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America was young when Christopher Gore and his wife Rebecca moved into their country estate in Waltham in 1806. Our nation's views on social heirarchy and democracy were still forming. Prominent Bostonians such as Gore - Federalist, governor, mentor to Daniel Webster - fashioned themselves as natural aristocrats in the new American social order.
The Gores of Massachusetts, you'll
meet the Gores and enter the social
world between the revolution and
the Civil War. You'll also meet
Robert Roberts, Gore's African-American
butler. Roberts, like Gore, was
trying to discover his identity in
the new nation. A leader in Boston's
black community, Roberts authored
one of the earliest books on domestic
service, The House Servant's Directory.
The House Servant's
"In order to get through your work
in proper time, you should make it
your chief study to rise early in
the morning; for an hour before the
family rises is worth more to you
than two after they are up."
Thus begins Robert Roberts' The House Servant's Directory, first published in 1827 and the standard for household management for decades afterward.
It is remarkable for several reasons: It is one of the first books written by an African American and issued by a commercial press, and it was written while Roberts (ca. 1780-1860) was in the employ of Christopher Gore (1758-1827), a U.S. senator and governor of Massachusetts. Roberts worked for Gore at Gore's country estate, Gore Place, from 1825 to 1827.
As portrayed in Graham Hodges' introduction, Roberts' own story is a unique window into the work habits and thoughts of America's domestic workers and into antebellum African American politics. Of particular note is Roberts' contribution to the emergence of new self-perceptions of black manliness. Written at a time when male Americans in general were reconsidering the construction of masculinity, Roberts' advice to his fellow servants fostered black dignity for work that few felt merited respect, and his counsel to employers on proper treatment of their servants insisted on their humanity and respect for their skills.
This edition is a completely new resetting of the 1827 edition that brings Roberts' original sage recommendations to a contemporary audience, demonstrating that, in spite of the passage of 170 years, good advice never goes out of style.
GRAHAM RUSSELL HODGES is a Professor of Early American history at Colgate University. Among his many books are The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile After the American Revolution (1995); Slavery and Freedom in the rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1870 (1997); an edition of Henri Gregoire's An Enquiry Concerning the Intellectual and Moral Faculties, and Literature of Negroes (M.E. Sharpe, 1997); and Slavery, Freedom, and Culture Among Early American Workers (M.E. Sharpe, 1998).
House Servant's Directory
Christopher Gore: Federalist
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