How Much Danger Did This French Cook Pose?

Dateline: Philadelphia, 1704. Many French Protestants sought refuge from France’s King Louis XIV’s persecution of them. This French cook was probably one of them, or was he a spy?

Backstory: The larger context was Queen Anne’s War (1701-13), which was waged in the New World, specifically launched from New France or Canada.

In French, “gateau” means “cake.” Is that a code name for this French cook who was actually a spy? If so, why make it so obvious? Was its obviousness designed to throw the authorities off his scent, so he could hide in plain sight? Or was his name really just Gateau, which he acquired because of his skills, so we should not over-analyze it?

The transcriptions have been modernized.

15 Apr 1704


John Evans, Esq. and Lt. Governor

William Clark, Samuel Carpenter, Griffith Owen, Samuel Finney, Caleb Pusey, Richard Hill, William Trent, James Logan, Edward Shippen

A petition from Nicholas Gateau, the French cook, of this town [of Philadelphia] showing that when the administration of the government was in the council, he had preferred [put forward] a petition, praying that according to the laws of this government, he might be naturalized in this province and territories;

That his said petition had been granted and an instrument [in writing] prepared, but that by the Governor’s happy arrival the execution of it was prevented;

And therefore [he] humbly prays that the Governor would continue the same favor unto him and that he be naturalized.

Ordered that:

The said Nicholas Gateau, upon his taking the required oath (viz.:) fidelity to the Queen, abjuration of the pope’s supremacy, and fidelity to the Proprietor, be naturalized and an instrument [in writing] [be] prepared for it according to law (p. 133)

So far, so good. He was granted citizenship.

31 Oct 1704


John Evans, Esq. and Lt. Governor

Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, Richard Hill, James Logan, Joseph Pidgeon, William Trent, all Esquires

A petition from Nicholas Gateau, the French cook, setting forth that he had lived several years and dealt honestly in this place, but finding a necessity of departing the province [of Pennsylvania] clandestinely by reason of the people’s ill will to him, he had now been imprisoned for 9 weeks and therefore prayed for relief and that his good might be restored that were detained from him;

That in case he can give good security in the sum of 1000 pounds that he shall behave himself well and peaceably and shall not depart at all the province of Pennsylvania nor from Philadelphia, above 25 miles up or down the River, nor above ten miles backwards in the County, he may be enlarged [freed].

The people showed “ill will” towards him. Could he give security for that huge amount? Let’s hope he did.


Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 133 and 174.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s