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“I intend, however, to have them examined”: George Washington’s 1785 Chateau Margaux

Extract from Fenwick Mason & Company to George Washington, August 10, 1790, with Invoice. [4]

During the summer of 1791, George Washington received two orders of claret from the firm of Fenwick, Mason & Co. in Bordeaux.  These orders are of interest because they shed light on the quality of the late 18th century Bordeaux vintages.  From these order we do not know what George Washington nor his secretary Tobias Lear thought of  an order of 1786 Chateau Lafite. Fortunately, the assessment of the 1785 Chateau Margaux is preserved.

George Washington’s first order of claret from Fenwick, Mason & Co. met with calamity.  Placed on August 16, 1789, George Washington requested 26 dozen bottles of claret and 26 dozen bottles of Champagne. [1]  As Bordeaux was not the best location to order Champagne, 12 dozen bottles of the sparkling wine were sent from Rheims and 12 dozen bottles of “vins de grave” would come from Bordeaux.[2]  That winter the wine departed for New York via the French packet Jean Jacques.  It was not until July 9, 1790, that George Washington was informed that his wine had not made it to New York, instead due to damage to the ship from the very cold weather, the ship put into Brest where the wine was unloaded.  The cases were split open and a quarter of the bottles were broken. [3]

Fenwick, Mason & Co. sought to have any remaining bottles in Brest sent on to George Washington.[4]  Sadly these bottles were not insured.  Until those wine could arrive, they sent a smaller order of the sames wines from Bordeaux.  It is in the invoice dated August 10, 1790, that we learn that the claret was the 1785 Chateau Margaux.

The smaller, replacement order of wine arrived by the end of June 1791.[5]  On July 7, 1791, Tobias Lear wrote Fenwick, Mason, & Co. noting the arrival of the wine in “good order”.[6]  He specifically wrote that the “claret of the first shipment” that being the 1785 Chateau Margaux, was “pronounced very good”.


[1] “From George Washington to Wakelin Welch & Son, 16 August 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-03-02-0275. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 3, 15 June 1789–5 September 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989, pp. 478–479.]

[2] “To George Washington from Fenwick, Mason, & Company, 5 December 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0258. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, p. 364.]

[3] “To George Washington from Fenwick, Mason, & Company, 9 July 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0021. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 6, 1 July 1790 – 30 November 1790, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996, pp. 38–40.]

[4] Fenwick Mason & Company to George Washington, August 10, 1790, with Invoice.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.  URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw4&fileName=gwpage099.db&recNum=720&tempFile=./temp/~ammem_QE3I&filecode=mgw&next_filecode=mgw&prev_filecode=mgw&itemnum=19&ndocs=100

[5] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0201. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 294–299.]

[6] Tobias Lear to Mason Fenwick & Co, July 7, 1791. George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 23, Aug. 26, 1790 – March 25, 1793. URL: https://www.loc.gov/item/mgw2.023/

 

George Washington’s Food Supply Ledger

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment
Invoice for 2 pipes of Madeira from John M. Pintard to George Washington, November 20, 1793. Library of Congress.

Invoice for 2 pipes of Madeira from John M. Pintard to George Washington, November 20, 1793. Library of Congress.

As today is the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, I thought I would briefly focused on our first president George Washington.  George Washington’s Mount Vernon recently published a page from the Food Supply Ledger for the dates of May 19-25, 1794.  It is a fascinating, daily account with rows detailing the consumption of the Meats, Fish, Butter, Bread, Spices, Candles and of course Wines.

The wines are categorized as “Madeira”, “Claret”, “Champaign”, “Burgundy”, “Ven-de-Grave”, “Sauterne”, and “Sweet wine”.  On all but one day several bottles of Madeira were drunk.  In reviewing his wine orders it is possible to hazard a guess as to what type of Madeira was in those bottles.

The last Madeira order prior to May 1794, was acknowledged on November 20, 1793, when John Marsden Pintard, US Consul at Madeira, shipped “2 Pipes Old particular Madeira” at £38 Sterling each.  The pipes arrived via the sloop Lively at Philadelphia in January 1794.  We know from the Household Account Book that Joseph Sim was paid $484.59 for the two pipes on January 24, 1794.  The very next month on February 3, 1794, the final expense of $2 was paid for “putting in the Cellar”.

Madeira was classified according to quality with the best and most expensive being London Particular.  “Old particular” thus refers to London Particular most likely of two years of age.

 

“shipped by M. Pintard to the E. Indies in ’93”: George Washington’s India Madeira Wine

December 20, 2016 Leave a comment

With peace negotiated between America and Great Britain at the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington resumed his habit of personally ordering his pipes of Madeira direct from the island.  Ten years later in 1793, during George Washington’s second term as President, he accepted the first of two orders for Madeira which traveled to India before making the long return journey to America.  Known as “India wine”, no other Founding Father received such Madeira.

Great Britain was already at war with France when the first pipe left Madeira.  With British money and ships spread thin, both in fighting wars and maintaining colonies in Asia, the British were weary for the Americans to resume their alliance with France.  As a result, the British tolerated American ships trading with their colonies in India.  It was to Calcutta, capitol of British India, that George Washington’s first pipe of “India wine” was destined for.

During the Revolutionary War, the international Madeira wine trade changed significantly.  When Madeira shipments to America plummeted, 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 40% 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.[1]  It was soon found that this India Madeira was favorably improved.

With the negotiation of peace in 1783, American merchants soon sent their ships to India after first making a stop at Madeira.  There were British and French colonies in India providing a ready market for the wines of Madeira.  The British East India Company carried pipes of Madeira in their own ships but the private American trade was tolerated.  On the day after Christmas, 1784, the first American ship to call on India arrived at Pondicherry.  She was the United States of Philadelphia, a small part of which was owned by the wealthy merchant Thomas Willing.  A decade later the firm of Willing & Francis was regularly trading between America, Madeira, and India.  Willing & Francis carried the second order of India Madeira for President George Washington and his Secretary of War Henry Knox.

George Washington’s First Order

Madeira. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Madeira. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

There were different grades of Madeira and George Washington largely ordered the best and most expensive.  He was rather blunt often requesting “your very choicest (old) Madeira wine”.[2]  What he was sent was London Particular.[3]  This was the highest grade which was followed in decreasing quality and price by London Market, India Market, New York Market, and Cargo.  To ensure the quality of his wine George Washington ordered his pipes to be sent direct from Madeira.

On two occasions President George Washington received London Particular Madeira which had been sent to India and back.  The first order was set in motion during November 1793, when John Marsden Pintard wrote George Washington that he had shipped him one pipe of “very choice old wine” which would travel from Madeira to India then to Boston.[4]  The India Madeira was priced at £40 Sterling which made it more expensive than the “choice old wine” at £38 that John Marsden Pintard sent at the same time direct from the Island to America.  This new type of Madeira was no doubt rare at the time and distinct from the India Market quality. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison ever received India wine.[5]  John Marsden 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 pipe John Marsden Pintard dispatched from Madeira was first destined for Benjamin Joy in India.  Benjamin Joy was a merchant from Massachusetts who was appointed US Consul at Calcutta in November 1792.  He received the pipe in November 1793 upon which he held on to it for he never had a safe opportunity to send it on to America.[6]  The East India Company was in effect the government in Calcutta.  In April 1794, they refused to recognize Benjamin Joy’s consulship but allowed him to continue business activities.  It was his health problems that eventually convinced him to return to Boston.  Benjamin Joy brought the pipe back to America by November 1795.

John Marsden Pintard

Lewis Pintard was based in Philadelphia where he imported Madeira wine.  His brother, John Marsden Pintard, nephew of Elias Boudinot, a former president of the Continental Congress, went to Madeira to set up a business during the fall of 1782. John Marsden Pintard soon became connected to the house of John Searle & Co on Madeira listing himself as “of the House” in his Application for Office of Commercial Agent in 1783.[7]  The Searles and Pintards were related by marriage and business.  John Searle’s son James Searle moved from Madeira to Philadelphia in 1762 and was importing wine by 1771.

The first American ship to visit India was the United States of Philadelphia.[8]  She had originally set sail for China but first stopped at Madeira in April 1783.  Trade with Madeira resumed after the Revolutionary War but a commercial treaty had not been established with Portugal.  As a result Congress had not appointed a commercial agent to Portugal.  Under Portuguese regulations a ship could only be cleared to depart with a visa from an agent or consul.  To do so the governor of the Madeira gave temporary commission to John Marsden Pintard.[9]  He noted this commission in a letter to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and went on to become the US Commercial Agent to Madeira on October 31, 1783.

John Marsden Pintard boarded the United States within half an hour of it weighing anchor.[10]  He invited the Captain, Supercargo, and Surgeon to stay at the house of Searle where he resided.[11]  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 Madeira was shipped on credit with a bill payable to Lewis Pintard.

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 of the United States was in financial difficulties thus could not pay the larger than expected wages of the seaman.  The Admiralty Court ordered the ship to be auctioned off.  As this could not satisfy all of the wages the cargo was sold too.  There was then the question of the debt to John Searle & Co which Lewis Pintard presented for payment.  With only one-fifth of the Madeira bill paid the matter was turned over to attorneys, the results of which are unknown.

John Marsden Pintard wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784 that the house of John Searle & Co. had “Vast connections in the India trade”.[12]  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 extensively involved in the India Madeira trade.

George Washington first purchased a pipe of Madeira from John Searle of Madeira in 1763.[13]  One year later in 1764, George Washington requested one more pipe.[14]  It would be nearly 20 years later until John Searle would send more Madeira to George Washington.  Due to the news of peace between America and Great Britain, John Searle wrote George Washington on April 3, 1783, that he was “inform’d that choice Old Madeira are exceedingly Scarce & Dear in the United States”.[15]  A month later in May 1783, Lewis Pintard wrote to George Washington that he had received word of this shipment from his “relation” John Searle.  John Marsden Pintard, apparently learned by February 1786, that the Searle’s previously sent Madeira to George Washington, offered to send more.[16]  George Washington refused the offer being well-stocked since peace was established.[17]

John Marsden Pintard stayed as Commercial Agent until 1786.  Shortly before he returned to New York he offered to send a pipe of Madeira to George Washington.[18] It was received by August 1786.[19]  For the next several years he remained in the Madeira trade, periodically advertising pipes of Madeira for sale.

In 1787 and again in 1789, under the guise of the recently ratified Constitution, John Marsden Pintard continued his application to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to become US Consul to Portugal.   He noted how he was associated with the only American house on Madeira.  He was appointed US Consul to Madeira in June 1790.  Once in Madeira he established the firm of Pintard, Weston & Co to sell and ship Madeira by the end of the year.[20]  In January 1791, he wrote Thomas Jefferson applying both for himself and his partner Samuel Weston for the Consular position in Lisbon.

That John Marsden Pintard decided to setup his own business could be due to the changing fortunes of the firm John Searle & Co which soon failed in 1792.  Peter Mondosa Drummond, Administrator at Madeira, was responsible for settling the affairs of the firm.  He advertised the failure of the firm in American newspapers during 1793 and 1794.[21]

George Washington’s Second Order

A Perspective View of Fort William, in the Kingdom of Bengal. 1760. Wikipedia.

A Perspective View of Fort William, in the Kingdom of Bengal. 1760. Wikipedia.

The second order for two more pipes of “India wine” was placed before George Washington’s first pipe ever arrived.[22]  It is unusual, for George Washington was ordering very expensive Madeira of a type which he had never tasted.  I have yet to find any correspondence with him describing the virtues of “India wine”.[23]  It seems that this order came about as the result of timing on two parts.

In 1793, France declared war against Great Britain.[24]  That same year the charter of the British East India Company was renewed guaranteeing Company control of all British ships trading between the Atlantic and Asia.  The Company set freight rates and the volume for private trade that could be shipped.  This was very expensive, so British merchants began to invest and trade using the American ships which traveled to the East Indies.

The British tolerated this trade because they did not want the Americans to reactivate their 1778 alliance with France.  In the Caribbean British privateers were seizing American ships as prizes.  Coupled with the presence of British occupied forts in America, the anti-British sentiment was high.  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 as well as negotiated a lower tariff paid to the Company for such trade.  The Treaty was negotiated in 1794 and passed by the Senate in June 1795.

Bartholomew Dandridge, George Washington’s secretary, heard that the firm of Willing & Francis of Philadelphia had outfitted the sloop Ganges for India trade.  Bartholomew Dandrige wrote John Marsden Pintard on April 14, 1795, that the sloop was to soon depart Philadelphia under Captain Tingey for the East Indies by way of Madeira .[25]  The proof of ownership for the ship Ganges was signed on May 2, 1795.[26]  The intent of Willing & Francis appears to trade with India under the protection of The John Jay Treaty.

John Marsden Pintard was directed to put two pipes of the best Madeira wine on the ship when it arrived at the Island.  The Ganges departed Madeira for Calcutta during the middle of July 1795.[27]  She departed Calcutta during February 1796[28] and after 92 days she returned to Philadelphia on June 1, 1796.[29]  George Washington kept his two pipes stored at the firm’s counting house.[30]  He had been advised that the wines would improve better there than in a cellar.[31]

The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira.[32]  That made one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s.  The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £66 or £33 each.[33]  Thus these pipes of India Madeira cost a staggering £71 each, not regarding duties and drayage.

We now know that George Washington was not the only one to have an order of Madeira on the Ganges.  General Henry Knox, Secretary of War, also had two pipes.[34]  We know this for the unique coincidence that Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., owns the bill of lading for General Knox’s pipes of India wine.  Dated July 16, 1775, John Marsden Pintard sent “Two cased pipes of Madeira Wine” with Captain Tingey of the Ganges to the East Indies and on to Philadelphia.

Invoice to General Henry Knox for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis. Dec 31, 1796. NYPL.

Invoice to General Henry Knox for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis. Dec 31, 1796. NYPL.

General Knox’s bill of lading can now be coupled with a bill for Madeira wine from Willing & Francis held by the New York Public Library.  Together, they shed new light on George Washington’s expensive India wine.  General Knox bill is dated December 31, 1776.[35]  It details that for those two pipes, the most expensive Madeira duties were paid at $0.56 per gallon for 391 gallons.

The freight for General Knox’s pipes was £20 each compared to £33 each for George Washington.  The former were simply “cased” whereas the later were in “dble cases”.[36]  In order to prevent the theft of such expensive wine, the pipes or casks themselves were often placed inside a larger wooden case.  George Washington was exceedingly cautious as he placed his Madeira inside two increasingly larger cases.  Madeira typically shipped in 110 gallon pipes.  Henry Knox’s single case raised the volume to approximately 196 gallons each.  George Washington’s double cases would have occupied over 320 gallons each.

George Washington was willing to pay such extraordinary prices not only because Madeira was “one of the most expensive liquors” but that old Madeira “is not to be had upon any terms”.[37]  Keenly aware of the scarcity of his India wine he instructed Oliver Wolcott Jr. to pay the duties “for the whole quantity” of the double cases rather “than have them uncased for the purpose of measuring the” present contents.[38]  He did not want to risk the wines being stolen or adulterated.

George Washington wanted his old 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 Willing & Francis the duties on the two pipes of Madeira as well as the drayage.[39]  George Washington’s personal goods were shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon so there is a bill of lading.[40]  It is noted in the margin, ”No. 21.22. Two pipes Meda. Wine not mentioned in the No. of Casks-“.[41]  George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon.


[1] Hancock, David. “An Undiscovered Ocean of Commerce Laid Open”, The Worlds of the East India Company. 2002.

[2] “From George Washington to John Searle, 21 May 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-11315. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[3] “To George Washington from John Searle, 15 July 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-11598. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[4] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 20 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-14-02-0267. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 408–409.]

[5] I can find no advertisements for India Madeira during this period.

[6] Benjamin Joy to Bartholomew Dandridge, November 4, 1795.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.

[7] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 7. Applications for Office. 1789-1796

Applications for Office, 1789-1796.  1783? URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw7&fileName=gwpage122.db&recNum=1017

[8] The Beginnings of American Trade with India, 1784-1812 Author(s): Holden Furber Source: The New England Quarterly , Vol. 11, No. 2 (Jun., 1938), pp. 235-265 Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/360708

[9] John Pintard. April 3, 1783. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 7. Applications for Office. 1789-1796. URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw7&fileName=gwpage122.db&recNum=1019

[10] Postscripts to the Voyage of the Merchant Ship United States Author(s): William Bell Clark Source: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , Vol. 76, No. 3 (Jul., 1952), pp. 294-310 Published by: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20088377

[11] Log and Journal of the Ship “United States” on a Voyage to China in 1784 Author(s): Samuel W. Woodhouse Jr. Source:   The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 55, No. 3 (1931), pp. 225-258 Published by:  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/20086772

[12] John Marsden Pintard to Benjamin Franklin. May 16, 1784. Franklin Papers. URL: http://franklinpapers.org/franklin//framedVolumes.jsp?vol=41&page=605

[13] “From George Washington to Robert Cary & Co., 26 April 1763,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0125. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 7, 1 January 1761 – 15 June 1767, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990, pp. 202–205.]

[14] “From George Washington to John Searle, 30 January 1764,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0171. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 7, 1 January 1761 – 15 June 1767, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990, p. 285.]

[15] “To George Washington from John Searle, 3 April 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-10986. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[16] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 24 January–5 February 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0444. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 521–523.]

[17] “From George Washington to John Marsden Pintard, 20 May 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0071. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, p. 67.]

[18] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 24 January–5 February 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0444. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 521–523.]

[19] “From George Washington to John Marsden Pintard, 2 August 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0177. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, pp. 188–189.]

[20] John M. Pintard to Tobias Lear. 19 January 1791. GLC02794.012  The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859. URL: http://www.americanhistory.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/John-M–Pintard-to-Tobias-Lear-regarding-invoice-for-Madeira-wine/GLC02794.012

[21] Date: Wednesday, April 23, 1794   Paper: American Minerva (New York, New York)   Volume: I   Issue: 118   Page: 3

[22] Bartholomew Dandridge to John M. Pintard, April 14, 1795. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.

[23]  There is however, reference to Madeira which went by way of China.  When George Washington complained in 1786 to Henry Hill about the cost of his Madeira from Lamar, Hill, Bisset & Co., Henry Hill responded that age is “essential to the perfection of an original good growth”.  However, the Madeira he tasted sent by John Searle & Co via China was “a mean one”.

[24] Chapter Title: The India Trade Book Title: So Great a Proffit Book Author(s): JAMES R. FICHTER Published by: Harvard University Press. (2010) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0k5c.11

[25] Bartholomew Dandridge to John M. Pintard, April 14, 1795.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799

[26] DS dated 2 May 1795. “proof of ownership of a ship or vessel.” Certifying ownership of the ship Ganges. Signed twice by Tingey. Naval History and Heritage Command. URL: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/manuscripts/t/thomas-tingey-letter-2-may-1795-ownership-of-ganges.html

[27] Date: Thursday, September 10, 1795   Paper: Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Volume: XII   Issue: 2147   Page: 3

[28] Date: Wednesday, May 11, 1796   Paper: Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Page: 3

[29] Date: Thursday, June 2, 1796   Paper: Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)   Issue: 5350   Page: 2

[30] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 6 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00698. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[31] “To George Washington from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 4 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00688. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[32] “To George Washington from John Marsden Pintard, 20 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-14-02-0267. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 408–409.]

[33] “To George Washington from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 23 July 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00768. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[34] General Henry Knox was a prior customer of John Marsden Pintard.  See the correspondence at THE GILDER LEHRMAN INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN HISTORY.

[35] http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/4b568cc0-067a-0134-bd0a-00505686a51c#/?uuid=4b568cc0-067a-0134-bd0a-00505686a51c

[36] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 13 June 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00621. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[37] “From George Washington to William Pearce, 23 November 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-17-02-0135. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 17, 1 October 1794–31 March 1795, ed. David R. Hoth and Carol S. Ebel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 201–205.]

[38] “From George Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 13 June 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00621. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

[39] Washington’s Household Account Book, 1793-1797 Author(s): Tobias Lear and  Bartholomew Dandridge Source: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , Vol. 29, No. 4 (1905), pp. 385-406 Published by: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20085306

[40] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 20 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0029. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 37–39.]

[41] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799

Tobias Lear to George Washington, March 20, 1797, with Shipping Report

“old wine of Lafitte”: George Washington’s order of 1786 Chateau Lafite

December 15, 2016 Leave a comment
Note the "L F G W" on the Invoice from Fenwick, Mason & Co to George Washington. March 28, 1791. LOC.

Note the “L F G W” on the Invoice from Fenwick, Mason & Co to George Washington. March 28, 1791. LOC.

In 1791, through the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, President George Washington placed a second order for claret from the firm of Fenwick, Mason & Co. in Bordeaux.[1]  The firm of had just been established three years earlier in Georgetown.[2]  Fenwick, Mason & Co. was a short-lived partnership between John Mason, the son of George Mason, along with John and James Fenwick.  That summer of 1788, John Mason traveled to Bordeaux bearing an introduction to Thomas Jefferson.

The order for the President’s wine included 14 cases for himself and 14 cases for Thomas Jefferson.  Though George Washington’s order also included Frontignac and Sauternes, it is the claret that is of interest for this post.

The firm of Fenwick, Mason, and & Co. wrote to Thomas Jefferson on February 10, 1791, that the Count de la Pallu, proprietor of the estate of Segur, which included Chateau Latour, had no wine that he could ship to President George Washington which would “do justice to his estate”.[3]  The firm offered to find a replacement which turned out to be “wines of Lafite, the Estate of Mr. Pichard (formerly Segur)”.[4] The cases of wine were received that summer in “good order” and placed in the cellar.[5]

Advertisement for 1786 Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. [8]

Advertisement for 1786 Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. [8]

There were some 5 cases of 48 bottles each of Chateau Lafite (then spelled Lafitte) from the vintage 1786.  This was considered “old wine”, not being of the current vintage, and was, perhaps, the best old vintage available.  In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the 1784 vintage was the best since 1779 when discussing Chateau Haut-Brion.[6]  This was most likely a generic vintage comment for the following year Thomas Jefferson ordered the 1784 vintage of Chateau Lafite but was told that none was left and was sent the 1786, though not yet ready to drink, instead.[7]

Sadly, we do not yet know what George Washington thought of the 1786 Chateau Lafite.  After the arrival of the cases, Tobias Lear wrote to George Washington in June 1791, that “how their contents are I know not. I intend, however, to have them examined to know whether they may be depended on or not.” [9]  The following month Tobias Lear followed up writing that “Of these wines none have yet been proved”.[10]  How the 1786 vintage stacks up remains a mystery!


[1] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]

[2] Whatford, Mark. “John Mason and the French Revolution”. July 18, 2013  Gunston Hall Blog.  URL: http://gunstonhallblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/john-mason-and-french-revolution.html

[3] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]

[4] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Company, [29 March 1791],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0179. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 630.]

[5]  See “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 12 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0181. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 261–264.] and “From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0193. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.].

[6] “From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 26 May 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0362. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 378–379.]

[7] “To Thomas Jefferson from John Bondfield, 19 April 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0019. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, p. 96.]

[8] Date: Tuesday, August 12, 1794 Paper: Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Volume: XI Issue: 1813 Page: 2

[9] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0201. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 294–299.]

[10] Tobias Lear to Mason Fenwick & Co, July 7, 1791. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks. URL:

“The last bottle had been broached”: George Washington’s Efforts to Secure Choice Old Madeira During the Revolutionary War and Afterwards

November 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday, on November 17, 2016, the George Washington Special Reserve Madeira was debuted at George Washington’s home Mount Vernon.  This collaborative project between Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Company, and Mount Vernon, celebrates George Washington’s life long love for the best Madeira.  The Madeira itself was blended by Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito, based on research I conducted.  The Madeira recreates the rich, old flavor that George Washington sought.

To give context to the Madeira three talks were delivered.  Mannie Berk spoke about the general history of Madeira, Mount Vernon Historian Mary Thompson detailed accounts of George Washington’s table which of course involved bottles and glasses of Madeira, and I spoke about the difficulties George Washington experienced in obtaining choice old Madeira.

Since Mannie Berk’s purchase of a large stock of ancient Madeira in 1987 and the subsequent formation of The Rare Wine Co. in 1989, he has sought to not only re-introduce Madeira to a wide audience but also to uniquely educate on how Madeira was intertwined amongst daily lives.  Mannie Berk has done this to particular effect through The Historic Series of Madeira.  With projects that highlight a single city or person, he continues to foster new research into what was for centuries America’s favorite drink.  I am proud to participate in these projects and hope you enjoy my talk below.

During George Washington’s second term as President, he wrote from Philadelphia to his farm manager at Mount Vernon to stop giving out his Madeira to visitors. Martha Washington echoed the concern that there would be no Madeira left for them to drink upon their return home. She wrote to her niece “not give out another Bottle out of the vault”.

Madeira was always expensive but over the previous five years it became even more so. In 1789, the United States government, under the recently ratified Constitution, assumed all state debt. To pay the debt national duties were created including those on wine. Madeira bore the highest rate which continued to increase from 18 cents per gallon, to 35 cents, and finally 56 cents per gallon for the top-quality London Particular that George Washington favored. When compounded with the scarcity of aged stocks it influenced George Washington to save his old Madeira “unless it be on very extraordinary occasions.” He was no stranger to the difficulties of procuring fine old Madeira given that he frequently ran out of it during the Revolutionary War.

George Washington wrote very little about his impressions of the Madeira he drank. We do know of his life-long appreciation of Madeira largely through correspondence, receipts, and ledger entries. It is clear that there were difficulties in obtaining fine Madeira during and after the war years. Despite the effort required, he was determined to drink the best Madeira until his death. I will talk about these efforts from his introduction to fine Madeira, the challenges he faced during the Revolutionary War and afterwards which led to his unique orders of “India wine”.

Introduction to Fine Madeira

Thomas Jefferson placed his first known order for a pipe of Madeira at the age of 32. The overlooked Madeira connoisseur James Madison was 49 when he first placed his. George Washington was the young age of 27.

This is not to say these are the first instances of these men purchasing or even drinking Madeira, rather it is their first known orders by the pipe. Madeira was typically the most expensive wine available during this period. To buy it by the 110 gallon pipe required a significant expenditure.

Bill for George Washington's first pipe of Madeira from Lamar, Hill, & Lamar. March 28, 1760. LOC.

Bill for George Washington’s first pipe of Madeira from Lamar, Hill, & Lamar. March 28, 1760. LOC.

George Washington did not mix his words when he placed his first order in 1759. He wanted “from the best House in Madeira a Pipe of the best old wine”. George Washington’s order was sent to a London firm who used the Madeira house Lamar, Hill, & Lamar to fulfill the order. In America, this house was represented by Henry Hill who was located in Philadelphia. Henry Hill was one of the most prominent Madeira merchants who catered to the wealthiest and most powerful families. This included Martha Custis.

The Custis family used the same London firm and before Martha Custis married George Washington, her Madeira came from the Hills. She was young, very wealthy, and desirable as a client. Before the House was aware of her marriage, they wrote how they would like to send her a pipe yearly and that she could “depend on being supplied with the best.”

Martha Custis placed her last order for a pipe of Madeira in 1758 when she was courted by George Washington. It seems likely then that this is when George Washington developed a taste for “the best” Madeira for he began to order from the Hills.

There is indeed some evidence to suggest that Martha Custis introduced George Washington to fine Madeira. Or rather, there is a lack of evidence that George Washington was purchasing it as a single man. In reviewing his expenses from the 1750s we can see he purchased such items as silver buckles, gloves, and milk. He certainly played billiards, lost money at cards, won some money at cards, and even gave money to his mother. While there are entries for supping and dinning I can only find a handful of entries for the purchase of alcohol. This includes “punch and cards” and a hogshead of beer. There are no pipes or even bottles of old Madeira.

Colonel George Washington of the Virginia Regiment. Charles Wilson Peale. 1772. Wikipedia.

Colonel George Washington of the Virginia Regiment. Charles Wilson Peale. 1772. Wikipedia.

That is, perhaps, not surprising for George Washington began his military service in 1753 and only resigned his commission in 1758. It is likely that he drank Madeira while he was involved in the French & Indian War as commander of the Virginia companies under the British.

Merchants followed the army to establish trading posts at the new forts. These merchants or “suttlers” were required to sign a contract in order to conduct trade. To prevent price-gouging a schedule was established. This set price limits for such drinks as West India Rum, Shrub Punch, and of course Madeira.

There was, however, an additional requirement that all suttlers provide dinner, supers and liquors to the officers of the corps to which they belong to. George Washington most likely drank a basic quality Madeira.

After George Washington resigned his commission and married Martha Custis, he began to regularly order Madeira for Mount Vernon. He ordered his pipes taking care to request the best vintages and pay the bills using a bank or merchant. George Washington, no doubt excited by the completion of his gristmill near Mount Vernon, once ordered “four Pipes of best Madeira Wine” during the summer 1773. Unlike his prior orders he wanted to pay for this one with 80 barrels of flour. Henry Hill explained that “it’s not usual to ship fine wine but for bills of Excha[nge]”. The solution was that Washington could have any grade of Madeira except for their best, which was the London Particular he had requested. These were to be the last pipes of Madeira George Washington ordered before the Revolutionary War.

The Challenges in Securing Old Madeira

In June 1774, the British closed the major ports of Boston and Charlestown with a blockade. George Washington’s four pipes of Madeira appear to have made it safely to Virginia that very same month. The First Continental Congress soon met to address the blockade and other issues. It was decided to economically boycott Great Britain through a non-importation declaration. The import of Madeira wine was banned as well.

Any Madeira that did make it to the colonies in American ships was liable to be seized and sold off. One ship that arrived in December 1774, just two weeks after the importation declaration was enacted, was carrying 23 pipes of Madeira. All of the Madeira was sold off with the owners compensated for their expense but all of the profit went towards the relief of the poor in Boston who were suffering from the blockade.

Down in Charleston, the merchant Levinus Clarkson safely landed his pipes of Madeira on January 2, 1775. He found one pipe “very Indifferent” and threatening to turn to Vinegar. Several others were “so thick”. Perhaps discouraged by his pipes he wrote his partner in New York that “the Determinations of Congress have Effectually Blasted my Prospects for the Insuing Year.” Most colonists largely obeyed the order to not import Madeira. The volume of Madeira shipped from the island to the colonies plummeted.

We know for a fact that George Washington drank Madeira during the Revolutionary War. At Mount Vernon he purchased Madeira by the pipe. But during the war, when he was at headquarters, he typically purchased it by the bottle. Within a week of establishing his headquarters in Cambridge, MA, arrangements were made for his first Madeira order in July 1775. His Madeira quickly became one of his largest expenses.

At first there were enough stocks of Madeira in America that George Washington could purchase it as it was consumed. His first orders came from the nearby port city of Salem, Massachusetts. The orders were for quarter casks of “choice” Madeira. Instead of receiving the casks of Madeira, his was fined then bottled three weeks later to provide wine that was clear and ready to drink. These bottles were then placed in hampers and transported to headquarters in carts. He was sent at least 10 dozen bottles at a time, roughly providing two bottles per day.

In advance of the New York Campaign, Washington’s Madeira eventually came from New York. The first small parcel of three dozen was bought the very same month that the Continental Congress opened all American ports to international trade in April 1776. Madeira did not come flooding in but it was still available.

Receipt for 163 bottles of "old Madeira wine". Oct 18, 1776. LOC.

Receipt for 163 bottles of “old Madeira wine”. Oct 18, 1776. LOC.

Levinus Clarkson managed to hold onto his business down in Charleston. One month after he sold 163 bottles of “old Madeira wine” to George Washington, he was appointed as Continental Agent in the state of South Carolina. Congress told him he was “in short do all things in this department that you think will serve the Continent and promote the service of the Navy”. Perhaps this included supplying Madeira.

George Washington had used his troops to cut of land access for the British so they could only be supplied with Madeira by ship. The Continental Navy had just been formed and the capture of British ships for profit was approved. For a time this was the only way to obtain or “import” new pipes of Madeira so prize ships were much discussed. Disposal of the prize cargo initially required the approval of George Washington.

One ship wrecked in a gale on its way to Boston. It was carrying 120 pipes of Madeira and all but two pipes were saved. It was assumed they were intended for the British. George Washington immediately decided the Madeira should be sent to headquarters in Cambridge to be sold off for public use. Perhaps he did not take any for he was consistently stocked at the time. It was soon determined the Madeira belonged to a gentleman of Philadelphia.

A few weeks later a sloop laden with supplies met with bad weather en route to Boston becoming stranded on a beach. In the cargo was three quarter-casks of Madeira belonging to General William Howe, Commander in Chief of the British Army in America, who oversaw the siege of Boston. It is not clear who drank them.

Madeira wine was amongst the cargo auction off of the prize ship Reynolds. August 06, 1776.

Madeira wine was amongst the cargo auctioned off of the prize ship Reynolds. August 06, 1776.

In the June 1776, the Portuguese monarchy aligned with the British and forbade any American colonial ships from calling on Portuguese ports. With the colonists’ direct Madeira supply cut off, it became imperative to capture any ships carrying Madeira. There were other prize ships but it wasn’t until years later, when George Washington was repeatedly out of Madeira that he was sent the best pipe out of a captured cargo of 300 pipes which were intended for “our Enemies officers in New York”.

George Washington’s last supply of Madeira before the brutal winter at Valley Forge came in summer of 1777. By the following spring Washington had been unsupplied for some time and the stocks of wine in the area were depleted. The Commissary of Stores was directed to send wine up to Washington’s headquarters. The next month he was sent just 12 bottles of Madeira. Eventually that fall another pipe was procured. Unfortunately, it was mistaken as destined for the commissary so most of it was drunk before it came to Washington. He was able to drink a small portion and was appreciative none the less.

George Washington ran out of wine again by the spring of 1779. By that fall he was “destitute” of supplies including wine. This was not lost upon James Madison when he became Commissioner of the Board of Admiralty. During May 1780, he wrote a letter to the Committee of Congress, which was sent to investigate the army at George Washington’s headquarters, about the lack of wine.

“As for our illustrious general, if it were in our choice, for him the rich Madeira should flow in copious streams;—and as for the gallant officers, and faithful brave soldiers under his command, if we had the powers of conversion, we would turn water into wine, the camp should overflow with that exhilarating and invigorating liquor.”

George Washington was soon sent Madeira which he found “very fine”. This was a turning point in that he was now in general supply of Madeira for the rest of his life. After peace negotiations began with the British, George Washington returned to his habit of personally managing his Madeira orders. John Searle wrote from Madeira that he was “inform’d that choice Old Madeira Wines are exceedingly Scarce & Dear in the United States”. Thus he took the liberty of sending him “the choicest Old Madeira Wine of a most excellent Quality and fine Amber Colour”. George Washington immediately ordered another two pipes.

General George Washington Resigning His Commission. John Trumbull. 1817. Wikipedia.

General George Washington Resigning His Commission. John Trumbull. 1817. Wikipedia.

There were several celebrations during George Washington’s final year as Commander in 1783. For the celebration of the news of peace, a dinner and ball was held. There was some 32 gallons of Madeira wine served with some 43 glasses broken during the ball. At a dinner shortly before George Washington resigned his commission, 120 diners drank some 135 bottles. There were 60 wine glasses broken. On the eve of his resignation, a celebratory super was held. There were 98 bottles of wine and no Madeira was served. Curiously, no glasses were broken either.

India Wine

There were different grades of Madeira and George Washington largely ordered the best and most expensive. He was rather blunt often requesting “your very choicest (old) Madeira wine”. What he was sent was the highest grade known as London Particular. To ensure the quality of his wine the pipes were sent directly to him from Madeira.

On two occasions President George Washington received Madeira which was first sent to India. The first order was set in motion during his second term, when John Pintard, US Consul in Madeira, wrote George Washington that he had shipped him one pipe of “very choice old wine” by way of India. The Madeira destined to India was priced at £40 Sterling which made it more expensive than the “choice old wine” at £38 sent at the same time direct from the Island. George Washington accepted another order for two more pipes of “India wine” before this first pipe ever arrived.

That George Washington was sent “India wine” has to do with the changing nature of the Madeira trade as a result of the Revolutionary War. During this period, when Madeira shipments to America plummeted, 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 40%.

George Washington's Madeira went to Calcutta. View of Calcutta from Ft William. Samuel Davis. 1783.

George Washington’s Madeira went to Calcutta. View of Calcutta from Ft William. Samuel Davis. 1783.

The first American ship to visit India was the United States of Philadelphia. When she stopped at Madeira, it was John Pintard who issued the visa for the ship to depart. Amongst the cargo were pipes of Madeira from the house of John Searle & Co. Both the Pintard’s and the Searle’s imported wine in Philadelphia and maintained a connection in Madeira. 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 extensively involved in the India Madeira trade by the time George Washington’s pipes were sent.

Advertisement for Madeira by James Searle. May 03, 1770. Pennsylvania Journal.

Advertisement for Madeira by James Searle. May 03, 1770. Pennsylvania Journal.

The freight charges for the first India pipe was £15 compared to the £3 3s direct from Madeira. That made the one pipe of India wine £55 compared to £39 13s. The freight for the second two pipes came to just over £33 each. Thus the last two pipes cost a staggering £71 each not including duties and drayage. To be clear George Washington was paying for top quality Madeira and not the mid-level “India market” developed for the east.

We can hazard a guess as to why George Washington was willing to pay such extraordinary prices. During his second term, George Washington wrote that not only was Madeira “one of the most expensive liquors” but that old Madeira “is not to be had upon any terms”. He wanted his small stock of old Madeira “reserved..for my own use when I get home” as it was “not easy to be replaced”. He was looking for Madeira to drink during retirement.

Detail from the Bill of Lading detailing two pipes of Madeira wine amongst George Washington's possessions shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon. March 20, 1797. LOC.

Detail from the Bill of Lading detailing two pipes of Madeira wine amongst George Washington’s possessions shipped from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon. March 20, 1797. LOC.

George Washington had kept the two India pipes at the shipping firm’s counting house under the advisement that they would improve better there than in a cellar. He settled his bill with the firm the month he left office. His personal goods were sent by ship to Mount Vernon. In the bill of lading it is noted in the margin that two pipes of Madeira wine were included. George Washington brought his rare India wine back home to Mount Vernon.

We know he drank this wine during his last years of life and that there were still difficulties in securing old Madeira. In June 1799 he wrote his “stock was getting low”. By that fall it was noted “his stock is now so nearly exhausted that he must get a supply from one quarter or another in very short time”. After much correspondence and confusion, a new shipment eventually left Madeira for Philadelphia from which it was shipped down to the Potomac. We know he received this wine for amongst his very last correspondence we learn the wine arrived just two days before George Washington passed away.

“163 Bottles of old Madeira Wine”: I am waist deep in research

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

You have probably noticed my haphazard posting as of late.  While I never slack on generating tasting notes, my usually posting time is now largely dedicated to research.  One area I am curious about is General George Washington’s Madeira purchases during the Revolutionary War.  When George Washington was home at Mount Vernon he usually purchased his Madeira by the pipe.  But during the war, when he was at headquarters, he typically purchased his Madeira by the bottle.

Receipt for Madeira purchase. Thomas Mifflin to Caleb Gibbs, October 18, 1776. [1]

Receipt for Madeira purchase. Thomas Mifflin to Caleb Gibbs, October 18, 1776. [1]

To be specific, General Washington’s aide de camp, Captain Caleb Gibbs, Captain Commandant of the Guard, purchased his Madeira.  It is fortunate for us is that Captain Gibbs kept all of his receipts.  On October 18, 1776, some 240 years ago to this day, Captain Gibbs purchased 163 bottles of “old Madeira wine” for $163 from Levinus Clarkson.

Levinus Clarkson was a merchant in Charleston, South California.  He had Dutch connections with whom he traded with during the war.  From his correspondence we can see that he imported Madeira, amongst other goods, then forwarded the wine up to his business partner David Van Horne in New York.  Levinus Clarkson would eventually become a Continental Agent in Charleston where he traded.  Appointed during the fall of 1776 he was responsible “to supply any of the Ships or Cruizers with whatever Provisions, Stores or necessarys they may be in want of when they put into or arrive in any of your ports”.  Congress told him he was “in short do all things in this department that you think will serve the Continent and promote the service of the Navy”.  Clearly this included supplying the Commander of the Continental Army with old Madeira.


[1] Thomas Mifflin to Caleb Gibbs, October 18, 1776, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 5 Financial Papers. URL: https://memory.loc.gov/mss/mgw/mgw5/117/0600/0661.jpg