The House Servant's Directory: An African American Butler's 1827 Guide


"In order to get through your work in proper time, you should make it your chief study to rise early in the morning; for an hour before the family rises is worth more to you than two after they are up."
So begins Robert Roberts' The House Servant's Directory, first published in 1827 and the standard for household management for decades afterward. A classic survey of work, home life, and race relations in early America, the book was the result of many years of Roberts' personal and professional experiences. One ...
See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (16) from $1.99   
  • New (7) from $3.80   
  • Used (9) from $1.99   
The House Servant's Directory: An African American Butler's 1827 Guide

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$6.99 price
(Save 12%)$7.95 List Price


"In order to get through your work in proper time, you should make it your chief study to rise early in the morning; for an hour before the family rises is worth more to you than two after they are up."
So begins Robert Roberts' The House Servant's Directory, first published in 1827 and the standard for household management for decades afterward. A classic survey of work, home life, and race relations in early America, the book was the result of many years of Roberts' personal and professional experiences. One of the first books written by an African-American and published by a commercial press, this manual for butlers and waiters offers keen insight into the social milieu, hierarchy, and maintenance of the antebellum manor.
As a servant to a prominent New England family, Roberts provided valuable insights into what was expected of domestic servants. His book contains an abundance of instructions for successfully completing household chores as well as suggestions for properly cleaning furniture and clothing; and for buying, preparing, and serving food and drink for dinner parties of all sizes (much of which is still useful information today). The text also contains suggestions for arranging servants' work routines, and advice to heads of families on how best to manage their domestic help -- extraordinary recommendations for master-servant relationships and highly unusual for the time.
Among the most famous of etiquette books to provide instruction on proper behavior for domestic servants in the early nineteenth century, Roberts' Directory remains a critical primary source in sociology and African-American history.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486449050
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 4/21/2006
  • Series: Dover African-American Bks.
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 763,945
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The House Servant's Directory

An African American Butler's 1827 Guide

By Robert Roberts

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14943-1



IN order to get through your work in proper time, you should make it your chief study to rise early in the morning; for an hour before the family rises is worth more to you than two after they are up; for in this time you can get through the dirtiest part of the work, which you cannot well do after the family rises; for then you always are liable to interruption; therefore by having the dirtiest part of your work executed, it will prove a very great comfort to you. As there is nothing more disagreeable than to run about with dirty hands and dirty clothes; and this must inevitably be the case if you defer this part of your work until every body is stirring and bustling about.

In the next place, you must have a proper dress for doing your dirty work in; for you should never attempt to wait on the family in the clothes that you clean your boots, shoes, knives, and lamps in; for the dress that you wear to do this part of your work is not fit to wait in, on ladies and gentlemen.

There is no class of people to whom cleanliness of person and attire is of more importance than to servants in genteel families. There are many servants, whom I have been eye witness to, through negligence as I must call it, who are a disgrace to the family that they live with, as well as to themselves, by appearing in their dirty clothes at a time of day that they should have all the dirtiest part of their work done. Every man that lives in this capacity should have a sufficient quantity of clothes to appear always neat and respectable; both for his own credit, and for the credit of the family he serves; therefore I shall give you a few hints on what clothes are suitable for his different work. In the first place for doing your dirty work, you should have you a round-a-bout jacket of a dark colour, with overalls, or loose trowsers, of the same colour, with a vest, and a cap of some description to keep the dust from your hair, with a green baize apron. This is a very suitable habiliment for your morning's work, that is, before your family come down to breakfast; at which time you should have on a clean shirt collar and cravat, with a clean round jacket, white linen apron and clean shoes, with your hair neatly combed out. This is a most neat and clean attire for serving breakfasts. You must always make your calculations what time it may take to get through your work, so as to clean yourself for breakfast.

In the next place, I shall give you some directions on your dress for dinner. You should make it a general rule always to have a good suit of clothes or two, for attending at dinner, as a servant should always at this time look neat and tidy, but not foppish; what I mean by being foppish is, to wear a great bunch of seals to your watch, and a great pin sticking out of your bosom. There is nothing looks more ridiculous than to see a servant puff out above his ability; it really puts me in mind of the fable of the frog and the ox; there are many, I know, who never think of laying by a little sum of money against the time of need, but spend it all, as fast as they earn it, on fine dress.

I never find fault with a man for dressing neat and plain; but to go beyond extremes is ridiculous; you should always have a good suit for dinner, and I shall here give you a few hints on a suit which is very genteel and becoming. For the winter season you should have comfortable clothing, such as a good superfine blue body coat, blue cassimere trowsers, and a yellow cassimere vest. This is a very neat and becoming dress to wait on dinner. You should have at least two or three suits of light clothes for the summer season; as they require to be changed once or twice per week, if they are light coloured; but black bombazine is preferable.



As these things are often wanted in a hurry, therefore you should always have them in readiness, if possible. In this operation, you should always have good brushes and good blacking. These are implements that are indispensably necessary; without which, no credit will be given to the operator. In the first place you must remove all the dirt from your boots or shoes, with your hard brush. When perfectly clean you must stir up your blacking with a stick, then apply a little on your black brush, and apply it lightly and smoothly over your boots or shoes, then apply your polishing brush quick and lightly over them, and in a few minutes you will have a beautiful polish. Should any brown spots appear, which often do, by not putting on the blacking even, then apply your blacking brush lightly over it a second time, and by this process you will have a beautiful polish.

When you have ladies shoes to clean, be very clean and careful about them. As the linings are generally white, you must have clean hands, as the lining is apt to get soiled; some of these shoes are cleaned with milk, or the whites of eggs, such as Morocco, or any kind of glazed leather whatever. You must apply the mixture with a sponge, and lay them before the fire or in the sun to dry; then take a soft brush, or a silk handkerchief; this will give them a fine polish.

You will find it necessary, once in a while, to grease gentlemen's boots and shoes, especially in winter time, as the leather is apt to crack with the wet and cold. You will find, by referring to the Index, full directions for rendering boots and shoes perfectly water proof. I therefore proceed to the next branch of work that is requisite to get out of the way as early in the morning as possible.



This is another branch of work that requires the greatest care and attention, as your best knives generally have to bear the inspection of a number of tasteful eyes during the course of dinner. Every servant should see that he has proper utensils to do his work with, as you cannot expect to do your work in proper order, if you have not the means to accomplish it with. How many good things are spoilt through bad management of the man, and the want of convenient tools to work with. Now, in order to clean knives and forks well, you must get you a soft pine plank or board; let it be free from knots, and about six feet long; have feet or standers under it, so as to raise it exactly to the height of your hips, as this is the proportion for you to bear a regular pressure on your knives; then have you a good soft Bristol brick, and rub it a few times up and down your board, then take a knife in each hand and stand opposite the centre of the board, with the backs of the knives towards the palms of your hands, then expand your arms, keeping the blades level on the board, with a quick motion draw your hands to and from you, frequently looking at the side you are scouring, to see when clean. Do not lean too heavy on the blades for fear of breaking them. In this mode you will soon grow tractable, and will shortly be able to clean two dozen where you would only clean one dozen by taking one knife at a time, and scouring it with your one hand. A good set of knives is a valuable thing, and soon spoiled if not properly taken care of by the man who has the charge of them. There is no branch of a servant's business that will gain more credit for him, from ladies of taste, than keeping his knives and forks in primo bono; as they have many spectators.



The best method of cleaning steel forks, is to have a deep box or a small keg, the latter is preferable; fill it with fine sand and chopped hay or straw, either will answer the purpose. To do this perfectly, put some of your hay into the bottom of your keg, then put in some sand, and so on, until it is quite full, then press it close down, and wet it with water, to keep it damp, as it will have more effect in taking the black from off the prongs, as forks often are very black and hard to clean, after having been used in acids, &c.

When you clean them, take two in each hand, and stab them several times in the sand, and so on, until you have them all done; then have an old hard brush for the purpose of brushing the sand from between the prongs; likewise have a piece of buckskin, or an old glove, to polish them off with. This is the true and best method of cleaning steel forks.

Now I shall give you directions for cleaning the handles of your knives and forks, after the blades and prongs have all been cleaned. In the first place take a towel and immerse it in water, then wring it out all but dry; hold this towel in your right hand, with a dry knife towel in the left, to wipe the blade. When you have them all done, then give them a light rub over with a dry towel, including handles, &c. Should you have silver knives, you may clean them with a little gin and whiting mixed together, and rubbed over the handles when dry; if the handles be fluted, you must brush them with your plate brush, and polish with your shamois, or, as it is pronounced, shammy leather.

My young friend, I have always been thus particular about my knives and forks, because they are things that, from the appearance of which, not only the lady and gentleman of the family, but every one that sits down at table, forms an opinion of the cleanliness and good management of the servant to whose care they are intrusted; and I sincerely wish that you may gain the same approbation.



Lamps are now so much in use for drawing-rooms, dining rooms, and entries, that it is a very important part of a servant's work to keep them in perfect order, so as to show good light. I have been in some houses where the rooms were almost filled with smoke and stench of the oil, and the glasses of the lamps clouded with dust and smoke, from the cottons being uneven, or left up too high; this is a very disagreeable thing indeed. But it is not always a servant's fault, for, unless there is good oil, and plenty of it allowed to the man, it is impossible for them to burn well. But it is a man's fault if they are dirty, or not in good order; and to remedy this disaster, when you first hire with a family, let it be your first object to examine all your lamps and see that they are all in order; and if not, let your employers know immediately, that is, if they are so bad that you cannot remedy them yourself, in which case they should be taken to some mechanist to be put in good order immediately.

When you have them in perfect order, by a little care and attention you can have very little trouble with them afterwards, in giving them a proper and thorough cleaning, which you should do at least once a fortnight. When you do this, take two or three quarts of soft boiling water, put into it two or three tea-spoonsfull of pearl ashes, then empty your lamps, and take them all to pieces, observing where each particle belongs, that you may have no trouble in putting them together again. When you have them apart, first fill the cistern, that part which holds the oil, with this boiling water, and then shake it well; don't empty it into the rest of your water, for it will make it dirty. After this, if there should be any gum about them, scrape it off with an old knife, then put it into the tub which contains the rest of your water, and wash it well with a piece of old linen, which you must have for that purpose, with all the other parts likewise. When you have this all done, wipe them dry and put them before the fire or in the sun to dry; and when you have put them together, give them a good polish with a fine cloth or silk handkerchief.

You should wash your lamp glasses every morning, when you are washing your glasses or breakfast things, and put them by in their proper place until they are wanted.

You should always have a clean towel when you are lighting your lamps, in order to dust your lamp glasses before you put them on, as they will show much better light.

When you are cleaning or trimming your lamps in the morning, you should be very particular in emptying the dripper, or that part of the lamp that holds the droppings; for if this part is not kept clean to admit the air, the lamp will never burn well. You must likewise keep your lamp wicks in a dry place; this you may do by having a drawer, which you may keep for this purpose. When you put on fresh cottons, you must be very careful to put them on the thimble quite even. And likewise see that they fit exactly, or the cotton will slip from off the thimble when you go to raise it. You should never cut your cottons with scissors; it is much the best way to let down your oil, and light the cotton; when it burns a little so as to be even, blow it out, and rub off the snuff with a piece of paper even with the burner or socket, which contains the wick. You should always use wax tapers for lighting lamps, as paper generally flies about and makes dirt.



This is another part of a house servant's work, which requires particular care, and the greatest attention. Many are the ways that are practised in cleaning it, by different servants, every one thinks his own way the best, and many times the plate is injured, by different servants, trying different experiments on it; but I shall give you, in the index of this book, two of the best recipes for making plate powder, that is used by one of the best silver smiths in London. Before you clean your plate with this powder, you must wash it well in a great hot suds, that there may be no grease left on it, for you never can clean plate in a proper manner if it is greasy. You may use either of these plate powders wet or dry. If your plate be very dirty I should recommend it wet. To mix it wet, take some of your powder and wet it with spirits of wine to the consistency of cream, then take a piece of fine soft sponge that is free from grit or dirt of any kind whatever, dip it in this mixture, then squeeze it a little so as you will not waste it, then apply it quick and even all over your plate; do not rub over too much at a time, as it ought to be polished before it gets too dry.

To polish your plate, you should have some soft linen rags or cloths to rub off the mixture, and then polish them off with your shammy leather. When you have dishes, salvers, salts, and other articles that are ornamented, that is, etched and beaded in rough ornamental work, you must have three good plate brushes; one must be hard as a tooth brush, and another something softer, and the third quite soft. The hard brush is for the rough work, and you must recollect never to brush any silver that is plain, with the hard brush, as you are sure to scratch it; the soft brushes are for the handles of your silver knives and forks, which generally want brushing.



This gives plate a most brilliant lustre, if it is only well done; and should be rubbed on with your naked hand, such as spoons, forks, and dessert knives that have silver blades. These small articles are cleaned by taking some of the powder between your finger and thumb, and the longer you rub, the better it will look; any article of your plate that is ornamented, this part may be rubbed with a piece of leather dipped in the plate powder, and rubbed quick and hard; then it should be brushed with your plate brushes, as in the other directions, and polished off with your shammy or wash leather; and I will warrant your plate to look beautiful.

In the next place you must remember to keep your plate in a dry place, for if you let any articles that are only plated, lay about dirty, or in a damp place, they are sure to rust if plated on steel; and if plated on copper, they are sure to canker; therefore you should be particular, and not leave salt or acids of any kind on plated ware, as it is sure to take off the plate, and leave a stain, and by rubbing this stain, the plate will rub off; by which means the article is perfectly spoiled. I very well know that there are many articles of this kind, that are often spoiled through the neglect of servants, and especially young hands, that have had no experience of those things; therefore, my young friends, I have here given you such directions as I trust will enable you to keep your plate in such order as may give general satisfaction to your employers, and gain credit for yourselves.

I shall point out to you the next part of your work, in the following pages.


Excerpted from The House Servant's Directory by Robert Roberts. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction to the House Servant's Directory
The benefit of early rising to servants
On dress suitable for their work
Cleaning boots and shoes
Cleaning knives and forks
Directions for cleaning steel forks
Trimming and cleaning lamps
Directions for cleaning plate
Cleaning plate with dry plate powder
Cleaning silver and plated articles
Setting up the candles
Cleaning polished steel grates
Directions for cleaning mahogany furniture
Hints on taking out stains from mahogany
Brushing and folding gentlemen's clothes
Brushing and cleaning gentlemen's hats
Regulations for the pantry
Directions for cleaning tea trays
Washing and cleaning decanters
Trimming the cruet stand or casters
To clean tea and coffee urns
Mahogany dinner trays
Remarks on the morning's work in winter
Directions for setting out the breakfast table
Regulations for the dinner table
Laying the cloth, &c.
Setting out the dinner table
Setting out the sideboard
Setting out the side table
Dinner on the table
Waiting on dinner
The first course removed
Second course removed
Placing on the dessert
Preparations for tea and coffee
Carrying round tea and coffee
Observations on supper
Observations on the supper table
Directions for extinguishing lamps, shutting up the house, &c.
Address and behaviour to your employers
Behaviour to your fellow servants
Behaviour of servants at their meals
Hints to house servants on their dress
Remarks on answering the bells
All the various receipts useful for servants to know
  1. To make the best liquid blacking for boots and shoes
  2. To make boots and shoes water proof
  3. Composition to clean furniture
  4. Furniture oil for mahogany, most excellent
  5. Italian varnish, most superb for furniture
  6. Italian polish to give furniture a brilliant lustre
  7. To take ink stains out of mahogany furniture
  8. An excellent wash for dirty tables, after a party
  9. To take the black off the bright bars of polished steel
  10. To polish the bars of a polished steel grate
  11. The best way to clean a polished steel grate
  12. For the black parts or inner hearth of a grate
  13. Another excellent black mixture for the same
  14. A beautiful mixture to clean brass or copper
  15. To give Britannia metal a brilliant polish
  16. A beautiful polish for black grates
  17. To make the best plate powder
  18. A most superb way to clean plate
  19. Another way to make plate powder, by J. R. W. of London
  20. To clean any kind of plated articles whatever
  21. To clean japanned tea and coffee urns
  22. To preserve iron or steel from rust
  23. To take rust out of steel
  24. To blacken the front of stone chimney pieces
  25. An excellent composition to blacken stove grates
  26. To clean mirrors or large looking glasses
  27. To make a beautiful black varnish
  28. To give silver a beautiful polish
  29. An excellent mastick for mending China and glass
  30. A wash to revive old deeds or other writings
  31. An excellent wash to keep flies from pictures or furniture
  32. To remove flies from rooms
  33. To render old pictures as fine as new
  34. A varnish that suits all kinds of pictures and prints
  35. To take ink spots out of mahogany
  36. A most delicious salad sauce, by J. R. W.
  37. A great secret to mix mustard, by H. B. London
  38. To extract oil from boards
  39. To colour any kind of liquor
  40. To make liquid currant jam of the first quality
  41. A secret against all kind of spots on silk or cotton
  42. To make all kinds of syrups of all sorts of flowers
  43. To make excellent currant jelly
  44. A most delicious lemonade, to be made a day before wanted
  45. Lemonade that has the appearance and flavour of jelly
  46. To make raspberry vinegar most delicious
  47. To make the best wine vinegar in one hour
  48. An excellent preparation for vinegar
  49. A dry portable vinegar, or vinaigre en poudre
  50. To turn good wine into vinegar in three hours
  51. To restore that same wine to its former taste
  52. To correct a bad taste or sourness in wine
  53. To preserve good wine unto the last
  54. To recover a person from intoxication
  55. To make raspberry strawberry, cherry and all kinds of waters
  56. Lemonade water of a most delicious flavour
  57. Another excellent lemonade, by R. R.
  58. To whiten ivory that has been spoiled
  59. A cooling cinnamon water in hot weather
  60. An excellent good ratifia, by F. N.
  61. A strong aniseseed water
  62. To take off spots of any sorrt, from any kind of cloth
  63. A great secret against oil spots, &c.
  64. To restore carpets to their first bloom
  65. To restore tapestries to their former brightness
  66. To revive the colour of cloth
  67. To take spots out of white cloth, &c.
  68. A composition of soap that will take out all sorts of spots
  69. Turkey cement for joining all metals, glass, china, &c.
  70. To preserve the brightness of fire arms, &c.
  71. To remove ink stains from cloth, plaid, silk, worsted, &c.
  72. To preserve milk for sea that will keep for six months
  73. To preserve apples for the year round
  74. To loosen stoppers that are congealed in decanters
  75. To take stains out of black cloth, silk, or crape
  76. To know whether a bed is damp or not, when travelling
  77. To make the best ginger beer
  78. To make excellent spruce beer
  79. To make a beautiful flavoured punch
  80. To cement any kind of broken glass
  81. A black varnish for straw or chip hats
  82. Blacking for harness that will not injure leather
  83. To make a strong paste for paper
  84. A water that gilds copper and bronze
  85. A wash for gold, silver, silk, or any other kind of embroidery
  86. To make iron as beautiful and white as silver
  87. To preserve furs or woollen clothes from moths
  88. To dye gloves so as to look like York tan
  89. To reform those that are given to drink
  90. To prevent the breath from smelling, after liquor
  91. A wash to give lustre to the face
  92. A wash for the hair most superb
  93. Excellent paste for the skin
  94. A beautiful corn poultice
  95. To make the best corn plaster
  96. A safe liquid to turn red hair black
  97. To refine cider for one barrel
  98. To clarify strong or table beer, or ale
  99. A cheap and wholesome beer
  100. Excellent jumble beer
  101. To make excellent ginger beer, for ten gallons
  102. A wash to give a brilliant lustre to plate
  103. Water proof varnish of the best quality
  104. Chinese varnish for miniature painting
  105. To make a cement for bottles
Directions for putting dishes on table
Directions for placing all kinds of joints, fowls, fish, &c. on table
Directions for carving
Going to market
How to choose poultry
How to choose fish
A few observations to cooks, &c.
A word to heads of families
Directions how to make a fire of Lehigh coal
Miscellaneous observations, compiled for the use of house servants
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)