Posts Tagged ‘ColonyOfVirginia’

“Vines in great Abundance”: The First Vintages of the Colony of Virginia

April 30, 2013 1 comment

“Vines in great Abundance”: The First Vintages of the Colony of Virginia

Source: The Southern States of America (published in 1909)

Source: The Southern States of America (published in 1909)

In my previous post “Grapes Very Fair and Excellent Good”: The First Known Vintage in the Colony of Virginia I learned from the diary of Captain Robert Davies and Samuel Purchas that grapes were found by the Popham colonists at Fort St. George near the Sagadahoc River.  With the grapes being found on October 6, 1607, and Captain Robert Davies departing for England aboard The Mary and John on October 8, 1607, this first wine would have completed fermentation and have been drunk in October, 1607.  Two days after the arrival of The Mary and John on December 1, 1607, and Sir Ferdinando Gorges’ late night letter to the Earl of Salisbury describing the production of wine by the Popham Colony, Sir Ferdinando Gorges corresponds again.  He describes how Captain Robert Davies and the physician Mr. Turner have come to solicit supplies and “inform the state of every particular.”[i]  Sir Ferdinando Gorges is clearly moved by what he has learned, expressing “I make no question but that you will find it to be of greater moment than it can easily be believed to be.”  He then notes he has sent along the journals from one of the ships which cover departure to return.

Determining the first vintage of Jamestown proves difficult for the earliest references occur over one year after the first arrival.  While I could attempt to advance the date that wine was first produced through inference, this is, at best fruitless.  For example, in Wingfield’s Discourse he notes they have drunk the common stores of Sack and aquavitae thus are down to two gallons of Sack reserved for Communion by July 7, 1607.  This alone might provide enough motivation for the Jamestown colonists to start producing wine.  However, Captain John Smith’s A True Relation chronicles the early life in Jamestown, through perhaps May 1608, certainly June 2, 1608.  This is when the Phoenix departs Jamestown for England.  In this letter Captain John Smith makes no mention of winemaking.  Given the detail of his observations this could imply no wine was made.  Thus in this post I examine only the earliest references to vines, grapes, and wine in Jamestown.

The Vines and Grapes of Jamestown

Captain Christopher Newport first arrives in England from Jamestown on July 29, 1607.  Within one month Don Pedro de Zuniga wrote an encoded letter with what appears to be the first documentation of vines in the Jamestown colony.[ii]  He writes, “they say, they think that vineyards can be planted and that these will be very good, because there are many wild grapevines.”  We learn from George Percy’s Discourse published in 1609 that vines were found on May 12, 1607, as well as May 20, 1607, and June 15, 1607, with “Vines in great abundance”.[iii]   Robert Johnson writes in the New life of Virginea that “to engage themselves to solicite their friends to assemble and consult advisedly how to replant this unnatural vine to make it fruitfull…”[iv]  Francis Magnel states in a letter dated July 1, 1610, that “There grow in that country wild many forest grapes.”  The gentleman R. Rich writes of “Great stores of Fowle, of Venison, of Grapes, and Mulberries,” in his poem about the fate of the Third Supply published in 1610.[v]  Captain John Smith first writes of vines and grapes in the 1612 publication of Map of Virginia which is based on his experiences through October 1609.  We also find in Purchas Pilgrimage from 1613 the mention of grapes. [vi]  Grapes and vines were found and written about both before and after the site selection of Jamestown Island on May 15, 1607.  These discoveries were written about in 1607 then first published by George Percy and Robert Johnson in 1609.  This was followed by additional works published in 1610, 1612, and 1613.

Exploring the Earliest References to Wine Made in Jamestown

There are letters to the Earl of Salisbury describing the return of Captain Christopher Newport from Jamestown in July and August 1607.[vii]  The earliest mention of wine from Jamestown, Virginia which I can find in the Calendar of State Papers Colonial and the Calendar of Cecil Papers dates to December 1610.[viii]  This document references wine and contains “Instructions for such things as are to be sent from Virginia with notes for their better preservation, and the prices they sell for in England.”   We know from Captain John Smith that “Of those hedge grapes we made neere twentie gallons of wine, which was like our French Brittish wine”.  Captain John Smith departed Jamestown for England in October 1609.  Thus the initial date range for the production of wine at Jamestown spans May 1607 through October 1609.  Moving backwards in time Robert Johnson writes of samples of commodities including “sope ashes and Tar” along with “some wine of those countries grapes for a trial” arriving in England before the fleet departed in June 2, 1609.[ix]  In Captain John Smith’s work we find “Captaine Newport being dispatched, with the tryals of Pitch, Tarre, Glasse, Frankincense, Sope ashes; with that Clapboord and Waynscot that could be provided.”  It was in December, 1608 that Captain Christopher Newport departs Jamestown for England where he arrived in January 1609.  This narrows the production of wine from May 1607 to December 1608.

Francis Magnel provides no further focus as to the vintage in his conversation with Florencio Conryo, Archbishop of Tuam where he “said in his own language, is here faithfully translated into the Spanish Language.”[x]  On July 1, 1610, he related to the archbishop “There grow in that country wild many forest grapes, of which the English make a wine that resembles much the wine of Alicante, according to the opinion of the narrator who has tasted both.”  Francis Magnel states “This narrator returned to England in the same vessel with the said son of the Emperor.” He also stated “that he returned from Virginia to England in 31 days.”  Alexander Brown footnotes this passage that Magnel alludes to Namontack who sailed for England with Captain Christopher Newport April 10, 1608.  Francis Magnel was an Irish sailor who may have been on the first voyages to Jamestown which arrived in May, 1607.  His report states that he was in Virginia for eight months.  This would put his initial departure from Jamestown in January, 1608.  However, it was January 8, 1608 in which Captain Christopher Newport arrives in Jamestown from England with the First Supply.  So clearly something is amiss with this timeline.  Also, the April 10, 1608, departure from Jamestown did not arrive into England until May 21, 1608.  At five weeks and six days this is greater than the 31 day duration he claimed.  It is possible that he was not on the initial voyage.

If we do believe Francis Magnel visited Jamestown then it could have been aboard the First, Second, or Third Supply.  In looking through the list of colonists of Jamestown for the Original group, First Supply, and Second Supply there is no “Francis Magnel” nor “Francis Maguel”.[xi]  So chances are he falls under “divers others” which is understandable considering his occupation.  The best fit would be his sailing out under Captain Francis Nelson during the First Supply.  Captain Francis Nelson departed England on October 8, 1607, wintered in the West Indies then arrived in Jamestown April 20, 1608.[xii]  While Captain Francis Nelson departed for England on June 2, 1608, Captain Newport returned sometime in December 1608 arriving in England before January 16, 1609.  This later trip would place Francis Magnel in Jamestown for eight months.  While we do not know the duration of this voyage it could have been 31 days.

Francis Magnel writes that the “English make a very great quantity of soap-ashes, which they send home to their country.”  Soap ashes were sent back to England in December 1608 and October 1609.  So he could have learned about the soap ashes first hand.  If it was possible for Francis Magnel to switch captains then we can place him in Jamestown for eight months and he could return in a ship carrying both wine and soap-ashes.  Unfortunately this does not reduce the range of dates when wine was first made in Jamestown.


I could not find a set of documents allowing the determination of the first Jamestown vintage of wine.[xiii]  Grapes were discovered right away in 1607 and were mentioned in several early documents published between 1609 through 1613.  Through the works of Captain John Smith and Robert Johnson we may narrow the date of the first wine produced in Jamestown from May 1607 through December 1608.  Unfortunately the contributions from Francis Magnel are confusing and even my best guess at his dates in Jamestown simply suggest wine was produced by December 1608.  This leaves us with 1607 as the first vintage for the Popham Colony in what is now the state of Maine and 1607 or 1608 as the first possible vintage for Jamestown in what is now the state of Virginia.

[i] ‘Cecil Papers: December 1607, 1-15’, Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 19: 1607 (1965), pp. 351-383. URL: salisbury journals take Date accessed: 29 April 2013.

[ii] Letter from Don Pedro de Zuniga to Philip III, August 22, 1607.  As appears in Barbour, Philip L. The Jamestown Voyages Under The First Charter 1606-1609. Volume I.  Cambridge University Press, American Branch, New York, 1969.

[iii] Percy, Geroge. Discouse of the Plantation of Southerne Colonie in Virginia by the English, 1606. As appears in Brown, Alexander, The Genesis of the United States Vol 1., 1890.

[iv] Johnson, Robert.  The new life of Virginea. 1609.  As appears in Peter Force Tracts Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America. Vol. 1. Washington, DC, 1836

[v] Rich, R. Nevves from Virginia. The lock Flocke Triumphant.  Edward Allde, London, 1610.

[vi] Purchas, Samuel.  Purchas his Pilgrimage.  London, 1613.

[vii] ‘Cecil Papers: August 1607, 1-15’, Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 19: 1607 (1965), pp. 202-219. URL: Date accessed: 29 April 2013.

[viii] ‘America and West Indies: December 1610’, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 1: 1574-1660 (1860), pp. 10-11. URL: wine Date accessed: 29 April 2013.

[ix] Johnson, Robert. The New Life of Virginea, 1612 As appears in Peter Force Tracts Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America. Vol. 1. Washington, DC, 1836.

[x] Magnel, Francis, Relation.  As appears in Brown, Alexander. The Genesis of the United States. Vol 1. 1890.

[xii] Barbour, Philip L. The Jamestown Voyages Under The First Charter 1606-1609. Volume I.  Cambridge University Press, American Branch, New York, 1969.

[xiii] I am indebted to Thomas Pinney A History of Wine in America Vol. 1 for providing many additional references to check.

“Grapes Very Fair and Excellent Good”: The First Known Vintage in the Colony of Virginia

April 26, 2013 5 comments

“Grapes Very Fair and Excellent Good”: The First Known Vintage in the Colony of Virginia

The seventeenth century history of English colonial winemaking in America is traditionally begun by describing Jamestown, Virginia. Schoonmaker begins with Lord De la Warr’s 1616 letter to the London Company requesting “vinearoons.”[i] Thomas Pinney advances from Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke colony of 1587 to Jamestown in 1607.[ii] Tyler Colman’s section Wine in the Colonies also begins with Jamestown in 1607 where he cites Pinney.[iii] Kliman mentions Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 followed by the Virginia Company’s winemaking efforts.[iv] Robinson mentions the Huguenots producing wine followed by Pilgrims dismayed by the locally produced musky wines.[v] Jamestown was not the only English colony in 1607 for there was also Popham Colony in what is now Maine. In this post I shall describe how in 1607 the Popham colonists found grapes and produced wine, which appears to be the earliest documented description of winemaking in the Colony of Virginia.

The London and Plymouth Companies

Captain John Smith participated in the colonization of Virginia through the Charter of the Virginia Company of London (London Company). This company was founded in 1606 by James I of England who simultaneously founded the Virginia Company of Plymouth (Plymouth Company). The Plymouth Company was granted an area of land from the 38th parallel to the 45th parallel with the London Company granted land from the 34th parallel to the 41st parallel. As the two territories overlapped it was stipulated that their colonies had to be at least 100 miles apart. These were the only two English Companies involved in colonizing Virginia at the time.

Virginia, Captain John Smith, 1606, Image from Wikipedia.

Virginia, Captain John Smith, 1606, Image from Wikipedia.

On December 20, 1606, the London Company set sail from Blackwall, London with the three ships Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed under Captain Christopher Newport containing 144 colonists. They made landfall on April 26, 1607 at Cape Henry eventually settling on the site of Jamestown Island on May 15, 1607. Over the first few months approximately half of the colonists died from sickness and attacks. They worked at building a fort as well as hunting and trading for food.

Fort St George, John Hunt, 1607, Image from Wikipedia.

Fort St George, John Hunt, 1607, Image from Wikipedia.

The first Plymouth Company ship set sail in August 1606 but was captured by the Spanish. On May 31, 1607 the two ships Gift of God and Mary and John set sail with 120 colonists. The colony leader George Popham sailed aboard the first ship and Captain Robert Davies on the second. The Gift of God arrived at the mouth of the Sagadahoc River on August 13, 1607, in what was then called northern Virginia and is now called Maine. The Godspeed arrived three days later. On Wednesday, August 19, 1607, they chose the location for their plantation and the next day begin to fortify it. For the first few months all hands labored at building Fort Saint George and a storehouse but there were also occasional trips for trading and exploring.

The Popham Colonist Had Access to Grapes for Winemaking

On September 23, 1607, Captain Robert Davies joined Captain Gilbert and 18 others on a journey towards the head of the Sagadehock River. On September 25, 1607, they found a low and flat island around which the water ran swiftly. In the island they “found great store of grapes, exceeding good and sweet, of two sorts, both red, but the one of them is a marvelous deep red. By both the sides of this river the grapes grow in abundance…” They all went ashore. [vi]

In Purchas his Pilgrimage, published in 1613, Purchas writes of the “Plantation in the River Sagadahoc” that “They found the country stored with Grapes white and red, good Hops…”[vii]

The Popham Colonists Had Enough Time to Make Wine Before Robert Davies Return to London

Captain Robert Davies firsthand account ends on the September 27, 1607. Strachey’s addition has Robert Davies returning to the fort on September 29, 1607, and his departure for England some unspecified time after the October 6, 1607. On October 8, 1607, colonist John Hunt drew a map of the fort with its buildings. That day Robert Davies returned to England aboard The Mary and John.[viii] If Robert Davies did leave on October 8, 1607, then there were eight full days upon returning to the fort prior to his departure.

Printed in 1622 His Majesties Gracious Letter to the Earle of South-Hampton specifically describes how to setup silkworks and plant vines in Virginia.[ix] In section 8. How to make Wine, and how to know when the Grapes are fully ripe there are specific instructions on making wine. From ripe grapes it would take five or six days for fermentation to complete but longer would result in a very red wine. After drawing out this wine the greener, trodden grapes could be added to the husks and skins then fermented for seven or eight days. This would make a “meane small Wine for the household.” If one tenth of a part of water was added to the grapes which were fermented for five or six days a “prettie small Wine for the servants or household” could be made. Section 9. Observations touching the wild Vine, that growth in Virginia, and how to make Wine of the same we find specific instructions for making Virginian wine. This involves adding water to the grape or boiling hard grapes then fermenting for five or six days or so long as required to be fit to drink. The wine could then be drawn and used.

If the colonists fermented the grapes right away and this took five to six days to complete then there were at least two to three days for Robert Davies and others to taste the wine. They found red grape varieties so it would be possible to make a claret.

The Popham Colonists Made Wine

Captain Robert Davies arrived in London on December 01, 1607. Sir Ferdinando Gorges promptly wrote a letter to the Earl of Salisbury. In it he wrote, “This present day here is arrived one of our ships out of the parts of Virginia… grapes very fair and excellent good, whereof they have already made wine, much like to the claret wine that comes out of France…”[x] Of interest, but of no consequence, is the description “excellent good” which is similar to Robert Davies description “exceeding good.”

Sir Ferdinando Gorges is referring to the Popham Colony and not Jamestown

Sir Ferdinando Gorges wrote of the ship leaving Virginia. At the time Virginia consisted of the entire east coast from the 34th parallel to the 48th parallel. So identification of Virginia is not limited to what is now the present state of Virginia but includes what is now the present state of Maine, where the Popham Colony was located.

It is accepted that Sir Ferdinando Gorges was a stockholder in the Plymouth Company. His involvement is documented such as in the first attempt by the Plymouth Company. This involved sending the ship Richard under the direction of Captain Henry Challons. Instead of heading north he took a southern route towards the Canary Islands and was captured by the Spanish. In the letter from Nevill Davis to Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice, dated February 4, 1607, it is noted that “Sir Ferdinando Gorges and other gentleman” sent the ship. On March 20, 1607, Sir Ferdinando Gorges wrote to the Earl of Salisbury concerning their plantation and how he has “sent two ships from Tapsome for supplies…”. These are presumably the Mary and John and the Gift of God.

The Mary and John departed Popham Colony on October 8, 1607, arriving in London on 01 December 1607.[xi] This clearly matches the arrival date in Sir Ferdinando Gorges letter. The Gift of God departed Popham Colony with half of the colonists on December 16, 1607, so it did not arrive until 1608. In terms of the London Company, Captain Christopher Newport departed Jamestown in the Susan Constant along with the Godspeed June 22, 1607 and arrived in London July 29, 1607. He subsequently departed London October 8, 1607 returning to Jamestown on January 8, 1608 with the First Supply missions consisting of the ships John and Francis and the Phoenix. Thus the Jamestown ship schedules do not match the arrival described in Sir Ferdinando Gorges letter.

When Wine Was Made in Jamestown

Pinney writes of an Irish sailor, Francis Magnel, who made the first voyage to Jamestown having sampled wine made there and of a Robert Johnson who wrote of the Jamestown settlers sending wine to London before 1609. But it is Captain John Smith who is his authority for the colonists having made wine during these first years at Jamestown. These men describe the vines, grapes, and wine during the early years of Jamestown.

In George Percy’s Discourse he describes on May 12, 1607, finding a point of land named Archers Hope where “There are also great store of Vines in bignesse of mans thigh, running up to the tops of the Trees in great abundance.”[xii] He noted more vines on May 20, 1607 as well as June 15, 1607, when the triangular fort was completed. Phinney writes that an Irish sailor “sampled one or two of the wines produced and found them very similar to the Spanish Alicante, but this is probably an Irish fantasy rather than a sober report.” He then cites Francis Magnel’s Relation of the First Voyage and Beginnings of the Jamestown Colony published July 1610 as found in Philip L. Barbour’s The Jamestown Voyages under the First Charter, 1606-1609 on page 153. Now I do not yet have a copy of this book.

In Wingfield’s Discourse he notes around July 7, 1607, “the common store of oyle, vinegar, sack, & aquavite all spent, saving twoe gallons of each: the sack reserve for the Communion Table…”[xvi] Though he mentions the wine they drank, Sack, there is no other mention of wine.

Robert Johnson published Nova Britannia in London in 1609. In it he writes “We doubt not but to make there in a few yeares store of good wines, as any from the Canaries, by replanting and making tame the Vines that naturally grow there in great abundance, onely send men of skill to doe it, and Coopers to make caskes, and hoopes for that and all other uses, for which there is woode enough at hand.”[xvii] Despite the potential of making wine in the future, there is no mention of having yet made wine. In London in 1612 the second part was published The New Life of Virginea. In here he describes how “some few hundres of our men were left there by Captaine Newport” and they “built a Church and many houses together, which they named James Towne” and “they planted orange trees, corne, and sundrie kindes of seeds, they made Sope ashes and Tar, with some Sturgeon and Caveare, and of each of these they sent us small quantities, with store of Sassafrasse, and some wine of those countrie grapes for a trial.”[xviii] Purchas in Pilgrimage writes “they had built a Church and many houses” and “some quantitie of many commodities, as Furres, Dies, Mineralls, Sassafrasse, Sturgeon, and other things sent hither, in testimonie of their industry and successe.” Purchas does not mention wine nor grapes. These samples arrived in England before the fleet departed in June 1609.

Captain John Smith was located in Jamestown from 1607 through October 1609 when he returned to England. Over the years he published several books about Jamestown and Virginia. The first publication of his work, unbeknownst to him, occurred while he was still in Jamestown. This was his letter to the Virginia Company which was published in London in August 1608 under the title A True Relation.[xix] He describes Captain Christopher Newport’s departure for England on June 22, 1607, having left provisions for 13 or 14 weeks. He notes their “hard dealings of our President” and though they had a great store of Sturgeon the President kept “the Sack, Aquatie, and other preservatives for our health” for the consumption of himself and his associates. By September 10, 1607, 46 men had died and their “tents were rotten and our Cabins worse than naught.” He continues to chronicle their sickness, troubles, explorations, and in great detail, their food. He notes how many bushels of corn he returns with as well as describing the birds, fowl, and deer they eat. Captain Newport eventually returns to their great joy then departs April 10, 1608. His letter chronicles several more weeks before it ends, concluding that everyone was in good health, content, and in peace with the Indians. The letter returned to England aboard the Phoenix which departed Jamestown June 2, 1608. There is no mention of making wine in the letter.

Upon his return to England Captain John Smith subsequently published accounts of his voyage to Virginia. In 1612 he published Map of Virginia, in 1624 The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, and in 1630 The True Travels. In it he describes vines, grapes, and wine in the section titled Of such things which are natural in Virginia and how they use them. It is in these publications where we find his famous description, “Of vines great abundance in many parts that climbe the toppes of the highest trees in some places, but these bear but few grapes. Except by the Rivers & savage habitations, where they are not overshadowed from the sunne, they are covered with fruit, though never pruined nor manured. Of those hedge grapes we made neere twentie gallons of wine, which was like our French Brittish wine, but certainly they would prove good were they well manured. There is another sort of grape neere as great as a Cherry, this they call Messamins, they be fatte, and the juyce thicke. Neither doth the the taste so well please when they are made in wine.”[xx] The 17th century printings of his book begin with the date 1606 due to the legal year in England beginning on March 25 or Lady Day. This continued up until 1752. Thus contemporary printings reflect the earliest year as 1607 with the general range of years as 1607-1609. This reflects not only the years in which John Smith lived in Jamestown but also the fact that his descriptions are not chronological and at times seasonal in nature.

In Purchas Pilgrimage he writes of Master Thomas Hariot who “described the commodities which Water and Earth yield” such as the “Turpentine, Sassafras, Cedar, Grapes, Oyle,…” Though he mentions grapes I find no mention of wine nor wine-making.


The Popham colonist found an abundant source of red grapes on September 25, 1607. Sir Ferdinando Gorges wrote a letter to the Earl of Salisbury on December 01, 1607, stating the colonists had made wine. The first published accounts of the Jamestown colonists making wine occurred by Francis Magnell’s Relation of the First Voyage and Beginnings of the Jamestown Colony published 1610, followed by Robert Johnson in The New Life of Virginea and Captain John Smith in Map of Virginia both of which were published in 1612. This appears to make the vinuous efforts of the Popham Colony the first documented vintage in the Colony of Virginia.

[i] Schoonmaker, Frank and Marvel, Tom. American Wines. Quinn & Boden Co, New Jersey, 1941.

[ii] Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in American, Vol. 1. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1987.

[iii] Colman, Tyler. Wine Politics. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2008.

[iv] Kliman, Todd. The Wild Vine. Kindle Edition, Clarkson Potter, 2010.

[v] Robinson, Jancis. American Wine. University of California Press, 2013. I have not finished reading this book so it is possible the Popham Colony is addressed later in the book.

[vi] Decoasta, Rev B. F. A Relation of A Voyage to Sagadahoc. John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, 1880. And Thayer, Rev. Henry O. The Sagadahoc Colony. Stephen Berry, Portland, 1892.

[vii] Purchas. Purchas His Pilgrimage. London, 1613.

[viii] Hume, Ivor Noel. Something from the Cellar. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, 2005.

[ix] Bonoeil, John. His Majesties Letter to the Earle of South-Hampton. Felix Kyngston, London, 1622.

[x] ‘Cecil Papers: December 1607, 1-15’, Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 19: 1607 (1965), pp. 351-383. URL: wine gorges 1607 Date accessed: 24 April 2013

[xi] Rice, Douglas Walthew. The Life and Achievements of Sir John Popham, 1531-1607. Associated University Presses, 2005.

[xii] , accessed 25 April 2013.

[xiii] Purchas, Samuel. Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes, Vol XVIII. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1906.

[xvi] Hart, Albert Bushnell. The Founding of Jamestown. 1907.

[xvii] Johnson, Robert. Nova Britannia , 1609 in Peter Force Tracts Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America. Vol. 1. Washington, DC, 1836.

[xviii] Johnson, Robert. The New Life of Virginea, 1612 in Peter Force Tracts Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America. Vol. 1. Washington, DC, 1836.

[xx] Smith, Captain John. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. Edward Blackmore, 1632.

Categories: History of Wine Tags: