Home > History of Wine > Did George Washington drink Claret at the horse races?

Did George Washington drink Claret at the horse races?


Horse racing. Bewick, Thomas. 1780.  #1882,0311.3217 The British Museum.

Horse racing. Bewick, Thomas. 1780. #1882,0311.3217 The British Museum.

This past weekend we hosted our 12th annual party at the International Gold Cup in Virginia.  Horse racing has long been popular in our region.  While we always serve wine I am curious about what was drunk by our Founding Fathers.  The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in 1743.  That very same year the club held its first race, a tradition which is still maintained today, making it the oldest chartered sporting organization in America.   We know that George Washington went to the horse races for he noted his travels in his diaries and event kept track of his lost bets in his financial ledgers.

The Maryland Jockey Club events were known as the “Annapolis Races”.  George Washington attended several of these races in the years prior to the Revolutionary War.  We do not know what he drank during all of these races but there is a possibility.  On October 4, 1772, he set out to Annapolis for the four days of racing.  The races began on October 6, 1772, and the very next day George Washington bought “2 Boxes of Claret” from Samuel Galloway for £20 14d.[2]  There is only one expense that exceeds this wine expenditure during this trip and that is £40 for a horse doctor.

Samuel Galloway was the largest shipowner in Annapolis, Maryland.[3]  At one point he owned or had interest in 27 ships.  George Washington had been purchasing claret from Samuel Galloway since at least 1770. The two boxes he purchased during the races contained six dozen bottles each of “excellent Claret” of which George Washington had placed an open request for during May 1772.[4]  George Washington still had large store of Claret lying at Mount Vernon at the time.  Having no immediate need, it appears that George Washington did not pay for the additional wine until his trip to Annapolis during the races that October.

So the question is whether George Washington drank some of the Claret at the races or not.  His diaries and financial ledgers do not indicate.  It is possible that George Washington had the wine stored with the Digges family at Warburton Manor, across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, but it is not yet clear.  We do know that George Washington ordered 48 bottles of Claret for the “Boat Race & Barbicue at Johnson’s Ferry” two years later in 1774.[5]  If his Claret was still with Samuel Galloway in Annapolis, it certainly would be tempting for him to drink it.  The wine was described to George Washington based on first hand experience.   “I have tasted it, & it really is good”.


[1] “[October 1772],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0002-0023. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 135–138.]

[2] “Cash Accounts, October 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0079. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 110–113.]

[3] “Shipping in the Ports of Annapolis 1748-1777”. United States Naval Institute. 1965.

[4] “From George Washington to Samuel Galloway, 4 May 1772,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0028. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p. 40.]  and

“To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 22 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0037. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 50–51.] and

“From George Washington to Jonathan Boucher, 23 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0038. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 51–52.]

[5] “[Diary entry: 7 May 1774],”Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0004-0009-0007. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 248–249.]

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