Mary John was born a slave in the late seventeen-eighties in Louisiana but would lead a remarkable life in Arkansas.
She was sold in 1811 to James Scull, an American settler at Arkansas Post. Though she was his slave for nearly thirty years, Mary also was able to work on her own and on September 13th, 1840, she purchased her freedom from Scull for eight hundred dollars. She parlayed her reputation as an excellent cook into a business, opening a renowned hotel and tavern at Arkansas Post.
A contemporary historian wrote that she ran “the only hotel or public house in the county, which was, perhaps, the most celebrated in the State for the perfection of its cuisine.” She died in 1857 and the Arkansas Gazette eulogized: “Such a cook – Delmonico if his life depended on it, could not get up such coffee and venison steaks as Mary John did. … She was much respected, and her death is mourned by many.”
To learn more, visit the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.