Washington in 1802
Leaves from the Diary of Manasseh Cutler.
A Dinner with Jefferson
Call on French Minister; Party at British Legation.
Pictures of Social Scenes
Tells of the Mammoth Democratic Cheese, a "Monument of Human Weakness and Folly"

By William E. Curtis, The Evening Star, November 26, 1907 [p. 14]
(Written for The Star and the Chicago Record Herald)

Charles Gates Dawes of Chicago has the diary of his ancestor, Manasseh Cutler, the founder of Ohio, the real author of the Ordinance of '87, a member of Congress for many years from Massachusetts, clergyman, merchant, teacher, scientist, surveyor, explorer and patriot - one of the ablest and most versatile characters in American history.

In his journal and his letters to his family and friends at home Mr. Cutler wrote many interesting accounts of his experiences in Washington, as a member of Congress during the administration of Thomas Jefferson. On January 1, 1802, he tells of the ceremonies at the White House:

"Although the president has no levees, a number of federalists agreed to go from the Capitol in coaches to the President's house and wait upon him with the compliments of the season. We were received with politeness, entertained with cake and wine. The mammoth cheese having been presented this morning, the President invited us to go, as he expressed it, to the mammoth room to see the mammoth cheese. There we viewed this monument of human weakness and folly as long as we pleased and then returned."

The Great Democratic Cheese
It is explained in a footnote that, "When Jefferson was chosen President, Elder John Leland, a Massachusetts clergyman of strong democratic proclivities, proposed that his flock celebrate the victory by making for the new Chief Magistrate the biggest, cheese the world had ever seen. Every man and woman who owned a cow was to give for this cheese all the milk she yielded on a certain day - only no federal cow must contribute a drop. A huge cider press was fitted up to make it in and on the appointed day the whole country turned out with pails and tubs of curd, the girls and women in their best gowns and ribbons, and the men in their Sunday coats and clean shirt collars. The cheese was put to press with prayer, hymn, singing and great solemnity. When it was well dried it weighed 1,600 pounds, and Rev. John Leland drove with it all the way to Washington. It was a journey of three weeks. All the country had heard of the big cheese and came out to look at it as the elder drove along.

A few days later Mr. Cutler writes again: "Last Sunday, Leland, the cheese-monger, a poor, ignorant, illiterate clownish preacher who was the conductor of this monument of human weakness and folly to its place of destination, was introduced as preacher to both houses of Congress. The President, contrary to all former practice, made one of the audience, and a great number of ladies and gentlemen from I know not where. Such a performance I never heard before and hope never shall again. The test was: 'And behold, a greater than Solomon is her.' The design of the preacher was principally to apply the allusion, not to the pe4rson intended in the text, but to him (Jefferson), who was then present. Such a fa...ago bawled with stunning voice, horrid tone, frightful grimaces and extravagant gestures, I believe was never heard by any decent auditory before. Shame or laughter appeared in every countenance. Such an outrage upon religion, the Sabbath, and common decency was extremely painful to every sober, thinking person present."

John Leland, the mammoth cheese man, was born at Grafton, Mass. May 14, 1754, and died at North Adams, Mass., January 14, 1841. From 1792 until his death, forty-nine years, he was pastor of the Baptist Church at Cheshire, Mass. He is described as a man of great eccentricity and shrewdness, but without culture, and a zealous democrat.

Pleased With Site of the City
Mr. Cutler's description of the city of Washington, which had been selected as the site of the capital a year or two before, is quite interesting and he says that "In point of situation it is much more delightful than I expected to find it. The ground, in general, is elevated, and mostly cleared and commands a pleasing prospect of the Potomac river. The buildings are brick and are erected in what are called blocks -- that is, from two to five or six houses joined together -- and appear like one long building. The block in which I live contains six houses, four stories high and very handsomely furnished. It is situated east of the Capitol on the highest ground in the city. Mr. Read and myself have, I think, the pleasantest room in the house or in the whole city. It is in the third story commanding a delightful prospect of the Capitol of the President's house, Georgetown, all the houses in the city a long extent of river and the city of Alexandria.

"I am not much pleased with the Capitol. It is a huge pile, built, indeed, with handsome stone, very heavy in its appearance without and not very pleasant within. The President's house is superb, well proportioned and pleasantly situated.

"The gentlemen, generally, spend a part of two or three evenings in a week in Mr. King's room, where Miss Anna entertains us with delightful music. After we have been fatigued with the harangues of the hall in the day, and conversing on politics, in different circles (for we all talk nothing else) in the evening an hour of this music is truly delightful. On Sunday evenings she constantly plays psalm tunes, in which her mother, who is a woman of real piety, always joins. Miss Anna plays 'Denmark' remarkably well, and, when joined with the other singers, it exceeds what I have ever heard before. But the most of the psalm tunes our gentlemen prefer are the old ones, such as 'Old Hundred,' 'Canterbury,' which you would be delighted to hear on the forte-piano, assisted by the organ and accompanied with the voice.

"We breakfast at 9; dine between 3 and 4. If we happen to be in the parlor in the first of the evening, at the time Mrs. King makes tea in her own room, she sends in the servant with a salver of tea and coffee and a plate of toast, but we never eat any supper."

Dinner With the President
Saturday, February 6, 1802, Mr. Cutler was invited to dine with President Jefferson, in company with six other members of the House of Representatives and three members of the Senate, and he confided to his journal that the dinner was not so elegant as when he was entertained at the White House a year previous. But the food appears to have been abundant -- "Rice soup, round of beef, turkey mutton, ham, loin of veal, cutlets of mutton or veal, fried eggs, fried beef, a pie called macaroni, which appears to be a rich crust filled with the strillions of onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong and not agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it: it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions was made of flour and butter with a particularly strong liquor mixed with them. Ice cream very good, crust wholly dried, crumbled into thin flakes; a dish somewhat like a pudding -- inside white as milk or curd, very porous and light covered with cream sauce; very fine. Many other jimcracks, a great variety of fruit, plenty of wines and good. President social. We drank tea and viewed again the great cheese."

Remarkable Effect of Electricity
In his diary for Saturday, February 20, 1802, Mr. Cutler relates an extraordinary story. He says that on the Thursday evening previous, about 10 o'clock, Gen. Dayton of Elizabethtown, N.J., "upon going to bed pulled off a pair of silk stockings and laid them on his slippers at the bedside. He perceived some sparks as he pulled them off. In the morning both stockings were burned to a cinder, threads appearing to lie in their position in a coil; slippers burned to a crisp; carpet burnt through, and the floor to a coal, so as to cause the resident to run resin; lay near the bed and near the curtains. By electric fluid. Many gentlemen noted the sparkling of their stockings as they went to bed. I wore silk stockings that day, but did not notice sparks. The clock or figured work of one of the stockings, which was stretched out, was to be seen. Garter under the stocking and out, was not burnt."

A letter written by Dr. Mitchell, another member of the House, who boarded at the same place, gave a few more details, as follows: "A very singular occurrence has happened to Gen. Dayton of Elizabethtown, one of the New Jersey senators. He pulled off his stockings of silk, under which were another pair of woolen gauge, just as he was going to bed. The former were dropped on the small carpet by the bedside, and the latter were thrown to some distance near its foot. Electric snaps and sparks were observed by him to be unusually prevalent when he took off his stockings. He slept until morning, when the silk stockings were found to be converted to coal, having the semblance of sticks and thread, but falling to pieces on being touched. There was not the least cohesion. One of the slippers, which lay under the stockings, was considerably burned. One of the woolen garters was also burned to pieces. The carpet was burned through to the floor, and the floor itself was scorched to charcoal. It was a case of spontaneous combustion -- the candle having been carefully put out, and there being very little fire on the hearth, and both of them being eight or more feet from the stockings.

The Dandified Diplomat
In the diary of his daily life as a member of Congress from 1801 to 1805, Mr. Cutler gives us charming glimpses of Washington society and official entertainments in those days. He tells a good deal about the French minister, Gen. Taureau, who had occupied a conspicuous position in France for several years before coming to Washington in 1804: "Of obscure birth, but handsome and clever, he made his way up and became an aid to Napoleon Bonaparte. In the rapid changes of popular favor, he was condemned to death -- his door marked with the fatal guide to the bloody guillotiners. A servant girl employed about the jail rubbed out the mark and so saved his life, in return for which he married her. The alliance, of course, proved to be a most unhappy one, ending in a separation at the time he was representing his country in Washington."

While calling at the White House on New Year day, 1805, Mr. Cutler saw Gen. Taureau for the first time, and in his diary says: "We met him at the door covered with lace almost from head to foot, and very much powdered. Walked with his hat off, though it was rather misty. His secretary and one aid, and one other with him." Later Mr. Cutler called at the legation in Georgetown and says: "We proposed in our family (as he always refers to his fellow congressmen at the boarding house on Capitol Hill) to call on Mr. Taureau, French minister, who had left his card for us. Six of us went in a coach to his house. As he was at home we went in and were conducted to a large hall up one pair of stairs. Found him disposed to be quite social, though he speaks very little English. One of his aides-de-camp assisted in the conversation. We tarried about an hour and retired. We then went to the English minister's, and left our cards without getting out of our coaches."

Party at the British Legation
Tuesday, February 12, Mr. Cutler dined at the British legation and makes this record in his diary: "This day in compliance with card received eight or ten days ago, dined with his excellency. Mr. Merry, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to his Britannic majesty. Company, twenty-eight; thirteen members of Congress. Table superb with plate in center, and in the last service the knives, forks and spoons were gold. Six double-branch candlesticks with candles lighted;. Very pleasing entertainment. Coffee in drawing room immediately after dining. Retired about 9. Six from our family went in a coach and returned upon foot."

Mr. Cutler seems to have become quite intimate at the British legation, for he dined there again the following week and attended a card party there a few days later. His diary for February 26 contains the entry: "This evening at British minister's by invitation to tea and cards. The company very large. About thirty-five members of both houses of Congress, all the heads of departments, their ladies and daughters, many gentlemen and ladies of the city of Georgetown, and many strangers. I presume the number 150 or 200." and again, March 2, he writes: "Walked fifteen miles. Dined at Mr. Merry's by Mrs. Merry's invitation. She came twice to invite me. Presented me with 'Darwin.'" There are frequent references in his diary after that date to the British minister and Mrs. Merry, and their common interest in botany.

Sunday, February 17, 180?, he described the religious services which we held each Sabbath in the Hall of Representatives, where "two pieces of Psalmody were performed by the band of the Marine Corps in uniform; about 80 or 100."

So that it would seem that more than a hundred years ago the Marine Band was even larger than it is now.