‘A Birthday Cake For George Washington’: What The Children’s Book Didn’t Tell You About Hercules — Debunked Part Two

As you know, A Birthday Cake for George Washington isn’t exactly panning out the way the authors attempted to portray. This is the part-two continuation of the story’s debunking. As previously reported, Hercules was allegedly revered around the city of Philadelphia as a “nobleman” in slave stature.

Well, that’s partly true. Hercules was known around the city. However, George Washington might have had a different angle from the authors’. Philadelphia Inquirer reported as follows.

“To Washington, however, Hercules was what he called that ‘species of property’ — a slave. And though his talents would earn Hercules extraordinary privileges, including an income, fine clothes, and freedom to roam the city, Washington also went to great lengths to maintain the bondage of his prized cook — with deception, slave catchers, and, eventually, an attempt to stash him at Mount Vernon.”

Although Hercules was enslaved, according to author Ramin Ganeshram and editor Andrea Davis Pinkney, George Washington supposedly didn’t degrade, humiliate, and misuse him. As mentioned, this isn’t to say that wasn’t the case for other slaves. But as clarification for the book’s published works, the editor also notes as follows.

“In her extensive author’s note, Ramin clearly and carefully addresses the cruel injustice of slavery, as well as the vicious complexity of slavery that George Washington himself faced…

“…Slavery’s injustice is also cited on the book’s front flap, so that any parent or teacher will know that this is an aspect of the story, and that it is to be addressed…

A Birthday Cake for George Washington does not take slavery’s horror for granted. On several occasions, the book comments on slavery, acknowledges it, and offers children and adults who will be sharing the book ‘a way in’ as they speak to these issues.”

Yet what the writers don’t mention, as reports Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Hercules himself had a slave. And when that slave escaped George Washington’s Philadelphia plantation, Washington left Hercules on his Virginia plantation — Mount Vernon, just as planned — to go handle the situation. And while there, after some time — regardless of his “honor and stature” with George Washington — Hercules was placed into hard labor along with the rest of the slaves.

“The once-trusted chef, also noted for the fine silk clothes of his evening promenades in Philadelphia, suddenly found himself that November in the coarse linens and woolens of a field slave. Hercules was relegated to hard labor alongside others, digging clay for 100,000 bricks, spreading dung, grubbing bushes, and smashing stones into sand to coat the houses on the property.”

Later, you find out how something else about beloved Hercules.

So, honestly, is A Birthday Cake for George Washington really a book for kids? The main consensus is “no.” Also, one has to question just how much research was actually conducted by the writers. From the intended perspective and the depiction of Hercules, many say that the book “sugarcoats slavery for kids.” And from verified historical letters, it does.

Even as an adult, the book excerpt might cause you to think, “Well, he’s the president. How is admiringly beaming at George Washington any different from the same admirational beam towards President Obama today?” For one, those were different times and different aspects and rules applied. For two, from a kid’s perspective and given the topic, the concern is that children could grow up thinking slavery wasn’t as bad as history depicts.

The author and editor noted that the most important aspect they attempted to portray in A Birthday Cake for George Washington was historical accuracy. Rather than focusing on the bowels of slavery and its unethical practices, Ramin and Andrea — both “women of color” — wanted to show Hercules’ importance in George Washington’s life. He wasn’t just enslaved, but — from their perspective, after conducting “four years of extensive research” — Hercules was more like family.

Well, in the next segment, you’ll find out just how “family” Washington considered Hercules. It ultimately paved the way for him to say “enough.”

Part Three: Is ‘A Birthday Cake for George Washington’ a True Depiction of Slavery for Kids?

[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]