Home > History of Wine > “shipped by M. Pintard to the E. Indies in ’93”: George Washington’s India Madeira Wine

“shipped by M. Pintard to the E. Indies in ’93”: George Washington’s India Madeira Wine


With peace negotiated between America and Great Britain at the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington resumed his habit of personally ordering his pipes of Madeira direct from the island.  Ten years later in 1793, during George Washington’s second term as President, he accepted the first of two orders for Madeira which traveled to India before making the long return journey to America.  Known as “India wine”, no other Founding Father received such Madeira.

Great Britain was already at war with France when the first pipe left Madeira.  With British money and ships spread thin, both in fighting wars and maintaining colonies in Asia, the British were weary for the Americans to resume their alliance with France.  As a result, the British tolerated American ships trading with their colonies in India.  It was to Calcutta, capitol of British India, that George Washington’s first pipe of “India wine” was destined for.

During the Revolutionary War, the international Madeira wine trade changed significantly.  When Madeira shipments to America plummeted, the Madeira houses sought to make up this deficit in part by expanding trade to India and China.  The share of Madeira sent to this eastern market rose to 40% of the entire trade.  During the ocean voyages the holds of these ships, with the pipes of Madeira inside of them, could reach temperatures as high as 120F.[1]  It was soon found that this India Madeira was favorably improved.

With the negotiation of peace in 1783, American merchants soon sent their ships to India after first making a stop at Madeira.  There were British and French colonies in India providing a ready market for the wines of Madeira.  The British East India Company carried pipes of Madeira in their own ships but the private American trade was tolerated.  On the day after Christmas, 1784, the first American ship to call on India arrived at Pondicherry.  She was the United States of Philadelphia, a small part of which was owned by the wealthy merchant Thomas Willing.  A decade later the firm of Willing & Francis was regularly trading between America, Madeira, and India.  Willing & Francis carried the second order of India Madeira for President George Washington and his Secretary of War Henry Knox.

George Washington’s First Order

Madeira. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Madeira. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

There were different grades of Madeira and George Washington largely ordered the best and most expensive.  He was rather blunt often requesting “your very choicest (old) Madeira wine”.[2]  What he was sent was London Particular.[3]  This was the highest grade which was followed in decreasing quality and price by London Market, India Market, New York Market, and Cargo.  To ensure the quality of his wine George Washington ordered his pipes to be sent direct from Madeira.

On two occasions President George Washington received London Particular Madeira which had been sent to India and back.  The first order was set in motion during November 1793, when John Marsden Pintard wrote George Washington that he had shipped him one pipe of “very choice old wine” which would travel from Madeira to India then to Boston.[4]  The India Madeira was priced at £40 Sterling which made it more expensive than the “choice old wine” at £38 that John Marsden Pintard sent at the same time direct from the Island to America.  This new type of Madeira was no doubt rare at the time and distinct from the India Market quality. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison ever received India wine.[5]  John Marsden Pintard acknowledged this unusual order suggesting “Should you not think proper to take the pipe that is gone to India” then it could be sold to someone else.

The pipe John Marsden Pintard dispatched from Madeira was first destined for Benjamin Joy in India.  Benjamin Joy was a merchant from Massachusetts who was appointed US Consul at Calcutta in November 1792.  He received the pipe in November 1793 upon which he held on to it for he never had a safe opportunity to send it on to America.[6]  The East India Company was in effect the government in Calcutta.  In April 1794, they refused to recognize Benjamin Joy’s consulship but allowed him to continue business activities.  It was his health problems that eventually convinced him to return to Boston.  Benjamin Joy brought the pipe back to America by November 1795.

John Marsden Pintard

Lewis Pintard was based in Philadelphia where he imported Madeira wine.  His brother, John Marsden Pintard, nephew of Elias Boudinot, a former president of the Continental Congress, went to Madeira to set up a business during the fall of 1782. John Marsden Pintard soon became connected to the house of John Searle & Co on Madeira listing himself as “of the House” in his Application for Office of Commercial Agent in 1783.[7]  The Searles and Pintards were related by marriage and business.  John Searle’s son James Searle moved from Madeira to Philadelphia in 1762 and was importing wine by 1771.

The first American ship to visit India was the United States of Philadelphia.[8]  She had originally set sail for China but first stopped at Madeira in April 1783.  Trade with Madeira resumed after the Revolutionary War but a commercial treaty had not been established with Portugal.  As a result Congress had not appointed a commercial agent to Portugal.  Under Portuguese regulations a ship could only be cleared to depart with a visa from an agent or consul.  To do so the governor of the Madeira gave temporary commission to John Marsden Pintard.[9]  He noted this commission in a letter to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and went on to become the US Commercial Agent to Madeira on October 31, 1783.

John Marsden Pintard boarded the United States within half an hour of it weighing anchor.[10]  He invited the Captain, Supercargo, and Surgeon to stay at the house of Searle where he resided.[11]  The director of the house convinced the captain that a better price would be obtained for any Madeira sold in India rather than China.  Some two weeks later the United States left Madeira for India with a cargo of 125 pipes of Madeira from John Searle & Co.   The Madeira was shipped on credit with a bill payable to Lewis Pintard.

The journey of the United States to Pondicherry and back to Philadelphia took an extraordinary long time with many lives lost to scurvy.  The majority owner of the United States was in financial difficulties thus could not pay the larger than expected wages of the seaman.  The Admiralty Court ordered the ship to be auctioned off.  As this could not satisfy all of the wages the cargo was sold too.  There was then the question of the debt to John Searle & Co which Lewis Pintard presented for payment.  With only one-fifth of the Madeira bill paid the matter was turned over to attorneys, the results of which are unknown.

John Marsden Pintard wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784 that the house of John Searle & Co. had “Vast connections in the India trade”.[12]  In 1786, when the British East India Company looked for a Madeira supplier for their colonies in India, the house of John Searle & Co won the very first bid.  The Searle’s were extensively involved in the India Madeira trade.

George Washington first purchased a pipe of Madeira from John Searle of Madeira in 1763.[13]  One year later in 1764, George Washington requested one more pipe.[14]  It would be nearly 20 years later until John Searle would send more Madeira to George Washington.  Due to the news of peace between America and Great Britain, John Searle wrote George Washington on April 3, 1783, that he was “inform’d that choice Old Madeira are exceedingly Scarce & Dear in the United States”.[15]  A month later in May 1783, Lewis Pintard wrote to George Washington that he had received word of this shipment from his “relation” John Searle.  John Marsden Pintard, apparently learned by February 1786, that the Searle’s previously sent Madeira to George Washington, offered to send more.[16]  George Washington refused the offer being well-stocked since peace was established.[17]

John Marsden Pintard stayed as Commercial Agent until 1786.  Shortly before he returned to New York he offered to send a pipe of Madeira to George Washington.[18] It was received by August 1786.[19]  For the next several years he remained in the Madeira trade, periodically advertising pipes of Madeira for sale.

In 1787 and again in 1789, under the guise of the recently ratified Constitution, John Marsden Pintard continued his application to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to become US Consul to Portugal.   He noted how he was associated with the only American house on Madeira.  He was appointed US Consul to Madeira in June 1790.  Once in Madeira he established the firm of Pintard, Weston & Co to sell and ship Madeira by the end of the year.[20]  In January 1791, he wrote Thomas Jefferson applying both for himself and his partner Samuel Weston for the Consular position in Lisbon.

That John Marsden Pintard decided to setup his own business could be due to the changing fortunes of the firm John Searle & Co which soon failed in 1792.  Peter Mondosa Drummond, Administrator at Madeira, was responsible for settling the affairs of the firm.  He advertised the failure of the firm in American newspapers during 1793 and 1794.[21]

George Washington’s Second Order

A Perspective View of Fort William, in the Kingdom of Bengal. 1760. Wikipedia.

A Perspective View of Fort William, in the Kingdom of Bengal. 1760. Wikipedia.

The second order for two more pipes of “India wine” was placed before George Washington’s first pipe ever arrived.[22]  It is unusual, for George Washington was ordering very expensive Madeira of a type which he had never tasted.  I have yet to find any correspondence with him describing the virtues of “India wine”.[23]  It seems that this order came about as the result of timing on two parts.

In 1793, France declared war against Great Britain.[24]  That same year the charter of the British East India Company was renewed guaranteeing Company control of all British ships trading between the Atlantic and Asia.  The Company set freight rates and the volume for private trade that could be shipped.  This was very expensive, so British merchants began to invest and trade using the American ships which traveled to the East Indies.

The British tolerated this trade because they did not want the Americans to reactivate their 1778 alliance with France.  In the Caribbean British privateers were seizing American ships as prizes.  Coupled with the presence of British occupied forts in America, the anti-British sentiment was high.  The Jay Treaty avoided war between Great Britain and America by recognizing American neutrality in the wars with France.  It also allowed formalized American trade to both the West and East Indies as well as negotiated a lower tariff paid to the Company for such trade.  The Treaty was negotiated in 1794 and passed by the Senate in June 1795.

Bartholomew Dandridge, George Washington’s secretary, heard that the firm of Willing & Francis of Philadelphia had outfitted the sloop Ganges for India trade.  Bartholomew Dandrige wrote John Marsden Pintard on April 14, 1795, that the sloop was to soon depart Philadelphia under Captain Tingey for the East Indies by way of Madeira .[25]  The proof of ownership for the ship Ganges was signed on May 2, 1795.[26]  The intent of Willing & Francis appears to trade with India under the protection of The John Jay Treaty.

John Marsden Pintard was directed to put two pipes of the best Madeira wine on the ship when it arrived at the Island.  The Ganges departed Madeira for Calcutta during the middle of July 1795.[27]  She departed Calcutta during February 1796[28] and after 92 days she returned to Philadelphia on June 1, 1796.[29]  George Washington kept his two pipes stored at the firm’s counting house.[30]  He had been advised that the wines would improve better there than in a cellar.[31]

The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira.[32]  That made one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s.  The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £66 or £33 each.[33]  Thus these pipes of India Madeira cost a staggering £71 each, not regarding duties and drayage.

We now know that George Washington was not the only one to have an order of Madeira on the Ganges.  General Henry Knox, Secretary of War, also had two pipes.[34]  We know this for the unique coincidence that Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., owns the bill of lading for General Knox’s pipes of India wine.  Dated July 16, 1775, John Marsden Pintard sent “Two cased pipes of Madeira Wine” with Captain Tingey of the Ganges to the East Indies and on to Philadelphia.

Invoice to General Henry Knox for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis. Dec 31, 1796. NYPL.

Invoice to General Henry Knox for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis. Dec 31, 1796. NYPL.

General Knox’s bill of lading can now be coupled with a bill for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis held by the New York Public Library.  Together, they shed new light on George Washington’s expensive India wine.  General Knox bill is dated December 31, 1776.[35]  It details that for those two pipes, the most expensive Madeira duties were paid at $0.56 per gallon for 391 gallons.

The freight for General Knox’s pipes was £20 each compared to £33 each for George Washington.  The former were simply “cased” whereas the later were in “dble cases”.[36]  In order to prevent the theft of such expensive wine, the pipes or casks themselves were often placed inside a larger wooden case.  George Washington was exceedingly cautious as he placed his Madeira inside two increasingly larger cases.  Madeira typically shipped in 110 gallon pipes.  Henry Knox’s single case raised the volume to approximately 196 gallons each.  George Washington’s double cases would have occupied over 320 gallons each.

George Washington was willing to pay such extraordinary prices not only because Madeira was “one of the most expensive liquors” but that old Madeira “is not to be had upon any terms”.[37]  Keenly aware of the scarcity of his India wine he instructed Oliver Wolcott Jr. to pay the duties “for the whole quantity” of the double cases rather “than have them uncased for the purpose of measuring the” present contents.[38]  He did not want to risk the wines being stolen or adulterated.

George Washington wanted his old Madeira “reserved..for my own use when I get home” as it was “not easy to be replaced”.  It was in March of 1797 that George Washington retired from his Presidency and returned to Mount Vernon.  According to his Household Account books, that very same month he paid Willing & Francis the duties on the two pipes of Madeira as well as the drayage.[39]  George Washington’s personal goods were shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon so there is a bill of lading.[40]  It is noted in the margin, ”No. 21.22. Two pipes Meda. Wine not mentioned in the No. of Casks-“.[41]  George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon.


[1] Hancock, David. “An Undiscovered Ocean of Commerce Laid Open”, The Worlds of the East India Company. 2002.

[2] “From George Washington to John Searle, 21 May 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-11315. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[3] “To George Washington from John Searle, 15 July 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-11598. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[4] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 20 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-14-02-0267. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 408–409.]

[5] I can find no advertisements for India Madeira during this period.

[6] Benjamin Joy to Bartholomew Dandridge, November 4, 1795.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.

[7] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 7. Applications for Office. 1789-1796

Applications for Office, 1789-1796.  1783? URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw7&fileName=gwpage122.db&recNum=1017

[8] The Beginnings of American Trade with India, 1784-1812 Author(s): Holden Furber Source: The New England Quarterly , Vol. 11, No. 2 (Jun., 1938), pp. 235-265 Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/360708

[9] John Pintard. April 3, 1783. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 7. Applications for Office. 1789-1796. URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw7&fileName=gwpage122.db&recNum=1019

[10] Postscripts to the Voyage of the Merchant Ship United States Author(s): William Bell Clark Source: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , Vol. 76, No. 3 (Jul., 1952), pp. 294-310 Published by: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20088377

[11] Log and Journal of the Ship “United States” on a Voyage to China in 1784 Author(s): Samuel W. Woodhouse Jr. Source:   The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 55, No. 3 (1931), pp. 225-258 Published by:  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/20086772

[12] John Marsden Pintard to Benjamin Franklin. May 16, 1784. Franklin Papers. URL: http://franklinpapers.org/franklin//framedVolumes.jsp?vol=41&page=605

[13] “From George Washington to Robert Cary & Co., 26 April 1763,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0125. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 7, 1 January 1761 – 15 June 1767, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990, pp. 202–205.]

[14] “From George Washington to John Searle, 30 January 1764,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0171. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 7, 1 January 1761 – 15 June 1767, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990, p. 285.]

[15] “To George Washington from John Searle, 3 April 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-10986. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[16] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 24 January–5 February 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0444. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 521–523.]

[17] “From George Washington to John Marsden Pintard, 20 May 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0071. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, p. 67.]

[18] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 24 January–5 February 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0444. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 521–523.]

[19] “From George Washington to John Marsden Pintard, 2 August 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0177. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, pp. 188–189.]

[20] John M. Pintard to Tobias Lear. 19 January 1791. GLC02794.012  The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859. URL: http://www.americanhistory.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/John-M–Pintard-to-Tobias-Lear-regarding-invoice-for-Madeira-wine/GLC02794.012

[21] Date: Wednesday, April 23, 1794   Paper: American Minerva (New York, New York)   Volume: I   Issue: 118   Page: 3

[22] Bartholomew Dandridge to John M. Pintard, April 14, 1795. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.

[23]  There is however, reference to Madeira which went by way of China.  When George Washington complained in 1786 to Henry Hill about the cost of his Madeira from Lamar, Hill, Bisset & Co., Henry Hill responded that age is “essential to the perfection of an original good growth”.  However, the Madeira he tasted sent by John Searle & Co via China was “a mean one”.

[24] Chapter Title: The India Trade Book Title: So Great a Proffit Book Author(s): JAMES R. FICHTER Published by: Harvard University Press. (2010) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0k5c.11

[25] Bartholomew Dandridge to John M. Pintard, April 14, 1795.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799

[26] DS dated 2 May 1795. “proof of ownership of a ship or vessel.” Certifying ownership of the ship Ganges. Signed twice by Tingey. Naval History and Heritage Command. URL: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/manuscripts/t/thomas-tingey-letter-2-may-1795-ownership-of-ganges.html

[27] Date: Thursday, September 10, 1795   Paper: Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Volume: XII   Issue: 2147   Page: 3

[28] Date: Wednesday, May 11, 1796   Paper: Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Page: 3

[29] Date: Thursday, June 2, 1796   Paper: Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Issue: 5350   Page: 2

[30] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 6 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00698. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[31] “To George Washington from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 4 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00688. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[32] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 20 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-14-02-0267. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 408–409.]

[33] “To George Washington from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 23 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00768. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[34] General Henry Knox was a prior customer of John Marsden Pintard.  See the correspondence at THE GILDER LEHRMAN INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN HISTORY.

[35] http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/4b568cc0-067a-0134-bd0a-00505686a51c#/?uuid=4b568cc0-067a-0134-bd0a-00505686a51c

[36] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 13 June 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00621. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[37] “From George Washington to William Pearce, 23 November 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-17-02-0135. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 17, 1 October 1794–31 March 1795, ed. David R. Hoth and Carol S. Ebel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 201–205.]

[38] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 13 June 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00621. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[39] Washington’s Household Account Book, 1793-1797 Author(s): Tobias Lear and  Bartholomew Dandridge Source: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , Vol. 29, No. 4 (1905), pp. 385-406 Published by: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20085306

[40] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 20 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0029. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 37–39.]

[41] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799

Tobias Lear to George Washington, March 20, 1797, with Shipping Report

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