Home > History of Wine, Image > “for Mercy Sake stop, all my Wine”: John Adam’s first wine order as Minister to Great Britain in 1785

“for Mercy Sake stop, all my Wine”: John Adam’s first wine order as Minister to Great Britain in 1785


On February 24, 1785, John Adams was commissioned as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James in Great Britain.  As any wine lover would do he made previous arrangements to ship a large amount of wine from France to his new home in London.  He arrived in London on May 26, 1785, only to find to his horror that as minister he was not exempted from paying duties on all of the wine he had ordered.  Thus on his second day he dashed off a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Ministers Plenipotentiary to France, begging him to cancel his wine order.[1]

John Adams already had wine “of the best qualities in my Cellar at the Hague”.  For this quantity he was exempted on paying duty.  From France he was expecting 500 bottles of “Small Wines” from Bordeaux, Madeira, and Frontenac.  For these he would have to pay a duty of 6 to 8 Shillings per bottle.  John Adams was only willing to pay the duty on the Madeira and Frontenac.

Map showing the course of the Seine from Paris to Rouen. 1753. [6]

Map showing the course of the Seine from Paris to Rouen. 1753. [6]

By the time Thomas Jefferson, who resided in Paris, received the letter, he already had the cases of John Adams’ wine affixed with seals in Paris and put on a boat bound for Rouen.  The boat was just departing so he was unable to land the wine.  Thus Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Anthony Garvey, American Counsel in Rouen, asking him to prevent the 500 bottles of Bordeaux from being sent on to London.[2]  Anthony Garvey responded to Thomas Jefferson on June 5th that he would look out for John Adam’s wine.[3]

John Adams had not yet received a letter about his wine so he again wrote to Thomas Jefferson on June 7, 1785.[4]  He was a bit more emphatic this time.  “[F]or  Mercy Sake stop, all my Wine” he wrote.  Each minister was only allowed to import 500 – 600 bottles duty free.  This alone would not cover his “very rich Wine” at the Hague and his desirable Madeira, Frontenac, and Bordeaux at Autueil.  John Adams feared that “I shall be ruined” by the 500 bottles of Bordeaux wine in Rouen.

He was not joking for he faced paying a duty of £150 – £200.  That year in America, where the best Madeira was to be had,  you could purchase a pipe of three year old London Particular for £33.  At 440 quart bottles per 110 gallon Madeira pipe, John Adams could purchase some 2200 bottles of the best quality Madeira!

Fortunately, Anthony Garvey was successful in holding back John Adams’ wine.  By July, John Adams no longer feared having to pay duties on the extra wine.  He informed Thomas Jefferson that he had asked Anthony Garvey to forward his wine, some 7 or 8 cases of it for “I believe I shall easily obtain an order to receive it without paying duties”.[5]


[1] “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 27 May 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0068. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 122–123.]

[2]“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 2 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0079. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 145–147.]

[3] “To Thomas Jefferson from Anthony Garvey, 5 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-08-02-0139. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, p. 177.]

[4] “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 7 June 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0090. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 160–161.]

[5] “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 16 July 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-17-02-0137. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews, and Sara Martin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 252–253.]

[6] “Carte du cours de la rivière de Seine depuis… la rivière d’Andelle jusqu’à Rouen”.  Buache, Philippe. 1753. ark:/12148/btv1b8468895f . Bibliothèque nationale de France URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb40742714m

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