Home > History of Wine > “[A] great prejudice here against all Wine…from any of the Northern Cities”: Motivation for Higham, Fife & Co.’s concern about the adulteration of Madeira wine

“[A] great prejudice here against all Wine…from any of the Northern Cities”: Motivation for Higham, Fife & Co.’s concern about the adulteration of Madeira wine


Nearly once a year, the Charleston firm of Higham & Fife advertised the acceptance of orders for Madeira wine shipped direct from the house of Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, & Scott to Charleston.  These advertisements begin in 1820, just five years after the flow of Madeira into America resumed after decades of war.[1]

Higham, Fife, & Co advertisement from 18 February 1824. [1]

Madeira was the drink of choice in America but it was not always readily available.  The availability was first disrupted during the American Revolutionary War.  While the Madeira trade did resume it was increasingly restricted during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), The War of 1812 (1812-1815), and stopped altogether with the British blockade in the Atlantic Ocean.

When Madeira imports picked up again in 1815, demand was so high that even Thomas Jefferson felt Madeira had reached an “exorbitance of price”.[2]  When Jefferson did order wine that year, he requested it be double cased so as to protect against adulteration.  Two years later, in 1817, Hutchins G. Burton shipped a barrel of wine to Jefferson from North Carolina.[3]  He warned against the possibility of adulteration as “Waggonners sometimes take the liberty of playing tricks”.

Higham, Fife & Co covers to Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, & Scott of Madeira.  Image linked to Schuyler Rumsey Philatelic Auctions.

The adulteration of wine was long a problem both in transit to and within America.  One can imagine though, that the high cost of Madeira made it even more common if not simply more intolerable.  Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., relayed to me that Higham, Fife, & Co. were sensitive to their clients’ views on adulteration.[4]  In 1824, the firm wrote to Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, and Scott explaining how they would prefer to wait several months for direct shipment of their Madeira to Charleston rather than having it sent through New York or any other ports.  They explained that “there is a great prejudice here against all Wine & Liquors received from any of the Northern Cities” for no one will believe they are not adulterated.


[1] Southern Patriot Wednesday, Feb 18, 1824 Charleston, SC Page: 3. GenealogyBank.

[2] “Thomas Jefferson to John F. Oliveira Fernandes, 16 December 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-09-02-0163. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 9, September 1815 to April 1816, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 263–264.]

[3] “Hutchins G. Burton to Thomas Jefferson, 2 April 1817,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-11-02-0200. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 11, 19 January to 31 August 1817, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 238.]

[4]  Higham, Fife, & Co. to Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, & Scott, 26 February 1824.  Transcription provided by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., who continues to surprise me, year after year, with relevant facts he has carefully accumulated.

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