Main Content

An early romantic view of the President’s House from the Potomac River, ca. 1836-37. Jefferson added the distinctive east and west colonnades to the house.

White House Collection/The White House Historical Association

The White House is a large structure and from its earliest days domestic operations have demanded a general manager. For this purpose President Thomas Jefferson, through his two administrations, relied heavily on his French steward Ètienne Lemaire. There were two other white servants: Julien, a French chef, and Joseph Dougherty, an Irish coachman. The remainder of Jefferson’s regular household staff, which numbered a dozen, included slaves from Monticello.

Even under the best management this was a small staff. However, in the early years the president paid his free household personally.

The domestic "offices" and servants’ quarters were located in the rooms of the basement. Kitchen staff, directly under the Entrance Hall, cooked busily all day providing food for servants, staff, and any guests who might be visiting.

Jefferson’s style of living was simpler than that of many rich citizens along the eastern seaboard. His one concession to grandeur was to dress his menservants in livery, consisting of knee breeches, and gilt or steel-buttoned blue coats with crimson trimmings and lace edging.

Though he relied on a mixed staff both at the White House and Monticello, Jefferson wrote his daughter that he preferred white servants so that he could dismiss them when they misbehaved. The number of slaves in the White House increased in 1806, when a child was born to enslaved couple Fanny and Eddy. The child was sickly, and despite the fact that Jefferson provided medical care for the nursing baby and mother, the child died before turning two.

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: William Seale, The President’s House, White House Historical Association, 1986.

You Might Also Like