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Posts Tagged ‘History of Madeira’

“[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.

“[A] choice parcell of Madeira Wines…&…the best Gundpower”: A Madeira advertisement from Charleston in 1735

South-Carolina Gazette Tuesday, Jun 07, 1735. [1]

In early 18th century America, merchants typically sold a variety of goods rather than specializing in one.  It is common to see their advertisements list Madeira alongside such items as beer, nails, fabrics, and paper.  My attention was caught then by a unique offering of “a choice parcell of Madeira wines & likewise a quantity of the best Gunpowder” which ran during the summer of 1735 in the South Carolina Gazette.[1]  This was just three years after the Gazette became the first newspaper to publish south of Virginia in 1732 and just five years before the fire of 1740 burned half of the city.  Madeira and gunpowder might seem an odd combination but it must be remembered that Charles Town was a walled city designed to defend against attacks from the Spanish, French, and pirates.  Development did begin to expand rapidly beyond the town walls when this advertisement ran during the 1730s.  It appears, though, that there was still a need for gunpowder.

The ichnography of Charles-Town at high water. 1739. [3]

Cleland & Wallace sold this Madeira out of their store at the Widow King’s house on Broad Street.  Broad Street originated at the half-moon battery then ran west.  Today, the foundation of the battery lies under the Old Exchange at Broad Street and East Bay Street.  The house is described as “opposite to the Market in Broad-street”[3]  The market was located at the north-east corner of Broad Street and Meeting Street since the 17th century.  It has since been replaced by Charleston City Hall. There are several possible locations for Widow King’s house located on each corner of the intersection. If the Widow King’s house was located in these areas, it would have survived the 1740 fire.  This fire destroyed homes and buildings from East Bay to the north-west corner of Broad Street and Church Street.  In other words, the Widow King’s house was one block away from the destruction.  In the wake of the fire, the city saw significant fire-proof rebuilding.  I do not know if this is when the house was rebuilt but it is no longer standing for a picture.


[1] South-Carolina Gazette Tuesday, Jun 07, 1735 Charleston, SC Page: 3
[2] The ichnography of Charles-Town at high water. B. Roberts and W. H. Toms. 1739. File Name: 29852-000. Image Collections, The John Carter Brown Library. URL: https://jcb.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/JCBMAPS~1~1~2833~101286:The-ichnography-of-Charles-Town-at-
[3] South-Carolina Gazette Tuesday, May 03, 1735 Charleston, SC Page: 3

“Rich and Rare Wines”: The 19th c. Madeira advertisements of Higham Fife & Co. of Charleston

Southern Patriot, 1830, 12, 09. Charleston, SC. [1]

The firm of Higham, Fife & Co. was founded by Thomas Higham and James Fife in January 1820.[2]  They were first located at 43 East Bay in Charleston, South Carolina where they traded in a variety of goods including Madeira.  By the fall of 1820, Higham & Fife was selling old London Particular, Malmsey, and “very fine Tinto”.[3]  They soon established an agency with the Madeira house of Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, & Scott in 1822, by which time they have moved their store to 75 East Bay.[4]  They advertised as the “only authorized Agents” of Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, and Scott Madeira wines in South Carolina.[1]  Through the early 1830s, their advertisements often list not only new, old, and “extra old” Madeira but also the undoubtedly more expensive offerings of Malmsey, Sercial, and Tinto.

Charleston Courier Friday, Sep 12, 1834 Charleston, SC. [5]

The Madeira listings begin to change in 1834 with an offer of 4 pipes of an 1827 reserve which was sent on an East Indian voyage. [5]  This wine was noted “for its richness, fine flavor, and full body.”  The following year an even more detailed offering was made. [6]  This was comprised of 1825 “very OLD MADEIRA”, 1824 “rich old SERCIAL”, 1824 “old and finely flavored MALMSEY”, and 1834 “very superior BURGUNDY”.  Given the rarity of these wines, they were sold in small 13 gallon casks.  Note how the Burgundy Madeira, given that it was the current released vintage, was recommended both new and old.

Charleston Courier Thursday, Sep 10, 1835 Charleston, SC. [6]

The firm continued to operate and sell Madeira under Higham, Fife & Co. until the death of James Fife in 1846. [7]  During this period they spent more than two decades at 75 East Bay Street.

75 East Bay St, Charleston, SC.

Today, 75 East Bay is located one building south of the intersection of Tradd Street and East Bay Street.  It is not clear to me when the building was constructed, though Zillow lists it as 1816.  The address has been in use since at least 1790.  It is a two-storey stucco building with a flat roof.  When it was surveyed in 1972, the front door did not have a transom.  On the second floor, there was no central door nor porch. Instead there were three symmetrical, shuttered windows.  In a postcard image from the 1920s, the street level had the appearance of a store-front with large, plate-glass windows.  Barring the plate-glass, I imagine this is similar to the configuration when Higham and Fife were operating.


[1] Southern Patriot Dec 09, 1830 Charleston, SC. Genealogy Bank.
[2] Southern Patriot Friday, Jan 07, 1820 Charleston, SC Page: 3. Genealogy Bank.
[3] Charleston Courier Monday, Oct 30, 1820 Charleston, SC Vol: XVIII Issue: 6476 Page: 1. Genealogy Bank.
[4] Charleston Courier Tuesday, Dec 31, 1822 Charleston, SC Page: 3. Genealogy Bank.
[5] Charleston Courier Friday, Sep 12, 1834 Charleston, SC Page: 3. Genealogy Bank.
[6] Charleston Courier Thursday, Sep 10, 1835 Charleston, SC Page: 3. Genealogy Bank.
[7] Southern Patriot Tuesday, Jan 06, 1846 Charleston, SC Vol: LV Issue: 8249 Page: 3. Genealogy Bank.

18th century views of Madeira from the sea

Borda, Jean-Charles. “CARTE DES ILES CANARIES et d’une Partie DES COTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE : ” 1780. [1]

The island of Madeira is accompanied by that of Porto Santo to the north-east and the Desertas to the south-east.  A few days sailing to the south are the seven main islands of the Canaries.  A number of 18th charts include views of the various islands, noting the heading and distance from which they were taken.  I am no cartographer but with the inaccuracies of calculating longitude, published views of the islands no doubt helped ensure you were sailing towards the correct island.

Borda, Jean-Charles. “CARTE DES ILES CANARIES et d’une Partie DES COTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE : ” 1780. [1]

For views of Madeira, it is often the island of Porto Santo that is featured.  I assume the more northern position and route followed, meant it was sighted first.  In Borda’s CARTE DES ILES CANARIES et d’une Partie DES COTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE (1780) the island of Madeira or “Grande Isle” appears towering behind Porto Santo.

Fleurieu, Charles-Pierre Claret de. “A CHART of the COAST of AFRICA From the STREIGHTS of GIBRALTAR to CAPE BLANCO, with MADERA & the CANARY ISLANDS” 1781. [2]

The view in Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu’s A CHART of the COAST of AFRICA From the STREIGHTS of GIBRALTAR to CAPE BLANCO, with MADERA & the CANARY ISLANDS (1781) includes two views of Madeira along with one of Porto Santo.  The details are rounded compared to the jagged, rocky nature of Borda’s view.

Porquet.  “Côtes des isles de Porto Santo et Madère”. 18th century. [3]

My favorite view is the undated 18th century piece by J. Porquet Côtes des isles de Porto Santo et Madère. I do not see a large corpus of work for Porquet, just a few pieces.  This view was made for Le service hydrographique et océanographique de la Marine so I can only imagine there are other maps or views.  I particularly like it because Porquet includes the brumes or mist that can cling to the peaks of Madeira.  It is these heavy clouds which early explorers mistook for “vapours rising from the mouth of hell”.

Porquet.  “Côtes des isles de Porto Santo et Madère”. 18th century. [3]


[1] Borda, Jean-Charles. “CARTE DES ILES CANARIES et d’une Partie DES COTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE : ” 1780. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, CPL GE SH 18 PF110 DIV 2 P 15. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb410597102

[2] Fleurieu, Charles-Pierre Claret de. “A CHART of the COAST of AFRICA From the STREIGHTS of GIBRALTAR to CAPE BLANCO, with MADERA & the CANARY ISLANDS” 1781. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, CPL GE SH 18 PF110 DIV 2 P 16. URL: https://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb41060200d

[3] Porquet.  “Côtes des isles de Porto Santo et Madère”. 18th century.  Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE SH 18 PF 120 DIV 1 P 16. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb43602214n

“wee…put to sea, setting our course for the Ilands of Madera”: A few charts of Madeira

Heather, William. A New Chart of the Madeira and Canary Islands. 1801. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.  The Boston Public Library. [1]

The exact latitude of Madeira was not settled until 1822 with early accounts reflecting the uncertainty of even reaching it. John Huyghen van Linshoten, the Dutch merchant who published detailed nautical maps which opened up trade to the East Indies, departed Lisbon on April 8, 1583, writing that they “put to sea, setting our course for the Ilands of Madera, and so putting our trust in God, without whose favour and help we can doe nothing, and all our actions are but vaine, we sayled forwards.”[2]  Seven days later he sighted land.

Over the next few centuries ships were still able to reach Madeira in approximately the same time.  Vice Admiral William Fitzwilliam Owen made the same journey in the admittedly quick period of six days.[3]  Despite the ability to find Madeira by ship, the uncertainty of its longitude is exhibited in maps of the period.  This, of course, was caused by the limitations of chronometers. While the rates of the chronometers were measured in order to improve latitude calculations, the changing behavior of the rates, though often recognized, could not be.

Bellin, Jacques-Nicolas. 1753. CARTE REDUITE DES COSTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE. Bibliothèque nationale de France. [4]

In maps of the period, the island of Madeira appears at slightly different locations.  Two maps that highlight this issue include Jacque-Nicolas Bellin’s Carte Reduite des Costes Occidentales d’Afrique (1753) which puts Funchal east of 17° London meridian and William Heather’s A New Chart of the Madeira and Canary Islands (1801) which puts it just west.

Heather, William. A New Chart of the Madeira and Canary Islands. 1801. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.  The Boston Public Library. [1]

These limitations in calculating longitude were known so chronometers and sightings were taken at reference locations.  In Europe, the arsenal in Lisbon might be the first reference point in calculating the location of Madeira.  The consul’s garden in Funchal would be a reference in Madeira.  Just a few days sail away, the various islands and peaks of the Canary islands were used.  As a result, longitudinal reference lines often appear running through Madeira down to El  Hierro and Teneriffe.

Plusieurs routes d’Ouessant a Madere. 18th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France. [5]

Depending upon the mapmaker, maps of the period might reference the meridian to Rome, Paris, or London.  I have included a final, unattributed French map from the 18th century.  This detail shows numerous routes taken from the French island of Ushant in the English Channel down to Madeira.  There appear to be slightly different locations for Funchal between the pencil and pen versions.


[1] Heather, William. A New Chart of the Madeira and Canary Islands. 1801. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.  The Boston Public Library.  Call #:
G9150 1801 .H43 URL: https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:kk91fr30b

[2] Burnell, Arthur Coke.  “The Voyage of John Huygen Van Linschoten to the East Indies. Vol 1”.  The Hakluyt Society.1885. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=R2c_AAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

[3] Owen, William Fitzwilliam. “Table of latitudes and longitudes by chronometer of places in the Atlantic”. 1827. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=R2c_AAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

[4] Bellin, Jacques-Nicolas. 1753. CARTE REDUITE DES COSTES OCCIDENTALES D’AFRIQUE. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, CPL GE SH 18 PF110 DIV 2 P13/1. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb41059484s

[5] Plusieurs routes d’Ouessant a Madere. 18th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE SH 18 PF 118 P 54 D. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb43600492h

“Madeira, the town of Funchal, and the eastern end of the island” 1842

“Madeira, the town of Funchal, and the eastern end of the island”. Porcher, Edwin Augustus. April 1842. National Library of Australia. [1]

Commander Edwin Augustus Porcher (1824-1878) was a naval officer and draughtsmen.[2]  He was a member of the four year voyage of the H.M.S. Fly (1842-1846), commanded by Captain F. P. Blackwood, which made a hydrographic survey of the north-east coast of Australia and other islands.  Throughout this survey, Porcher made a number of watercolor views of places they visited, including the picture of Madeira featured in this post.

The H.M.S. Fly was to make a specific survey of the Great Barrier Reef to discover gaps through which ships could pass.  Without accurate charts, ships would continue to be lost.  Before the survey could begin, the H.M.S Fly was to visit Madeira to verify the rates of her chronometers.[3]

Chronometers were required to calculate longitude.  Chronometers did not keep perfect time so it was important to measure how much time they lost or gained per day.  This rate would then be used for a more accurate calculation.  Madeira was the island of choice for the British Board of Longitude determined the longitude of Madeira in 1822.  Thus the H.M.S. Fly with her tender the Bramble schooner, arrived at Madeira on April 18, 1842 where they spent the next few days calibrating their chronometers.  We do not know of Porcher drank any Madeira, presumably he did.  His journals survive in the National Library of Australia so perhaps someone can take a look!


[1] Porcher, Edwin Augustus. “Madeira, the town of Funchal, and the eastern end of the island”. Porcher, Edwin Augustus. April 1842. PIC Drawer 3531 #R5723. National Library of Australia. URL: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-135137487/view

[2] Porcher, Edwin Augustus (-1878). Biographies.  Trove, National Library of Australia. URL: https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/565304?c=people

[3] Jukes, Joseph Beete. “Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H. M. S. Fly, Commanded by Captain F. P. Blackwood in Torres Strait, New Guinea, and Other Islands of the Eastern Archipelago, During the Years 1842 – 46”.   1847. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=IEdCAAAAcAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Madeira in Early America, Part 4

This is the final of four posts based on my talk presented to The Stanford Wine Society in April of this year.

India Madeira in America

During the Revolutionary War, the British blockaded the major ports of Boston and Charleston. In response the Continental Congress economically boycotted Great Britain which included a ban on the import of Madeira wine. Madeira shipments to America plummeted so 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 nearly half 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. It was soon found that this India Madeira was favorably improved.

The American India trade began in 1783, when the ship United States of Philadelphia set sail for China but first stopped at Madeira. Pintard boarded the ship within half an hour of it weighing anchor. He invited the Captain, Supercargo, and Surgeon to stay at the house of Searle where he resided. He was also a relative and employed at the house. 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 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 was in financial difficulties as a result, causing the ship and cargo to be auctioned off just to pay the wages. There was then the question of the debt to John Searle & Co. With only one-fifth of the Madeira bill paid the matter was turned over to attorneys, the results of which are unknown. This was not the last issue for the Searles.

Pintard wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784 that the house of John Searle & Co. had “Vast connections in the India trade”. 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 soon extensively involved in the India Madeira trade.

The trade with India and China could yield immense profits but the early Madeira trade was not without its risks both for the owners of the ships with their cargoes and the Madeira shippers. Across several documents we learn the fate of the John Jay and General Washington, two ships, under different owners, which both set sail for the Far East in December 1788. The General Washington was to carry a cargo valued between of £10,000 to £12,000 worth of which 1/8 would be Madeira taken on board en route. Both ships loaded up with Madeira from John Searle & Co of which more than 120 casks of various sizes were on the General Washington alone.

Upon arriving in India, the supercargo of the General Washington found that they had “the misfortune to find a great imposition in the quality of our wines which has proved a ruinous affair to the whole Voyage”. There was a series of small and unexceptional vintages from 1785-1788 which appear to have caused the Searle’s to overextend themselves. The General Washington was forced to sell the first portion at “a very low cost” for goods instead of money then the rest were sold off in China. It did not help that the market was glutted with wine. The cargo of the John Jay was mostly Madeira which they were forced to sell off in Madras, Batavia, and Bombay. Both ships wrote letters of protest to support their legal cases against Searle whose failure was announced in American newspapers in 1793 and 1794.

Pintard had left Madeira in 1786 only to return in 1790 as Consul. Experienced in the India Madeira trade under the Searle’s, he created his own business and it is he who shipped four pipes of Knox’s Madeira via India. There were accompanied by two pipes for Washington. This was in fact the second order of India wine being sent to Washington. Both of which arrived within months of each other. This new type of Madeira was no doubt rare. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison ever received India wine. 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 timing of these orders is not by accident for in 1793, France declared war against Great Britain. The British tolerated this American trade because they did not want the Americans to reactivate their alliance with France. 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. The treaty was passed in 1795, the same year that the new ship Ganges picked up the pipes of Madeira destined for Washington and Knox.

The cost of the London Particular Madeira was the same but it is the freight which made these wines expensive. The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira. That made one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s for London Particular direct. The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £33 each. These pipes of India Madeira cost a staggering £71 each, not regarding duties and drayage.

The freight for Knox’s pipes was £20 each compared to £33 each for Washington. The former were simply “cased” whereas the later were in “dble cases”. In order to prevent the theft of such expensive wine, the pipes or casks themselves were often placed inside a larger wooden case. Washington once had a pipe of Madeira entirely replaced with water so he subsequently cased his wines. For this shipment he was exceedingly cautious as he placed his Madeira inside two increasingly larger cases. Madeira typically shipped in 110 gallon pipes. Knox’s single case raised the volume to approximately 196 gallons each. Washington’s double cases would have occupied over 320 gallons each.

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

The India Madeira for Knox and Washington arrived during the summer of 1796. Knox was notified of the arrival of his wine and that it would be stored until directed otherwise. Seven months later he received another letter explaining that the bill remained unpaid. He was given just five days to pay the outstanding $922, a huge bill given that he made $3000 per year as Secretary of War. We do not know what happened with the wine. Knox had moved back to Maine, where several of children passed away and he had engaged in failing business enterprises.

George Washington wanted his old India 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 the duties on the two pipes of Madeira as well as the drayage. George Washington’s personal goods were shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon so there is a bill of lading. It is noted in the margin, ”No. 21.22. Two pipes Meda. Wine not mentioned in the No. of Casks-“. George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon where he drank the last glass just months before passing away in 1799. Pintard became disgraced by consular affairs that year and departed the Island. In doing so he closed this early trade in India Madeira with America.


[1] Arrowsmith, Aaron. Composite: Map of India. 1804. David Rumsey Map Collection.  URL: https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~233589~5514095:Composite–Map-of-India-?sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No#