token of my affection and esteem; it is Packd in a Box and Divided, for the President of the United States, it will be in eating the first weake in may, And it woud be well to unpack it, and Keep it from the Sun in a Cold dry Cituation.
President Adams had received Gill’s letter only a week later and wrote home from Philadelphia to his wife, Abigail:
Lt Governor Gill has sent me one of his Princetown Cheeses, of such a Size as to require handspikes to manage it, according to Father Niles’s old Story.
“Father Niles” was what Adams called the Rev. Samuel Niles of Braintree, an acquaintance from decades before.

The President hadn’t actually seen the cheese yet, as his cordial thank-you letter to Gill the next day acknowledged:
Dear Sir

I have received your favor of the 27th of March and very Kindly thank you, for both the Letter and the generous Present of a Cheese from Princeton, I know very well the Value that is to be attached to Princeton and its inhabitants and Productions, Its Cheese in particular I know to be Excellent, and I shall prize it the higher for the place of its growth, I shall share it, and boast of it, and praise it and admire it as long as it lives,

I dare Say before I See it, that our America produces no thing Superior to it in its Kind your directions concerning it shall be observed
And Jonathan Sewall said Adams didn’t know how to flatter people.

Ten days later, the cheese finally arrived at the Presidential Mansion. John reported to Abigail on 14 April:
To day I have recd the Lt. Governors Cheese—like a charriot forewheel boxed up in Wood & Iron. it will last till you come.
According to the editors of the Adams Papers, presumably based on consulting the shipping papers, this wheel of cheese weighed 110 pounds. For comparison, Williams-Sonoma offers (for $3,000) a wheel of Parmesan cheese that was about the same weight before curing; it’s 18" across and 9" thick.

TOMORROW: Cheese for Abigail Adams.


Mary Fuhrer said...

Perhaps a foretaste of giant cheeses to come? In 1802, the town of Cheshire, Mass. sent a 1,235 lb cheese to Pres. Jefferson, made from the milk of every Jeffersonian cow in town, but excluding that of Federalist cows, as they might add a sour taste. According to Wiki:
"The story of the mammoth cheese has inspired many future events. President Andrew Jackson's supporters commissioned a similar cheese for consumption in 1837 . . ."[13] This event later became the inspiration for a recurring event on the White House television drama The West Wing, entitled "Big Block of Cheese Day."[14]" Giant cheeses for presidents have also been featured in fiction, a children's book, and a history podcast.

J. L. Bell said...

When I read about Moses Gill’s cheese, I wondered if it inspired the famous Cheshire cheese for President Jefferson. But, as I discuss in today’s post, Gill’s cheese doesn’t appear to have made the papers.