Home > History of Wine > “The wine mentioned…is on the ground floor of the Capitol” in Virginia

“The wine mentioned…is on the ground floor of the Capitol” in Virginia


Richmond, Va. Front view of Capitol. April-June 1865. Call No. LC-B811- 3360.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Richmond, Va. Front view of Capitol. April-June 1865. Call No. LC-B811- 3360. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On the morning of March 8, 1803, James Monroe noted in his letter to James Madison that he was to embark New York for Europe within an hour.[1]  James Monroe included with the letter a two-page list of items he left behind from which James Madison could pick what he wanted to purchase.  On April 9, 1803, Samuel Coleman wrote from Richmond to James Madison that he had finally weighed and repacked James Monroe’s plate, glassware, and porcelain for transport to Washington, DC.[2]  He noted that the plate was in the Treasury and “the other articles <are in?> my office in the Capitol.”  Samuel Coleman was Assistant Clerk to the Council of Virginia and worked with James Monroe when he was Governor of Virginia.[3]    The articles in Samuel Coleman’s office apparently included James Monroe’s wine of which James Madison had suggested how to dispose of them.[4]  While it seems natural for Samuel Coleman to work in the Capitol it came as a surprise to me that he would store wine there.

Samuel Coleman wrote later that month that of the six boxes of wine the “quality is excellent”.[5]  One box was to be a present for James Brown.  The remaining five boxes could be sent to Washington, DC, or sold.  However, Samuel Coleman felt “my information is so limited that I am really much at a loss what to do with it.”  Fearing that he could not sell the wine to the satisfaction of James Madison he kept them, ” in one of the lower rooms of the Capitol, well calculated to preserve it.”  The wine remained in the Virginia Capitol into the summer.  On June 27, 1803, Samuel Coleman wrote James Madison that, “The wine mentioned in the first is on the ground floor of the Capitol and of course in as cool a situation as can be procured for it.”[6]  Perhaps Samuel Coleman did not have his own wine cellar so the thick stone walls of the Capitol were the best defense against the Virginia heat.  There was no subterranean basement so the ground floor offices would have been the coolest location.

Virginia State Capitol, Bank and 10th Streets, Capitol Square, Richmond, Independent City, VA. Call No. HABS VA,44-RICH,9-.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Virginia State Capitol, Bank and 10th Streets, Capitol Square, Richmond, Independent City, VA. Call No. HABS VA,44-RICH,9-. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

What types of wine were in James Monroe’s six cases is not yet known.  The only documentation of the most prior wine order concerns some 22 or 23 dozen bottles of Madeira from late 1800.[7] Samuel Coleman wrote on June 27, 1803, that he had been unable to transport the wine to Georgetown nor had he been able to dispose of it in Richmond.  It appears that he eventually disposed of the wine for his letter to James Madison on October 26, 1803, makes no reference to the wine.[8]  It appears the wine never made it to James Madison for his correspondence for the rest of the year mostly concerns several dozen bottles of Bordeaux [9] and a pipe of Brazil Madeira wine.[10]  What happened to James Monroe’s six cases of wine and what those cases contained remains a mystery!


[1] “To James Madison from James Monroe, 7 March 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-04-02-0469, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 4, 8 October 1802 – 15 May 1803, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Susan Holbrook Perdue, and Ellen J. Barber. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 395–397.
[2]“To James Madison from Samuel Coleman, 9 April 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-04-02-0600, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 4, 8 October 1802 – 15 May 1803, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Susan Holbrook Perdue, and Ellen J. Barber. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 496–497.
[3]“To James Madison from Samuel Coleman, 26 October 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-05-02-0584, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 5, 16 May–31 October 1803, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Bradley J. Daigle. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 577–578.
[4]“From James Madison to Samuel Coleman, 4 May 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-04-02-0679, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 4, 8 October 1802 – 15 May 1803, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Susan Holbrook Perdue, and Ellen J. Barber. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, p. 573.
[5]“To James Madison from Samuel Coleman, 24 May 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-05-02-0036, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 5, 16 May–31 October 1803, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Bradley J. Daigle. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, p. 30.
[6]“To James Madison from Samuel Coleman, 27 June 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-05-02-0150, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 5, 16 May–31 October 1803, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Bradley J. Daigle. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 125–126.
[7]“From James Madison to James Monroe, 7 November 1800,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-17-02-0280, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 17, 31 March 1797–3 March 1801 and supplement 22 January 1778–9 August 1795, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne K. Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991, p. 432.
[8]“To James Madison from Samuel Coleman, 26 October 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-05-02-0584, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 5, 16 May–31 October 1803, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Bradley J. Daigle. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 577–578.
[9]“From James Madison to William Lee, 6 April 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-04-02-0587, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 4, 8 October 1802 – 15 May 1803, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Susan Holbrook Perdue, and Ellen J. Barber. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 485–486.
[10]“From James Madison to Thomas Newton, Jr., 5 [August] 1803,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-05-02-0296, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 5, 16 May–31 October 1803, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Bradley J. Daigle. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 280–281.

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