Martha Washington Cake Plate

An iconic piece in the Winterthur collection, this cake plate was a gift to Martha Washington from a merchant in 1796. Considering that the American consumption of both porcelain and sugar relied on the transatlantic slave trade, this plate and its intended use complicate our image of early American hospitality and femininity.

By owning and using such items, early Americans, including slaveholders like Martha Washington, formed part of a worldwide network of trade that capitalized on the dehumanization and exploitation of enslaved labor. Slavery became deeply ingrained in all facets of society―an often-overlooked aspect in the production and use of everyday objects.

Cake with Martha




This cookbook dates to the same era as Martha Washington’s cake plate.

Cake recipes like these required at least a pound of sugar, the production of which would have involved a significant amount of enslaved labor.



Cake recipes, recipe book
America or England; 1790−1810
Ink on laid paper
Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera Doc. 797, Winterthur Library