Samuel Fraunces was born in 1722 or 1723, in the West Indies. He died October 10, 1795, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at age 73. He was a New York City tavernkeeper, most famously at what is today called Fraunces Tavern.
During the Revolutionary War, he was a patriot and may have been a spy for the American side. At the end of the war, Washington made his famous farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern, on December 4, 1783. When Washington became President, Fraunces was steward of his household in both New York City (1789-90) and Philadelphia (1791-94).
In 1785, Congress recognized Fraunces's role in foiling a 1776 assassination plot against General Washington.
Since the Civil War era, there has been a dispute about Fraunces's racial identity. Was he white or was he of African descent? What follows are assertions about Fraunces, relating to his race, and the known historic record about each.
|Samuel Fraunces's nickname was "Black Sam"||True. This nickname is well-documented. Fraunces Tavern was often called Black Sam's
|The nickname "Black Sam" usually indicated that the person was of African descent||FALSE. Blah blah|
|Samuel Fraunces was born in the West Indies||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces was born in 1722/1723||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces belonged to organizations that didn't allow blacks||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces is identified in the census as white||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces was a slaveholder||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces sold slaves||Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces's daughters were named Elizabeth, blah||TRUE. Those are all five of his daughters. He had no others|
|Fraunces had a young daughter at the time of the assassination attempt.||Blah|
|What follows are details of genealogy that can be verified.|
|Samuel M. Fraunces was Samuel Fraunces’s son.||TRUE. Samuel Fraunces died 10 Oct. 1795. A notice in the Gazette of the United States, 28 Oct. 1795, announced that Samuel M. Fraunces was Acting Executor of Samuel Fraunces’s Estate. Source: Samuel M. Fraunces continued to operate the tavern at 59 S. Water St. after Samuel Fraunces’s death. Source: Philadelphia Directory 1796. As co-Executor (with Thomas Armstrong) of Samuel Fraunces’s Estate, he sold his father’s property on Filbert St. (south side, between 8th & 9th Sts.) at auction. Source: Indenture, 18 April 1796, Deed Book D, 58-317, recorded 15 Sept. 1796. The 18 April 1796 Indenture identifies Samuel M. Fraunces not only as Samuel Fraunces’s Executor, but as his son.|
|Samuel M. Fraunces dies intestate in Philadelphia in 1799.||TRUE. Susannah Fraunces is named Administratrix of the Estate of Samuel M. Fraunces. Source: Letters of Administration, Estate of Samuel M. Fraunces, Deceased, July 30, 1799; Philadelphia Will #265 of 1799, Book K, Page 12, Year 1799. The Letters of Administration list Susannah Fraunces as “Widow of Saml M Fraunces decd.” May be Suzanne Chevalier: check Philadelphia County Pennsylvania January 29, 1816 Will book 6 page 221.|
|Samuel M. Fraunces was a Freemason.||TRUE. In 1808, his widow petitioned for assistance for herself and their children. ”The Minutes of the Committee of Charity of the 21st March last , were read and approved. It appeared by the said Minutes that the said Committee granted to Susannah Fraunces, Widow of the late Bror. Samuel M. Fraunces, the sum of $10.” Source|
|What follows are details of genealogy that are questionable or false.|
|"Mulatto Sam" born in ???? is Samuel Fraunces||UNLIKELY. Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces's son is Andrew Francis, in New York in 1800.||FALSE. Blah|
|Samuel Fraunces was the mulatto son of Jamaican landowner Edward Fraunces (ca. 1690 — 1741).||NO EVIDENCE. Edward Fraunces owns land in the Parish of Vere, Jamaica. He makes a 24 Dec. 1740 Will, leaving his Estate to his brother, James Fraunces of Cheapside, London. Edward includes a bequest to his Jamaican maids: “To my negro servant maids Madge & Maria to each an annuity of twenty shillings Jamaica money for & during their respective lives.” Edward dies in London, and his Will is proved on 3 April 1741. Source: In Jamaica, records for the Parish of St. Catherine list the 7 Sept. 1740 baptisms of two free mulatto women, “Mary and Margrate.” According to author C. R. Cole, records also list the 1748 baptism of a 14-year-old mulatto boy, “Samuel.” Source: C. R. Cole, Samuel Fraunces “Black Sam” (By the author, 2009), p. 49. Jamaica is divided into districts, called parishes (like Louisiana). Since ”Madge & Maria” are servant maids, they presumably would live in the same district as their employer, Edward Fraunces: i.e. the Parish of Vere. “Mary and Margrate” live in a different district, the Parish of St. Catherine. Despite the similarity in their names, there is no evidence that “Madge & Maria” are the same women as “Mary and Margrate.” There is no evidence linking “Mary and Margrate” to Edward Fraunces. There is no evidence that ANY of the 4 women gave birth to a boy named “Samuel.” There is no evidence that Edward Fraunces fathered a boy named “Samuel.” The 1748 listing for a 14-year-old “Mulatto Samuel” does not exist in the Parish of St. Catherine records. The 1748 listing for a 14-year-old “Mulatto Samuel” does not exist in the Parish of Vere records. Perhaps “Mulatto Samuel” lived in yet another part of Jamaica. Source: There is no evidence that Samuel Fraunces was from Jamaica. His death notice in the Gazette of the United States, 13 Oct. 1795, states that he was “aged 73 years,” (born about 1722). This “Mulatto Samuel” (born about 1734) was 12 years younger.|
|Samuel Francis — listed in the 1800, 1810 and 1820 U.S. Censuses New York — was Samuel Fraunces’s son.||FALSE. Samuel M. Fraunces was the son. He died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1799 (which is why he is not listed in these Censuses). See probate records below.|
|Samuel Francis --who married Elizabeth Stevens at Trinity Church, New York on 5 Oct. 1794 — was Samuel Fraunces’s son.||FALSE. Samuel M. Fraunces was the son, and he married Susannah Chevalier. They had 2 daughters: Susan (b. 17 June 1796), and Hariot (b. 8 Sept. 1797). Source: Baptism records, Christ Church, Philadelphia, pp. 1438 & 1598. Samuel M. Fraunces died in Philadelphia in 1799. For Susannah Chevalier Fraunces, see Philadelphia County Pennsylvania January 29, 1816 Will book 6 page 221. See probate records below.|
|A. Francis — listed in the 1800 U.S. Census New York — was Samuel Fraunces’s son Andrew.||INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE. Andrew Gautier Fraunces (ca. 1759 — 1805) was a clerk with the U.S. Board of Treasury from 1785 to 1789, and principal clerk of the U.S. Treasury Dept. from its Sept. 1789 creation to mid-1793. In July 1793, he wrote to President George Washington accusing Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton of malfeasance. Hamilton was investigated and exonerated, and Fraunces’s reputation was ruined. He died in New York in 1805. The letter “A” and similar surname in the 1800 U.S. Census New York is not enough to prove that this was Andrew Gautier Fraunces.|
|The Samuel M. Fraunces listed in these documents was Samuel Mifflin Francis (1776 — 1829), son of Turbutt Francis.||FALSE. Samuel Mifflin Francis was enrolled at the College of Philadelphia in 1793, but did not graduate. Source: He switched his middle and last names, and inherited from his maternal grandfather, Samuel Mifflin (1724 — 1781). As Samuel Francis Mifflin, he married Elizabeth Mitchel Davis on 21 Mar. 1800. Source: American Philosophical Society. The 18 April 1796 Indenture identifies Samuel M. Fraunces not only as Samuel Fraunces’s Executor, but as his son. Samuel Francis Mifflin continues to father children with his wife Elizabeth long after Samuel M. Fraunces’s 1799 death.|
|The portrait at Fraunces Tavern Museum is not of Samuel Fraunces.||NO EVIDENCE. The Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York have owned the portrait since about 1913. Source: Drowne. It has been exhibited as Samuel Fraunces since then. Published photographs of the portrait have identified the sitter as Samuel Fraunces since at least 1925. Source: Drowne.|
|”Phoebe Fraunces” was Samuel Fraunces’s daughter Elizabeth.||NO EVIDENCE. In 1859, Benson Lossing publishes a tale of how General George Washington, then living in New York, was saved from poisoning in June 1776, by his housekeeper, Samuel Fraunces’s daughter. It is 83 years after the supposed incident, and Lossing admits that his information is third-hand. Source: Lossing publishes the tale again in 1870, adding that the housekeeper helped to trap the attempted poisoner, Thomas Hickey, and testified against him at his court-martial. The minutes of Hickey’s court-martial do not contain testimony by the housekeeper or any mention of an attempted poisoning. Source: In the January 1876 issue of Scribner’s Monthly Magazine, John Mines repeats Lossing’s tale and states that the name of the housekeeper was “Phoebe Fraunces.” Mines lists no sources for his magazine article. One hundred years after the supposed poisoning incident, this is the first time that the name “Phoebe Fraunces” appears in print. Source: Phoebe the Spy, a 1977 children’s book by Judith Barry Griffin, makes Lossing’s tale and the character “Phoebe Fraunces” famous. New York tax records show that Samuel Fraunces held a number of slaves and indentured servants. If a “Phoebe” existed, she may have been a woman employed or enslaved by him. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was born 26 December 1765. At the time of Thomas Hickey’s 28 June 1776 execution, Elizabeth was 10-½ years old.|
|Authors created a sexual relationship between Phoebe Fraunces and Thomas Hickey, in an attempt to discredit the tale.||FALSE. In 1916, newspaper columnist Frederic J. Haskin described Samuel Fraunces as a "West Indian Negro," and Phoebe Fraunces as a "West Indian girl." He wrote: "The murderer [Thomas Hickey] first won her heart and made her his mistress." Source: Washington D.C. Evening Star, August 11, 1916, p. 10. The NAACP gave the Phoebe Fraunces Legend national exposure when it reprinted Haskin's column in its monthly magazine, The Crisis (December 1916), pp. 85-86.|
The purpose of this page is to present documentary evidence and published references, in an effort to resolve the dispute over his racial identity.
If Fraunces was of African descent, as some have maintained, it means that Washington's presidential household was composed of both free and enslaved blacks alongside white wage workers and indentured servants. It would be particularly significant if Washington put a free black man in charge of the whole household staff, something that should be interpreted at the President's House site.
The Independence Hall Association urged the National Park Service to resolve this dispute in March 2003.