Otis House

Servant Work


The chief activity in the kitchen, of course, was food preparation. A large hearth stood against the back wall of the Otis’ kitchen, and the fire was tended chiefly by servants. Women, especially, were comfortable around fires and good cooks had to be adept at judging temperature, time, and navigating the range of tools and techniques available to them.

Food in the Otis household would have varied from simple family meals to large complicated dinner parties. In a letter from Harrison to Sally wishing that they could be dining together, he sketched a diagram of what the table might look like and included soup, mutton, leg of lamb, Virginia ham, pie, salmon, and chicken. Certainly he would have expected vegetables and dessert, too. Today, we can only imagine how much preparation and work went into preparing a meal like this.

Keeping a house like the Otis’ must have been an almost insurmountable amount of work. One of the most arduous tasks, the laundry, would have involved collecting linens from three floors of the house and the cellar. The linens would need to be soaked, washed, boiled, rinsed, starched, wrung, and dried. There were approximately fifty gallons of water to a load, which would weigh a total of 400 pounds, not to mention the weight of the wash, boilers, and buckets.