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Étienne Lemaire

Étienne Lemaire (d. 1817) became Thomas Jefferson's second mâitre d'hôtel in the President's House, hired to replace Joseph Rapin in 1801. Lemaire had formerly been in the service of William Bingham of Philadelphia. When seeking Rapin's replacement, Jefferson wrote that "indispensable qualifications" for a mâitre d'hôtel were "honesty and skill in making the dessert."1

Besides management of the domestic staff and supervision of the dinner service and dessert, Lemaire also did most of the marketing for the presidential household. His record of purchases for the kitchen for the years 1805 to 1809 is preserved in the Henry Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Almost thirty letters between Lemaire and Jefferson have survived, most in the Massachusetts Historical Society. Also preserved is Lemaire's memorandum of proper usage of wine with certain main dishes. The copy of the Monticello cookbook compiled by Jefferson's granddaughter Virginia J. Trist credits Lemaire with recipes for Beef à la Mode, Bouilli, Breast of Mutton, and Pancakes.2 Jefferson had sent Lemaire's "reciepts" to his family at Monticello in 1803, noting that "the orthography will be puzzling and amusing: but the reciepts are valuable."3

By all accounts, Lemaire was a valued and effective butler. The Monticello overseer Edmund Bacon described Lemaire as "a very smart man...well educated, and as much of a gentleman in his appearance as any man."4 Jefferson's granddaughter recalled him as "a portly well-mannered frenchman...of whose honesty his master had a higher opinion than the world at large, and who I fancy made a small fortune in his employ. But he was a civil and a useful man and merited reward."5

After he retired to Monticello in 1809, Jefferson wrote Lemaire a letter of appreciation, expressing "the sense of my attachment to you and satisfaction with your services. They were faithful, and skilful, and your whole conduct so marked with good humour, industry, sobriety and economy as never to have given me one moment's dissatisfaction."6

In 1817 Jefferson heard from his former chef at the President's House that Lemaire, then living in Philadelphia, had lost $5,000 through the bankruptcy of a friend. Deranged by his reverses, he drowned himself in the Schuylkill River - still leaving a fortune of $10,000 to relatives near Paris. Jefferson responded to this news: "I sincerely lament the unfortunate fate of poor Le Maire."7

- Lucia Stanton, 3/16/90

Further Sources


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