Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thomas Jefferson and The Big Cheese


Hi.  Winnie Griggs here.  I subscribe to one of those “This Day In History” Calendars.  Not only do  I enjoy reading the interesting little tidbits to be found there, but it’s also a great idea sparker for future stories. 

When I checked out the entry for today, this is the note I found: 
Mar 26, 1804:  On this day in 1804, President Thomas Jefferson attends a public party at the Senate and leads a diverse crowd in consuming an enormous loaf of bread dubbed the “mammoth loaf.”
 

Intrigued, I had to do some follow-up research and came across an even more intriguing tidbit - that the loaf was baked to go with a mammoth cheese that had been given to the president two years earlier.  And for the record, I’m using the word mammoth deliberately, because that’s how these items were described at the time.  I found a footnote that stated Americans of this period were enamored with the term due to fascination with the discovery of a giant woolly mammoth skeleton in New York in 1801.

But I digress.  This massive wheel of cheese was the brain child of John Leland, the Elder of a Baptist  congregation made up of the staunchly Republican citizens of a farming community located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The goal was to recognize and commemorate Jefferson’s long-standing devotion to religious freedoms.

It was reported that the milk from 900 cows went into the making of the cheese and that it was formed in a cider press that measured six feet in diameter.   The final product, once cured, measured more than 4 feet in diameter, 13 feet in circumference, 17 inches high and weighed 1235 pounds.
 Transporting this huge cheese wheel from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. was no small feat.  It was moved by wagon and sleigh to the Hudson river where it was loaded into a sloop.  At Baltimore it was then loaded into a wagon once again for the remainder of the trip.  All told it took about a month to complete the journey. 

John Leland presented it to Jefferson on New Year’s Day 1802 at a White House ceremony. Leland declared it
“the greatest cheese in America, for the greatest man in America.”   In part of his speech, the Baptist Elder praised Jefferson for the “singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general.”  Jefferson, in turn, praised the people of Leland’s congregation for the "extraordinary proof of the skill with which those domestic arts which contribute so much to our daily comfort are practiced by them."   Because President Jefferson adhered to a policy to refuse gifts while in office, he paid Leland $200 for the cheese.


The cheese lasted for quite some time as it was gradually consumed at various White House functions over the next two years.  Finally, on March 26, 1804, the President attended the above-mentioned party designed to rally support for a naval war with the Barbary States. A Navy baker wheeled in the huge loaf of bread as well as the remnants of the “mammoth cheese” and large quantities of roast beef and alcohol.  It is assumed that the last of the cheese  was consumed during the event.  An alternate theory is that after this party, the remnants were disposed of in the Potomac River.

So, is this a bit of history you were already familiar with?  And why do you think we have such a fascination with things of an unusual size?  Is it just the novelty of it?  Or something else?


Now for the giveaway!



Any of you who comment on this post today will get their name in the hat for my drawing.  I’m giving away a copy of my RT Reviewer’s Choice nominated book Handpicked Husband along with a booklovers pin.

And don’t forget about our Grand Prize Drawing happening at the end of the month.  For every day you post during March you’ll get another chance to have your name drawn for one of the following: 
  •  Grand PrizeKindle
  • 2nd Place Prize - $25 Amazon gift card

Comment on every post in the month of March and earn 31 entries!

60 comments:

  1. Thanks Winnie for this bit of History. I love this sort of History lessons so much more than when I was in school. of course my problem mostly tests where I needed to remember dates and places, so had to study really hard for those high grades that were usually easy for me. LOL If all of you ladies had been our teachers maybe it would have stuck better. I would love to win. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Maxie. I always found history a fascinating subject when I was in school, but like you I wasn't big into remembering dates and places.

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  2. Thank you Winnie. Your post was quite interesting. I think we are intrigued by things out of the norm. Therefore, a mammoth cheese would have been something to see not only then but now as well.

    Thank you for your giveaway. I would love the chance to win.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

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    1. Hi Cindy, you're welcome. And you're right, this is probably an oddity that would attract folks even now.

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  3. I've never heard this story before, Winnie. Very interesting! Can't you just imagine the surprised looks of the locals when the block of cheese passed through their town? And I have to wonder...who had the privilege of first cutting the cheese?

    Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)

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    1. LOL Vickie, that presented quite a mental image first thing this morning!

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  4. Wow, that was one big hunk of cheese! Haha....great post Winnie. I am so loving these blog posts. I am learning so many different facts about history. I think people seem to think that the bigger the better, no matter what it is. Thanks for sharing and God bless.
    debsbunch5[at]jesusanswers[dot]com

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    1. The bigger the better - yes that is a common outlook even today. And especially with something so out of the norm as this.

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  5. That is a fascinating story of mammoth proportions! haha We have that same fascination these days, with all of the TV shows on that celebrate restaurants with huge portions and eating contests, etc. It makes people feel good when they get value for their money, I guess. The eating contests? I have no clue what the allure in that is....Thanks for the interesting piece.

    bcrug(at)myfairpoint(dot)net

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    1. Hi Connie. I guess that's true - that's why all of the fast food places are offering 'super-sized' meals. And I'm with yu - I never did understand the allure of eating contests.

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  6. Would love to read one of your books tammyredd@gmail.com

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  7. What a cheesy story! lol Very interesting! I also found it quite interesting that Thomas Jefferson insisted on paying for the cheese.

    jimmynmatthewsmom [at] netzero [dot] com

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    1. Hi Bethany. That point struck me as well. Apparently he was quite scrupulous about showing strict integrity while in office.

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    1. Hi Sarah. Glad I could give you a smile to start off your day :)

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  9. I like to learn, so anything like the above information is welcome!
    Reading books is also educational, right? So that gives me the okay to read one Christian book a day:)

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    1. Wow - one book a day! Wish I coulkd do that! Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. This is definitely a part of history I did not know. How interesting! :)

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    1. Hi Morgan. I find that it's often these little tidbits that don't make it into the history text books that give us the most intriguing views into life during earlier periods.

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  11. Fascinating history lesson! Just wondering how such an enormous & weighty piece of cheese was cured/stored - did they cut it into pieces to wax for storage, or just cut the mold off the cheese before eating it - with no other preservation? Must have been some task to make the enormous loaf of bread to go along with the cheese, also.

    I think one reason for making unusually large items is to try to do something no one else has done.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win the book!

    bonnieroof60@yahoo.com

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    1. Bonnie, all very good questions! I didn't come across any answers in my research, but there was no reference to it being cut up for storage, so I'd venture to say that it was not covered with wax.

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  12. Wow! I love history and the these little gems of information that we do not learn or read about in the ordinary course of school and in books today. I love this story. Thanks for sharing it. I would love to win.

    deamundy(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Hi Deanna. So glad you enjoyed this little peek into history. It was fun to research. (And I am so easily distracted by rabbit trails when I'm researching)

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  13. Very interesting bit of history. I love hearing how innovative our ancestors were. That was a lot of cheese! What a sense of accomplishment they must have felt to make this cheese then give it to Jefferson. Nancycooks4u@gmail.com

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    1. Nancy, yes it was quite a feat, especially for that day and age. Imagine - the milk from 900 cows!

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  14. That is phenomenal! How cool would that have been. I think having the full wheel of cheese and the loaf of bread at the same time would have been overwhelming. I'm with those that say it's the oddity that attracts our imagination. Thanks for the chance to win!

    mitziUNDERSCOREwanhamATyahooDOTcom

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    1. Hi Marianne, glad you enjoyed the glimpse of history. And yes, novel things do fire the imagination, don't they. And I have to wonder how they displayed and served those pieces

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  15. I was not aware of this piece of history. Thanks for the post. I think people have a fascination with mammoth objects because naturally they are not big. Thanks for having the giveaway.

    Rose
    harnessrose(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Glad I helped you learn something new today! And thanks for stopping by

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  16. That's definitely the "Big Cheese," Winnie! Wonder if a little of it got a bit soggy and soiled. What a journey. And would the workers have nibbled along the way with the hunger of toting it? "...the remnants were disposed of in the Potomac River." They could have gone fishing with it.
    The Lord handpicked my husband for me ~ we will be married 29 years in May! I would love to win your book and the booklovers pin. Thanks for entering me in the mix for the drawing. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House
    lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

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    1. Hi Kathleen. What a beautiful tribute to your marriage to say God handpicked your spouse for you - I feel the same way about mine. We've been married 37 years now and the timing of how we were brought together could only have been orchestrated by the Good Lord Himself!

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  17. I do think we are fascinated by big things...we always think bigger is better but in most cases small quantities actually taste better! I didn't know about that fact but it was really interesting to hear all the trouble they took..what a story it is when The Big Cheese goes to Washington. =) Thanks for the tibit - hopefully we learn from the past and
    go with a Cheese of the Month club - it's easier to transport.
    truckredford at gmail dot(com)

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  18. What an interesting bit of history! I think it is the novelty of very large or unusual things that fascinates us.

    pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Hi Patty. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by.

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  19. Thanks for the tidbit of history. That was interesting to find out. What a wonderful giveaway as well.

    Blessings,
    Jo
    azladijo(at)aol(dot)com

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    1. Jo, you're quite welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

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  20. Very interesting, Winnie! I had to stop by my refrigerator for a bit of cheese!
    Would love to read your book; thanks for the giveaway.
    Jackie Smith
    jackie.smith[at]dishmail[dot]net

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    1. Jackie - LOL on craving a bite of cheese - it's one of my favorite healthy snacks!

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  21. That was an exceptionally interesting post! No, I hadn't heard any of the information you shared.
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

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    1. Hi Kay - glad I brought you some new info. Thanks for stopping by!

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  22. Hi Winnie,
    What a great post - I think we're by nature, intrigued with oddity, or things out of the norm, simply because they stand out. Do you remember that story about the farmer and the King's cheese? How the farmer was taking his finest cheese to the king, but along his journey, he kept sharing it with others who were hungry? By the time he arrived at the king's palace, there was no cheese left, but he'd helped so many along the way.

    becky (at) beckydoughty (dot) com

    Fun story - Thomas Jefferson was such an innovative man!

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    1. Hi Becky. I'd never heard that story before - thanks for sharing it. And I think you're right about our fascination with oddities - I know they always get my attention :)

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  23. Being an home ec teacher in my previous life - this was an awesome blurb!

    Fingers crossed for the book!

    missionwife AT hotmail DOT com

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    1. Melody - wow! A Home Ec teacher - my hat's off to you. What a rewarding calling that must be. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

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  24. Thanks for that lovely little tidbit of history :)
    Very excited about all the lovely giveaways this month!

    bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Betz, you're quite welcome. And we're just as excited to have all of you lovely folks stop in to visit with us :)

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  25. Mammoth cheese?! That is awesome - especially way back then! Thank you for the fun info. :)
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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    1. Sue - it IS fun to share these little glimpses into our history - they're just too intriguing not to share!

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  26. How interesting this post was. Thank you for the tidbits.

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

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  27. Good evening, Ms. Griggs! :)

    Would you believe I found a few of your books on my shelf the other week!? Forgive I am remembering the exact titles, but I was quite esteemed that I had found them! Once I've been able to read through them, I'll let you know how much I enjoyed the stories! They are surely older titles,... as I believe Mum & I found them at a used book shoppe a few years ago! :) I simply thought it was extra special now that I am a regular here at the Society, to find one of the authors' books amongst those in our library!

    Honestly, I have never come across this slice of history, and yet, I can well see why they were especially enthused and entranced with everything of 'size', being that at that particular time, I think dinosaurs and bones, were near-myth as to how would that age fit into the newly minted America!? Maybe they were attempting to understand by creating things that were grossly oversized as a way to better conceptualise the finding!?

    For whichever the case, I appreciated learning something new! Thank you for that! :)

    Ooh, do you think this is what started the "bake the bigger cake", "consume the largest hamburger", "how much girth can you yield out of pizza?", and all the other culinary delights that are proportional giants in their respective classes!?

    And, that you for offering the bookaway + pin!

    inkand-blogaways(at)usa.net
    //Florida

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    1. Jorie - so cool that you have some of my older titles on your shelf! Please do let me know how you like them. I'd also love to know which ones when you get around to looking at them. And you have some interesting ideas on this 'mammoth' food concept - thanks for sharing.

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  28. This is a bit of history that is not well known. That is one thing I really enjoy about this blog: every day there is something new to learn. I really appreciate all of you authors doing the research and sharing with us.
    Thanks also for giving away your book and book lover's pin.

    pmk56[at]sbcglobal[dot]net

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    1. Pam - thanks for your kind words about our group blog as a whole - we are really trying to present you all with unique glimpses of the history and research we love.

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  29. Today I learned something I did not know and found it to be very interesting. I absolutely love cheese and bread so this would have been something I would have enjoyed. I can't imagine having to milk 900 cows! I also wondered under what conditions the cheese was shipped...how sanitary were they back then! Thanks for the opportunity to win! Linda
    dmcfarl101(at)juno(dot)com

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    1. Hi Linda - glad you enjoyed the post. As for shipping conditions - I don't imagine it would pass muster by today's standards but there were no reports of anyone getting ill from partaking of it :)

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  30. We have a winner! I tossed all the names in the hat this morning and pulled out that of Cindy W. Congratulations to Cindy and a great big thank you to all of you who stopped by yesterday and made it such fun to talk about cheese :)

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  31. I know I am answering after the fact but it has been a busy week with the kids out of school!!! I am Canadian and have not had the US history until I started reading the Christian novels as most are american. It was very interesting to find out about the mammoth bread, cheese and the wooly mammoth found there. I thought it was rather cheesy poluting the potomac by dumping it there (if they did) LOL. Thanks for the information.
    Helen
    hmmbailey@live.ca

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    1. Hi Hlen. You may be too late for my individual drawing, but your name will go in the hat for the Grand Prize drawing. Thaks for stopping by!

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