Jamestown Historical Society

George Whitely, Rhode Island Jonnycakes

JHS Talk

Speaker: George Whitley – Rhode Island Jonnycakes

April 4 at 2 pm, Jamestown Library, Wright Room

Benjamin Franklin loved jonnycakes and the Marquis de Lafayette consumed great quantities when in Rhode Island. In the 1880s, the Rhode Island Legislature attempted to settle questions about jonnycakes by testing several recipes in the capitol’s rotunda. A fistfight broke out and nothing was settled. In 1940 a law passed stipulating that any cornmeal sold to make jonnycakes in Rhode Island must be ground within the state, from “Rhode Island Corn which is of a light amber color, hard and sound of kernel, generally known as Rhode Island whitecap corn and grown in the soils of Rhode Island within the state of Rhode Island.”

Native Americans introduced the colonists to whitecap corn (flint corn) which is hard to grow and doesn’t yield as much as other varieties of corn. It is still grown in small batches in RI. George Whitley talked about the history of this special corn and milling it, and he made jonnycakes with flint corn for all attendees to enjoy. Mr. Whitley was the miller at Gray’s Grist Mill in Westport, MA from 2015 until 2022 when the mill was sold, and the new owners decided not to continue milling corn. They continue operating a coffee shop at the site.

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