Home > History of Wine > The Hidden Madeira of the South Carolina Jockey Club

The Hidden Madeira of the South Carolina Jockey Club


Last week authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee wrote about Madeira’s Long Engagement with the Lowcountry.  I came across this article in the Terrorist Daily Wine News; Charleston Connection.   In the first half of the article, they bring up a particularly interesting period in the history of Madeira in Charleston, South Carolina.  That is when the South Carolina Jockey Club hid their Madeira collection in the basement of an insane asylum in advance of the Union Army.  I was unaware of this story despite James T. Hunt having written about it in 2005.  He wrote a particularly engaging article, which Matt Lee and Ted Lee point out, Liquid Assets: Madeira Wine and Cultural Capital among Lowcountry Planter, 1735-1900.[0]  In this post I return to the original newspaper articles to investigate the history of the hidden Madeira of the South Carolina Jockey Club.

Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, S.C., December 11th, 18[64]. Sneden, Robert Knox.  Image from the Library of Congress.

Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, S.C., December 11th, 18[64]. Sneden, Robert Knox. Image from the Library of Congress.

The article “Old Charleston Madeira: It Was Imported to This City From 1763 to 1860” was published in 1899.[1]  It appears to be the first description of the hidden Madeira wine of the South Carolina Jockey Club.  The Jockey Club was comprised of wealthy members who imported fine horses from England.  The Jockey Club also imported Madeira along with German and French wines.  The Champagne was imported direct from the producer.  It was labeled “The Charleston Jockey Club” and contained an image of horses racing.  It was believed that the Jockey Club imported a large amount of Madeira in the 1850s.  The largest importer of Madeira in Charleston was allegedly the firm Gourdin, Mattheissen & Co.  The head of the firm, Mr. Henry Gourdin, was also vice president of the Jockey Club.[2]

Drawing of Camp Asylum.  Image from South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

Drawing of Camp Asylum. Image from South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

The Jockey Club was located in Charleston.  During the Civil War the lower part of Charleston was shelled.  As a result Mr. Rose, club president, and Mr. Gourdin placed some of their own Madeira and all of the Jockey Club Madeira in the cellar of the South Carolina State Hospital for the mentally ill or Lunatic Asylum in Columbia, South Carolina.  The construction of the Lunatic Asylum was authorized on December 21, 1821.  The cornerstone was laid “with Masonic ceremonies” on July 22, 1822, and the building completed on December 18, 1827.[3]  The building was designed by the architect Robert Mills who studied under James Hoban, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  Mr. Mills assisted Mr. Latrobe in the construction of the National Capitol and was the architect of the Washington Monument.  The Lunatic Asylum was somewhat revolutionary for it was constructed entirely of brick and stone, thus purposefully making it fireproof.[4]  Security concerns were an integral part of the design with it, “agreeably disguised under appearances familiar to the eye in every private house.  The iron bars take the similitude of sashes; the hinges and locks of the doors are all secret…”[5]  The building was expanded both in 1838 and 1842.

Columbia the morning after the fire.  Waud, William. February 18, 1865. Morgan collection of Civil War drawings (Library of Congress)

Columbia the morning after the fire. Waud, William. February 18, 1865. Morgan collection of Civil War drawings (Library of Congress)

The head of the asylum, Dr. Parker, let Mr. Rose and Mr. Gourdin use the partially subterranean basement.  Each floor featured a central section with a wing on each side featuring cells for patients.  The central section of the original basement featured two separate refectories for men and woman, two sets of kitchen offices, and a common hall with the principle stairwell.  The original wings featured a single corridor, a private staircase, and five individual cells.  All of the patient cells faced south and had windows.  It is not known specifically where the wine was stored.  It was reported that Dr. Parker “Kindly gave the use of a large cellar, which was somewhat, but not entirely, below ground for this purpose.”  The door to cellar was believed bricked up.  The basement floor plan of the original building does not appear to include a “large cellar” so it is possible the wine was stored in the basement of the then recently added wings.

HABS Basement or Office Story. - Lunatic Asylum, Bull Street & Elmwood Avenue, Columbia, Richland County, SC.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

HABS Basement or Office Story. – Lunatic Asylum, Bull Street & Elmwood Avenue, Columbia, Richland County, SC. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The grounds of the asylum were used as a prison camp for Union officers from October 1864 until February 1865, when General Sherman arrived.[6]  The asylum and its wine were allegedly “spared on account of the superstitious awe with which the Union army regarded that building and its inmates.”  Whatever they reason they were certainly spared from military destruction and the ensuring fires which rampaged through Columbia.  This is somewhat incredible because the building is quite conspicuous.  In the drawing Columbia the morning after the fire the Asylum is visible and noted in pencil just beneath the upper left-hand side title of the drawing.  After the war, the cellar was finally opened in the presence of Mr. Gourdin, Dr. Parker, Mr. Rose, Mr. Clarence Cochrain, treasurer of the Jockey Club, and one other.  The wine was intact and eventually moved to the loft of Mr. Gourdin.

Ruins seen from the capitol, Columbia, South Carolina, 1865.  Barnard, George N. 1865.  Image from Wikipedia sourced from National Archives and Records Administration.

Ruins seen from the capitol, Columbia, South Carolina, 1865. Barnard, George N. 1865. Image from Wikipedia sourced from National Archives and Records Administration.

About half-way through the Civil War the Jockey Club sold its “sherries and light wines” in February 1863 and at this time it was believed the Madeira was sent back to Columbia.  In February 1877, the Jockey Club sold its Madeira to cover its debts.  Mr. Cochrain arranged the sale.  The advertisement for the sale noted that the wine book had been lost so there were no vintage dates for the wines on offer except “that the newest wine was purchased in the year 1855” and the wines were bottled the same year as purchased.  There were 714 bottles for sale of which 30¼ were lost in filling other bottles with low fills.  The remaining 683¾ bottles sold for $5 each yielding $3,418.75.  Mr. Gibbes purchased 506¾ bottles for the Baring Brothers which was believed to have gone solely to Sir Alexander Baring.  It appears there were other, larger stocks of Madeira which survived the Civil War including a family with 900 bottles of Madeira right up to the 1886 earthquake.  The reputed largest holder of of wine in South Carolina, an Anderson,  had 754 dozen bottles of Madeira.  Of this some 482 dozen were destroyed leaving some 272 or 3,264 remaining bottles.  This collection had been amassed beginning in the late 1820s to early 1830s.

Some of the Jockey Club members believed they had some Madeira of the 1838 vintage which may have been included in the lot purchased by the Baring Brothers.  Mr. Charles Manigault sold some “famous 1838 Belvidera wine” to Mr. James Gibbes who presumably sold it to the Baring Brothers.  This Belvidera Madeira may have come from the D.C. & W. Pell & Co. auction of June 25, 1844,  where “Seal and A Belvidera, bottled in 1839” and “W. G. M. & Co., Belvidera, bottled in 1838” were listed[7].  This Madeira was all transported by the ship HMS Belvidera.  These bottles from the 1838 vintage are important because they were later listed for sale in New York City.  The Baring Brothers sold some of their wine to Ward & Keene of New York.  Mr. Sam Ward eventually gave some of this Madeira and  documentation to President Chester A. Arthur in 1881.

President Arthur became known for his sizable dinners of exquisite food and drink.[8]  For example, a dinner in February 1883, served Selle de Venaison with “Grau Larse [ Chateau Gruaud Larose]”, English pheasants au cresson with Chambertin, and Terrapins a la Maryland with “Perier Jouet & Co.”  The basement office of the White House steward Mr. Howard Williams opened to the President’s wine cellar.  It was noted that in this cellar, during July 1884, were bottles of the Madeira which. Mr. Ward had given to President Arthur in 1881.  The letter detailing the history of the wine was tacked to the shelf holding the Madeira.  This letter noted that the wine was exhumed from hiding during 1875.  The Baring Brothers were ultimately unhappy with the Madeira for “it never recovered from the voyage” so in 1878 they sold the entire lot to Mr. Ward.  Mr. Ward and Jim Keene through “proper treatment restored the pristine glory of the wine.’  Mr. Ward then gave several demijohns to President Arthur. The wine was described as not less than 40 years of age and most of it over 50 years of age.  This would make the Madeira from no later than the 1841 vintage with the majority predating 1831.

Upon President Arthur’s death in 1887, at least 15 bottles of this Madeira were purchased then valued at $15 each.   In January 1899, bottles of the Jockey Club wine were listed for sale at the Arena Club in New York City.  For $15 one could purchase a bottle of the “Charleston Jockey Club Madeira” which was purported to be “over sixty years old.”  Whether these bottles were the original 1838 bottles of the Jockey Club, the 1838 Belvidera bottles, or just a marketing gimmick is not known for certain.

DINNER [held by] ASTOR HOUSE [... Digital ID: 468158. New York Public Library

The wine also became available at the Astor House Hotel presumably after 1900.  The wine list of 1892 for the Astor House contains Sherry and Port but no Madeira.[9] The wine lists of 1899[10] and 1900[11] both contain a Madeira section with “Old Reserve” for $3 per quart and “Reserve” for $2 per quart.  For reference the most expensive wines were “Tokay Aszu” and “Old London Dock, white Port” both at $4 per pint.  In May 1909, it was reported that the Jockey Club Madeira appeared on the wine list of the Astor House in New York City.[12]  It was still priced at $15 per quart which is twice the price of the most expensive wines in 1900.  According to Tuten citing Cossart, the Jockey Club Madeira was also sold at Delmonico’s restaurant as well.  I have yet to find the Jockey Club Madeira listed in any of the menus available at the New York Public Library’s digital archive Whats on the menu? but I still have hope.


[0] Tuten. James H. “Liquid Assets: Madeira Wine and Cultural Capital among Lowcountry Planter, 1735-1900.” American Nineteenth Century History, Vol. 6, No.2, June 2005, pp. 173-188.
[1] Date: Saturday, January 14, 1899   Paper: Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, SC)   Page: 12
[2] Date: Sunday, July 8, 1900                Paper: Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, SC)   Page: 11
[3] South Carolina State Hospital Mills Building, National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form.  URL: http://www.nationalregister.sc.gov/richland/S10817740004/S10817740004.pdf
[4] “All of the cells and corridors are vaulted with brick, and made fire-proof.” Date: Thursday, February 19, 1824   Paper: Charleston Courier (Charleston, SC)   Page: 1
[5] Date: Saturday, February 21, 1824   Paper: Charleston Courier (Charleston, SC)   Page: 2
[6] History of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. URL: http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/history.htm
[7] Date: Thursday, June 20, 1844   Paper: Boston Courier (Boston, MA)   Page: 3
[8] The New York Times.  July 21, 1884 – Travel – Article – Article – Print Headline: “THE PRESIDENT’S TABLE; HOW THE STATE DINNERS ARE PREPARED. ELEGANT AND COSTLY REPASTS FURNISHED FROM THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN.”
[9] Dinner held by Astor House. 1892.  URL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?474759
[10] Dinner held by Astor House. 1899. URL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?474992
[11] Dinner held by Astor House. 1900. URL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?475046
[12] Date: Wednesday, May 5, 1909      Paper: Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, SC)   Page: 6

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