Home > History of Wine > “this autumne I have drank wine made of the wilde grapes” : A Detailed Look at 17th Century Winemaking in Maryland

“this autumne I have drank wine made of the wilde grapes” : A Detailed Look at 17th Century Winemaking in Maryland


Father Andrew White baptizing the chief Chitomachon.  Image from Wikipedia.

Father Andrew White baptizing the chief Chitomachon. Image from Wikipedia.

Father Andrew White wrote a letter to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore on February 20, 1638, “concerning our present estate”.[1]  In this letter Father White presented calculations on making the province profitable and sustainable.  This was followed by six beneficial steps he felt Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore should engage in.  After the production of bricks for building and the use of one’s own ships for transport, the fourth step involved the planting of vineyards and production of wine.  Father White felt they could achieve a monopoly on wine production for during the autumn of 1637, he drank wine made from the wild grapes which he found was not inferior to the wines of Spain.  He reasoned that two to three years after planting the vineyard with vines from France and Spain there would be a constant supply of wine, presumably for trade.

ffourthly itt would be uery expedient to trie what wine this land will yeld : I haue a strong prsumption that itt will prone well for this autumne I have drank wine made of the wilde grapes not inferiour in its age to any wine of Spaigne. Itt had much of muscadine grape but was a dark redd inclining to browne. I haue not scene as yett any white grape excepting the foxgrape wch hath some stayne of white but of the red grape I haue; scene much diuersity : some less some greater, some stayne, some doe not, some are aromaticall ; some not. Now if yr Lp. would cause some to plante vineyards why may not yr Lp. monopolize the wine for some yeares : to yr Lps. great pfitt especially if all sortes of vines be gotten out of Spaine and ffrance. True itt is you must haue patience for two or three yeares before the yeld wine but afterward itt is a Constant comoditye and tht a uery great one too.

This could this be the earliest documented example of winemaking in Maryland.  This particular wine was a blend of mostly Muscadine.   Father White was head of the Jesuit mission at St Mary’s City in Maryland until Father John Brooke arrived in 1639. During the time of concern there were four priests and one coadjutor.  In the Annual Letter of 1638 it is stated that “the rulers of this colony have not yet allowed us to dwell among the savages.”[2]  Later in the same letter “one of Ours, going out of the colony, found two Frenchmen.”  In the Annual Letter of 1639, the members of the mission were living outside of St. Mary’s City for “all are in places far distant”.  Father Andrew White was living 120 miles away at “kittamaquund, the metropolis of Pascatoa…from the month of June, 1639.”  From these statements, the implication is that Father White was residing in St Mary’s City and not traveling down in Virginia when he tasted the wine in 1637.  It is further reasonable that Father White tasted a wine made in Maryland for in the 1635 Relation appears the statement, “for Wine, there is no doubt but it will be made there in plenty”.  It is worth noting that Thomas Pinney quotes this passage in his appendix concerning the Fox grape but appears to not reference Father White’s experience drinking the local wine.

Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore. Image from Wikipedia.

Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore. Image from Wikipedia.

It was some time before a vineyard was actually planned.  On September 16, 1662, Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore instructed some 200 or 300 acres of land be surveyed for a vineyard.  The survey was completed on May 9, 1665.   Vines were shipped to Maryland for the vineyard, presumably from England, one decade after the initial instruction.  In a letter from Charles Calvert to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore dated April 24, 1672, we learn that upon arrival the hogshead of vines were not unloaded.[3]  Instead, the hogshead remained with Captain John Tully as he sailed up the Chesapeake Bay.

I humbly thanke yor Lordship for the hhd of vines, butt old Tully has been soe Crosgrained that before I could send for them hee sett saile vp the Bay, that I fear the vines may bee Spoyled afore I get them out of his vessel, Butt I haue sent a messenger for the hogshead, And doe intend to trouble the Capt about  itt.

On June 2, 1673, Governor Charles Calvert wrote a lengthy letter to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore[4].  He wrote of his “humble thankes for the two hampers of wine yor Lopp sent me, they prove Excellently good and come safe to hand without Damage.”  Unfortunately, the hogshead of vines all perished because Captain John Tully did not deliver them in time.  It appears that the vineyard was not planted at all because the loss of the vines dashed hopes of sending wine from “the growth of this Province.”

That hdd of vines yor Lopp tooke so much Care to send in the last yeare by Capt Tully for want of Care in a timely Delivery are all perished and not one of them come up for which I am heartily sorry, having had greate hopes that if they had beene put into the ground in time here, that the soyle would have so well agreed with them that in a short time they would have Come to a greate pfeccon here, and that I might have beene able in some few yeares out of their produce to have sent yor Lopp a glasse of wine of the growth of this Province.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened to this vineyard and whether wine was actually produced. Thomas Pinney writes that to the original 240 acres of vineyard another 100 acres were added in 1665. For this statement, in his note #114 he cites J. R. McGrew stating, “The evidence for this vineyard is unclear, and though it seems probably that a vineyard was planned for the site, it is doubtful that it was in fact planted.  The comment on its wine, then, if not wholly fanciful, are surely exaggerated.”  I have contacted the American Wine Society and they will provide the referenced article later this month. Thomas Pinney then continues “Wine made from this is reported, with the uncritical optimism of all such early responses, to have been ‘as good as the best burgundy’”.  For his quote, he provides note #115 which cites Hedrick History of Horticulture in American to 1860 published in 1950.  I have ordered a copy of this book.  Regina McCarthy writes that “There are two stories about what happened” the first being 300 acres were planted and all died.  The second is that the vines never survived the journey from Europe.  This confusion appears to be due to several early 20th century texts.

Virginia and Maryland. Herrman, Augustine. 1670.  Image from the Archives of Maryland sourced from Library of Congress.

Virginia and Maryland. Herrman, Augustine. 1670. Image from the Archives of Maryland sourced from Library of Congress.

There are at least three early claims that Charles Calvert planted the vineyard and produced wine.  In the Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York from 1908, there appears the statement “in 1662 [he] planted three hundred acres of land in St. Mary’s to vines.  It is certain that he made and sold wine in considerable quantities and the old chroniclers report that it was as good as the best Burgundy.”[5]  There are no sources cited for such statements.  Perhaps this document was based on other secondary sources.  The Transactions of the Peninsula Horticultural Society published in 1907, states that Lord Charles Baltimore had “planted 300 acres of land in St. Mary’s to vines in the year 1662.”[6] Edward Randolph Emerson’s The Story of the Vine published in 1901, was more expansive.  Of Lord Baltimore’s instructions of 1662, the land “was to be reserved for the sole purpose of planting vines.  His venture was, in the main, successful, for in a very few years they made and sold large quantities of wine that was said closely to resemble a very fair Burgundy.”[7]  These three documents appear to be erroneous variations of either each other or some other source.

Clarification, and perhaps the original source, appears to come in Gallus Thomann Liquor Laws of the United States published in 1885.[8]  He writes that the 300 acres of land “was to be reserved for the express purpose of planting vines.  These and subsequent efforts must have proved more successful than the experiments made in Virginia; for before the end of the century a very palatable wine, similar in color and taste to Burgundy, was raised in the province.”  Thus the Burgundy-like wine was not produced on this vineyard, rather somewhere else in Maryland.  This implies there was at least one other 17th century vineyard and example of winemaking in Maryland.

Augustine Herman.  Image from the Archives of Maryland.

Augustine Herrman. Image from the Archives of Maryland.

Regina McCarthy writes of a “grape grower named William Hutchinson in 1689” but provides no direct citation.  Another possibility lies with Augustine Herman who was born in Prague and was trained as a surveyor.  He produced an accurate map of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays for Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore.  In exchange Augustine Herman received a very large land grant which he named Bohemia Manor.  On September 27, 1684, Augustine Herman wrote out his will in which he stated, “that my monument stone with Engraven letters of me the first Author of Bohemia Mannor, Anno 1660, shall be erected over my sepulcher, which is to be in my vineyard upon my Mannor plantation upon Bohemia Mannor in Maryland.”[9]  The monumental stone was actually engraved but in more contemporary times it was moved and converted to a door for the family vault.[10]  According to George Johnston “This vault was erected some distance from the original burying-place upon the manor plantation.”  While the exact location of the vineyard may not be known, it is reasonable that it did in fact exist.

It appears that Father White’s letter describing the wine he tasted during the autumn of 1637 provides the earliest documentation of wine produced in Maryland.  While Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore instructed that land be surveyed for a vineyard, the vines he sent over perished, and wine was never produced.  There are no further references to vines nor the vineyard in the Calvert Papers after 1673.  Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore died in November 1675 so perhaps the motivations for the vineyard expired as well.  The remainder of the Calvert Papers contains descriptions of tobacco and correspondence about the Maryland and Pennsylvania border.  In the final years of 17th century Maryland there appear to be two efforts at the cultivation of the vine and one attempt at the production of wine.  These three efforts should be explored further.


[1] Lee, John Wesley Murray.  The Calvert Papers, Volume 1. 1889. URL: https://archive.org/details/calvertpapers01leej
[2] Hall, Colman Clayton. Narrative of Early Maryland, 1633-1684. 1910. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=jBYOAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Lee, John Wesley Murray. Page 275.
[4] Lee, John Wesley Murray. Page 296.
[5] Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 15. 1908. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=0pA7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Transactions of the Peninsula Horticultural Society.  1907. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=d9UwAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Emerson, Edward Randolph.  The Story of the Vines. 1901. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ujhIAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 1883.  URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=JMsbAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[10] Johnston, George.  History of Cecil County, Maryland. 1989. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=bCuu565vrmAC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false

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