Saturday, November 28, 2020

One of Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Favorite Imported Wine - Madeira

One of George Washington's Favorite Wines - Madeira

A fortified wine produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the eastern Atlantic, madeira in the 18C was common in Britain & particularly popular in the American colonies. George Washington had an affinity for this particular imported wine.

The first order for Madeira in George Washington's correspondence dates to the spring of 1759, when he asked his London agent, Robert Cary & Company to "Order from the best House in Madeira a Pipe of the best old Wine, & let it be Securd from Pilferers."1 A pipe held approximately 126 gallons of wine.2 About a year later, Washington transported a pipe of wine to Mount Vernon from Alexandria, "wch. Captn. McKee brought from Madeira," along with "a chest of Lemons & some other trifles."3

Three years later, in the spring of 1763, Washington notified Cary & Company that he would be writing directly to the island firm of John & James Searles for a pipe of Madeira wine, & that they, in turn, would be contacting Cary for payment.4 In his letter to the Searles, Washington specifically asked for "a rich oily Wine," & asked that, "if the present vintage shoud not be good, to have it of the last, or in short of any other which you can recommend."5

Washington's orders for Madeira continued throughout his lifetime. He purchased a second pipe from John Searles in 1764, even though he admitted that he still had not yet tapped into the first one. Two years later, Washington switched suppliers & requested similar or larger quantities from the firm of Scott, Pringle, Cheape & Company. By 1768, Washington had not gotten around to drinking the 1766 order, but still asked that an additional 150 gallons be sent.6 In the last orders prior to the American Revolution, Washington sent flour from Mount Vernon directly to Madeira instead of having his English agent pay the island firms & received wine & other products from the islands in exchange.7

Significant amounts of Madeira continued to be purchased for the Washington household both after the war & during the presidency. Two pipes of Madeira were received for the presidential household in Philadelphia in August of 1793 & paid for in January of the following year. Another two pipes of the same wine arrived in May of 1794 & an equal amount again in July & November of the same year.8

When Washington made a trip to tour western lands in the fall of 1784, he carried along in his "equipage Trunk & the Canteens" three types of alcoholic beverages, two of which were Portuguese wines-Madeira & port.9 During the last year of Washington's life, an English visitor at Mount Vernon recorded that both port & Madeira were served during the fruit & nut course at dinner. A Polish nobleman noted that when there were houseguests at Mount Vernon, Washington "loves to chat after dinner with a glass of Madeira in his hand."10 Washington's step-granddaughter Nelly later recalled, "After dinner" Washington "drank 3 glasses of madeira."11

Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian, George Washington's Mount Vernon


1. George Washington, "Invoice to Robert Cary & Company, 1 May 1759" The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 6, ed. W.W. Abbott (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988), 318.

2. For the measurement of a pipe of wine, see Marion Nicholl Rawson, "Old Weights and Measures," Antiques (January 1938), 18.

3. "George Washington, 17 May 1760" The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. 1 ed. Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 280.

4. "George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, 26 April 1763" The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 7, eds. W.W. Abbott and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990), 204.

5. "George Washington to John and James Searle, 30 April 1763" The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 7, 208.

6. "George Washington to Scott, Pringle, Cheap, & Company, 23 February 1768" The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 8, 68-9.

7. "George Washington to Thomas Newton, Jr., 10 July 1773" The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 3 ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1931), 143.

8. "Tobias Lear & Bartholomew Dandridge, 18 January 1794, Washington's Household Account Book, 1793-1797," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 30, Nos. 2 and 3 (1906): 159-186, 309-331; Ibid., 27 May 1794, 24 July 1794, 4 November 1794: 182, 312, 323.

9. "22 September 1784," The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. 4, 32.

10. Joshua Brookes, "A Dinner at Mount Vernon: From the Unpublished Journal of Joshua Brookes." ed. R.W.G. Vail, The New-York Historical Society Quarterly 31, No. 2 (April 1947): 76; Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Under Their Vine and Fig Tree; Travels Through America in 1797-1799, 1805, ed. Metchie J.E. Budka (Elizabeth, New Jersey: Grassman Publishing Company, 1965), 103.

11. "Nelly Custis Lewis to Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, 23 February 1823" (typescript, A-647, Mount vernon Ladies' Association).

Research plus images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) & Champagne

George Washington & Champagne

In eighteenth century America, wines from France were less commonly available than those from Spain and Portugal, primarily because of frequent political conflicts between France and England. Several types of French wines did make their way to America for those who could afford the higher prices, including champagne, which was a product of vineyards in northeastern France. During this period, the pale red beverage was typically served in tall champagne flutes, between dinner and dessert, or at evening parties.1

Like other men of his social class, George Washington had the money and connections to acquire champagne for his table. He may have first become acquainted with champagne in the palace in Williamsburg, where the royal governor, Lord Botetourt is known to have had three bottles stored "In the Vault" at the time of his death in 1770.2 In 1793, as president, Washington purchased 485 bottles of champagne and burgundy, which cost him $355.67. Six bottles were "got as a sample" in May of 1794 and another twelve found their way to the executive mansion in November of the same year. Judging from these last two purchases, champagne at this time cost Washington about $1.00 per bottle.3

After the Revolution, Robert Hunter, Jr., a guest at Mount Vernon, recorded that "a very elegant supper" was served around nine at night. The dinner’s special guest was Washington’s old friend, Richard Henry Lee, who was the president of Congress and from whom Washington was "anxious to hear the news of Congress." Hunter noted that "The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal." Hunter also recognized how rare this was, commenting that "Before strangers, he [Washington] is generally very reserved and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances. I'm told that during the war he was never seen to smile…."4

In 1791, Scottish artist Archibald Robertson visited the presidential mansion in Philadelphia in order to deliver a gift to George Washington from the Earl of Buchan--an oak box, "elegantly mounted with silver." The box was made from the "celebrated oak tree that sheltered the WASHINGTON of Scotland, the brave and patriotic Sir William Wallace, after his defeat at the battle of Falkirk, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, by Edward the 1st." Robertson was asked to stay for dinner.

The custom of ladies withdrawing to another room after dinner was common practice in the eighteenth century. Based on descriptions by Washington’s dinner guests, this practice was followed both at Mount Vernon and in the presidential household. During this particular meal, however, the custom seems to have been reversed. Robertson recorded that dinner ended with several glasses of "sparkling champagne," "over which people lingered for about 45 minutes." Afterwards George Washington and Tobias Lear rose from the table and went to another room, "leaving the ladies in high glee," which Robertson attributed to Lord Buchan and the "Wallace box," but may have been due more to both the unaccustomed role change and the effects of the sparkling wine.5

Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian, Mount Vernon Estate


1. Louise Conway Belden, The Festive Tradition: Table Decoration and Desserts in America, 1650-1900 (New York & London:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 17, 233 & 235, 250-251.

2. Graham Hood, The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg: A Cultural Study (Williamsburg, VA, 1991), 311.

3. Philadelphia Household Account Book, "17 July 1793," "21 May1794," "6 November 1794," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 30, Nos. 1-4, 1906.

4. Robert Hunter, Jr., Quebec to Carolina in 1785-1786, Being the Travel Diary and Observations of Robert Hunter, Jr., a Young Merchant of London (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1943): 5.

5. William Spohn Baker, Washington After the Revolution, 1785-1799 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1898), 231-232, 232n.

Research plus  images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) Toasted & Toasting

Martha Washington (1731-1802)

While George Washington oversaw most aspects of managing Mount Vernon's  pleasure gardens & grounds, Martha Washington oversaw the Kitchen Garden (The Lower Garden), allowing her to keep fruits and vegetables on the table year round.

The Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon

“…impress it on the gardener to have every thing in his garden that will be nece]ssary in the House keeping way — as vegetable is the best part of our living in the country.” – Martha Washington, 1792

Inside the Kitchen at Mount Vernon

Outside The Kitchen at Mount Vernon

In the matter of eating & drinking George Washington was temperate. For breakfast he ordinarily had tea & Indian cakes with butter & perhaps honey, of which he was very fond. His supper was equally light, consisting of perhaps tea & toast, with wine, & he usually retired at nine o'clock. Dinner was the main meal of the day at Mount Vernon, & usually was served at two o'clock. One such meal is thus described by a guest:  "He thanked us, desired us to be seated, & to excuse him a few moments.... The President came & desired us to walk in to dinner & directed  us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowls, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc. etc."   The General ordinarily confined himself to a few courses & if offered anything very rich, he would protest, "That is too good for me." He often drank beer with the meal, with one or two glasses of wine & perhaps as many more afterward, often eating nuts, another delicacy with him, as he sipped the wine.


In the spring of 1783, citizens gathered in towns and cities across America to celebrate the signing of the Preliminary Articles of Peace ending the American Revolution. In Newport, Rhode Island, the "day was ushered in by ringing of bells and firing of cannon." A procession of soldiers and civilians in Charleston, South Carolina was accompanied by "five Field Pieces…, a Band of Music, Colours, Drums, and Fifes." The inhabitants of Marblehead, Massachusetts assembled at the "town-house" where an ox was “provided and cooked” and a large “beacon” was “surrounded with combustibles” and “converted to a bonfire."1

While Americans chose to commemorate peace and victory in a variety of different ways, all of these celebrations had one thing in common. Everywhere people came together to mark the occasion, they passed around glasses and drank toasts. In one town, "a large vessel was filled with liquor, and duly replenished throughout the day." In another, some "five hundred gentleman and ladies" partook of a "cold collation."2

In many cases, revelers drank a total of thirteen toasts (one for each state in the new Union), and reporters carefully recorded what each toaster had said to publish in the newspapers. Some speakers paid tribute to political leaders: to "The Continental Congress" or "Our European allies." Others were more practical, proclaiming that "Commerce and Agriculture flourish in America" and that "our trade and navigation extend." Many remarked on the lasting significance of the occasion, hoping that the "citizens of the United State eternally cherish those rights, for which they fought, bled, and conquered," or that the "peace prove glorious to America and last forever." One particularly optimistic toaster in South Carolina wished that "the Fair Sex [might] prove kind and propitious to the brave and deserving."3

But wherever Americans tipped their glasses in 1783, they almost always reserved one special toast for George Washington. In Newport revelers drank to "General Washington and the American Army and Navy;" in Bucks County, Pennsylvania it was "General Washington, and the officers of the army." In Charleston, merrymakers saluted "General Washington, the Western Star" – may he be "enabled to retire with Satisfaction from the Field of Victory and Glory." A poet in Boston put his toast to verse, asking his readers, whenever they gathered to "drink around each others health," to:

Pray don’t forget the soldiers bold

With WASHINGTON the brave…

Health to his honor I’d freely drink,

Had I a glass of wine;

And whosoever with me shall think,

May mix their toast with mine.4

Alcohol and drinking were common features of everyday life for ordinary Americans in the eighteenth century. While special occasions like the signing of the Treaty of Peace called for unusually liberal bouts of toasting, most Americans imbibed on a daily basis. Average colonists drank as much as four gallons of hard liquor every year, as well as considerable quantities of wine (for those who could afford), beer, or hard cider.5 Taverns, inns, and alehouses were among the first businesses opened by European immigrants in colonial Philadelphia, and the spread of drinking establishments kept pace with the rapid blossoming of the population during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1686 there were six public houses in Philadelphia; by 1756, that number had grown to 101.6

General Washington was not against enjoying a drink himself, serving libations to his frequent guests, or even supplying alcohol for political purposes. During the political campaign leading up to his 1758 election to the Virginia House of Burgesses, Washington famously lubricated a gathering of potential supporters by providing “a hogshead and a barrel of punch, thirty-five gallons of wine, forty-three gallons of strong beer, cider, and dinner” at his own expense.7

Washington’s friends, associates, and other correspondents, meanwhile, frequently expressed their own gratitude, appreciation, and good will regarding drinking and toasting. In May 1756, early in Washington’s political career, childhood friend William Fairfax informed him that "Your Health & Success was toasted at almost all Tables at W[illia]msburg."8 Upon returning to his post in Paris after serving with Washington during the Revolution, French soldier Charles-Louis de Montesquieu promised that, "I shall often with my Officers, drink to your Excellency’s health—All who have been under your orders in America, would get drunk with pleasure to this toast."9

The pervasiveness of toasting to Washington, particularly at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, speaks to the universality and stature of the General in early American culture. In a new nation that could only be generously labelled a single, unified "nation," there were few truly national figures – individuals that ordinary Americans from New Hampshire to Georgia could all recognize. In this regard, no figure stood above George Washington. When average citizens gathered to share in toasts in 1783, not only did they almost always single out George Washington for a special drink, but usually they singled out only Washington. In this sense, the name of Washington became a powerful cultural symbol that helped unite a collection of disparate states into one coherent Union.

By Brett Palfreyman, Binghamton University


1. The Independent Gazette (Philadelphia), May 17, 1783; South Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston), Jul. 5, 1783; The Massachusetts Spy (Boston), May, 8, 1783... Sorry, notes cut off here.

Research plus images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Old-Time Recipes for Home-Made Garden Drinks - Geo Washington (1732-1799) & Wine (especially Elderberry Wines)

1790s  Christian Gullager 1759-1826 George Washington. Massachusetts Historical Society

Some of George Washington's (1732-1799) favorite foods were Mashed Sweet Potatoes, String Beans, Nuts, Melons, Fish, and griddle-fried cornmeal Hoe Cakes.  In his 1791 “The Hasty Pudding,” American poet Joel Barlow(1754-1812) called the hoe cake “fair Virginia’s pride.” Washington's favorite desserts were Trifle, Martha Washington’s Whisky Cake, and Cherry Pie.  He was also fond of Porter, a dark ale, & Madera, and wine was usually present at the Mount Vernon table. But I think George Washington's favorite wine was Elderberry Wine.

Interest in the potential of the American colonies producing a great new wine was growing in London by the middle of the 18C.  Beginning in 1758, the Society of Arts had been offering premiums for wines produced in the colonies. (see: Robert Dossie, Memoirs of Agriculture, and other Œconomical Arts, i (London, 1768), 239–41.)  George Washington hoped that native grapes growing vigorously across the British American colonies could be made into a notable native American wine: "The spontaneous growth of the Vine in all parts of this Country; the different qualities of them and periods for maturation, led me to conclude that by a happy choice of the species I might succeed better than those who had attempted the foreign vine," 

Washington wrote to the French Minister of State, Chre'tien Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, on July 9, 1783.  But dreams of Independence, a Revolution, & forming a new government intervened.. "This consideration led me to try the wild grape of the Country; and to fix upon the species which I have already described, and which in the Eight years I have been absent from my estate has been little attended to. Had I remained at home, I should 'ere this, have perfected the experiment which was all I had in view,"  

Dreams of wine-making in the New World of North America began long before the time of Washington. The colonists of Jamestown started crushing New World "fox grapes" almost from the moment they landed in 1607.
CAUTION: In all species of elderberries, the stems, leaves, bark and especially the roots are toxic; the latter are known to have caused death to rooting animals such as swine. All immature (green) berries are considered toxic, and one American species, the American Red, or Scarlet, Elder (S. pubens) produces a mature toxic berry. While the berries of many species induce stomach upset if eaten raw or in excess, the American Red Elder is excessively toxic and should be avoided. (Its mature berries are very small — about 1/5 inch in diameter — obviously red and its juice yellowish.) The identified toxin is a cyanogenic glycoside (releases cyanide) called sambunigrin.

Old-Time Recipes for Home Made Wines Cordials & Liqueurs (1909) by Helen S. Wright

Take five pounds of Malaga raisins, rub them and shred them small; then take one gallon of water, boil it an hour, and let it stand till it is but blood-warm; then put it in an earthen crock or tub, with your raisins. Let them steep ten days, stirring them once or twice a day; then pass the liquor through a hair sieve, and have in readiness one pint of the juice of elderberries drawn off as you do for jelly of currants; then mix it cold with the liquor, stir it well together, put it into a vessel, and let it stand in a warm place. When it has done working, stop it close. Bottle it about Candlemas. (Candlemas in early February,  is another name for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Forty days after His birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the rites of purification and dedication as prescribed by the Torah.) 

Nine quarts elderberry juice, nine quarts water, eleven and one-half pounds white sugar, two ounces red tartar. These are put into a cask, a little yeast added, and the whole is fermented. When undergoing fermentation, one ounce ginger root, one ounce allspice, one-quarter ounce cloves are put into a bag of clean cotton cloth, and suspended in the cask. They will give a pleasant flavor to the wine, which will become clear in about two months, and may be drawn off and bottled. Add some brandy to this wine, but if the fermentation is properly conducted, this is not necessary.

Take spring-water, and let it boil half an hour; then measure two and one-half gallons, and let it stand to cool. Then have in readiness ten pounds of raisins of the sun well picked and rubbed in a cloth, and hack them so as to cut them, but not too small; then put them in, the water being cold, and let them stand nine days, stirring them two or three times a day. Then have ready three pints of the juice of elderberries full ripe, which must be infused in boiling water, or baked three hours; then strain out the raisins, and when the elder liquor is cold, mix that with it, but it is best to boil up the juice to a syrup, one-half pound of sugar to every pint of juice. Boil and skim it, and when cold mix it with your raisin liquor, and two or three spoonfuls of good ale yeast. Stir it well together; then put it into a vessel fit for it, let it stand in a warm place to work, and in your cellar five or six months.

The quantity of fruit required is one gallon of ripe elderberries, and one quart of damsons or sloes, for every two gallons of wine to be produced. Boil them in water till the damsons burst, frequently breaking them with a flat stick; then strain and return the liquor to the copper. The quantity of liquor required for nine gallons of wine will be ten gallons; therefore if the first liquor proves short of this, add water to the pulp, rub it about and strain to the rest. Boil two hours with twenty-three pounds of coarse moist sugar; three-quarters of a pound of ginger bruised, one-half a pound of allspice, and one ounce of cinnamon, loosely tied in a muslin bag, and two or three ounces of hops. When quite cool work on the foregoing plan, tun in two days, drop in the spice, and suspend the bag by a string not long enough to let it touch the bottom of the cask; fill it up for a fortnight, then paste over stiff brown paper. It will be fit to tap in two months; will keep for years, but does not improve by age like many other wines. It is never better than in the first year of its age.

The berries, which must be thoroughly ripe, are to be stripped from the stalk, and squeezed to a pulp. Stir and squeeze this pulp every day for four days; then separate the juice from the pulp by passing through a cane sieve or basket. To every gallon of juice, add one-half gallon of cold water. Boil four and one-half gallons with three ounces of hops for one-half hour; then strain it and boil again, with one and one-half pounds of sugar to the gallon, for about ten minutes, skimming all the time; pour it into a cooler, and, while luke-warm, put a piece of bread with a little balm on it to set it working. Put it into a cask as soon as cold; when it has done working, cork it down, and leave it six months before it is tapped. It is then drinkable, but improves with age exceedingly.

Take five pounds of Malaga or Lipara raisins, rub them clean, and shred them small. Then take five quarts of water, boil it an hour, and when it is near cold put it in a tub with the raisins; let them steep ten days, and stir them once or twice a day. Then strain it through a hair sieve, and by infusion draw one pint of elder-juice, and one-quarter of a pint of damson juice. Make the juice into a thin syrup, a pound of sugar to a pint of juice, and not boil it much, but just enough to keep. When you have strained out the raisin liquor, put that and the syrup into a vessel fit for it, and one-half a pound of sugar. Stop the bung with a cork till it gathers to a head, then open it, and let it stand till it has done working; then put the cork in again, and stop it very close, and let it stand in a warm place two or three months, and then bottle it. Make the elder and damson juice into syrup in its season, and keep it in a cool cellar till you have convenience to make the wine.

Take two large handfuls of dried elder-flowers, and ten gallons of spring-water; boil the water, and pour it scalding hot upon the flowers. The next day put to every gallon of water five pounds of Malaga raisins, the stalks being first picked off, but not washed; chop them grossly with a chopping-knife, then put them into your boiled water, and stir the water, raisins, and flowers well together, and so do twice a day for twelve days. Then press out the juice clear, as long as you can get any liquor out. Then put it in your barrel fit for it, and stop it up two or three days till it works, and in a few days stop it up close, and let it stand two or three months, till it is clear; then bottle it.

To five gallons of water put five quarts of the juice of white elderberries, pressed gently through a sieve without bruising the seeds. Add to every gallon of liquor one and one-half pounds of sugar, and to the whole quantity one ounce of sliced ginger, and one-half ounce of cloves. Boil this nearly an hour, taking off the scum as it rises, and pour in an open tub to cool. Work it with ale yeast spread upon a toast of bread for three days. Then turn it into a vessel that will just hold it, adding about three-quarters pound bruised raisins, to lie in the liquor till drawn off, which should not be done till the wine is fine.

To one hogshead of strong ale take a heaped bushel of elderberries, and one-half pound of juniper-berries beaten. Put in all the berries when you put in the hops, and let them boil together till the berries break in pieces, then work it up as you do ale. When it has done working add to it one-half pound of ginger, one-half ounce of cloves, one-half ounce of mace, one ounce of nutmegs, one ounce of cinnamon, grossly beaten, one-half pound of citron, one-half pound of eringo root, and likewise of candied orange-peel. Let the sweetmeats be cut in pieces very thin, and put with the spice into a bag, and hang it in the vessel when you stop it up. So let it stand till it is fine, then bottle it up, and drink it with lumps of double refined sugar in the glass.

Research plus images & much more are available from Geo Washington's (1732-1799) home Mount Vernon website, 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) & His fellow Patriots Toasting the New Nation

The bar tab from a farewell party Washington's troops threw him on September 15, 1787, still exists.  The United States Constitution would be signed just two days later.  The celebration was held at Philadelphia's City Tavern, & the party had about 55 guests, including troops, politicians, friends, & family — along with 16 more folks who were working that night, including musicians, servers, & hosts.
In all, according to the itemized bill, the evening fare included more than 45 gallons of booze were served to "55 gentlemens," who also got dinner, fruit, relishes & olives. The 9 musicians & 7 waiters ran up their own liquor bill (21 additional bottles of wine) that the troop paid for. There was a line item for cigars & candles & another for broken wine glasses, decanters & tumblers. Somehow the receipt for the night was saved in the First Troop Cavalry archives.

Here's what George, by then president at the Constitutional Convention, & 54 of his closest friends consumed that night:
54 bottles of Madeira wine
60 bottles of claret Bordeaux
22 bottles of porter ale
12 jugs of beer
8 bottles of hard cider
8 bottles of Old Stock (colonial whiskey)
7 large bowls of spiked punch

The staff & musicians also drank 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, & seven bowls of punch. The bill also includes charges for food & many broken glasses.  The final tab, came out to £89 & 4 schillings — perhaps roughly $16,000 in today's dollars.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) - Food & Libations ay Mount Vernon

 Martha Washington (1731-1802) - From the Garden to the Table 

While George Washington oversaw most aspects of managing Mount Vernon's  pleasure gardens & grounds, Martha Washington oversaw the Kitchen Garden (The Lower Garden), allowing her to keep fruits and vegetables on the table year round.

The Kitchen Garden at Mount Vernon

“…impress it on the gardener to have every thing in his garden that will be nece]ssary in the House keeping way — as vegetable is the best part of our living in the country.” – Martha Washington, 1792

Inside the Kitchen at Mount Vernon

Outside The Kitchen at Mount Vernon

In the matter of eating & drinking George Washington was temperate. For breakfast he ordinarily had tea & Indian cakes with butter & perhaps honey, of which he was very fond. His supper was equally light, consisting of perhaps tea & toast, with wine, & he usually retired at nine o'clock. Dinner was the main meal of the day at Mount Vernon, & usually was served at two o'clock. One such meal is thus described by a guest:  "He thanked us, desired us to be seated, & to excuse him a few moments.... The President came & desired us to walk in to dinner & directed  us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowls, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc. etc."   The General ordinarily confined himself to a few courses & if offered anything very rich, he would protest, "That is too good for me." He often drank beer with the meal, with one or two glasses of wine & perhaps as many more afterward, often eating nuts, another delicacy with him, as he sipped the wine.

George Washington & Food & Drink

"Samuel Stearns states that Washington "breakfasts about seven o'clock on three small Indian hoe-cakes, and as many dishes of tea," and Custis relates that "Indian cakes, honey, and tea formed this temperate repast." These two writers tell us that at dinner "he ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond. He partook sparingly of dessert, drank a home-made beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine" (Custis), and that "he dines, commonly on a single dish, and drinks from half a pint to a pint of Madeira wine. This, with one small glass of punch, a draught of beer, and two dishes of tea (which he takes half an hour before sun-setting) constitutes his whole sustenance till the next day." (Stearns.) 

Ashbel Green relates that at the state banquets during the Presidency Washington "generally dined on one single dish, and that of a very simple kind. If offered something either in the first or second course which was very rich, his usual reply was—'That is too good for me.'"

A second liking was honey. His ledger several times mentions purchases of this, and in 1789 his sister wrote him, "when I last had the Pleasure of seeing you I observ'd your fondness for Honey; I have got a large Pot of very fine in the comb, which I shall send by the first opportunity." 

He was a frequent buyer of fruit of all kinds and of melons."

He was very fond of nuts, buying hazelnuts and shellbarks by the barrel, and he wrote his overseer in 1792 to "tell house Frank I expect he will lay up a more plenteous store of the black common walnuts than he usually does." 

The Prince de Broglie states that "at dessert he eats an enormous quantity of nuts, and when the conversation is entertaining he keeps eating through a couple of hours, from time to time giving sundry healths, according to the English and American custom. It is what they call toasting."

From Paul Leicester Ford  The True George Washington  J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A. 1896

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Geo Washington (1732-1799) Grows Grapes

George Washington & Grapes

George Washington longed for the day when good wines would be produced in America. As he travelled throughout the country, he often noted how well grapes were growing as a sign of potential success for the wine industry in America. During one journey to the Ohio frontier in 1770, Washington noticed "some other Woods, that grow Snarly, and neither Tall nor large, but coverd with Grape Vines."1

Washington believed that the cultivation of grapes held great promise for the Chesapeake region. As he explained in a letter from July 1779 written to an Italian correspondent who had sent him information on viticulture, "I have long been of opinion from the spontaneous growth of the vine, that the climate and soil in many parts of Virginia were well fitted for Vineyards and that Wine, sooner or later would become a valuable article of produce."2

Throughout the eighteenth century, Virginians tried to produce grapes for making wine. However, by Washington's own admission, while there were certainly grapes available for eating, the wine-making ventures were unsuccessful. In March of 1760, Washington began his own attempt by having fifty-five cuttings of the Madeira grape planted at Mount Vernon. Eight years later he continued his efforts, writing to a firm in Madeira for "a few setts or cuttings of the Madeira."3

When these foreign grapes proved unsatisfactory, Washington suggested several possible reasons for the problem, including use of the wrong variety of grape, lack of skill in viticulture, and the intense heat of the southern summer and fall. To remedy, Washington decided to experiment with the native varieties of grapes.

A few years before the American Revolution took him away from Mount Vernon, Washington had enslaved workers plant about 2,000 cuttings of a local wild grape, "which does not ripen with us (in Virginia) 'till repeated frosts in the Autumn meliorate the Grape and deprive the Vine of their leaves," when "the grape (which is never very pallitable) can be Eaten." He lamented in a letter to a French correspondent after the war that his eight-year absence from Mount Vernon prevented the completion of this experiment: "Had I remained at home, I should 'ere this, have perfected the experiment which was all I had in view."4

After the Revolution, Washington turned once more to Madeira grapes, asking a correspondent to send him "a few slips of the Vines of your best eating Grape." Those cuttings, however, were damaged by the long sea voyage and most died on the trip. All of the Malmsey grape were lost, but a few plants, described as Muscat and Vera, showed "signs of feeble life."5

Several years later, John Bartram, a noted Philadelphia botanist, gave Washington some grapes of "a very fine kind," which the Mount Vernon gardener was instructed to "take particular care of." Another source of Washington's grapes was Senator Benjamin Hawkins of North Carolina, who gave the president "sundry cuttings of valuable Grape vines," along with a letter giving "an account of them, and his manner of treating them."6

The grapes were cultivated at Mount Vernon in an enclosure below the lower garden, on the hill leading down towards the family vault. To protect the fruit from depredations, Washington approved enslaved workers fencing the vineyard with thorn bushes and honey locusts, "or I shall never be able to partake of the fruits that are within the enclosure." After they fertilized the ground with manure, the cuttings were set out in rows according to their variety or type. As with other fruits and vegetables, Washington had grown both what he called summer and winter grapes, a strategy for keeping the fruit available for use on his table for as many months as possible.7

Mary V. Thompson Research Historian, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens


1. George Washington, "17 November 1770," The Diaries of George Washington.

2. "George Washington to Philip Mazzei, 1 July 1779."

3. "21 March 1760," The Diaries of George Washington; "George Washington to Scott, Pringle, Cheape & Company, 21 March 1760."

4. "George Washington to Francois, Marquis de Barbe Marbois, 9 July 1783."

5. "George Washington to John Marsden Pintard, 18 November 1785, 20 May 1786, 2 August 1786."

6. "George Washington to William Pearce, 16 November 1794."

7. "George Washington to Anthony Whiting, 27 January 1793," The Diaries of George Washington; "20 November 1771," "16 December 1771."

Research plus images & much more are available from the Mount Vernon website, 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

From Garden to Table - Domestic & Imported Beverages in 18C Colonial America

Israel Acrelius. Engraved by John Sartain  in Elizabeth Montgomery's, Reminiscences of Wilmington, 1851

Israel Acrelius (1714-1800) was a Swedish Lutheran missionary who wrote a book of the time he spent in the British American colonies between 1749-1756. In this book, the pastor left a fairly comprehensive list of drinks popular during his years on this side of the Atlantic.

He was born in Österåker, Stockholm County, Sweden, in 1714 to Johan and Sara Acrelius. He attended Uppsala University and was ordained as a priest of the Church of Sweden in 1743, serving as the pastor of churches in Riala, Sweden starting in 1745.

Beginning in 1749, Acrelius took a post in Wilmington, Delaware, site of a Swedish Lutheran congregation which dated to the time of the New Sweden colony. At that time, Holy Trinity remained a Swedish Lutheran parish. The church was placed under the jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1791. Later, he was a minister at St. Paul's Church in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1756. While assigned to churches in the British Americn colonies, he learned English and provided aid to German Lutherans in Pennsylvania. He also made notable zoological, botanical, and geological collections.

Because of health concerns, Acrelius returned to Sweden in 1756.  In 1759, he published his History of New Sweden, which dealt with the religious and secular history. This book was translated into English by William Morton Reynolds, who learnt Swedish for the purpose, and published in 1874 in Philadelphia in Volume 11 of the Memoiors of the Historical Society of  Pennsylvania.

 Acrelius’s List of Drinks in the North American colonies.

1. French wine.

2. Frontegnac.

3. Pontac.

4. Port a Port.

5. Lisbon wine.

6. Phial wine.

7. Sherry.

8. Madeira wine, which is altogether the most used.

9. Sangaree is made of wine, water, sugar, a dash of nutmeg, with some leaves of balm put in.

10. Hot wine, warmed wine, is drunk warm, with sugar, cardamoms, and cinnamon in it. Sometimes, also, it has in it the yolks of eggs beaten up together, and grains of allspice, and then it is called mulled wine.

11. Cherry wine. The berries are pressed, the juice strained from them, Muscovado or raw sugar is put in; then it ferments, and, after some months, becomes clear.

12, 13. Currant wine, or black raspberry wine, is made in the same manner.

14. Apple-wine (cider). Apples are ground up in a wooden mill, which is worked by a horse. Then they are placed under a press until the juice is run off, which is then put in a barrel, where it ferments, and after some time becomes clear. When the apples are not of a good sort, decayed or fallen off too soon, the cider is boiled, and a few pounds of ground ginger is put into it, and it becomes more wholesome and better for cooking; it keeps longer and does not ferment so soon, but its taste is not so fresh as when it is unboiled. The fault with cider in that country is that, for the most part, the good and the bad are mixed together. The cider is drunk too fresh and too soon: thus it has come into great disesteem, so that many persons refuse to taste it. The strong acid (vinegar?) which it contains produces rust and verdigris, and frightens some from its use, by the fear that it may have the same effect in the body. This liquor is usually unwholesome, causes ague when it is fresh, and colic when it is too old. The common people damask the drink, mix ground ginger with it, or heat it with a red-hot iron.

15. Cider Royal is so called when some quarts of brandy are thrown into a barrel of cider along with several pounds of Muscovado sugar, whereby it becomes stronger and tastes better. If it is then left alone for a year or so, or taken over the sea, then drawn off into bottles, with some raisins put in, it may deserve the name of apple-wine.

16. Cider Royal of another kind, in which one-half is cider and the other mead, both freshly fermented together.

17. Mulled cider is warmed, with sugar in it, with yolks of eggs and grains of allspice. Sometimes, also, some rum is put in to give it greater strength.

18. Rum, or sugar-brandy. This is made at the sugar plantations in the West India Islands. It is in quality like French brandy, but has no unpleasant odor. It makes up a large part of the English and French commerce with the West India Islands. The strongest comes from Jamaica, is called Jamaica spirits, and is the favorite article for punch. Next in quality to this is the rum from Barbadoes, then that from Antiguas, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Christopher’s, etc. The heaviest consumption is in harvest-time, when the laborers most frequently take a sup, and then immediately a drink of water, from which the body performs its work more easily and perspires better than when rye whiskey or malt liquors are used.

19. Raw dram, raw rum, is a drink of rum unmixed with anything.

20. Egg dram, eggnog. The yolk of an egg is beaten up, and during the beating rum and sugar poured in.

21. Cherry bounce is a drink made of the cherry juice with a quantity of rum in it.

22. Bilberry dram is made in the same way.

23. Punch is made of fresh spring-water, sugar, lemon-juice, and Jamaica spirits. Instead of lemons, a West India fruit called limes, or its juice, which is imported in flasks, is used. Punch is always drunk cold; but sometimes a slice of bread is toasted and placed in it warm to moderate the cold in winter-time, or it is heated with a red-hot iron. Punch is mostly used just before dinner, and is called “a meridian.”

24. Mämm, made of water, sugar, and rum, is the most common drink in the interior of the country, and has set up many a tavern-keeper.

25. Manatham is made of small beer with rum and sugar.

26. Tiff, or flipp, is made of small beer, rum, and sugar, with a slice of bread toasted and buttered.

27. Hot rum, warmed with sugar and grains of allspice; customary at funerals.

28. Mulled rum, warmed with egg-yolks and allspice.

29. Hotch pot, warmed beer with rum in it.

30. Sampson is warmed cider with rum in it.

31. Grog is water and rum.

32. Sling, or long sup, half water and half rum, with sugar in it.

33. Mintwater, distilled from mint, mixed in the rum, to make a drink for strengthening the stomach.

34. Egg punch, of yolks of eggs, rum, sugar, and warm water.

35. Milk punch, of milk, rum, sugar, and grated nutmeg over it; is much used in the summer-time, and is considered good for dysentery and loose bowels.

36. Sillibub is made of milkwarm milk, wine, and sugar, not unlike our Oelost [mixture of warm milk and beer]. It is used in summer-time as a cooling beverage.

37. Milk and water is the common drink of the people.

38. Still liquor, brandy made of peaches or apples, without the addition of any grain, is not regarded as good as rum.

39. Whisky is brandy made of grain. It is used far up in the interior of the country, where rum is very dear on account of the transportation.

40. Beer is brewed in the towns, is brown, thick, and unpalatable. Is drunk by the common people.

41. Small beer from molasses. When the water is warmed, the molasses is poured in with a little malt or wheat-bran, and is well shaken together. Afterwards a lay of hops and yeast is added, and then it is put in a keg, where it ferments, and the next day is clear and ready for use. It is more wholesome, pleasanter to the taste, and milder to the stomach than any small beer of malt.

42. Spruce beer is a kind of small beer, which is called in Swedish “lärda tidningarne” (learned newspapers). The twigs of spruce-pine are boiled in the malt so as to give it a pleasant taste, and then molasses is used as in the preceding. The Swedish pine is thought to be serviceable in the same way.

43. Table beer made of persimmons. The persimmon is a fruit like our egg-plum. When these have been well frosted, they are pounded along with their seeds, mixed up with wheat-bran, made into large loaves, and baked in the oven. Then, whenever desired, pieces of this are taken and moistened, and with these the drink is brewed.

44. Mead is made of honey and water boiled together, which ferments of itself in the cask. The stronger it is of honey, the longer it takes to ferment. Drunk in this country too soon, it causes sickness of the stomach and headache.

45. Besides these they also use the liqueurs called cordials, such as anise-water, cinnamon-water, appelcin-water, and others scarcely to be enumerated, as also drops to pour into wine and brandy almost without end.

46. Tea is a drink very generally used. No one is so high as to despise it, nor any one so low as not to think himself worthy of it. It is not drunk oftener than twice a day. It is always drunk by the common people with raw sugar in it. Brandy in tea is called Iese.

47. Coffee comes from Martinica, St. Domingo, and Surinam; is sold in large quantities, and used for breakfast.

48. Chocolate is in general use for breakfast and supper. It is drunk with a spoon. Sometimes prepared with a little milk, but mostly only with water.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Grape Vines & Wines in 17C Colonial America

Grapes & Wines in 17C Colonial America

Early settlers in colonial America recorded abundant wild grape vines along the Atlantic coast of eastern North America. The Pilgrims in New England found the species Vitis labrusca growing profusely in the woods around their settlements.  This labrusca, or northern fox grape, is the best known of the native species, because the Concord grape is the base of many American juice & jellies. Before the Pilgrims landed, the gentlemen of the Virginia Company at Jamestown noted a number of native grape species, especially on bottom lands, on river banks, & in swamps, often covering hundreds of square feet.

In 1564 the French Protestant Admiral Gaspard de Coligny sent out a colony of Huguenots to the St. John's River in Florida, & there, at Fort Caroline, pirate Captain John Hawkins found the survivors in 1565 on the verge of starvation. Hawkins noted that though they had failed to grow food for themselves, yet "in the time that the Frenchmen were there, they made 20 hogsheads of wine." Sir John Hawkins (Hawkyns) (1532-1595), an English naval commander & administrator & privateer, was an early promoter of English involvement in the Atlantic trade. 

After the French had been driven away from the Florida coast, the Spaniards made a settlement on nearby Santa Elena Island—now Parris Island, South Carolina—and a vineyard was reported as planted there by 1568. 

On the low coast of Hatarask (Hatteras) Island, North Carolina, the English found the land was covered with grapes, growing so close to the water's edge that "the very beating & surge of the Sea overflowed them."  The journal was written by Capt Philip Amadas (b 1566) & Master Arthur Barlowe (1555-1620), explorers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh(c 1552-1618), who arrived on Roanoke Island on July 13, 1584. Back in England, Barlowe wrote an account of the New World, which Amadas signed. The publication was circulated in December of 1584. The grapes spread beyond the shore, the chronicler & promoter says: "We found such plentie, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand & on the greene soile on the hils, as in the plaines, as well on every little shrubbe, as also climing towards the tops of high Cedars, that I thinke in all the world the like abundance is not to be found: & my selfe having seene those parts of Europe that most abound, find such difference as were incredible to be written."

The settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the 1st permanent colony, were struck by the rich profusion of grapes that adorned the woods of their colony. Indeed, by this time, they expected to see them, for the ability of the New World to grow grapes "naturally" was one of the details constantly & optimistically noted in the accounts published by Hakluyt & other promoters of exploration & settlement.

On reaching the James River they at saw "great store of Vines in bignesse of a man's thigh, running up to the tops of the Trees in Great abundance." The Virginia settlers apparently quickly tried a little experimental winemaking. A report by an Irish sailor who made the 1st voyage to Jamestown says that he sampled 1 or 2 of the wines produced & found them very similar to the Spanish Alicante.  A 1609 statement made by one of the promoters of the Virginia Company, Robert Johnson, who foresaw Virginia as a rival to the Canaries, speculated that "we doubt not but to make there in few years store of good wines, as any from the Canaries."  

Captain John Smith (1580-1631) claimed that the colonists of the 1st Virginia Voyage made "near 20 gallons of wine" from "hedge grapes." William Strachey (1572-1621), who spent the year 1610-11 in Jamestown, noted that there he had "drunk often of the rath wine, which Doctor Bohoune & other of our people have made full as good as your French-British wine, 20 gallons at a time have been sometimes made without any other help than by crushing the grape with the hand, which letting to settle 5 or 6 days hath in the drawing forth proved strong & heady." Dr. Laurence Bohune (Bohun or Boone), whose wine Strachey drank, is the 1st winemaker in America whose name is recorded. Bohune (c 1575-1621) was a member of the Virginia Governor's Council known for experimenting with Virginia's indigenous plants. He came out to Jamestown in 1610, & became physician general to the colony, before being killed in a sea battle with the Spanish on a voyage from England back to Virginia.

In his, "True Declaration of the Estate of the Colony in Virginia" (1610), Lord De La Warr (Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (1577-1618) noted "there are many vines planted in divers places, & do prosper well."  Ralph Hamor, who was in the colony from 1610 to 1614, wrote that they had planted wild grapes in "a vineyard near Henrico" of 3 or 4 acres.  Henrico was founded in 1611.  Captain Ralph Hamor (1589-1626) was one of the original colonists to settle in Virginia, & author of A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia, which he wrote when he returned to London in 1615. 

The Laws Divine, Moral & Martial, the stern Virginian code drawn up in 1611, forbade the settlers to "rob any vineyards or gather up the grapes" on pain of death. The Virginia Company created a law in 1619 requiring "every householder" to "yearly plant & maintain ten vines until they have attained to the art & experience of dressing a vineyard either by their own industry or by the instruction of some vigneron."  The instruction was to be provided by the "divers skilfull vignerons" who, the company reported, had been sent out in 1619, "with store also from hence of vineplants of the best sort."  This is the earliest record of the effort to transplant the European vine to eastern America.

Apparently 8 vignerons were sent to Virginia in 1619, Frenchmen from Languedoc—Elias La Garde, David Poule, Jacques Bonnall are among the names preserved of this group. They were settled at Kecoughton, Elizabeth City County, near the coast & hopefully relatively secure from Indian attack.  This region had been recommended as early as 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale, who observed that the 2 or 3 thousand acres of clear ground there would do for vineyards & that "vines grow naturally there, in great abundance."  Sir Thomas Dale (d 1619) was an English naval commander & deputy-governor of the Virginia Colony in 1611 & from 1614 to 1616, who married Pocahontas.

The French vignerons of 1619 must have arrived too late to do any planting that year, as a letter from Virginia as late as January 1620 pleads for both vines & vignerons from Europe. The same letter mentions that vines brought by the governor, Sir George Yeardley (presumably on his return from England in 1619) "do prosper passing well," but his Vigneron-"a fretful old man"-was dead.  It was affirmed that the vines planted in the fall bore grapes the following spring, "a thing they suppose not heard of in any other country."  Just when the Frenchmen planted their vines is not clear. One source refers to the Frenchmen as having planted their cuttings at "Michaelmas last"—that is, around October 1620.

In 1620 the Virginia Company, announced that it was looking for more vineyardists from France & from Germany, & that it was trying to procure "plants of the best kinds" from France, Germany, & elsewhere.  In 1622, at the king's command, the Virginia Company sent to every householder in Virginia a manual on the cultivation of the vine & silk. 

George Sandys (1578-1644) was a poet, who took great interest in the earliest English colonization in America. In April 1621, he became colonial treasurer of the Virginia Company & sailed to Virginia with his niece's husband, Sir Francis Wyatt (1588-1644) the new governor.  Sandys reported to London in 1623, that though many vines had been planted the year before, they "came to nothing...Wherefore now we have taken an order that every plantation ...shall impale 2 acres of ground, & employ the sole labor of 2 men in that business [planting grape vines] for the term of 7 years, enlarging the same 2  acres more, with a like increase of labor...By this means I hope this work will go really forward." The census made early in 1625 records that Sandys had a vineyard of 2 acres on his plantation on the south bank of the James.

In 1649, it was reported that a Captain William Brocas had made "most excellent wine" from his own Virginia vineyard in Lancaster County along the banks of the Rappahannock.  It is also said that Sir William Berkeley, who governed Virginia from 1642 to 1652 & again from 1662 to 1677, successfully planted a vineyard of native grapes: "I have been assured," so the Reverend John Clayton wrote some years after Berkeley's death, "that he cultivated & made the wild sour grapes become pleasant, & large, & thereof made good wine." Robert Beverley, the early historian of Virginia & a pioneer grape-grower, tells a different story of Berkeley's efforts: "To save labour, he planted trees for the vines to run upon. But as he was full of projects, so he was always very fickle, & set them on foot, only to shew us what might be done, & not out of hopes of any gain to himself; so never minded to bring them to perfection."

In 1620 Maine, a speculator named Ambrose Gibbons proposed to found a plantation at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, on what is now the Maine-New Hampshire border, & there, in that bitter northern climate, to "cultivate the vine, discover mines . . . & trade with natives." 

In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wine was made from native grapes in the 1st summer of settlement in 1630.  The result may have been one of the reasons why the colonists petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Company back in London to have Frenchmen experienced in "planting of vines" sent out to them. In 1632, Governor John Winthrop secured the grant of Conant's Island in Boston Harbor, on condition that he plant a vineyard there. Three years later his rent for the place, then called Governor's Garden, was set at "a hogshead of the best wine that shall grow there to be paid yearly." In 1640 this expected rent was changed to 2 bushels of apples - evidently wine-growing had not succeeded. 

The state of winemaking  in New England generally was summed up in 1680 by the early historian William Hubbard (1621-1704): "Many places do naturally abound with grapes, which gave great hopes of fruitful vineyards in after time: but as yet either skill is wanting to cultivate & order the roots of those wild vines, & reduce them to a pleasant sweetness, or time is not yet to be spared to look after the culture of such fruits."

In the New Netherland of the Dutch settlers, a vineyard was planted as early as 1642, but was destroyed by the severe winter temperature. Immediately after the English took over the colony from the Dutch in 1669, the new governor granted a monopoly of grape growing on Long Island to one Paul Richards, who also received the privilege of selling his wine tax-free. A Dutch traveler visiting Coney Island in 1679 found abundant grapes growing wild & noted that the settlers had several times planted vineyards without success. "Nevertheless," he added, "they have not abandoned the hope of doing so by & by, for there is always some encouragement, although they have not, as yet, discovered the cause of the failure."

The Swedes along the Delaware in what is now New Jersey & Delaware were just as eager as the English & the Dutch to turn their place in the New World into a commercial wine success. The official instructions given to the Swedish governor, Colonel John Printz, in 1642. included viticulture among the objects of the colony, but it was not long before the Jersey farmers turned to apple growing instead & began to produce the cider.

William Penn carried French vines with him to Pennsylvania in 1682, his 1st trip to the colony he had founded, & in the next year had his French vignerons lay out vineyards. William Penn hoped to make viticulture flourish in his American woods. In 1683, within a year of his arrival in the new colony, Penn recorded that he had drunk a "good claret" made of native grapes by a French Huguenot refugee, Captain Gabriel Rappel.  He wondered then whether the future of American winegrowing might not lie with the native varieties of grapes rather than with the European vinifera.

In 1663, the proprietors of Carolina, newly chartered by Charles II, drew up proposals for a colony that would concentrate—despite the experience of Jamestown—on just those "three rich commodities," wine, silk, & oil, that Hakluyt & others had dreamed of producing along the Atlantic coast. In the Carolinas, Sir William Berkeley, one of the proprietors of the Carolina colony was commissioned to appoint a government for Carolina. His instructions included a proviso for setting aside 20,000 acres of land for the proprietors, taking care that some be "on sides of hills that look to the southward which will be best for vineyards." While some commerce in tobacco grew, the Carolina's main success came from the great pine forests & their yield of tar, pitch, turpentine, & lumber of all kinds. Grape growing & winemaking do not seem to have progressed in what is now North Carolina (the separation between the 2 Carolinas did not officially exist until 1712). 

Sir Nathaniel Johnson. Johnson, who lived in South Carolina from 1690 until his death in 1713, served as governor of the colony for 6 of those years. He was an energetic experimenter with plants & crops, especially keen on succeeding in the manufacture of silk—he named his plantation on the Cooper River, near Charleston, "Silk Hope." He tried to promote winegrowing, too. According to the Quaker John Archdale's account, Johnson planted a "considerable vineyard." John Lawson, tells us that Johnson had "rejected all exotic vines, & makes his wine from the natural black grape of Carolina."  But at the same time, Lawson makes it clear that Johnson's experiments created no general response. On Johnson's 1713 death, his estate went to a daughter, &, according to an 18C writer, "she married; & her husband destroyed the vineyard & orchard to apply the soil to Turky-corn."

The Carolina colonists could not make the European vine grow, nor was it yet worth their while to develop the native vine.  John Lawson in North Carolina explained the difficulties from the settler's point of view: "New planted colonies are generally attended with a force & necessity of planting the known & approved staple & product of the country," Lawson wrote. 

General James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785) founded Georgia as a place where neither slavery nor strong drink was to be allowed, but where wine growing was to be a basic economic activity. In February 1733, the 1st settlers landed at the site of Savannah & set about laying out the town.  General Oglethorpe established the Trustee Garden in Savannah in 1734, 2 years after the founding of the Georgia Trust, the corporate body that governed the colony from 1732 until 1752.  Dedicated to botany and agriculture, it reflected the scientific and commercial aspirations of the Trustees and their backers in England. It was established as a public garden, where they could grow & propagate the mulberries, vines, olives, oranges, & other plants. This public garden, or Trustees' Garden, was planted on 10 acres of land between the town site & the river, just to the east of the town.  Less than a year after its establishment, one traveler described it as a "beautiful garden ...where are a great many white mulberry trees, vines, & orange trees raised." 

The 1st botanist appointed to advance the horticulture of the Georgia colony, Dr. William Houston, died in Jamaica without ever reaching Georgia. Special funds were set aside for botanist William Houstoun in 1732 & after his death in Jamaica, for Robert Millar in 1734. The money was to finance travel across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea down to the northern coast of Brazil and the collection of specimen for trans-shipment to Georgia. His successor, Robert Millar, while collecting plant specimens in Mexico, was imprisoned by the Spanish on 2 successive voyages, his materials were confiscated, & he returned to England empty-handed & unable to contribute anything directly to Georgia.  

The 1st gardener actually to work in the Savannah garden, Joseph Fitzwalter, began enthusiastically, but then fell out with Paul Amatis, who was  brought over by the trustees to develop the culture of silk. Amatis & Fitzwalter clashed over who was to be master of the garden. Amatis seems to have been a quarrelsome man, who  at one time he grew so angry that he threatened to shoot Fitzwalter should he ever enter the garden again.  Early in 1735, Amatis had sent some 2,000 vines to the Savannah garden from the stock accumulated at Charleston. By July, he claimed, Fitzwalter had given some away as presents, to "I know not who," & had let the rest die.  Furthermore, the public character of the garden made things difficult: people stole the plants & stripped the fruit, to the despair of the gardener. "Fruits, grapes & whatever else grows is pulled & destroyed before maturity."  Amatis finally succeeded in establishing his authority over Fitzwalter, who left the colony for Carolina. Amatis himself died late in 1736.

With some editing, from Thomas Pinney's A History of Wine in America From the Beginnings To Prohibition. University of California Press Berkeley 2007

Thursday, November 19, 2020

1743 Ben Franklin (1706-1790) On making Wine from Grapes

1743 Ben Franklin On making Wine from Grapes

Poor Richard, 1743. An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1743,... By Richard Saunders, Philom. Philadelphia: Printed and sold by B. Franklin, at the New Printing-Office near the Market. (Yale University Library)

Friendly Reader,
Because I would have every Man make Advantage of the Blessings of Providence, and few are acquainted with the Method of making Wine of the Grapes which grow wild in our Woods, I do here present them with a few easy Directions, drawn from some Years Experience, which, if they will follow, they may furnish themselves with a wholesome sprightly Claret, which will keep for several Years, and is not inferior to that which passeth for French Claret.
British gentlemen drinking and smoking pipes round a table in an interior, a servant bearing a bowl of punch by an unknown artist

Begin to gather Grapes from the 10th of September (the ripest first) to the last of October, and having clear’d them of Spider webs, and dead Leaves, put them into a large Molosses- or Rum-Hogshead; after having washed it well, and knock’d one Head out, fix it upon the other Head, on a Stand, or Blocks in the Cellar, if you have any, if not, in the warmest Part of the House, about 2 Feet from the Ground; as the Grapes sink, put up more, for 3 or 4 Days; after which, get into the Hogshead bare-leg’d, and tread them down until the Juice works up about your Legs, which will be in less than half an Hour; then get out, and turn the Bottom ones up, and tread them again, a Quarter of an Hour; this will be sufficient to get out the good Juice; more pressing wou’d burst the unripe Fruit, and give it an ill Taste: This done, cover the Hogshead close with a thick Blanket, and if you have no Cellar, and the Weather proves Cold, with two.
1730 Gentleman with a Glass of Wine by an unknown British artist

In this Manner you must let it take its first Ferment, for 4 or 5 Days it will work furiously; when the Ferment abates, which you will know by its making less Noise, make a Spile-hole within six inches of the Bottom, and twice a Day draw some in a Glass. When it looks as clear as Rock-water, draw it off into a clean, rather than new Cask, proportioning it to the Contents of the Hogshead or Wine Vat; that is, if the Hogshead holds twenty Bushels of Grapes, Stems and all, the Cask must at least, hold 20 Gallons, for they will yield a Gallon per Bushel. Your Juice or Must thus drawn from the Vat, proceed to the second Ferment.
William Redmore Bigg (British artist, 1755–1828) A Bottle of Wine

You must reserve in Jugs or Bottles, 1 Gallon or 5 Quarts of the Must to every 20 Gallons you have to work; which you will use according to the following Directions.  Place your Cask, which must be chock full, with the Bung up, and open twice every Day, Morning and Night; feed your Cask with the reserved Must; two Spoonfuls at a time will suffice, clearing the Bung after you feed it, with your Finger or a Spoon, of the Grape-Stones and other Filth which the Ferment will throw up; you must continue feeding it thus until Christmas, when you may bung it up, and it will be fit for Use or to be rack’d into clean Casks or Bottles, by February.
A Wine Drinker by an unknown British artist

n.b. Gather the Grapes after the Dew is off, and in all dry Seasons. Let not the Children come at the Must, it will scour them severely. If you make Wine for Sale, or to go beyond Sea, one quarter Part must be distill’d, and the Brandy put into the three Quarters remaining. One Bushel of Grapes, heap Measure, as you gather them from the Vine, will make at least a Gallon of Wine, if good, five Quarts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Garden Vineyards

In early American gardens, the section of the grounds devoted to the growing of grapes was the vineyard. Throughout the colonial & early republic periods, planters & farmers consistantly attempted to grow grapes for wine on their grounds.
In the June 5, 1736 edition of the South Carolina Gazette in Charleston, South Carolina, an ad noted that on Goose Creek was property, "To be Sold A Plantation containing 200 Acres...a vineyard of about two years growth planted with 1200 vines."
< The Baltimore Whig in 1811, reported, "For Sale, An Elegant Retreat...Of the six acres, two are laid off in an excellent garden, which is now in the highest state of cultivation, and contains...the most promising and productive small vineyard in this state. The cuttings from which these vines are produced, were imported from France, Italy, and Germany."
After noticing years of less than successful attempts at developing flourishing vineyards in America, New Yorker John Nicholson wrote of the best methods for establishing & maintaining vineyards in his book The Farmer's Assistant in 1820, "Wherever any kinds of grapes grow wild, they may be there cultivated to advantage for making wines... In the more southerly parts of this State, there are two species of grapes, of which there are varieties; the black-grape and the foxgrape... In the more southerly climates, particularly on the waters ot the Ohio and Mississippi, there are much greater varieties of these grapes...
"The spots most favorable for vineyards are the sides of hills or mountains, descending southwardly, or to the east; but to the south is best; and let the soil be loose and mellow, but not liable to be much washed by heavy rains...
"Some soils are not good; though by carting on much sand, and other loosening manures, they will answer tolerably well. The ground must be well mellowed by ploughings, and mixed with sand, if not naturally sandy, and such manures as will serve to make it rich and keep it mellow...
"Where the hill sides are steep (and such produce the best vines) it is advisable to cart on stones ol small and middling size to mix with the soil, which help to keep them moist and warm; and a part of them are to be laid along in ridges on the lower side of each row of vines, to keep the earth from washing away. Round the vineyard let a good substantial fence be made, which will keep out both Men and beasts. The northerly side of the vineyard should be well protected from the northerly winds...

"All this time, the ground of the vineyard is constantly to be kept light and mellow, and perfectly clear of weeds and grass. For this purpose, straw, chaff, flax-shives, and every thing of the kind is to be carried on, and spread over the ground, to keep it mellow and moist, and to prevent us washing. Observing this the first 4 years, greatly forwards the vines, and at the same time prepares them for good crops afterwards; nor should the practice be afterwards wholly discontinued...
"A vineyard of an acre should contain but two sorts of grapes, and one of two acres should not generally contain more than four sorts. Every kind of grape should be made into wine by itself, and not mixed with others."
The Banks of the Ohio - Mr. Longworth's Vineyards.  1859 print

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

18C Greenhouse from England to Early America

1786 Unknown artist. John Coakley Lettsom (1733–1810), with His Family, in the Garden of Grove Hill, Camberwell.

The painting is notable for its close-up images of a garden bench, greenhouse, urn, espaliered wall, & flower pots.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Tho Jefferson's (1743-1824) Greenhouses

Thomas Jefferson by Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817) 

Flowering Shrubs & Bulbs in the Monticello Greenhouse," 
by Peggy Cornett

On May 24, 1778, Thomas Jefferson noted in his memorandum book, "Pd. a gardener at Greenspring for two Acacias." Green Spring, built as the family residence of Governor Sir William Berkeley, was a frequent side-trip for Jefferson while en-route to Williamsburg. There he could admire the estate's three extensive orchards, its vegetable garden, field of indigo, and orangery or greenhouse. The Acacias (Acacia farnesiana) Jefferson acquired had surely spent the previous winter in the Green Spring orangery, as he recorded later in his garden book, "they are from seeds planted March 1777." Although this tender species has a somewhat straggly habit, formidable thorns, and malodorous roots, its small, yellow pom-pom like blossoms are extremely fragrant, and Jefferson would later describe the Acacia as "the most delicious flowering shrub in the world." Unfortunately, it is doubtful Jefferson's young plants thrived far beyond September when he measured their heights at 18 and 23 inches, since he, at the time, lacked an appropriate structure to sustain them.

Jefferson would often return to the idea of growing tender plants in a glass enclosure and he was well acquainted with the possibilities such structures could afford. Since the early eighteenth century, freestanding greenhouses (later known as orangeries) were important and highly visible architectural features in gardens of the elite in Europe, Britain, and, to a lesser extent, North America. Throughout his lifetime, Jefferson encountered a number of them, both in America and abroad.

By the 1790s Jefferson's trips to Philadelphia included periodic visits to the Woodlands, William Hamilton's country estate on the banks of the Schuykill River. Within the Woodland's expansive gardens, which Jefferson would describe as "the only rival I have known in America to what may be seen in England," stood an enormous greenhouse measuring one hundred-forty feet in length and divided into a series of compartments. Hamilton was an insatiable collector and, at its peak, his carefully arranged collection was estimated to contain ten thousand plants from every explored corner of the globe, including the East Indies, Botany Bay, Japan, and the Cape of Good Hope. He went to great lengths to procure some of the most unusual and rare plants of his time, and, apparently he had the reputation of being quite protective of them. Although Jefferson, on several occasions, requested seeds of various greenhouse plants, including the Sweet Acacia and Venus's Flytrap, he would eventually admit, "I have from time to time given Mr. Hamilton a great variety of plants, and altho’ he is in every other respect a particular friend of mine, he never offered me one in return."

There were also other large estates with greenhouses in the tidewater regions of Virginia and Maryland besides Green Spring most notably George Washington's home, Mount Vernon. Washington's substantial orangery was, in turn, inspired by Margaret Carroll's greenhouse at Mount Clare, outside Baltimore. In 1789, upon the completion of Mount Vernon's structure, Mrs. Carroll sent President Washington pots and boxes of oranges, lemons, "one fine balm s(c)ented shrub," aloes, and tufts of knotted marjoram. Other references indicate that Washington also grew what he called the "opopantax," or Sweet Acacia. Jefferson's visits to Mount Vernon during the 1790s coincided with this active period in Washington's orangery.

Jefferson had twice envisioned a greenhouse for himself at Monticello. A free-standing, two-story structure on Mulberry Row was first designed during the late 1770s and again c.1805. His second, more elaborate design included a terrace on the kitchen garden side and an entrance on two levels. Ultimately, however, Jefferson decided to incorporate his greenhouse within the body of Monticello as a small, glass enclosed arched loggia, which he called the South Piazza, and it was not until shortly before his final retirement to Monticello that his dream was realized. Construction began in October 1804 when he contracted James Oldham of Richmond to build five semicircular sashes and five pairs of square sashes "for the South Piazza as a Green house" which were sent by boat to Monticello in April 1806. The double-sashed windows functioned as doorways, opening onto the South Terrace and to the East and West Fronts. Jefferson's simple yet elegant enclosure was balanced by an open gallery on the north end of Monticello. 

While the completion date for the greenhouse is not known precisely, the event was anticipated by 1807 when Jefferson's granddaughter Anne Cary Randolph wrote from Edgehill to him in Washington: "Ellen and myself have a fine parcel of little orange trees for the green house against your return." A year later, however, after which time the oranges had been ravaged by grazing sheep, Anne Randolph reported that "the green house is not done." It was not until 1809 that Jefferson's South Piazza seemed complete, according to Margaret Bayard Smith. Mrs. Smith was a noted Washington socialite and close friend of Jefferson's during his presidential years. She was particularly fond of the plants Jefferson kept while in Washington, especially his pot of geraniums, which she entreated him to leave with her in 1808 upon his retirement to Monticello, writing: "I cannot tell you how inexpressively precious it will be to my heart." Jefferson obliged her with the geranium in March 1809, apologizing for its neglected condition, but assured of her nourishing hand, observing, "If plants have sensibility, as the analogy of their organisation with ours seems to indicate, it cannot but be proudly sensible of her fostering attentions."

Mrs. Smith gave a lengthy account of her visit to Monticello that summer in which she described Jefferson's "suite of apartments" consisting of the library, his cabinet, and "a green house divided from the other by glass compartments and doors; so that the view of the plants it contains, is unobstructed. He has not yet made his collection, having but just finished the room, which opens to one of the terraces." Mrs. Smith also described a walnut and mahogany seed press, crafted in the Monticello joinery, which stood in Jefferson's cabinet adjacent to the greenhouse, noting: "He opened a little closet which contains all his garden seeds. They are all in little phials, labeled and hung on little hooks. Seeds such as peas, beans, etc. were in tin cannisters, but everything labeled and in the neatest order."

Jefferson's "collection" of greenhouse specimens was never as extensive or elaborate as that of his colleagues. Indeed, in a letter to Thomas Lomax written before leaving Washington, Jefferson reasoned that the Acacia "is tile only plant besides the Orange that I would take the trouble of nursing in a green house. I rely on the garden &farm for a great portion of the enjoyment I promise myself in retirement." Nevertheless, Jefferson apparently did try to start a variety of seeds in wooden boxes and to attend plants in his South Piazza. The "several sprigs of geranium (stuck) in a pot" that he sent to his daughter Martha in 1807, likely taken from the very plant given to Mrs. Smith, were surely intended for the greenhouse. In November 1809 he tried again the delicious but temperamental Acacias, along with an orange and a lime. That same year another noteworthy Garden Book reference regarded his planting of fourteen Goldenrain Tree seeds (Koelreuteria paniculata) in boxes and pots. The seeds of this small Asian tree, which bears lovely spikes of yellow blossoms in mid-summer, were sent to him from France by his good friend, Madame de Tesse. The tree was introduced to Europe in 1753, but was not likely grown in America until Jefferson's successful planting. By year's end, he happily announced to his granddaughter, Anne Banlrhead, "the plants in the green-house prosper."

Jefferson's long association with Philadelphia seedsman and gardening writer Bernard McMahon yielded more opportunities for greenhouse plants. With the publication of his book, The American Gardener's Calendar. in 1806, McMahon became Jefferson's gardening mentor and major source of seeds, bulbs, and plants for his gardens. Jefferson studied McMahon's monthly instructions carefully and directed his family to follow them as well in their gardening endeavors at Monticello.

McMahon's Calendar was quite precise in distinguishing the essential differences between greenhouses, hot-houses or stoves, and conservatories. He specified that the "Greenhouse is a garden-building fronted with glass, serving as a winter residence, for tender plants (that) require no more artificial heat, than what is barely sufficient to keep off frost, and dispel such damps as may arise in the house." The hot-house, according to McMahon, required continual heat for the survival of its tropical Rora. Furthermore, whereas the hothouse was designed to maintain humidity, the greenhouse was meant to dispel it.

The conservatory, on the other hand, was something entirely different, as McMahon explained: "In the Green-house, the trees and plants are either in tubs or pots, and are placed on stands or stages during the winter. . . . In the Conservatory, the ground plan is laid out in beds and borders, made of the best compositions of soils that can be procured, three or four feet deep."

This distinction is important for understanding that Jefferson never intended his South Piazza to be anything more than a greenhouse in the purest sense-an area for growing in pots "some oranges, Mimosa Farnesiana (Acacia) & a very few things of that kind." In fact, McMahon must have realized that Jefferson's greenhouse could potentially provide an environment perfectly suited to the needs of many semi-arid South African species, which, in America were still considered novelties from abroad.

Unusual species from the Cape of Good Hope filtered into Europe by the 1500s, after the Portuguese sailor, Barthlolomeu Dias first rounded the Cape in 1488. Some of the earliest were grown by British herbalist John Gerard in his London garden during the late sixteenth century. By the mid-seventeenth century the Dutch had established a trading post on the Cape and plants began to reach Amsterdam. The eighteenth-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who developed the binomial system of nomenclature used internationally in the biological sciences, described this rich floristic region as, ". . . that paradise on earth, the Cape of Good Hope, which the Beneficient Creator has enriched with His choicest wonders."

Exploration of this region accelerated during the 1770s when a great wave of botanical discovery was issued by London's Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, shortly before Jefferson's tour of English gardens in 1786. Under the direction of Sir Joseph Banks, plant collectors sent from Kew imported beautiful and extraordinary specimens from South America, Mexico, and western North America. But, it was the species from South Africa that garnered particular interest. The most familiar plants from this region are our common garden and scented geraniums (Pelargonitim spp.) , but other species such as heaths and a great multitude of bulbs also intrigued garden enthusiasts. Scottish botanist Francis Masson, the first collector engaged by Banks in 1772, made his maiden voyage to the Cape of Good Hope aboard Captain James Cook's ship, the Resolution. Two Swedish plant collectors- Anders Sparrman and Carl Peter Thunberg - arrived at Cape Town at the same time and, among the three, they discovered most of the Cape bulbs known today. Their introductions fostered a new fashion in British gardening, and inspired plant devotees such as William Curtis of London, who featured them in his highly influential Botanical Magazine.

In February 1812, McMahon sent to Jefferson a particularly significant shipment of bulbs and plants. Among the various European perennials and the currant and Snowberry bushes from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, McMahon included in the box "2 Roots Amaryllis Belladonna" from the Cape of Good Hope.

The Amaryllis belladonna, or Cape Belladonna, was first introduced into Britain by. way of Portugal in 1712, but was not likely available through American nurseries until after 1800. By the nineteenth century it was cultivated abundantly in Italy and exported to northern Europe. Linnaeus gave this lovely bulb the species name, belladonna, or beautiful lady, for the "exquisite blending of pink and white in that flower, as in the female complexion. Because the foliage, following the rhythms of the southern hemisphere, grows throughout the winter months and dies to the ground by late summer when the leafless, bronzy green flower stalks emerge, the bulb is most commonly known as Naked-lady Lily. Throughout the arid, mountainous regions of the southwestern Cape Province, these heavily scented blossoms burst suddenly from the heat-baked soil in just a few days during early spring, corresponding with early fall in North America. Thus, when McMahon sent a second parcel of three more "roots" of the "Belladonna Lily" in October his directions noted: "if their strong succulent fibers or roots retain their freshness on receipt of them, do not have them cut off, but let them be planted with the bulbs in pots of good rich mellow earth; the Rowers are beautiful and fragrant; their season of flowering is Septr. and Octr." indicating that the fleshy roots were still actively growing and that they had likely just finished flowering.

McMahon's packages to Jefferson sent on October 24, contained other South African bulbs as well. "With this letter he wrote, "I expect you will receive a small box containing, 6 Roots Watsonia Meriana . . . 6 do. Trittonia fenestrata (Tritonia hyalina) . . . 6 Morea flexuosa (Hexaglottis longiflora) All Cape of Good Hope bulbs and consequently, with you, belonging to the Green-house department." The three somewhat obscure species are all members of the Iris family. Of the three, the Windowed- or Open-flowered Tritonia was the most recent introduction, having just arrived from - the Cape in 1801. The flowers of this species are widely cup-shaped and bright, fiery orangered. What is most intriguing is the base of each petal, which is nearly translucent, like a clouded glass.

In an earlier shipment that fall, McMahon also sent "3 Roots of Antholyza aethiopica (Chasmanthe aethiopica) a Green House bulb," again, another South African Iris species. This particluarly stately plant forms a lush stand of sword-like leaves two to three feet tall. Its curved and hooded, scarlet and green flowers Open like the mouth of an enraged animal, hence the derivation of its genus name, from the Greek chasme, meaning "gaping." If Jefferson had any success with his South African bulbs, it would surely have been with this species, for it grows so easily and abundantly that it is widely considered a weed in southern California.

Whether or not these strange species from a distant land thrived or were even planted remains a mystery. As with a multitude of plants Jefferson received from his friends thronghout his life, he did not record their fate. What Jefferson did record made the prospect of maintaining any sort of tender plant doubtful. His weather observations from January 1810 noted his bedroom temperature at 37 degrees Fahrenheit and the greenhouse at 21 degrees. In April 1811, a year before the Cape bulbs arrived, he wrote to McMahon:

"You enquire whether I have a hot house, greenhouse, or to what extent I pay attention to these things. I have only a green house and have used that only for a very few articles. My frequent and long absences at a distant possession render my efforts even for the few greenhouse plants I aim at abortive. During my last absence in the winter, every plant I had in it perished."

Jefferson's admission to McMahon himself of this inhospitable environment suggests that perhaps McMahon was encouraging Jefferson to make an effort to provide some heat. In any case, by 1816 most references to plants for the "green house department" were in the distant past. Jefferson's South Piazza was serving more as a storage space and utilitarian room where he kept his large rectangular work bench and chest of tools that he had acquired in London. On November 16 Jefferson wrote to his daughter Martha from Poplar Forest, directing her to "tell Wormley also to send . . . about a bushel of Orchard grass-seed out of the large box in the Greenhouse."

Correspondence between Jefferson's granddaughters in later years indicated that plants were actually removed from the frigid greenhouse during winter months. Cornelia Randolph wrote to her sister Virginia on December 1, 1820, "I had all our plants moved into the dining room before I left home and yours along with them. I hope they may be able to bear this bitter cold weather." Again, on October 31, 1825, Cornelia would write, this time to her sister Ellen, "Mary and myself are established in mama's room with all her furniture and the sunny window in which I shall range my green house plants when the weather is cold enough to take them in . . ."

By the end of his life, Jefferson's greenhouse appears to have functioned more as an enclosed porch, Seven months after his death, Mary Jefferson Randolph wrote to Nicholas Trist that "the green house had been used so long as a common sitting room for the whole family that there were many of our things in it and in packing up some may have escaped our observation." The following year she described again the transformation of the greenhouse space in a letter to Ellen Randolph Coolidge: "How often I wish I could see your two sweet babies, added to the four that now run about the house or roll and tumble on the floor in the green house, which serves as a very pleasant little sitting room for us, during part of the day (when the sun does not shine upon the windows) and is at all times a favourite play place for the children."

Peggy Cornett, 1997. Originally published as 'Delicious Flowering Shrubs' and Cape Bulbs in the Monticello Greenhouse," in Spring Dinner at Monticello, April 12, 1997, in Memory of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997).

Research & images & much more are directly available from the website.