Home > History of Wine > “Cultivated with so much success”: The Vines and Vineyards of Washington, D.C. 1799-1833

“Cultivated with so much success”: The Vines and Vineyards of Washington, D.C. 1799-1833


Early residents of Washington, D.C. could purchase plants and trees from both local and distant nurseries.  For example, those who gave money to Mr. Leflet in 1799 to purchase fruit trees from his proposed nursery near Georgetown, could pick them up from the house of Francis Motter.[1]  As early as February 10, 1802,[2] Theo. Holt advertised as a seedsman and nurseryman with a “Nursery Garden” located near the Eastern Branch[3].  On January 28, 1803, he listed fruit trees, flower shrubs, rakes, imported roots, and other items for sale.  The Strawberry Hill Nursery near New York advertised locally in the Washington Federalist on March 11, 1803, as “containing the most extensive collection of European and American Fruits &c.”[4] Incredibly, they would deliver forest and flower shrubs without expense.  Both local and distant nurseries are of interest because they were a potential source of grapevines for the early gardens, vineries, and vineyards of Washington, D.C.  They also demonstrate the market for grapevines and the varieties which were in favor.  This post is concerned with the period just prior to when Congress held its first session in Washington, D.C. to formation of the Columbian Horticultural Society.

George Town and Federal City, or City of Washington. Atkins & Nightingale. 1801. No. 2002695146. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

George Town and Federal City, or City of Washington. Atkins & NIghtingale. 1801. No. 2002695146. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

John A. Saul described 19th century nurseries of Washington, D.C. in his April 9, 1906, address on Tree Culture, or a Sketch of Nurseries in the District of Columbia.[5]  He found only three nurseries “of any considerable extent” and several others with more limited business.  He considered the major nurserymen to be John Adlum, Joshua Peirce, and his own relative John Saul.  He made note of other nursery references he came across including Adam Linday’s advertisement for grape cuttings on March 20, 1830.  John Saul’s nursery was in business at a later date so he is not featured in this post.  Thomas Pinney focused in on John Adlum in his A History of Wine in America, From the Beginnings to Prohibition so I shall place John Adlum in context but not in much depth.[6]  What follows is a chronology of the newspaper advertisements in Washington, D.C. for the sale of grapevines followed by a chronology of vineyards.

Nurseries

In 1816 Mr. Smith published A Chorographical and Statistical Description of the District of Columbia.[7]  Mr. Smith describes the nursery of Mr. Main as located two miles from Georgetown “on a hill of steep ascent, elevated about a hundred feet above the level of the river.”  Mr. Main was a 60 year old Bachelor from Scotland who learned about gardening on the “banks of the Tweed.”  He rented a 60 acre plot of land for 20 years at 200 Guineas.  At the time of publication “[t]welve of these years have already elapsed.”  He had selected the east side of the hill for the cultivation of the black Hamburg and “white chassela” vines.  His cultivation succeeded for three years but on the fourth year there was an unusually warm November followed by a frost.  This “split the vinestalk one foot upwards from the surface of the ground, and thus destroyed all the hopes of the proprietor.”    Mr. Smith comments Mr. Main did not have enough money to procure additional vines, “except on a small scale, and merely for the purpose of furnishing plants for sale, for which he found there was little demand.”  He then turned his attention to “the indigenous thorn” of which “he sells a great number annually.”  Mr. Smith states that 50,000 year-old thorns were sold to a Virginia planter.

Thomas Main advertised his nursery near the Little Falls of the Potomac River as specializing in thorns for hedges on December 30, 1803.[8]  On September 29, 1810 he described his nursery as near Georgetown and appeared to continue a specialization in thorns[9].  By February 24, 1814, Thomas Main had passed away but the executor of his estate, William Bunyie, advertised the sale of seeds and vegetables at his store.[10]  At the nursery there were “thousand plants of the Pyracantha”, hedge thorns, and a variety of fruit trees amongst other plants.

Between Mr. Smith’s Chorographical and Thomas Main’s advertisements, we may date his vineyard.   According to Mr. Smith’s book published in 1816, the vineyard was located on a hill where there was a nursery of trees.  Twelve years had elapsed since Thomas Main rented the property for his nursery thus suggesting the first year of rental was 1804, at the latest.  However, in December 1803, Thomas Main was only advertising 40,000 “American white Thorns”, which he did not switch to until after the destruction of his vineyard.  Given that the vineyard was destroyed in a November, it would be unlikely that Thomas Main would be able to sell such a quantity of thorns one month later.  Thus the advertisement suggests he first cultivated vines in 1799 through 1802 when they were destroyed.  Thomas Main was certainly in the Georgetown area for he had a letter at the Post Office on April 1, 1800.[11]  While I have yet to uncover direct evidence of the chronology for his vineyard but the circumstantial evidence is suggestive.  I have searched for weather reports but have not yet found any for those specific years.

During the 1820s nurseries in other cities continued to advertise in the newspapers of Washington, D.C.  Benjamin Prince advertised the Old American Nursery at Flushing Landing near New York with grape vines for sale amongst other fruits as early as February, 4 1820.[12]  Bartram’s Botanic Garden and Nursery, located four miles from Philadelphia, ran an advertisement on March 6, 1828.  This nursery had close to 100 different vines “including the finest Wine and Tables Grapes, from France and Germany” of which most “will stand the climate of the middle states and bear well.”  As for quality it was noted, “They are equal to any that can be procured from the Long Island Nursery, and are one-third cheaper.”  Local orders were taken at the book store of Bartow and Brannan at Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street.[13]  Alphonse Loubat established his vineyard at New Utrecht, in what is now the Brooklyn water front, during the 1820s.  On October 9, 1828 he place one of many advertisements listing some 72,000 grapevine roots grown on his 35 acre vineyard.[14]  He even offered subscriptions for importing grapevine roots from France at the Washington, D.C. office of Thomas W. Pairo.    On November 1, 1832 Sinclair & Moore of the Pratt Street wharf in Baltimore listed several one and two year old “Rooted Grape Plants”.[15]  Those suited for the local climate were Catawba, Isabella, Constantia, Bland, Herbemonts Madeira, White Sweet Water, Golden Chasselas, and “Lenoir or Red Wine Grape.”

There were local nurseries within Washington, D.C. such as that of James Thompson at Maryland Avenue between the Capitol and Potomac Bridge.[16]  Unfortunately this was seized on March 11, 1824 due to four writs of fieri facias.  More successful were the nurseries of Joshua Peirce, John Adlum, and Adam Lindsay.  Together the provided a source of grapevines between 1821 and 1831.

The next local nursery to advertise the sale of grapevines is that of Joshua Peirce.  He advertised on December 28, 1821 that he had taken over the nursery run by his father.[17]  He had “a great variety of choice and well selected fruit trees”, ornamental trees, shrubs, fruit, and grapevines.  He was also willing to exchange for cuttings, seeds, and roots of anything not in his collection.  Items could be purchased at David Shoemaker, Jr. near the General Post office or at J. Fay’s seed store on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Joshua’s father, Isaac Peirce appears to have been located in Georgetown as early as April 8, 1802, for he had a letter at the Post Office.[18]  On December 14, 1814 he advertised the sale of 100 different types of apple trees composed of 20,000 individual trees at his nursery on Rock Creek three miles from Georgetown.  Isaac Peirce never advertised the sale of grape vines so it is possible they were of minor interest.  Joshua Peirce received the land by deed from his father on October 10, 1823.  According to John Saul the property was located “at the mouth of Piney Branch, and running north.  It contained eighty-two acres, two roods, and twenty-eight perches.”  The house was located at Klingle Road and Beach Driveway.  There was a second property of 54 acres was centered on R and S Streets and 14th and 15th Streets.  This property acted as an extension of the prime Linnaean Hills nursery.

Linnean Hill, Historic American Building Survey, Albert S. Burns. 1934-1935. No. HABS DC,WASH,123--1.Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Linnean Hill, Historic American Building Survey, Albert S. Burns. 1934-1935. No. HABS DC,WASH,123–1.Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On February 18, 1824 Joshua Peirce advertised his nursery as “on Rock Creek, near Washington” with the signature “JOSHUA PEIRCE, Linnaean Hill.”[19]  Applications were now taken by Thomas Levering near the General Post Office and Edward M. Linthicum at Bridge and High Street in Georgetown.  His advertisement of December 28, 1828 lists that he has “on hand about 1000 vines of the native Grapes, such as are cultivated with so much success in the neighbouring vineyard for wine”[20]  By February 27, 1832 his collection grew to 12-15,000 grape cuttings of Catawba, Isabella, Bland, and Constantia, native varieties.[21]  These had been “cultivated with so much success in the neighboring vineyards.”  Apparently at least one more vineyard was being cultivated since his previous advertisement.  One year later on February 27, 1733 Joshua Peirce grapevine inventory was smaller for he only advertised “A few thousand cuttings of the Catawba, Isabella, and Constantine grapes”.  The Bland and native varieties disappeared from his list.

Home of John Adlum, Facing Southwest. Saul, John. Records of Columbia Historical Society, Vol 10. Google.

Home of John Adlum, Facing Southwest. Saul, John. Records of Columbia Historical Society, Vol 10. Google.

Thomas Pinney supports the view that John Adlum was the “Father of American Viticulture.”  John Adlum purchased three properties consisting of 45 acres from John Heugh on December 4, 1816, one acre and 36 perches from Joseph Nourse on June 11, 1819, and two tracts of 93 acres and one quarter acre from James Dunlop on February 4, 1820.  John Saul locates Adlum’s house at the southeast corner of his property which is now Connecticut Avenue and Peirce Mill Road.  The Peirce Mill Road being named after the road which went between Isaac Peirce’s mill and Georgetown. John Adlum first describes his vineyard on November 8, 1822 in a letter dated September 17, 1822.[22]  He describes his 0.4 acre “small Vineyard” planted with cuttings in 1820.  He had a total of one acre of bearing vines with four more acres that should come into production in 1823.  His plans included planting five more acres during the Spring of 1823 for a total vineyard size of 10 acres.

For the spring of 1823 he intended to offer “several thousand cuttings of vines for sale, of various kinds, foreign and domestic.”  Indeed  a little over one year after Joshua Peirce first advertised the sale of grape vines John Adlum advertised several thousand cuttings for sale at his Vineyard on February 22, 1823.[23]  Of the varieties offered, he implies he made wine from the Tokay, Constantia, Bland Madeira, Schuylkill, Muscadell, and Munier or Miller Burgundy.  Of those he had not made wine include the Worthington, Columbia, Red juice, Elkton grape, very large, Carolina Muscadine, Real Madeira, Frontinac, Sweet Water, and Royal Muscadine.  John Adlum continued to advertise his grape cuttings and wine, later known as “white or red Adlumnian” wine until July 18, 1832.[24]

Vine Hill is first advertised for rent by Thomas W. Pairo on April 7, 1828.  It contained a vineyard of one thousand grapevines comprised of 25-30 different types of European table and wine grapes.  Three hundred of the vines were in the bearing state.  By March 18, 1830, the Vine Hill vineyard had grown to 5-6,000 grape vines. That is a significant increase in only two years for a property up for rent.  On March 3, 1831, Thomas W. Pairo advertised his own 3,000 young grapevines with roots one to three years of age.  These were a mixture of foreign and domestic vines.  This advertisement clears up the earlier confusion I pointed out in my post “Near the President’s House”: The Advertisements of William Cox, Wine Merchant, Washington, DC 1826-1827.  In that post I suspected that Thomas W. Pairo’s vineyard was actually Vine Hill and now I believe they were separate.

Commandant's house at the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, D.C. 1859-1864. NO. U.S. GEOG FILE - Washington, D.C.--United States Government Buildings--Marine Barracks.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Commandant’s house at the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, D.C. 1859-1864. NO. U.S. GEOG FILE – Washington, D.C.–United States Government Buildings–Marine Barracks. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Adam Lindsay first advertised the “A LARGE quantity of Cuttings of the finest Grapes” which were for sale at his vineyard near the Navy Hospital three-quarters of a mile East of the Capitol.[25]  These advertisements ran until March 30, 1830.  The following year on March 3, 1831 Adam Lindsay advertises his “Cottage Vineyard” as having for sale “Cuttings of the best varieties of Grape, procured from France, Spain, Italy, and the shores of the Mediterranean” as well as native grapes.[26]  A few years later Adam Lindsay places an advertisement stating his vineyard “is between Pennsylvania Avenue and East Capitol street, not far from the Marine Hospital.”[27]  This location is verified by an early advertisement on July 21, 1809, when he placed his dwelling house and store located on East Capitol Street up for rent.[28]  Adam Linday’s description of the Navy Hospital and Marine Hospital imply that he had, at some point, vineyards at two different locations.  The hospital at the Navy Yard was created sometime prior to 1802 and the hospital at the Marine Barracks was created prior to 1835.[29]

Vineyards

The local sale of grapevines suggests a demand by local vineyards.  In my post Bomford, Lindsay, and Smith: The Early Vineyards of Washington ,D.C. I detail three different vineyards.  Colonel Bomford first planted his vineyard between 1816 and 1824 and it was still in existence on March 18, 1830 when it was known as Vine Hill.  Adam Linday’s first vineyard was initially mentioned in 1830 so it might have been planted around 1827. Samuel Harrison Smith had a vineyard at his Sidney estate which would have been planted around 1826 and still in existence in 1830.

There were other earlier vineyards as well.  On April 23, 1810, Thomas W. Pairo advertised the country seat of the late Mr. Thomas Hewitt which contained about 200 European Grape Vines within the five acre lot.[30]  The seat was located on a “Handsome HILL east of Mr. Barlow’s within a mile from the President’s House.”  On September 17, 1810, another advertisement was placed refining the location as “the hill between Mr. J. Barlow’s and Mr. M. Nourse’s.”  The lot was now 8 acres with a second 25 acre lot available.[31]  It contained “a small Vineyard of excellent European Grape Vines.”  Mr. Nourse’s house is now the administration building for Sidwell Friends School on Wisconsin Avenue.

On August 15, 1815, a two story brick house of unspecified location was advertised for sale or rent.[32]  It contained an “excellent garden” with grape vines.  On February 25, 1825, Thomas W. Pairo and William Prout announced they were going into a partnership.  As a result Thomas W. Pairo advertised his three-story brick house at F Street and 12th Street for rent.[33]  Attached to the house was a garden with “upwards of 200 of the best European Grape Vines, all in a bearing state.”  On April 5, 1826, Clement Fox advertised a 100 acre plantation two miles from Georgetown on the Turnpike Road at the heights above the town.[34]  It contained “a Vineyard of several acres.”

On March 24, 1829, the sale of a 50 acre farm, three miles due north of the Capitol was advertised.[35]  It contained an orchard with 300 apple and peach trees and a “flourishing Vineyard of 800 Vines.”  Inquires could be made to Colonel William Doughly at the Navy Yard or James H. Doughly at the General Post Office.  Give the description I suspect this was the Pleasant Hill Vineyard.  On July 21, 1830, Thomas Mustin began a series of advertisements for the Pleasant Hill Vineyard.[36]  This estate was located 3.5 miles north of the Capitol in the “immediate neighborhood of Rock Creek Church.”  It contained an apple and peach orchard and “a thriving young vineyard, of five or six acres, now in the bearing state.”  Apparently it remained unrented for on August 30, 1831, Thomas Mustin advertised the sale of his grapes as a “fine crop of this delicious fruit”.[37]  The varietals included White Sweet water, Catawba, Isabella, Constantia, and Schuylkill Muscadell which were “now turning, and will be fully ripe in eight or ten days.” He offered a reduced price if taken directly from the vineyard.

View of Georgetown D.C. E. Sachse & Co. 1855. No. PGA - Sachse (E.) & Company--View of Georgetown D.C. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

View of Georgetown D.C. E. Sachse & Co. 1855. No. PGA – Sachse (E.) & Company–View of Georgetown D.C. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The estate of Charle Varle, formerly owned by Mrs. Sarah Love, was advertised for sale on March 3, 1830.[38]  It was located 1.25 miles from the western edge of Georgetown near the turnpike leading to Fredericktown.  This is presumably the present Maryland Route 355.  Within the 99 acre estate was a vineyard which had “produced excellent grapes for several years.”  If it had born fruit for three years, the first crop would have occurred in 1827 suggesting it was planted around 1824.


[1] Date: Friday, November 15, 1799                   Paper: Centinel of Liberty (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: IV   Issue: 51   Page: 2
[2] Date: Wednesday, February 10, 1802           Paper: Washington Federalist (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: II   Issue: 241   Page: 3
[3] Date: Friday, January 28, 1803        Paper: Washington Federalist (Georgetown, DC)   Issue: 424   Page: 3
[4] Date: Friday, March 11, 1803          Paper: Washington Federalist (Georgetown, DC)   Issue: 442   Page: 2
[5] Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, Volume 10. 1907. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=p7PJmNmjRgoC&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in American, From the Beginnings to Prohibition. 1989. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=fmcwfK5G_YkC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Smith. A Chorographical and Statistical Description of the District of Columbia. 1816. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=Jn8FAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[8] Date: Friday, December 30, 1803                   Paper: Washington Federalist (Georgetown, DC)   Issue: 567   Page: 1
[9] Date: Saturday, September 29, 1810             Paper: Independent American (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: II   Issue: 183   Page: 1
[10] Date: Saturday, September 29, 1810            Paper: Independent American (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: II   Issue: 183   Page: 1
[11] Date: Friday, May 9, 1800               Paper: Centinel of Liberty (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: V   Issue: 36   Page: 4
[12] Friday, February 4, 1820                 Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: 8   Issue: 2204   Page: 4
[13] Date: Thursday, March 6, 1828      Paper: United States Telegraph (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: III   Issue: 29   Page: 3
[14] Date: Thursday, October 9, 1828                   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XVI   Issue: 4896   Page: 1
[15] Date: Thursday, November 1, 1832               Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XX   Issue: 6157   Page: 2
[16] Date: Thursday, March 11, 1824   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XII   Issue: 8478   Page: 1
[17] Date: Friday, December 28, 1821                  Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: IX   Issue: 2795   Page: 3CE
[18] Date: Thursday, April 8, 1802         Paper: Washington Federalist (Georgetown, DC)   Volume: II   Issue: 289   Page: 3
[19] Date: Wednesday, February 18, 1824          Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XII   Issue: 8459
[20] Date: Saturday, December 20, 1828             Paper: United States Telegraph (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: III   Issue: 148   Page: 1
[21] Date: Monday, February 27, 1832                 Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XX   Issue: 5945   Page: 1
[22] Date: Friday, November 8, 1822   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: X   Issue: 3064   Page: 2
[23] Date: Saturday, February 22, 1823                Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XI   Issue: 8153   Page: 1
[24] Date: Wednesday, July 18, 1832   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XX   Issue: 6066   Page: 1
[25] Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1830     Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XVIII   Issue: 5341   Page: 3
[26] Date: Thursday, March 3, 1831      Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XIX   Issue: 5639   Page: 1
[27] Date: Tuesday, July 30, 1833          Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XXI   Issue: 6387   Page: 3
[28] Date: Friday, July 21, 1809              Paper: National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 4
[29] Farwholt, A. Historical Notes and Roster of Senior and Commanding Medical Officers at U.S. Naval Hospitals at Washington, D.C. 1935. URL: http://www.oldnavalhospital.org/co_roster_01.html
[30] Date: Monday, April 23, 1810        Paper: National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 4
[31] Date: Monday, September 17, 1810             Paper: National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 4
[32] Date: Thursday, August 31, 1815                   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: III   Issue: 826   Page: 4
[33] Date: Saturday, February 5, 1825                  Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XIII   Issue: 3759   Page: 4
[34] Date: Wednesday, April 5, 1826   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XIV   Issue: 4119   Page: 3
[35] Date: Tuesday, March 24, 1829     Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XVII   Issue: 5037   Page: 1
[36] Date: Wednesday, July 21, 1830   Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XVIII   Issue: 5448   Page: 3
[37] Date: Tuesday, August 30, 1831     Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XIX   Issue: 5792   Page: 4
[38] Date: Monday, May 3, 1830            Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XVIII   Issue: 5381   Page: 1

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