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“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.

Did George Washington drink Claret at the horse races?

October 25, 2016 Leave a comment
Horse racing. Bewick, Thomas. 1780.  #1882,0311.3217 The British Museum.

Horse racing. Bewick, Thomas. 1780. #1882,0311.3217 The British Museum.

This past weekend we hosted our 12th annual party at the International Gold Cup in Virginia.  Horse racing has long been popular in our region.  While we always serve wine I am curious about what was drunk by our Founding Fathers.  The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in 1743.  That very same year the club held its first race, a tradition which is still maintained today, making it the oldest chartered sporting organization in America.   We know that George Washington went to the horse races for he noted his travels in his diaries and event kept track of his lost bets in his financial ledgers.

The Maryland Jockey Club events were known as the “Annapolis Races”.  George Washington attended several of these races in the years prior to the Revolutionary War.  We do not know what he drank during all of these races but there is a possibility.  On October 4, 1772, he set out to Annapolis for the four days of racing.  The races began on October 6, 1772, and the very next day George Washington bought “2 Boxes of Claret” from Samuel Galloway for £20 14d.[2]  There is only one expense that exceeds this wine expenditure during this trip and that is £40 for a horse doctor.

Samuel Galloway was the largest shipowner in Annapolis, Maryland.[3]  At one point he owned or had interest in 27 ships.  George Washington had been purchasing claret from Samuel Galloway since at least 1770. The two boxes he purchased during the races contained six dozen bottles each of “excellent Claret” of which George Washington had placed an open request for during May 1772.[4]  George Washington still had large store of Claret lying at Mount Vernon at the time.  Having no immediate need, it appears that George Washington did not pay for the additional wine until his trip to Annapolis during the races that October.

So the question is whether George Washington drank some of the Claret at the races or not.  His diaries and financial ledgers do not indicate.  It is possible that George Washington had the wine stored with the Digges family at Warburton Manor, across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, but it is not yet clear.  We do know that George Washington ordered 48 bottles of Claret for the “Boat Race & Barbicue at Johnson’s Ferry” two years later in 1774.[5]  If his Claret was still with Samuel Galloway in Annapolis, it certainly would be tempting for him to drink it.  The wine was described to George Washington based on first hand experience.   “I have tasted it, & it really is good”.


[1] “[October 1772],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0002-0023. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 135–138.]

[2] “Cash Accounts, October 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0079. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 110–113.]

[3] “Shipping in the Ports of Annapolis 1748-1777”. United States Naval Institute. 1965.

[4] “From George Washington to Samuel Galloway, 4 May 1772,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0028. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p. 40.]  and

“To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 22 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0037. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 50–51.] and

“From George Washington to Jonathan Boucher, 23 May 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-09-02-0038. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772 – 18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 51–52.]

[5] “[Diary entry: 7 May 1774],”Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-03-02-0004-0009-0007. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 3, 1 January 1771–5 November 1781, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, pp. 248–249.]

“A very wholesome wine”: An 18th Century Map Showing the Vineyards of Côte-Rôtie

September 23, 2016 Leave a comment

(Carte de France levee par ordre du Roy). No. 88 (Saint-Etienne - Saint-Marcellin. 1767). [1]

(Carte de France levee par ordre du Roy). No. 88 (Saint-Etienne – Saint-Marcellin. 1767). [1]

The image above is taken from Carte de France. Levee par ordre du Roy. (1750-1815) published by the Cassini family.  This particular map was executed in 1767.  Students of Northern Rhone wine should recognize at least two names which appear on this image, Condrieu and Ampuis.  Located just above the Ampuis label  is la Roche which is where Côte-Brune of Côte-Rôtie lie.  Near the Boucherey label is the Côte-Blonde.  On the slopes indicated by the hatching, appear little squiggly lines representing the location of the vineyards.

According to Mannie Berk, Duncan McBride’s General Instructions for the Choice of Wines and Spirituous Liquors (1793) is the first book in English to examine the wines of Côte-Rôtie.[2]  McBride writes that Côte-Rôtie “is a red wine, not so deep in colour as Claret.  When it may happens to be of a good vintage, and that, by skilful treatment, it is brought to a proper maturity, it will be found a very wholesome wine.”


[1] (Carte de France levee par ordre du Roy). No. 88 (Saint-Etienne – Saint-Marcellin. 1767).  Rumsey Collection. URL: http://www.davidrumsey.com/
[2] McBridge, Duncan. General Instructions for the Choice of Wines and Spirituous Liquors (1793). Fascimile edition reissued by The Rare Wine Co. 1993.

“[L]e vin a ete le sang de Montepellier; c’est de lui que la ville a vecu; c’est son cours qui donne sa temperature et qui reflete tres exactement sa sante” : Prices for the Wine of Montpellier 1636-1656

September 22, 2016 1 comment

"Cours du vin a Montpellier, per annuid." From Album des vins de France. 1939. [1]

“Cours du vin a Montpellier, per annuid.” From Album des vins de France. 1939. [1]

I strongly enjoy the graphical representation of data that is in any way related to wine.  The chart featured in this post plots, in three dimensions, the price of the wines of Montepellier during the 17th century.  There were vineyards throughout Montepellier which produced more than enough wine for the inhabitants.  Following a low period of pricing in 1642, religious and civil wars cause the wine prices to rise beginning in 1649.  Apparently, due to currency “manipulation” fears, winemakers stopped selling their wine thus reducing supply which drove up price.


[1] “Cours du vin a Montpellier, per annuid.” Une Page De L’histoire du Vin de Montpellier. Album des vins de France. 1937.  Bibliothèque nationale de France. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb33237022r

An Image of Cote-Rotie from 1914

September 21, 2016 Leave a comment

"Commune d'Ampuis. - Crus de Cote-Rotie: Cotes Blonde et Cote Brune." 1914 [1]

“Commune d’Ampuis. – Crus de Cote-Rotie: Cotes Blonde et Cote Brune.” 1914 [1]

Mannie Berk’s Cote-Rotie Offer includes some fantastic images of Cote-Rotie and extracts from Larmat’s 1940s atlas of the region.  In his article he summarizes how Cote-Rotie fell into decline over the first half of the 20th century.  Mannie illustrates this decline using a postcard from the 1940s which shows that much of Cote-Rotie had become en friche or fallow as vines were replaced by trees and bushes.

In this post I present an image of Cote-Rotie in 1914.  This image captures the begining of the decades long decline of the region.  In viewing the highest resolution image at the Bibliothèque nationale de France most of the slopes are still planted with vines but trees are starting to spread amongst the terraces.


[1] Deville, J.  Les vins du Rhône : crus principaux du Beaujolais et du Lyonnais. 1914. Bibliothèque nationale de France. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb320267055

Another Historic Auction of President Jefferson’s Madeira in 1841

September 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Advertisement from Commercial Adviser, November 30, 1841. [1]

Advertisement from Commercial Adviser, November 30, 1841. [1]

Last year I wrote about Historic Auctions of Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira.  In this series of posts I describe four auctions containing Madeira attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  They are the 1997 Sotheby’s auction of Thomas Jefferson’s three bottles of Madeira, the 1890 Wethered estate sale, the 1852 auction of Josiah Lee’s wine cellar, and the 1839 auction of John Gadsby’s extensive wine collection.  I have just found a fifth auction containing a parcel of Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira.

It is largely known that bottles of wine claimed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson’s were auctioned off in 1987.  We now know that these bottles were faked by Hardy Rodenstock.  In 1997, three bottles of Thomas Jefferson Madeira were auctioned off without much scrutiny because the labels matched the published description of bottles served by Douglas H. Thomas in the early 20th century.  Thus there is no reason to doubt that these three bottles of Madeira came from the parcel owned by Douglas H. Thomas.  There is, however, no documentary evidence that Thomas Jefferson ever owned the bottles Douglas H. Thomas so carefully served.

John Gadsby’s wine was first auctioned off during his retirement in 1839.  As the proprietor of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, and the National Hotel, in Washington, DC, John Gadsby acquired a massive 10,000 bottle collection.  His death in 1844 prompted a final series of wine auctions.   The wine cellar of Josiah Lee, the notable Madeira collector, was auctioned off in 1852.  Finally, Douglas H. Thomas purchased his bottles in 1890 at the sale of the Wethered family estate.

Heretofore unknown to me, on December 17, 1841, wine belonging to “a gentleman going to Europe” were put up for auction.  This auction consisted of a significant volume of Madeira in bottles both imported privately from Madeira and purchased in America.  Of the later bottles, they were “purchased at different times from private stocks in this city [New York City]”.  This included the oldest parcel which was a dozen bottles of wine that was “procured in Madeira, imported in 1822, and must then have been 80 years in bottle”.  With a century of age that would make the Madeira from 1740 or earlier.

Included in the private stocks is the “do 1811, imported by President Jefferson”.  This lot could have been purchased at the John Gadsby auction in 1839 which was held at the City Hotel in New York City.  Now there are no vintage, imported, or bottling dates of 1811 amongst the Jefferson Madeira advertised in the 1839 auction.  However, when John Gadsby’s cellar was auctioned off in 1844, the advertised lots were more specific and include “Mark on Cork, O. M. Y. W. – Superior old Madeira, from Newton, Gordon, Murdock & Co., imported expressly for President Jefferson, in 1807, and bottled in 1811; bought by J. Gadsby in 1819.”

Thus the Europe bound gentleman could have owned the 1807 “O.M.Y.W.” bottled in 1811.  Newspaper accounts of the auction results passed over the Thomas Jefferson bottles.[2]  Instead they focused in on the parcel of “Cole’s Madeira”, which was recorked in 1800.  This 18th century wine sold for $117 per dozen.  As the most expensive Madeira sold, it was calculated that 14,000 bottles could buy the entire United States Bank stock valued at $35,000,000.

What happened to the gentleman’s dozen bottles of Jefferson Madeira remains a mystery.


[1] Advertisement. Date: Tuesday, November 30, 1841 Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York) Volume: XLIV Page: 3

[2]Unparalleled Distress in New-York. Date: Monday, December 27, 1841 Paper: Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts) Volume: XV Issue: 1844 Page: 1

The Great Fire of London, Part 3

September 6, 2016 Leave a comment
Wenceslaus Hollar's Great Fire of London. Engraved By W. Hollar, c. 1666-1669. From the British Library. Shelfmark: Maps K. Top. 21.36.a

Wenceslaus Hollar’s Great Fire of London. Engraved By W. Hollar, c. 1666-1669. From the British Library. Shelfmark: Maps K. Top. 21.36.a

After the Great Fire ended, it was quite chaotic in London.  Samuel Pepys had noted how people moved their possessions by cart or by hand.  Apparently one of his neighbors left all of their wine in the street at night.  Perhaps they had hoped to move the wine by cart or just returned it?

Saturday 8 September 1666

“But I was much frighted and kept awake in my bed, by some noise I heard a great while below stairs; and the boys not coming up to me when I knocked. It was by their discovery of people stealing of some neighbours’ wine that lay in vessels in the streets. So to sleep; and all well all night.”

It was a few days after the fire ended, that Samuel Pepys began to return his valuables and other possessions to his house.  Of course he also dug his wine out from the pit.  This was not the last time wine was famously buried in the ground for safekeeping.  During the American Civil War, many families buried their prized Madeira collections in advance of General Sherman’s troops.

Friday 14 September 1666

“And so home, having this day also got my wine out of the ground again, and set in my cellar; but with great pain to keep the porters that carried it in from observing the money-chests there.”