The House Servant’s Directory

A Monitor for Private Families

Published in Boston in 1827, this volume in the American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection is an American milestone—the first book written by an African American and published by a commercial publisher. Author Robert Roberts was butler and majordomo at the country estate of U.S. senator and governor of Massachusetts Christopher Gore. 

“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.” These are Robert Roberts’s first words to his readers in this classic resource for those employed as domestic servants. More household-management manual than cookbook, the book does contain recipes for making beer and punch, salad sauce, mustard, currant jam, syrups, and fruit-flavored waters of all kinds. There are directions for carving, marketing, choosing meats, fish and poultry, and preserving, and how to complete household chores successfully, clean everything in the house, behave properly, and prepare and serve food for family dinners and parties of all sizes. The book has suggestions for employers on how to manage domestic help (very unusual for the time), but Roberts was more interested in teaching young black men how to succeed in their work and ensure their advancement.

This edition of The House Servant’s Directory was reproduced by permission from the volume in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. Founded in 1812 by Isaiah Thomas, a Revolutionary War patriot and successful printer and publisher, the society is a research library documenting the lives of Americans from the colonial era through 1876. The society collects, preserves, and makes available as complete a record as possible of the printed materials from the early American experience. The cookbook collection comprises approximately 1,100 volumes. 

About the Author

 Robert Roberts was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1777, and it is not known whether he was free born or the child of slaves.  Arriving in Boston with his employer financier Nathan Appleton, he possessed many skills as a manservant, and he could read and write. He became a valued servant, prominent member of Boston’s African American community, prosperous property owner, and father of twelve children. The House Servant’s Directory was written when Roberts was employed as butler and majordomo in the household of Christopher Gore, U.S. senator and governor of Massachusetts. In later years, Roberts was a dedicated abolitionist and supporter of equal rights in education for children of all races.

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