In the 18th century, ice cream, or, at the time, “Ice creem,” was a delicacy favored by the elite. The French had brought this treat to America, and one early American aficionado, says John L. Smith Jr. writing for the Journal of the American Revolution, was George Washington.
In those early days, ice cream was a rich man's treat, says Smith:
Ice cream was initially something that only a wealthy person would be able to have. It would require the money to own at least one cow and not have to sell her milk and cream; it would require fairly large quantities of sugar (an imported commodity), as well as salt (also imported). Making ice cream also requires ice, which had to be cut on a river during the winter and placed in an ice house in the hope that it would still be around by the summer (most homes wouldn’t have had an ice house). Finally, making ice cream could take a fair amount of work and most families couldn’t afford the time for a family member or a servant to ‘waste’ making such a frivolous dish.
In the time before the war, when Washington was running his home at Mount Vernon, he may have been exposed to ice cream by Virginia's colonial governor, says Smith. And Washington loved the stuff. So much so, in fact, that when he assumed the presidency, he made sure to bring ice cream with him.
Records show that as president, Washington bought an ice cream serving spoon and two “dble tin Ice Cream moulds.” This was followed by “2 Iceries Compleat,” twelve “ice plates,” and thirty-six “ice pots.” (An “ice pot” was a small cup used for holding the ice cream since it was more liquid in colonial times, similar to the runniness of an ice cream cone on a hot day.) Thompson speculates, “the large number of ice cream pots suggests that this was a favorite dessert at Mount Vernon, as well as in the capital.
When guests would come to visit the President, they'd sometimes be served ice cream. Smith includes in the Journal of the American Revolution a recipe for colonial-era ice cream, which would have been a fair bit different from the ice creams of today.