Home > History of Wine > An Example of Colonial Winemaking Located in What was Briefly Maryland

An Example of Colonial Winemaking Located in What was Briefly Maryland


It appears that references to colonial winemaking in Maryland are a bit scarce.  There are certainly accounts suggesting that wine should be made as in one from 1711 suggesting “a great many Britains will strive to live amongst them, for the Benefit of the sweet Air and healthful Climate, which that Country affords, were it only for the Cultivating of…Wine, and other valuable Staples, which those People are fully acquainted withal.”[1]

In 1751 it was suggested that cuttings from the Rhine and Moselle would prosper best in such colonies at Virginia and Pennsylvania.  For a colony like Maryland, cuttings from Madeira were deemed best.  If the colonies produced wine as good as the south of France then the importation of wine from France could be reduced “which throws the balance of trade so much against us with that kingdom”.[2]    In 1763 it was stated that Maryland produced “excellent cyder for their own drinking” but apparently not wine.[3]  There were “vast quantities of grapes, that rot upon the ground in the woods, and which it is thought, if properly cultivated, might be made into a thin wholesome wine.”  Those in Maryland imported wine for drinking from “Madeira, Fyal, and France.” John Mitchell wrote in 1767 that “It is well known in Virginia and Maryland, that even that climate is too hot to make good wine of any manured grapes they can get.”[4]  The “manured vine” was long considered the cultivated Vitis Vinifera.[5] Instead these “grapes of Europe are summer fruits there, and make nothing but a vin du pays, fit only for present drinking.”

Despite the suggested lack of winemaking, it certainly was eventually made.  We know from Thomas Pinney that Colonel Benjamin Tasker, Jr. planted a vineyard in 1755 or 1756 from which he bottled the 1759 vintage.  Governor Horatio Sharpe informed Lord Baltimore of his plans to cultivate the grape in 1767.  Most importantly, Charles Carroll planted a vineyard in Howard County which survived from 1770 to 1796.

Crop from This Map of the  Peninsula between Delaware & Chesopeak Bays. Churchman, John. 778? #G3792.D45 1778 .C5.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Crop from This Map of the Peninsula between Delaware & Chesopeak Bays. Churchman, John. 778? #G3792.D45 1778 .C5. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

In 1769, an interesting and informative article appeared in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society[6].   This article described a new grape variety found by John Jones of the Indian River, Worcester County, Maryland.  Colonel John Jones was a member of the American Philosophical Society and invented both a mowing machine and manure spreader.[7]  On July 14, 1767, 181 acres were surveyed for the patent Unity which was granted to him on August 31, 1770.[8]  It is possible that this is where is vineyard was located and not Unity Grove which Colonel Jones managed[9] but was owned by General John Dagworthy.[10]  The article merits a full reproduction for it describes where the grapevine grew, provides a botanical description, an indication of yield, a description of vinification, and a brief tasting note.    The wine described would have been produced in 1768.  It is also relevant because it notes that Colonel Jones had a vineyard at Indian River in 1769.  The vineyard survived for some years because Colonel Jones was propagating these vines.  On May 24, 1777 Charles Carroll wrote to his father that “G. Cadwallader has promised to procure for me some rooted plants of Jones Vines.  You remember they are mentioned in the Pena. Philosophical publication.”[16]  The Carroll vineyards are commonly described as planted in 1770 with “Rhenish, Virginia grape, Claret, and Burgundy” vines.  More research is required but it is possible the “Jones Vines” were as well.

THE bark (he fays) is of a grey colour, very smooth, and the wood of a firm texture. They delight in a high sandy soil; but will thrive very well in the Cyprus swamps. The leaf is very much like that of the English grape vine, such as is propagated in the gardens near Philadelphia for table use.

The grape is much larger than the English; of an oval shape, and when quite ripe, is black, adorned with a number of pale red specks, which on handling, rub off.  The pulp is a little like the Fox-grape but in taste more delicious. These grapes are ripe in October, and yield an incredible quantity of juice, which, with proper management, he doubts not, would make a valuable wine.

He employed a person to gather about three bushels and one peck of them when ripe, and immediately had them pressed; which to his surprise, yielded twelve gallons of pure juice, though a good quantity must have been lost in the pressing.

In about twelve hours after putting the juice in a keg, it began to ferment, and he suffered it to go on till it got to be so violent, that it might be heard all over a large room. It continued in that state for three days. He then checked it fearing it might turn acid, though, he says he was afterwards convinced that if he had suffered it to ferment as long again, it would have separated the vinous parts from the fleshy, and given greater fineness to the liquor.

After this it was racked off, and before cold weather buried in the garden, the top about fix inches under ground; where having continued till the summer following, he could not discover that it had in the least altered either in taste or colour. He observes farther that, after eating a quantity of them, or drinking the juice, they leave an astringency, as claret is apt to do.

There is an immense quantity of these vines growing on the beach open to the sea; and they are also found in great plenty upon the ridges, and in the swamps. Since their discovery he has transplanted a number of them into his vineyard, from which in a year or two more, he expects to make a wine much better than is commonly imported.

I have not come across many references to storing wine in the ground from this period.  In 1733, Francis Bacon wrote of burying a bottle of wine, presumably four feet underground.  After two weeks it “became more lively, better tasted, and clearer” and after one month “came out as fresh and lively, if not better than at first.”[11]  The English translation of Don Marcello Di Venuti’s Description of the First Discoveries of the Antient City of Herculaeneum in 1750 describes how “In order to keep the famous and brisk Wine of the Antients, it was necessary that they should have these Vessels placed underground.”[12]  John Bell noted in Derbent, Persia, that the “people of substance there keep their wine in jars, buried underground, by which method it will keep good for years.”[13]  It is not known if Colonel Jones was inspired by these books to bury his wine or improvised cellar-like conditions because his house did not have a cellar.  I am curious to hear of other colonial accounts of burying wine.

Crop from A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland.  Fry, Joshua. 1755. Image from Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Crop from A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland. Fry, Joshua. 1755. Image from Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Worcester County is the eastern most county in Maryland having been founded in 1742.  It encompasses the shoreline of Assateague, where Giovanni di Pier Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano noted grape vines during his visit in the 16th century[14], and The Great Cypress Swamp.  At the time Colonel Jones discovered the new grape variety the Indian River Hundred was considered within Worcester County, Maryland.  However, the border of Maryland was in dispute with both Pennsylvania and Delaware for some time.  To settle the dispute the Transpeninsular Line was surveyed in 1751, agreed upon in 1760, and ratified by King George III in 1769.  The Mason-Dixon Line was surveyed in 1763 and agreed upon in 1781.  The Maryland border shifted south causing Indian River Hundred transitioning from Worcester County, locally known as Old Sussex to New Sussex.  Thus the vineyard and wine produced by Colonel Jones was originally made in Worcester County, Maryland but is now known as Sussex County, Delaware.[15]

Indian River, Sussex County. Beers, D.G. 1868.  Image from David Rumsey Map Collection.

Indian River, Sussex County. Beers, D.G. 1868. Image from David Rumsey Map Collection.


[1] Stevens, J. A New Collection of Voyages and Travels.  1711. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=Fn4BAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP13#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Sale, George. An Universal History, Volume 61. 1763. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=vnI-AAAAYAAJ&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Mitchell, John.  The Present State of Great Britain and North America.  1767. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=T8E9AAAAYAAJ&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Nix-Gomez, James A. Early Descriptions of the Vines and Grapes of Virginia and Canada. 2013. URL: https://hogsheadwine.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/early-descriptions-of-the-vines-and-grapes-of-virginia-and-canada/
[6] Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Volume 1. 1789. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=j1cVAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Bushman, Claudia.  Proceedings of the Assembling of the Lower Counties of Delaware, 1770-1776. 1986. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ahavHZtkXVsC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] Date: March 14, 1771       Paper: Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, PA)   Issue: 2203   Page: 3
[11] Bacon, Francis.  The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon 1733. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=DNQRDPIb_aAC&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[12] Venuti, Don Marcello Di. Description of the First Discoveries of the Antient City of Herculaeneum. 1750. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=u0oVoRsh4ysC&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[13] Bell, John.  Travels From St. Petersburg in Russia to Diverse Parts of Asia.   1763. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=S25BAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false
[14] Nix-Gomez, James A. The Early Grapes and Wines of Maryland and New York. 2013. URL: https://hogsheadwine.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/the-early-grapes-and-wines-of-maryland-and-new-york/
[15] Scharf, John Thomas.  History of Delaware: 1609-1888. 1888. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=fKsyAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP15#v=onepage&q&f=false
[16] Smith, Paul Hubert. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789.  1981. URL: https://archive.org/details/lettersofdelegat07smit
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  1. September 17, 2014 at 11:45 am

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