07 May 2012

7 May - 1st Inaugural Ball; Queen Cake

On April 30, 1789, in New York, George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.  A ball in honor of the occasion had been planned, but because Mrs. Washington was not yet in town, the ball was postponed.  However, Mrs. Washington had not even left her home at Mount Vernon, and would not do so until the 17th of the month, and so it was decided to go ahead with the celebrations in her absence.

The splendid ball and entertainment in honor of the President was given a week later on May 7th at the Assembly Rooms on the east side of Broadway, near Wall Street (described in 1889 as “a large wooden building standing upon the site of the present City Hotel”), and while it was actually a private entertainment got up by the subscribers to the Assembly Rooms, it has come to be called the first Inauguration Ball.  The company was estimated at over 300, including Vice-President Adams, most of the members of both branches of Congress, Baron Steuben, Marquis de Moustier, the French consul, and other foreign ministers, Gen. St. Clair, the Commissioners of the Treasury, Gov. and Mrs. Clinton and Chief Justice Yates of New York, Chancellor and Mrs. Livingston, Chief Justice Morris, Mr. and Mrs. John Jay, General Knox, Cyrus Griffin, Mayor and Mrs. Duane, General and Mrs. Hamilton, Mrs. Livingston of Clermont, Mrs. Thomson, Mrs. Edgar, Mrs. McComb,  Mrs. Houston, and other prominent guests. Griswold, in his Republican Court, adds, "Among the most distinguished women at this ball were Lady Stirling and her two daughters, Lady Mary Watts and Lady Kitty Duer; Mrs. Peter Vanbrugh Livingston, who was a sister of the late Lord Stirling; Mrs. Montgomery, widow of the hero of Quebec; Lady Christina Griffin, Lady Temple, the Marchioness de Brienne, Madame de la Forest, Mrs. Provoost, wife of Bishop Provoost; Mrs. Senator Dalton, Mrs. Senator Langdon, Mrs. Dominick Lynch, Mrs. Elbridge Gerry, Mrs. William S. Smith, Mrs. James H. Maxwell, Mrs. Beekman, Mrs. Robinson, the Misses Livingston, the Misses Bayard, and Mrs. Van Zandt. The President danced during the evening in the cotillion with Mrs. P. V. Livingston and Mrs. Maxwell, and with the latter in a minuet."  The ball ended and the company retired around two o’clock in the morning.

A number of doubtful traditions have come down about the ball, including the charming idea that “each lady was presented with an elegant fan made in Paris and adorned with an admirable portrait of Washington”.  One writer estimates that it would have taken at least 3½ months to receive the fans from Paris – the election having taken place in February, there would not have been enough time to make them and ship them.  Nor did he think that the total number of elegant fans available in the shops of New York at the time were equal to the probable number of ladies present.  Still, it is a charming anecdote.

Less charming is the canard set about by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote: "At the first public ball which took place after the President's arrival there, Colonel Humphreys, Col. W. S. Smith, and Mrs. Knox were to arrange the ceremonials. These arrangements were as follows: A sofa at the head of the room, raised on several steps, whereon the President and Mrs. Washington were to be seated; the gentlemen were to dance with swords; each one, when going to dance, was to lead his partner to the foot of the sofa, make a low obeisance to the President and his lady, then go and dance, and when done, bring his partner back to the sofa, for new obeisances, and finally retire to their chairs. . . . Mrs. Knox contrived to come with the President, and to follow him and Mrs. Washington to their destination, and she had the design of forcing from the President an invitation to a seat on the sofa. She mounted up the steps after them, unbidden, but unfortunately the wicked sofa was so short that, when the President and Mrs. Washington were seated, there was no room for a third person, and she was obliged, therefore, to descend, in the face of the company, and to sit where she could."

While it is possible that such an arrangement was planned – no one, including the new president, knew what ceremonials should or could be used, and many were the meetings and letters working out the exact amount of formal etiquette that should surround and elevate the office of the President without straying from republican ideals – there is nothing to say that it was put into practice at this ball.  Mrs. Washington was not present, in any case, and there is some doubt as well that Mrs. Knox was in attendance.

No report of the refreshments offered at this first Inaugural Ball have come to us, but an account from another ball held later that year gives an idea of what might have graced the tables, starting with plum cake, pound cake, and queen cake, bread and butter, and toast, with tea, coffee, and hot milk.  This was followed at intervals by “green sweetmeats with preserved ginger, lemonade and wine”, then a course of "peaches, apples, pears, with sangaree and wine."  The company, having enjoyed a round of dancing or time at the card tables, was then regaled with "pyramids of red and white ice-cream, with punch and liquors, rose, cinnamon, parfait amour." More dancing followed, after which dried fruits, almonds, raisins, nuts, bonbons, mottoes, confitures, sugar-plums and wine appeared.   Finally, the guests were summoned to "a full supper of sandwiches, tongues, ham, chickens, and pickled oysters."

After which those who had not already slipped genteelly under the table in a drunken stupor took the 18th century equivalent of Alka-Seltzer and retired to endure whatever dreams such a repast could produce.

QUEEN CAKE is something akin to pound cake.  The recipe here is taken from American Cookery, written by Amelia Simmons, and published in 1798.

The recipe below is easier to follow, and lest we disturb Mr. Jefferson’s republican sympathies, perhaps we should call it “First Lady Cake”.

Preheat oven to 325º (this would be considered a ‘slow oven’).
Separate 5 large eggs.
Soften 1 cup of butter (2 sticks).
Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan or 9 x 5 x 3 inches loaf pan (use 1 tablespoon of the softened butter).

In a large bowl, sift together 1½ cups of flour, ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, ¾ cup of sugar, and “fpices to your tafte” such as:
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and ¼ teaspoon of ground mace.
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon of ground mace, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of ground allspice, ¾ teaspoon of ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of ground coriander.

Add the remaining softened butter and mix it in until well blended (use your fingers if you have to).  Add 2 tablespoons of brandy (or 1½ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract), then the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until well blended.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with 1/8 teaspoon of salt until stiff.  Gradually beat in ¾ cup of sugar, then fold in 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar.  Fold this into the flour mixture until thoroughly mixed in.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan, and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly.  Jolt the pan on the counter, or hit the sides a couple of times, to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 1 hour or until done; turn off the oven and let the cake sit for another 10 to 15 minutes.  Loosen the cake from the pan and turn out onto a baking rack to cool.  Frost as desired – a dusting of powdered sugar will probably be enough.

President George Washington dancing the minuet at his inaugural ball, as shown on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, May 11, 1889. Library of Congress