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“[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.

Chateau Camino-Salva in Cocks-Féret (1901)

Bordeaux et ses vins classés par ordre de mérite (7e éd…). 1901. Cocks & Féret. [1]

“Les vins de Camino-Salva se distinguent par beaucoup de corps, une belle couleur et un parfum tres abundant.”[1]


[1] Bordeaux et ses vins classés par ordre de mérite. Cocks, Charles and Féret, Édouard. 1901. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, 8-LK7-1082 (BIS,C). URL: https://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb302537639

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