Monday, November 30, 2020

Garden to Table - What Did the Patriots Eat & Drink as They Planned a Revolution?

...Walter Staib, executive chef at Philadelphia's City Tavern & host of PBS' “A Taste of History,” contends that among those who signed the Declaration in 1776 were America's earliest foodies. “While [farm-to-table & foodie movements] are trendy today,” he says, “the founders were doing it out of necessity.”

He points out that colonial America lacked the transportation infrastructure to deliver foods from faraway lands: “If it was around, you ate it.” What was around were legumes, produce & anything that could be foraged or hunted. In the mid-Atlantic, seafood was especially popular, reflecting the abundance of the Delaware River, which was then, says Staib, “pristine & teeming with fish.” Today, following two centuries of pollution that decreased water quality & diminished fish populations, it is in the early stages of a rebound.

George Washington was exceedingly fond of dining on seafood. For nearly 40 years, the three fisheries he operated along the ten-mile Potomac shoreline that bordered Mount Vernon processed more than a million fish annually. Among the items on the plantation’s menu were crabmeat casseroles, oyster gumbos & salmon mousse.

Thomas Jefferson admired French fare above all, & he is credited, according to Staib, with popularizing frites, ice cream & champagne. He is also often credited—although incorrectly—with the introduction of macaroni & cheese to the American palate. It was, in fact, his enslaved chef James Hemings who, via Jefferson’s kitchen, brought the creamy southern staple to Monticello. Trained at the elite Château de Chantilly while accompanying Jefferson on a trip to France, Hemings would later become one of only two laborers enslaved by Jefferson to negotiate his freedom.

As for dessert, none of the Founding Fathers was without a sweet tooth. John Adams' wife, Abigail, regularly baked Apple Pan Dowdy, a pie-meets-cobbler hybrid that was popular in New England in the early 1800s; James Madison loved ice cream & was spoiled by his wife Dolley's creative cakes, for which she gained such renown that, to this day, supermarkets across America carry a brand of prepared pastries bearing her—albeit incorrectly spelled—name; & John Jay, in a letter sent to his father in 1790, reported that he carried chocolate with him on long journeys, likely “shaving or grating it into pots of milk,” says Kevin Paschall, chocolate maker at Philadelphia's historic Shane Confectionery, & consuming it as a drink.

The Founders, like most colonists, were fans of adult beverages. Colonial Americans drank roughly three times as much as modern Americans, primarily in the form of beer, cider, & whiskey. In Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, author Steven Grasse connects this seemingly outsized consumption to the Revolutionary spirit of the time when he writes, “In the drink, a dream; & in the dream, a spark.” Reverend Michael Alan, who illustrated & helped research the book says simply: “From morning until night, people in the 18th century drank.”

Benjamin Franklin was especially unabashed about his love of “the cups.” Though Grasse writes that he was careful to advise temperance, he regularly enjoyed wine & what some might argue were early iterations of craft cocktails. His favorite, according to Alan, was milk punch, a three-ingredient brandy-based sip whose two non-alcoholic components–milk & lemon juice–washed & refined its third. Another Franklin foodie badge is his “Drinkers' Dictionary,” a compendium of Colonial slang describing the state of drunkenness. Initially printed in 1737 in the Pennsylvania Gazette, its publication made Franklin one of America's first food & drink writers.

Washington was known for racking up sizable tabs after buying drinks for friends. Recounting one particularly generous–and raucous–night wherein Washington ordered 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, & 7 full bowls of punch, Alan says “He knew how to throw down.”

Despite this, it was Jefferson, notes Grasse, who was the true oenophile of the bunch. As a young man, he drank Portuguese Madeira by the truckload, & in his post-Presidential years, he repeatedly tried & failed to cultivate grapes for winemaking at his vineyard in Monticello.

While tales of alcoholic escapades could understandably lead one to believe that the Founders were a group of party animals–save the relatively sober Alexander Hamilton, referred to by John Adams as an “insolent coxcomb” who, on the rare occasion that he drank something other than coffee, became “silly & vaporing”–it's important to note the reasons why alcohol consumption was so high.

First & foremost, drinking alcohol was a means of survival. Potable water was scarce in colonial times, writes Grasse, so almost all of what was available carried harmful diseases. Among these were smallpox, lockjaw, & the delightfully named black vomit. For colonists, drinking water meant risking one's life, & no one who could afford otherwise dared do it. Alan confirms that even children drank beer–a hard cider & molasses combination aptly named “ciderkin.” Put simply, consuming alcohol was, in the absence of clean drinking water, a means of staying hydrated.

The taverns where alcohol was consumed also played a vital role in colonial life. “Systems like the post office, libraries, even courthouses, were just being put into place,” explains Alan. “Taverns offered all of these services plus a good beer buzz.”

For political figures like the Founding Fathers, taverns were also where one went to get the inside scoop on political adversaries & posit agendas for which one hoped to gain favor. “Ben Franklin,” reports Staib, “used taverns as a tool of diplomacy.” For him, “eating, drinking, & gossiping” were negotiation tactics. It was in taverns that the Founding Fathers, “emboldened by liquid courage,” to quote Staib, & likely, after tying a few on, unfettered by the rarefied rules of governance to which all of history had subscribed, honed the concepts contained in the Declaration of Independence & the Constitution.

Of the link between food, drinks, & Revolutionary history, Alan offers this pun-intended nod: “A lot of crazy ideas can come out of a “spirited” evening of conversation.”

See Smithsonian Magazine here.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Garden to Table - Alcohol in Colonial America

Alcohol in Colonial America began with the arrival of Europeans.  Except for several nations in the Southwest, Native Americans did not have alcohol beverages. The Apache & Zuni drank alcoholic beverages which they produced for secular consumption. The Pima & Papago produced alcohol for religious ceremonial consumption. Papago consumption was heavy. However, they limited it to a single peaceable annual ceremony. And the other tribes’ drinking was also infrequent & didn’t cause problems. 

The Puritans loaded more beer than water onboard the Mayflower before casting off for the New World.   This reflected their traditional drinking beliefs, attitudes, & behaviors. They considered alcohol to be a natural & normal part of life. They believed that God created alcohol & that it was inherently good. Indeed, Jesus both made & drank wine & approved drinking in moderate. 

Their experience was that it was safer to drink alcohol than the typically polluted water. Alcohol was also an effective analgesic. It provided the energy necessary for hard work. Alcohol served as  a social lubricant, provided entertainment, facilitated relaxation & contributed to the enjoyment of food. It also provided pharmacological pleasure. In sum, alcohol in colonial America generally enhanced the quality of life.


For hundreds of years their English ancestors had enjoyed beer & ale. People of both sexes & all ages typically drank beer with their meals.

Importing a continuing supply of beer was expensive. So the early settlers brewed their own. However, it was difficult to make the beer to which they were accustomed. That was because wild yeasts caused problems in fermentation. For this reason it resulted in a bitter, unappetizing brew.  

But these early adventurers did not give up. Wild hops grew in New England. They ordered hop seeds from England in order to cultivate an adequate supply for traditional beer. In the meantime, the colonists improvised a beer made from red & black spruce twigs boiled in water. They also made a beer from ginger. A ditty from the 1630s reflects their determination & ingenuity.

If barley be wanting to make into malt,

We must be content & think it no fault.

For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,

Of pumpkins, & parsnips, & walnut-tree chips. 

Slowly, the colonists mastered the intricacies of brewing in the New World. Then beer became widely available. And many farmers made their own with the help of a malster. The malster malted their barley, or more often, corn. 

The colonists considered beer to be very important. For example, a brewery was one of Harvard College’s first construction projects. It was to provide a steady supply of beer for the students.  And Connecticut required each town to ensure that a place was available for the purchase of beer. 

Home brewers made the weakest & most commonly available beer by soaking grain in water. But this “small beer” spoiled quickly because of its low alcohol content. Therefore, people consumed it quickly. The homemaker brewed beer once or twice a week. “Ships beers” were stronger & also readily available. But the strongest beer, brewed with malt & extra sugar, was expensive & uncommon. 


The colonists also learned to make a wide variety of wine from fruits. These included strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, elderberries, gooseberries, & currants. They also made wines from numerous vegetables. These included carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, celery, squash, corn silk, dandelions, & goldenrod. They also made wine from such products as flowers, herbs, & even oak leaves.  Early on, French vine-growers came to the New World to teach settlers how to cultivate grapes. 

Hard Cider

Cider had been popular in England but apples were not native to New England. Farmers promptly planted the first orchard using English seeds. Over time apples became abundant in the colonies.

People typically fermented apple juice in barrels over the winter.  Colonists sometimes added honey or cane sugar. This  increased the alcohol content & also creating natural carbonation. “Apple champagne” was a special treat. “Cider was served to every member of the family at breakfast, dinner, & supper. Cider was consumed in the fields between meals, & was a regular staple at all the communal social functions.” 

Distilled Spirits

...Rum was not commonly available until after 1650. Then, it increasingly came from the Caribbean. However, the cost of rum dropped after the colonists began importing molasses & cane sugar directly & distilled their own. By 1657, a rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful. Within a generation the production of rum became colonial New England’s largest & most prosperous industry.  Clearly, distilled spirits were a very important part of alcohol in Colonial America.

In the profitable Triangle Trade, traders took rum to England for manufactured products.  Then in West Africa they traded those products for slaves. In the West Indies they traded slaves for more molasses.  The triangle continued when New England distillers made the molasses into more rum.

This three point trading arrangement was an important part of colonial commercial life & prosperity.  Almost every important town from Massachusetts to the Carolinas had a rum distillery. They met the local demand, which had increased dramatically. 

Alcohol in Colonial America

Baron, S., & Young, J. Brewed in America: a History of Beer & Ale in the US.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Becker, D., & Siekonic, D. A Guide to Winemaking in Early America. Center Valley, PA: Privateer, 2011.

Burns, E. The Spirits of America. A Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia. Temple U Press, 2004.

Lender, M., & Martin, J. Drinking in America. A History. London: Macmillan, 1982.

McCusker, J. Rum & the American Revolution. NY: Garland, 1989.

Meacham, S. Every Home a Distillery. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U Press, 2009.

Salinger, S. Taverns & Drinking in Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U Press, 2002.

Schmid, S., & Schmid-Haberkamp, B. (Eds.) Drink in the Eighteenth & Nineteenth Centuries. Brookfield, VT: Pickering & Chatto, 2014. 

Smith, G. Beer in America. The Early years, 1587-1840. Boulder, CO: Siris, 1998.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Garden to Table - One of Geo Washington's (1732-1799) Favorite Wines - 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

Garden to Table - 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, 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Garden to Table - 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.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Garden to Table - Home-Made Grape Wine Recipes


John Greenwood (American artist, 1727-1792) Sea Captains Carousing, 1758.  Detail

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

Two quarts of grape juice, two quarts of water, four pounds of sugar. Extract the juice of the grape in any simple way; if only a few quarts are desired, we do it with a strainer and a pair of squeezers ; if a large quantity is desired, put the grapes into a cheese-press made particularly clean, putting on sufficient weight to extract the juice of a full hoop of grapes, being careful that none but perfect grapes are used, perfectly ripe and free from blemish. After the first pressing, put a little water with the pulp and press a second time, using the juice of the second pressing with the water to be mixed with the clear grape juice. If only a few quarts are made, place the wine as soon as mixed into bottles, filling them even full, and allow to stand in a warm place until it ferments, which will take about thirty-six hours usually ; then remove all the scum, cool, and put into a dark, cool place. If a few gallons are desired, place in a keg, but the keg must be even full, and after fermentation has taken place and the scum removed, draw off and bottle, and cork tight.

The larger the proportion of juice and the less of water, the nearer it will approach to the strength and richness of foreign wine. There ought not to be less than one-third juice pure. Squeeze the grapes in a hair sieve, bruising them with the hand rather than any heavier press, as it is better not to crush the stones. Soak the pulp in water until a sufficient quantity is obtained to fill up the cask. As loaf sugar is to be used for this wine, and it is not easily dissolved in cold liquid, the best plan is to pour over the sugar, three pounds in every gallon required, as much boiling water as will dissolve it, and stir till it is dissolved. When cold, put it in the cask with the juice, fill up from water in which the pulp has been steeped. To each gallon of wine, put one-half ounce of bitter almonds, not blanched, but cut small. The fermentation will not be very great. When it subsides, proceed with brandy and papering.

Crush the grapes and let them stand one week. Drain off the juice, strain; add one quart of water and three pounds of sugar to each gallon. Put in a barrel or cask with a thin piece of muslin tacked over the bung-hole, and let stand until fermentation stops. Put in a cask and seal securely, and let stand six months. Then bottle and seal and keep in cool place.

Old-Time Recipes for Home Made Wines is a cookbook for those who want to make their own wines & liqueurs from available ingredients, including fruits, flowers, vegetables, & shrubs from local gardens, farms, & orchards. It includes ingredients & instructions for making & fermenting spirits, from wine & ale to sherry, brandy, cordials, & even beer. 

Colonial Era Cookbooks

1615, New Booke of Cookerie, John Murrell (London) 
1798, American Cookery, Amelia Simmons (Hartford, CT)
1803, Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter (New York, NY)
1807, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Eliza Rundell (Boston, MA)
1808, New England Cookery, Lucy Emerson (Montpelier, VT)

Helpful Secondary Sources

America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking/Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings, and Their Gardens/Frances Phipps Hawthorn; 1972
Early American Beverages/John Hull Brown   Rutland, Vt., C. E. Tuttle Co 1996 
Early American Herb Recipes/Alice Cooke Brown  ABC-CLIO  Westport, United States
Food in Colonial and Federal America/Sandra L. Oliver
Home Life in Colonial Days/Alice Morse Earle (Chapter VII: Meat and Drink) New York : Macmillan Co., ©1926.
A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America/James E. McWilliams New York : Columbia University Press, 2005.

Garden to Table - Geo Washington (1732-1799) & 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

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

Garden to Table - 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

Garden to Table - 1743 Ben Franklin (1706-1790) 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 to Table - 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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Garden to Table - Jefferson's (1743-1824) Slave Chef James Hemmings (1765-1801)

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

The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia tells us that James Hemings (1765-1801) was a chef de cuisine, trained in Paris, yet he was born into slavery and lived much of his life enslaved. At thirty years of age, he negotiated for legal manumission and began his life as a free man. He traveled and pursued his career as a chef, but unfortunately his career and life in freedom were short due to his tragic and untimely death at age thirty-six.

James Hemings arrived at Monticello as a nine year old boy, along with other of his siblings and their mother Elizabeth Hemings. They were a part of the Wayles estate, and among the many enslaved people who came into Thomas Jefferson's possession through his wife's inheritance. Six of Elizabeth Hemings's children were fathered by John Wayles, making James a younger half-brother to Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. This family would prove to be extremely capable, intelligent, and resourceful.

As teenagers, James and his brother Robert Hemings were taken to Williamsburg and then Richmond as personal attendants to Thomas Jefferson following his election as wartime governor of Virginia in 17791 They were obviously trusted for when British troops under Benedict Arnold threatened to attack Richmond in 1781, the Hemings brothers were charged with taking Jefferson's wife and children to safety.

Serving in attendance on Jefferson made James Hemings more visible and insured that he was allotted better clothing than slaves working the fields. When Jefferson was away and his services not needed, Hemings was permitted to hire himself out and keep his wages, yet better clothing and pocket-money did not alter his position as a slave. His future was still determined by the person who legally owned him; the direction of his life was not his to decide. Correspondence indicates that it was Jefferson's idea that Hemings travel with him to France for the primary purpose of his training in "the art of cookery."

In May 1784 James Hemings received a summons to join Jefferson in Philadelphia. From there they would be traveling to Paris, as Jefferson had been appointed an American minister to the French court, and he had a "particular purpose" for sending for Hemings.5 These instructions were sent via William Short, who would follow Jefferson to Paris to serve as his secretary, but meanwhile Short was in a flurry of activity, as he began his own travel arrangements and tried to locate Hemings.

At that moment, James Hemings was in Richmond working as a riding valet for Henry Martin, an acquaintance of Jefferson's. Writing to Jefferson, Martin provided a brief view of Hemings's work ethic stating that "James has attended me some time ... and conducted himself much to my satisfaction as he has been very careful and assiduous."6 Perhaps this is why Jefferson decided it would be James Hemings that he would take to Paris. His instructions were to travel with Short if possible, but if not, to come to Philadelphia without delay. But Hemings had his own agenda and displayed a strength of will in insisting that he go to Monticello first before embarking for Philadelphia and the adventure ahead.7 Despite this detour, he managed to join Jefferson and eldest daughter Martha in time to sail with them from Boston harbor in the early hours of July 5, 1784.8

While in Paris, James Hemings was trained in the art of French cooking. He studied first with the caterer and restaurateur, Monsieur Combeaux, apprenticed with pastry chefs and then with a cook in the household of the Prince de Condé. After three years of study he became the head chef at the Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson's residence that functioned also as the American embassy. Here his dishes were served to international guests, statesmen, authors, scientists, and European aristocrats. His wages of twenty-four livres a month was a regular income and more than the occasional gratuity, but was half of what Jefferson paid his previous chef cuisinier.

James Hemings applied some of his earnings toward engaging a tutor to teach him the French language. With his immersion in French kitchens, working among a French-speaking staff, then with the more formal training of a tutor, it is likely that he developed a good command of the language. The importance of language skills would have been evident to him upon his initial arrival in France. From the port of Le Havre, Jefferson had sent Hemings ahead to Rouen to arrange their lodging, where he proved resourceful, as he was able to return half of the 72 francs Jefferson had given him for expenses.

Ease with the language would bode well for his work in the kitchen and his experience of the French culture around him. It was a time of political unrest in France that contained talk of rights and liberty. His familiarity of the language likely made him aware of the French law that allowed a slave, even one brought in from another country, to petition the courts for freedom. His wages as chef de cuisine made retaining a lawyer a possibility, but nevertheless Hemings did not pursue that option and left Paris with Jefferson in October 1789 to return to the United States an enslaved man. His negotiations for freedom would come later.

Hemings organized his first American kitchen in a small house at 57 Maiden Lane in New York City following their arrival there in March 1790. Secretary of State Jefferson was disappointed by the shortage of housing that forced him to lease what he consider a small, "indifferent" house. The stay in New York was brief. The seat of government moved to Philadelphia in December 1790. In Philadelphia Hemings would be called upon to prepare dinners for European diplomats, the president, Jefferson's fellow cabinet members, congressmen, and many national and international visitors. His wage of seven dollars monthly was the same as that paid Jefferson's free staff, Gustavus, Francis Sayes, and Joseph. Only Petit, Jefferson's French butler and manager of the household fared better. Hemings was often allotted "market money," indicating that he was out making purchases for the kitchen and circulating among other free and enslaved working people and tradesman. Surely he would have learned that in Philadelphia he could lawfully become a free man.

Pennsylvania law stated that, "If a slave is brought into the State and continues therein for the space of six months, he may claim his freedom ...." There were instances when Hemings was in Philadelphia over six months, such as the period from October 22, 1791, to July 13, 1792, when his name appears regularly in Jefferson's accounting records as doing much of the marketing.

According to Pennsylvania law, he could have become a free man at this point but obviously chose to wait. Was this a bargaining tool for Hemings? Was he adhering to an agreement made with Jefferson in Paris? There is no evidence uncovered thus far that gives more detail than the manumission agreement drawn up by Jefferson as he prepared to leave the office of Secretary of State at the end of 1793 and retire to Monticello. The agreement reads:

Having been at great expence in having James Hemings taught the art of cookery, desiring to befriend him, and to require from him as little in return as possible, I do hereby promise and declare, that if the said James shall go with me to Monticello in the course of the ensuing winter, when I go to reside there myself, and shall there continue until he shall have taught such person as I shall place under him for that purpose to be a good cook, this previous condition being performed, he shall be thereupon made free, and I will thereupon execute all proper instruments to make him free. Given under my hand and seal in the county of Philadelphia and state of Pennsylvania this 15th. day of September one thousand seven hundred and ninety three.

There was an obvious trust on the part of Hemings. He was to teach the person of Jefferson's choice to be "a good cook." Jefferson's choice was James's brother Peter Hemings, but the manumission agreement held the caveat that he must first train his replacement to Jefferson's satisfaction. The agreement could have gone on interminably, but on February 5, 1796, approximately two years following their return to Monticello, Jefferson drew up the document that discharged Hemings "of all duties and claims of servitude."

Following his manumission James Hemings traveled. His destinations are not recorded though a remark by Jefferson to his daughter Maria implies that he may have traveled internationally, perhaps journeying back to France. If so, he would have found a very different Paris with the continuing revolution and many old acquaintances dead. By May 1797 Jefferson noted that Hemings had returned to Philadelphia and was contemplating a trip to Spain, though Jefferson tried to persuade him to give up traveling and save his money. Whether he took Jefferson's advice is not known, but by 1801 and Jefferson's election to the presidency, Hemings was working in Baltimore.

Jefferson held the impression that Hemings would be willing to come and work for him again as a free man. Once he began setting up his presidential household in Washington, he sent an inquiry to Baltimore, requesting that Hemings join him. Jefferson heard back through an intermediary that Hemings was working at a tavern in Baltimore and did not feel he could leave immediately. Hemings suggested that Jefferson should write to him directly. Jefferson received similar information from a former employee, Francis Sayes, who had worked with Hemings when they were in New York and in Philadelphia. Sayes reported, "I have spoke to James according to your Desire he has made mention again as he did before that he was willing to serve you before any other man in the Union but sence he understands that he would have to be among strange servants he would be very much obliged to you if you would send him a few lines of engagement and on what conditions and what wages you would please to give him with your own hand wreiting." Jefferson did not write and reasoned that he did not want to "urge him against inclination." He found a replacement for Hemings, a native French chef recommended by the French legation in Philadelphia. Miscommunications must have been resolved, however, as Hemings returned to Monticello in August and September of that year while Jefferson was in residence and received $30 for a month and a half wages for his work in the Monticello kitchen.

Just two months later Jefferson, then in Washington, heard a disturbing rumor. He wrote an acquaintance in Baltimore to learn the truth—had James Hemings committed suicide? Within days he received confirmation that Hemings had taken his life. Only one explanation was given, "the General opinion that drinking too freely was the cause."

This leaves many questions about James Hemings unanswered.  Nevertheless, he left an important legacy in culinary history. He - along with the highly trained enslaved individuals who succeeded him in Washington and at Monticello - serves as inspiration to modern-day chefs and culinary historians alike.

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