Black History Month is a good occasion to recall that in the first half century of Washington society, Henry Orr, a free black, was one of the city's first caterers, perhaps even founder of the second most important business in town after real estate.

In those days Washington had 1,700 slaves and 4,800 free blacks. Constance McLaughlin Green writes in "The Secret City" that Absolom W. Shadd, a black, owned a restaurant at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue for 20 years, from about 1840 to 1860. James Wormley apprenticed under a French Embassy cook, was steward of a private club on G Street and then opened "his own hotel, which fastidious and wealthy visitors found the most agreeable in the city," Green writes. And Mrs. Lincoln's black dressmaker wrote one of the early work-and-tell books about the White House, "Behind the Scenes," published in 1868.

In "The First Forty Years of Washington Society, in the Family Letters of Margaret Bayard Smith," edited by Gaillard Hunt (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.), is a letter Smith, a novelist and wife of a newspaper publisher, wrote to a friend on Feb. 4, 1835. Smith describes the way Orr laid down the rules for the menus of high-society dinner parties.

She asked Orr, "the most experienced and fashionable" caterer in the city, to call on her to discuss a dinner she was planning. "His manners gentle, serious ... his whole appearance quite gentlemanly."

When he came, she explained:

"I am going to have a small dinner party, but though small, I wish it to be peculiarly nice, every thing of the best and most fashionable ... and as it is many years since I have dined in company, you must tell me what dishes will be best. 'Boulli' {bouillon}, I suppose is not out of fashion?"

"No, indeed, Ma'am! A Boulli at the foot of the table is indispensable, no dinner without it."

"And at the head?"

"After the soup, Ma'am, fish, boil'd fish, and after the Fish, canvas-backs, the Boulli to be removed, and Pheasants."

"Stop, stop Henry," cried I, "not so many removes if you please!"

" ... you said your company was to be a dozen, and I am only telling you what is absolutely necessary. Yesterday at Mr. Woodbury's there was only 18 in company and there were 30 dishes of meat."

"But ... I am not a {cabinet} Secretary's lady. I want a small genteel dinner."

"Indeed ... that is all I am telling you, for side dishes you will have a very small ham, a small Turkey, on"Yesterday at Mr. Woodbury's there was only 18 in company and there were 30 dishes of meat." -- Caterer Henry Orr each side of them partridges, mutton chops, or sweetbreads, a macaroni pie, an oyster pie -- "

"That will do, that will do ... Now for vegetables."

"Well ... stew'd celery, spinage, salsify, cauliflower."

"Indeed, Henry, you must substitute potatoes, beets, &c."

" ... they will not be genteel, but to be sure if you say so, it must be. Mrs. Forsyth the other day, would have a plum-pudding, she will keep to old fashions."

"What ... plum-pudding out of fashion?"

"La, yes, Ma'am, all kinds of puddings and pies."

"Why, what then must I have at the head and foot of the table?"

"Forms of ice-cream at the head, and a pyramid of anything, grapes, oranges, or anything handsome at the foot."

"And the other dishes?"

"Jellies, custards, blanc-mange, cakes, sweet-meats, and sugarplums."

"No nuts, raisons, figs, &s., &c?"

"Oh no, no, ma'am, they are quite vulgar."

Poor, unfashionable Mrs. Smith then reveals that her guest of honor is Harriet Martineau, a well-known writer. Orr then reports on the party he catered the previous night at which Miss Martineau captivated Henry Clay, "the greatest and best man now living." He reports in detail on what they said to each other. "She eat nothing but a little Turkey and a mite of ham, nothing else ... and Mr. Clay hardly as much, they were so engaged in conversation. I listened whenever I was near and heard them talking about the national debt."

And he went on to promise Mrs. Smith that her guest will "put you in one of her books, so you should do your very best."

Mrs. Smith writes to her friend, "But I carried my point in only having 8 dishes of meat, tho' I could not convince Henry, it was more genteel than a grander dinner."

No other city in the country has as many shrines to black history as Washington. The Washington D.C. Black History National Recreation Trail, a part of the National Trails System, will be dedicated to the late Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a black historian, Tuesday at the Washington Convention Center. The trail was planned by Willard Andre Hutt.

A brochure about the trail, published by the Parks and History Association, is available at Park Service sites.

Included are: Mount Zion Cemetery and Female Union Band Cemetery, 2525-2531 Q St. NW, in Georgetown; Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, 1518 M St. NW; Lincoln Park, East Capitol Street between 11th and 13th streets, on Capitol Hill; Frederick Douglass Home, 1411 W St. SE, Anacostia; Howard University, 2400 Sixth St. NW, LeDroit Park; and Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, 1318 Vermont Ave. NW.