Home > History of Wine > “Received the contents”:  Exploring General George Washington’s Madeira supply during the beginning of the New York campaign of 1776

“Received the contents”:  Exploring General George Washington’s Madeira supply during the beginning of the New York campaign of 1776


Detail from William Faden’s “A Plan of New York Island”. 1776. LOC.

With the end of the Siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War between the American colonies and Great Britain, military attention quickly shifted south to New York.  New York was an important port and a strategic link between the northern and the southern colonies.  After the British forces withdrew from Boston, George Washington moved his headquarters from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York during April 1776.

General Washington had felt the need to create a personal guard based on his experience during the Siege of Boston.[1]  In March 1776, before he left Boston, he appointed Captain Caleb Gibbs, Captain Commandant of the Guard.  Captain Gibbs was not only head of George Washington’s security but also chief steward of his household.  Captain Gibbs served in this position for nearly five years during which time he took over the purchasing of Madeira for General Washington.  It is fortunate for us that General Washington’s receipts were kept.

During these war years General Washington stopped personally ordering his Madeira direct from the Island.  Direct import was impossible because the Continental Congress had banned the import of Madeira wine since October 1774.  Instead, Captain Gibbs purchased Madeira from merchants and individuals located near headquarters.  Such purchases did not require a series of correspondence so we must rely on the Revolutionary War receipts to piece together George Washington’s Madeira supply.

General Washington moved from Cambridge to New York during April 1776 which is the very same month that the Continental Congress opened all American ports to international trade.  Though Madeira could now be imported, trade was complicated by the presence of American and British military forces.

General Washington arrived in New York on April 13, 1776.  The first purchase upon his arrival is for one dozen bottles at “New York”.[2]   Colonel William Palfrey was General Washington’s aide-de-camp during the move so he kept the list of moving expenses.  Unfortunately, we do not know from whom Colonel Palfrey purchased the Madeira.

Once in New York Captain Gibbs took over.  The initial purchase of one dozen bottles is soon followed by another small parcel of three dozen bottles from the Loyalist Lloyd Danbury on April 25, 1776.[3] These bottles cost £2 16s per dozen, the lowest price per bottle for all purchases that summer.  Given the price these must be a lower grade of Madeira and perhaps represent an effort by Captain Gibbs to simply supply Madeira for the table.

For the rest of the campaign General Washington’s Madeira was sourced from a merchant who regularly sold Madeira and two men with significant Madeira collections.  Abraham Duryee, the New York merchant and member of the Committee of 100, sold Madeira and other goods since at least 1758. On March 28, 1776, he placed his last advertisement for goods detailing cash only.[4]  The last listed item for sale is “Old Madeira Wine”.  In the June 1776, the Portuguese monarchy aligned with the British and forbade any American colonial ships from calling on Portuguese ports.  Duryee still held stocks for he sold Captain Gibbs 10¼ gallons of “old” Madeira on June 25, 1776.[5] This purchase of low quality Madeira appears to have been for Major General Charles Lee which could explain why the very next day a dozen bottles were purchased of Samuel Fraunces.  He was the owner of Fraunces Tavern and later steward of George Washington’s presidential household.[6]

Receipt for Old Madeira Wine from Thomas Marston. July 17, 1776. LOC. [7]

Captain Gibbs next bought 11 dozen bottles of Madeira from Thomas Marston of New York on July 9, 1776, of which the funds were paid on July 17, 1776.[7]  In Cambridge, General Washington typically purchased his Madeira by the casks then had it bottled.   This is what appears to have been done by Thomas Marston given the slightly cryptic description of the expense as “the wine is in quarter casks rack of the Bottles.”   On August 31, 1776, another 11 dozen bottles of “Old Madeira” were purchased from Thomas Marston.[8]  He held his price at £3 12s per dozen.  Upon the death of Thomas Marston, his “good old Madeira” was auctioned off in the spring of 1814.[9]  Some 48 demijohns and 1700 bottles were sold off with some lots reaching $25 per gallon.

Throughout June, July, and August of 1776, British troops continued to arrive in the New York region.  Unsure of where the British would launch their attack, General Washington stationed troops both in New York and Long Island.  It is unclear why but the next two parcels of Madeira came from David Clarkson and his son David Clarkson Jr of Flatbush, Long Island.  On July 23, 1776, came 12 dozen bottles of wine from David Clarkson.[10]  These cost £4 per dozen for a total of £48. Within two weeks, on August 4, 1776, came 12 dozen “Madeira wine” at the standard price of £3 12s per dozen from David Clarkson’s son David Clarkson Jr.[11]  The switch in suppliers was not because Thomas Marston was out of Madeira for Captain Gibbs purchased more from him at the end of August.

One possibility for the switch is that the Clarkson’s feared for the safety of the Madeira stored in their house in Flatbush.  General Washington was still located in New York and did not land on Long Island until the end of August.  The Madeira would have been ferried back to New York.  The first parcel is the most expensive purchased during the New York campaign so it was probably of higher quality and worth the effort to transport back to headquarters.

There is plausibility to this reasoning.  It was on July 12, 1776, that British ships arrived at the Hudson River with additional ships continuing to arrive over the next several weeks.  On August 22, 1776, the main body of British troops invaded Long Island.  There was a line of American troops at Flatbush but they moved back allowing the British to take Flatbush.   David Clarkson had left behind “a quantity of wine” in his house. [12]  These bottles of Madeira wine were stored behind a hidden partition in an upper part of the house.  A British sympathizer revealed the secret location of the “very choice” wine which was consumed by the British in a “complete drunken frolic.”

The house in Flatbush where David Clarkson lived. George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Bergen House, Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1877. Collodion silver glass wet plate negative Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.2-174.

That George Washington bought Madeira from these specific men appears to be the result of their relationships.  Both Abraham Duryee and Augustus Van Horne were members of the Committee of 100.[13]  Abraham Duryee, David Clarkson, Augustus Van Horne, and Thomas Marston all served on the General Committee for the City and County of New York.[14]  Members of the Clarkson and Van Horne families were both married and business partners.[15]

I have gathered the Madeira purchased by Colonel Palfrey and Captain Gibbs during the beginning of the New York campaign.  General Washington was outside of New York from May 22, 1776 through June 5, 1776.[16] This in part explains the gap in receipts and entries between April 25, 1776, and July 26, 1776.  Given the size of subsequent Madeira purchases General Washington must have been supplied during this period by some means.

  • April 13, 1776, Unknown, wine, 1 dozen bottles, £3 12s per dozen, £3 12s total
  • April 25, 1776, Lloyd Danbury, Madeira wine, 3 dozen bottles, £2 16s per dozen, £8 8s total
  • June 26, 1776, Abraham Duryee, old Madeira wine, 10¼ gallons, 14s per gallon, £7 3s 6d total
  • June 27, 1776, Samuel Fraunces, Madeira wine, 1 dozen bottles, £3 12s per dozen, £3 12s total
  • July 9, 1776, Thomas Marston, old Madeira wine, 11 dozen bottles, £3 12s per dozen, £39 12s total
  • July 23, 1776, David Clarkson, wine, 12 dozen, £4 per dozen, £48 total
  • August 4, 1776, David Clarkson Jr., Madeira wine, 12 dozen, £3 12s per dozen, £43 2s total
  • August 31, 1776, Thomas Marston, old Madeira wine, 11 dozen bottles, £3 12s per dozen, £39 12s total

After the British drank all of Madeira in Flatbush they advanced towards Brooklyn.  General Washington was trapped between superior numbers of British troops and British ships.  Under the cover of night on August 29, 1776, he was able to ferry all of his men to New York without alerting the British. The day after his arrival in New York he was met by a fresh supply of Madeira.


[1] Caleb Gibbs.  George Washington’s Mount Vernon. URL: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/caleb-gibbs/

[2] William Palfrey, April, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 2. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers.

[3] Lloyd Danbury to George Washington, April, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers

[4] Advertisement. Date: Thursday, March 28, 1776   Paper: New-York Journal (New York, New York)   Issue: 1734   Page: 4

[5] Abraham Duryee to George Washington, June 26, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 2. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers

[6]Since at least John C. Fitzpatrick published George Washington’s Accounts of Expenses While Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, 1775-1783 (1917) it has been held that there is a “voucher” from Samuel Fraunces dated June 27, 1776, for these bottles of Madeira which was not entered into the debit lists in the Series 5 Financial Papers.   I can find no citation for this “voucher” nor can I find it amongst the Series 5 documents.  Instead it is entered in the Journal of Household Expenses.   Washington, G. (1776) George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers: Revolutionary War Journal of Household Expenses, July, 1776 – November, 1780. 07-/11-1780. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mgw500028/

[7] Caleb Gibbs, 1776-80, Revolutionary War Receipt Book. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers and Thomas Marston to Caleb Gibbs, July 17, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers

[8] Thomas Marston to Caleb Gibbs, August 31, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers

[9] Thomas Marston, Esq; Madeira. Date: Saturday, April 2, 1814   Paper: Portsmouth Oracle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire)   Volume: XXV   Issue: 28   Page: 3

[10] David Clarkson to George Washington, July 23, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers

[11] David Clarkson Jr. to Caleb Gibbs, April 4, 1778. George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers: Revolutionary War Vouchers and Receipted Accounts, 1776 -1780

[12]Strong, Thomas M. The history of the town of Flatbush in Kings County, Long Island. URL: https://archive.org/stream/historyoftownoff00stro

[13] Williams, C. S. Jan Cornelis Van Horne and his descendants. 1912. URL: https://archive.org/details/jancornelisvanho00will

[14] Jones, Thomas.  History of New York During the Revolutionary War: And of the Leading Events in the Other Colonies at that Period, Volume 1. 1879. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=3X8FAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR17#v=onepage&q&f=false  and Wilson, James Grant. The Memorial History of the City of New-York: From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892, Volume 2. 1892. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=h1QOAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

[15] David Clarkson Jr was married to Elizabeth French whose sister Anne was married to David Van Horne, the son of Augustus Van Horne.  David Van Horne was business partners with David Clarkson’s brother Levinus Clarkson.   Levinus Clarkson was married to Mary Van Horne.  The Clarksons of New York: A Sketch, Volume 1. 1875. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=coQ7AAAAMAAJ&vq=levinus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=levinus&f=false

[16] Washington’s Revolutionary War Itinerary. University of Virginia. URL: http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/history/topics/washingtons-revolutionary-war-itinerary/

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