Home > History of Wine > The Sale of Old Madeira During the Post Civil War Decades

The Sale of Old Madeira During the Post Civil War Decades

James T. Hunt wrote that many southern families sold their Madeira in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[1]  These cellars were fortunate to survive not only destruction but also consumption during the war.  An article published in Charleston, South Carolina about life in a confederate camp describes the consumption of various drinks.[2]  Before the blockade, camps were supplied by “time honored wine cellars [which] contributed the choicest liquors.”  Drinks were offered everywhere with the mess tables covered with “bottled hospitality.”  Under the tables were demijohns of rye and Cognac and “not unfrequently a miniature vault below the floor of the tent had only to be tapped to disclose a mine of Madeira, sherry and champagne.”  The old Madeira which was not drunk during the war was often buried, hidden, or transported to other cities for safekeeping.  After the Civil War one New York City wine merchant traveled south purchasing “many bottles of a most beautiful Madeira”.[3]  This particular wine was a Rainwater Madeira which had been hidden in a Savannah garden and believed to date to 1783 or earlier.  These Oglethorpe bottles were still being sold in 1911.

Savannah, Georgia. Ruins of houses.  Cooley, Sam A. 1865. LC-B811- 3552.  Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Savannah, Georgia. Ruins of houses. Cooley, Sam A. 1865. LC-B811- 3552. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Old Madeira was cherished in the post war years.  Henry R. Mygatt had a quart bottle of old Madeira which had been bottled by Robert Morris in 1774.[4]  The particular bottle was exhibited at the centennial exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876. It was reported in 1896 that Henry Clews possessed both 1812 Burgundy and several cases of 1812 Madeira.[5]  In 1900 the auction of 11 bottles of 1740 or 1750 [date illegible] Rain Water Madeira realized $8.50 per bottle.[6]  At the same auction 11 bottles of an 1828 Madeira realized $5 per bottle.

Being naturally curious about what else survived the war I set out to discover which cellars were sold, what they contained, and where they went.  For this post I have focused in on Madeira that was imported prior to the Civil War.  I must admit that this post rambles a bit.  This reflects the fact that quite a lot of Madeira changed hands and I am still obtaining a grasp on this period.  If you delight in old vintages and the colorful names of Madeira parcels then you should still enjoy reading this post.

In 1896 the wines of John Pendleton Kennedy of Maryland was auctioned off at Matthews and Kirkland of South Charles Street, Baltimore.  John Pendleton Kenney resided in Maryland.  His parcel consisted of 327 bottles of Madeira and one five gallon demijohn of Madeira lees.  All of the wine was stored in demijohns having been bottled during the fall of 1895.  The auction began with the 207 bottles of undated “Japan” Madeira of which the entire lot went to Mr. W. W. Spence at $2.60 per bottle.  In addition the 27 bottles of 1833 Dun & Co. sold for $6.50 each, 50 bottles of 1833 Blackburn sold for $3.75 each, 36 bottles of 1837 “Thomas” sold for $2.50[?illegible] each, and 5 bottles of undated “Washington” sold for $5.50 each.  The demijohn of lees sold for $16.

Madeira Islands, view of Funchal from sea.  1905?. Af,A64.3.  Image from British Museum.

Madeira Islands, view of Funchal from sea. 1905?. Af,A64.3. Image from British Museum.

John Pendleton Kennedy was Secretary of the Navy under President Filmore in 1852.  Major A. M. Hancock was the United States Consul in Malaga, Spain and a friend of both President Filmore and Mr. Kennedy.  According to Major Hancock, Commodore Perry informed President Filmore he would be stopping at Madeira on his way to Japan and would purchase a cask of wine if he was ordered.[7]  The president, who did not drink, gave the order and it was understood to purchase the Madeira for the Cabinet.  The Madeira would have been purchased between December 12, 1852, and December 15, 1852, during Commodore Perry’s brief stay in Funchal.[8]  Major Hancock believed the Madeira to be a few years of age at the time so that would make it of the 1850 vintage or earlier.  The number of casks purchased is unclear but they traveled in the hold to Japan and back eventually being delivered  to the former President Filmore.  After President Filmore’s death the Madeira made its way to Mr. Kennedy.  During the Civil War Mr. Kennedy racked off the Madeira into demijohns so it could be transported to New York City for safekeeping.

The same auction also featured 113 bottles of Madeira from the late Charles Bruce of Staunton Hill, Virginia.  The Madeira was believed to be at least 40 years old, vintage 1856 or older.  The Madeira had been stored in the cellar except during the Civil War when some was buried in the ground and the rest was stored in Lynchburg.  As it had no provenance the Madeira it sold at lower prices of $2.10 to $3.50 per bottle.

In 1897 Jules Eddy Kennedy of the “famous old wine purveyors, George E. Kennedy & Sons” was interviewed for the article Wines of Washington.[9]  For the last 20 years he had been interested in the “old Southern wine cellars left after the devastation of war.”  These cellars of old Madeira, Sherry, and Brandy had been imported as far back as the time of the Revolutionary General Jacob Reed.  Mr. Kennedy said that “before the war every planter had a wine cellar.”  The wines were buried in the ground during the war so ‘that for a radius of forty or fifty miles around Richmond and Washington are found the oldest and richest wines in America.’  He continued that, “there is no city in the United States where so many luxuries are sold as in Washington.”

One early example of such a sale occurred in January 1868, when the wines of the late Sir Frederick Bacce[?illegible] were sold at auction in Washington, DC.[10]  Of the few hundred bottles there were “ten dozen choice old Madeira”.  It was stated that “Washington bon vivants” were supplied with “choice vintages, at low prices” by diplomats who imported their wine free of duty.  A wine cellar went up for auction at least once every six months.  The former French Minister M. Outrey left his cellar in Washington, DC for auction in 1882.[11]  In included about 50 dozen bottles of Madeira from 1791.

Old Madeira was reported popular “especially on the tables of the Justices of the Supreme Court.”  Before the Civil War merchants in Alexandria, Virginia directly imported stocks of Madeira.  However, in November 1852, the cellar of Josiah Lee of Baltimore, Maryland was sold upon his death.[12]  “[M]any Washington cellars were replenished” by this sale.  There were 50 demijohns of Madeira which went from $14 to $49 per gallon.  One lot sold for $15.50 per bottle, the equivalent of $77.50 per gallon.

Brass token of Cossart, Gordon, & Co.  19th C. 1938,0904.2. Image from British Museum.

Brass token of Cossart, Gordon, & Co. 19th C. 1938,0904.2. Image from British Museum.

Mr. Jules Eddy Kennedy had purchased a parcel from the “old Lee family” through their representative J. Fenner Lee, who was related to Charles Carroll of Carrollton.  There were spirits imported as far back as 1775 and old Madeira imported into Virginia.  At least three bottles of wine were bottled in 1776 when they were supposedly 50 years of age.  Thus these wines of the 1726 or earlier vintage were known as ‘Declaration Madeira.’  One bottle was opened during the last birthday of the historian Bancroft.  Mr. Kennedy said that the Lee wines were bought by several people at auction.  The British Ambassador, Sir Julian Pauncefote, bought a case at $15 per bottle, Senator Hoar purchased at $75 per gallon, and Senator McPherson purchased six bottles at $10 each.  Amongst this lot were the J. Howard, March & Co. Madeira which was “put in glass” as early as 1800 when Mr. Howard was counsel in Madeira.  There were other buyers including L. Z. Leiter of Chicago and Manager Bemis of Hotel Richelieu in New York.  He put a dozen bottles on the list.

Elsewhere old Madeira was auctioned off as early as the months preceding the end of the Civil War.[13]  In February 1865, the merchant Jas. L. Gantt of Charleston, South Carolina, auctioned off some 50 cases of “Very Choice Old Madeira Wine.”  These bottles of Newton & Gordon were bottled prior to 1834 and included vintages from 1817 to 1825.  The death of Frederick Tudor of Boston resulted in an auction of his cellar of wines in 1869 which were elected by Isaac P. Davis.[14]  There were 200 bottles of 1852 Bual, “old Constitution wine” bottled in 1830/50[date illegible], 180 bottles of South Side Madeira bottled in 1832, as well as undated “Montario Madeira.”

The death of Dr. Anson Parsons in 1871 saw the sale of his wine cellar which contained old Madeira and Sherry.[15]  Some of the wines were bottled by Dr. Parsons in Savannah, Georgia and were over 30 years old.  In 1887 the wine cellar underneath the Pulaski House in Savannah was robbed.[16]  At the time the cellar contained old Madeira from 1830, 1832, and 1837 which belonged to the Wiltberger estate.  The historic Colt mansion in Paterson, New Jersey was robbed in 1888.[17]  The robbers drank some 15 gallons of 1815 Madeira worth $600.  Of this “rare vintage” one demijohn had been sealed in honor of the verdict of Daniel Webster, “who had once extolled the wine’s exquisite banquet.”

In 1888 it was reported that the oldest wine in America were located in Savannah.[18]  Though there was a parcel from 1833 there were many significantly older wines.  Members of the Gibbons and Heyward families imported two pipes of the All Saint’s Madeira from 1791 in 1793.  The great fire of 1793 in Savannah destroyed one pipe.  Gibbons and Heyward agreed to split the remaining pipe of which several bottled lots of were purchased in the 1870s.  The Hunter Madeira was imported around the time of the All Saint’s Madeira and often offered by Dr. De Renne at $100 per bottle.  Another cellar contained 20 lots of Newton, Gordon, & Co. Madeira from the vintages 1802 to 1830.  Some 500 pipes of Madeira were imported from the same firm in 1780 and some of it was purported still in Savannah.

Another parcel of old Madeira in Savannah was located in the Habersham mansion on the corner of Harris and Bernard Streets.[19]  The equivalent of some 3,000 quart bottles were the property of the late William Neyle Habersham who died in 1899.  The Habersham cellar or garret was allegedly famous since the founding of Savannah.  The Madeira was stored in a conservatory with walls and ceiling of glass.  There were two rooms with an open framework of boards for the Madeira.  Mr. Habersham reportedly moved the bottles about to expose them to sunlight and warmth. The details of the contents are thin just that there was old Sercial and Malmsey dating back to 1827.  The wine came direct from Madeira and also through London.

The large Madeira collection of A. T. Stewart was auctioned off in New York City during March 1890.[20]  It was reported that he had “undoubtedly the greatest assortment of Madeira in the country” since he was the principal buyer of the March & Benson cellar in 1865.  Charles March was a friend of Daniel Webster and Mr. Benson had a brother who owned one of the “principal Madeira vineyards.”  On May 17, 1865, the firm of Ludlow & Co of New York City sold the personal collection of Mr. March.[21]  These bottles of “old Madeira” had been in possession since 1813.  They included Verdelho, Sercial, Bual, Rapid, Calcutta, Braman, Old Reserve, Wanderer, Muscatel, Juan de Carvalhal, and Old London Particular.  Together they were advertised as “probably the best selected private stock of wines ever in this country.”    The 1890 auction realized some $8,000 due to light bidding and prices remained similar to that in the 1865.  Selected lots include:

  • “very old” Ivanhoe, one case at $45 each.
  • Madeira, bottled 1807, one case at $54.
  • 1810, “Old London Particular”, imported via India on the Jack Warrior, bottled 1843, three demijohns at $54 per dozen bottles.
  • 1815 Sercial, four cases at $57 each.
  • 1818 Madeira, one case at $48.
  • 1819 “M. Y. Green Seal”, five magnums at $5.25 each.
  • 1820 “Carvahal” or “Carvarhal” , one case at $39 each.
  • 1828 Reserve, eight cases at $66 each.
  • 1829, “Wanderer”, six cases at $66 each.
  • 1830 “Camara de Lobos”, nine cases at $45 each.
  • 1836 Sercial, one bottle at $3.50.
  • 1840 Reserve, ten cases at $36-$39 each.
  • 1844, “Talisman”, five cases at $69[? Price illegible] Each.
  • 1846 Bual, nineteen cases  at $36-$39 each.
  • 1846 Verdalho, seven cases at $39 each.
  • Red and black seal Carvahal, four cases.
  • “Sercial P.”, three cases at $54 each.
  • “Ceylon H.  C.”, two cases at $45 each.
  • “Ceylon H. C.”, one case at $51 each.
  • “R. Lenox”, two cases at $63 each.
  • “Thorndike D.”, one case at  $39 each.
  • March & Benson, Sercial, one case at $51 each.
  • “Cama de Lobos”, Imported 1837, two demijojhns at $63 per dozen bottles.
  • March & Benson, Brahmin via India, May, 1826, three demijohns at $72 per dozen bottles.

With effort it is possible to track down the history of these individual lots.  For example, it is probable the Ivanhoe Madeira was imported on the ship Iyanough via New York.  In 1834 it carried the Madeira of Newton, Gordon, Murdoch & Co.[22]  The Bramin or Brahmin Madeiras appear to be advertised as early 1825.  In July 1825, A. Bininger & Son of New York City described these as the “Finest south side Madeira Wines…of the most approved brands” received via India from the ship Bramin.[23]  The Madeiras were available in butts, pipes, hogsheads, and quarter casks.  March & Benson advertised Madeira on September 1825, in pipes via Calcutta from the ship Bramin.[24] They were subject to a drawback. They also listed “Old London Particular” Madeira of the brand J. Howard, March, & Co.  March & Benson still had a few casks of the “Bramin Wine” in December 1826.[25]

The Port of New York--Birds eye view from the Battery, looking south. Currier & Ives. c1892.  Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Port of New York–Birds eye view from the Battery, looking south. Currier & Ives. c1892. Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Major Slaymaker the Postmaster of Lancaster, Pennsylvania had eighteenth century Madeira as well.[26]  His cellar contained bottles from 1793, 1800, 1808, 1812, 1818, 1827, and 1840.  The 1793 vintage was bottled in 1798 by Philip and Adam Reigart and was worth at least $25 per bottle.  The oldest vintages were considered valuable because it was reported in 1892 that no dealer on the island possessed vintages older than 1815.[27]  The 1827 vintage was the rarest of all because it was” the finest in the history of the island.”

At a dinner for “honest-money democrats” held at Maryland in 1896 rare, old Madeira was served after the 1874 Johannisberger, Ruinart Brut, and 1870s Chambertin.[28]  This Madeira of the 1800 vintage was believed to come from the cellar of President Thomas Jefferson.  The bottle was presented by Mr. Douglas H. Thomas who purchased 20 bottles at the 1890 sale of the Wethered effects in Cantonsville, Maryland.  The Wethereds came into possession of the wine when Philip Evans Thomas purchased it at the sale of Thomas Jefferson’s effects.  The Madeira was described as “rich, fruity flavor.” It originally cost $3 but the “method of compounding” yielded a current value of $1,500 per gallon or $3.50 per teaspoonful.  At the time of the dinner Mr. Thomas still possessed a few more Jefferson bottle.  I shall take a full look at these bottles of Jefferson Madeira, including the Sotheby’s auction, in a future post.

Ten years after the Jefferson Madeira was drunk the cellar of Douglas H. Thomas was sold.[29]  It was reported that Douglas H. Thomas,  C[illegible] Fisher of Gil & Fisher, and the late H[illegible] Johnston purchased most of the Madeira sold in Washington, DC.  The lots offered by Mrs. Thomas included wines originally purchased by James Cox, John Edgar Howard (1862), and Otto W. Eich[illegible] (1873). There were also wines purchased by Josiah Lee.  The specific wines included 1807 South Side and Sheffield Madeiras.  The South Side Madeira was shipped in 1827 by Kiers & Co., imported in 1829 then bottled in 1830.  There are other wines but they are partially illegible in the article: 1820 “Hol[illegible] Murdock Madeira”[30], “Old R[illegible]” Madeira bought of McDonald & R[illegible], E. G. Oelrichs & Lurman in 1840, 1815 Hope[illegible] and Hunt Madeira, and 1817 “Leac[illegible] and Roup Gould.”

[1] Tuten, James H. “Liquid Assets: Madeira Wine and Cultural Capital among Lowcountry Planters, 1735-1900” American Nineteenth Century History, Vol, 6, No. 2, June 2005, pp.173-188.
[2] Date: Saturday, September 4, 1869                Paper: Evening Post (New York, NY)   Volume: 68   Page: 1
[3] “Dust Covered Treasures in Dingy Office Buildings”, The New York Times.  July 30, 1911.
[4] Date: Monday, December 14, 1874               Paper: Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, IN)   Volume: XXIII   Issue: 166   Page: 7
[5] Date: Sunday, August 30, 1896        Paper: Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 135   Issue: 61   Page: 27, Date: Thursday, March 20, 1851   Paper: Charleston Courier (Charleston, SC)   Volume: XLIX   Issue: 14761   Page: 3
[6] Date: Tuesday, June 5, 1900            Paper: Daily Herald (Biloxi, MS)   Volume: 2   Issue: 248   Page: 7
[7] Date: Thursday, December 24, 1896              Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CXX   Issue: 33   Page: 8
[8] Wolter, John A.  With Commodore Perry to Japan. Naval Institute Press. 2013.
[9]Date: Wednesday, March 10, 1897                 Paper: Denver Post (Denver, CO)   Page: 2 Date: Wednesday, March 10, 1897     Paper: Denver Post (Denver, CO)   Page: 2
[10] Date: Monday, January 6, 1868      Paper: Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH)   Volume: XXXL   Issue: 357   Page: 2
[11] Date: Thursday, May 25, 1882        Paper: New York Tribune (New York, NY)   Page: 4
[12] Date: Friday, November 21, 1884                  Paper: Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)   Volume: XLI   Issue: 278   Page: 2
[13] Date: Sunday, February 5, 1865     Paper: Daily Constitutionalist (Augusta, GA)   Volume: XXII   Issue: 182   Page: 3
[14] Date: Monday, November 29, 1869              Paper: Boston Post (Boston, MA)   Volume: XX   Issue: 94   Page: 3
[15] Date: Thursday, April 20, 1871       Paper: Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, MA)   Volume: LXXI   Issue: 3683   Page: 2
[16] Date: Thursday, April 28, 1887       Paper: Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA)   Issue: 11698   Page: 3
[17] Date: Monday, August 6, 1888       Paper: Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL)   Volume: VII   Issue: 138   Page: 4
[18] Date: Tuesday, December 11, 1888              Paper: Critic-Record (Washington (DC), DC)   Issue: 45   Page: 2
[19] Date: Sunday, March 4, 1900         Paper: Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)   Page: 22
[20] Date: Thursday, March 6, 1890      Paper: New York Herald (New York, NY)   Issue: 65   Page: 8. See also: Date: Thursday, March 6, 1890                   Paper: New York Tribune (New York, NY)   Page: 7
[21] Date: Friday, May 12, 1865             Paper: Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Page: 7
[22] Date: Thursday, August 7, 1834     Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA)   Page: 3
[23] Date: Tuesday, July 5, 1825             Paper: Evening Post (New York, NY)   Issue: 7170   Page: 3
[24] Date: Thursday, August 25, 1825                   Paper: National Advocate (New York, NY)   Volume: XIII   Issue: 3648   Page: 1
[25] Date: Friday, December 22, 1826                  Paper: Evening Post (New York, NY)   Issue: 7623   Page: 3
[26] Date: Friday, April 26, 1889            Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CIV   Issue: 138   Page: 3
[27] Date: Sunday, June 26, 1892          Paper: Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)   Page: 12
[28] Date: Monday, November 30, 1896              Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CXX   Issue: 12   Page: 6
[29] Date: Sunday, February 25, 1906                  Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CXXXVIII   Issue: 101   Page: 16
[30] Presumably Newton, Gordon, and Murdock Madeira.  See: Date: Saturday, December 7, 1839      Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XXVII   Issue: 8366   Page: 1, Date: Friday, June 5, 1846     Paper: Richmond Whig (Richmond, VA)   Volume: 23   Issue: 45   Page: 3, and
  1. Arthur J. Merovick
    January 1, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I have a bottle of Madeira, wax sealed, handed down in the family. The label reads
    , “S.L. M. Barlow, Marsh and Benson, General Fleming, Madeira – 18(?)5
    Elbridge T. Gerry (my daughter’s great, great grandfather)
    Can you help us on the history?

    • January 2, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Dear Arthur, thank you very much for sharing this bottle on the blog. March & Benson were important Madeira importers in the early and mid 19th century. Mr. Benson’s brother owned an extensive vineyard in Madeira. Their cellars were auctioned off on May 17, 1865, by Morris Wilkins of E. H. Ludlow & Co. in New York City. It is possible that this bottle was purchased at that auction. Could you send me pictures of the bottle?

      Best, Aaron

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