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3 Virginia and the South in the Eighteenth Century
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South Carolina; Florida; North Carolina

The Georgia experiment was an exception to the rule, for by the eighteenth century the home government no longer believed that the development of a colonial wine industry could be an item of official policy. Throughout the century, however, sporadic outbursts of encouragement persisted among officials. In South Carolina, for example, Governor Robert Johnson reported to the Board of Trade in London as late as 1734 that the thing could be done if the government would only make it worthwhile: "If a considerable premium was to be given to the first person that made the first tun of good wine" in South Carolina, he wrote, that would overcome the greatest single obstacle, which was the labor and expense and time required for establishing the work "before any profit arises."[1] No evidence exists that the London officials responded—the appeal was one they had certainly heard often before. A decade later, according to the rather indistinct report of the German traveller Johann David Schoepf, the authorities in the colony provided a prize of £60 "to any one exhibiting a pipe of good, drinkable wine made in the country." This, says Schoepf, was responded to by a Frenchman near Orangeburg, who took the premium for several years in succession. "But so soon as the premiums were discontinued, he gave up vine-culture, saying that he could find a better use for his land."[2]

Schoepf's information may not be exact, but it is a matter of record that the Commons of South Carolina in 1744 resolved in favor of a bill offering £100 "to the first person who shall make the first pipe of good, strong-bodied merchantable wine of the growth and culture of his own plantation."[3] A few years later the ante


Before his career as a distinguished revolutionary patriot, the Charleston merchant Henry
 Laurens (1724—92) imported Madeira wines, encouraged the winegrowing efforts of the
 French in New Bordeaux, South Carolina, and dreamed of a time when Charleston would 
export the wines of South Carolina rather than import those of Europe. The portrait, by John
 Singleton Copley, shows Laurens as president of the Continental Congress in 1782. (National
 Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)


had been raised tremendously, for in 1748, one Robert Thorpe, Esq., laid his claim before the Commons in respect of his having produced "four casks of wine, each containing 30 gallons"; on investigation, the claim was honored and Thorpe was paid "the sum of five hundred pounds, being the bounty on a pipe of wine."[4] In terms of the purchasing power of money in the mid eighteenth century, this was an astonishing sum.

Thorpe's success must have helped to intensify the interest in winegrowing in South Carolina, an interest that was, indeed, growing generally throughout the colonies in the years down to the Revolution. In 1756 Alexander Garden, a distinguished physician and horticulturist of Charleston, informed the Society of Arts in London that grapes could be much better grown in South Carolina than they had so far been.[5] The society obliged by sending him slips of the Zante and Tokay varieties for trial, accompanied by the reflection that Bacchus had been deified by the people of the early ages for teaching "the Making of Wine, and among some of our Colonies there is Room at this Day for the doing almost as much Good."[6] A few years later the society was informed that another amateur, Colonel Colleton, had found a good wine grape growing in South Carolina;[7] this is interesting especially in light of South Carolina's role later as the fountain of new American hybrid grapes. Evidently the frequency of trials made with European grapes and the abundance of native grapes in the colony made it the preeminent place from which chance hybrids of commercial value originated. What Colonel Colleton had chanced upon we do not know, but it may well have been a native improved with vinifera blood. Such hybrids were later to become the basis of eastern viticulture.

One notable South Carolinian who hoped to see his state produce wine was the Charleston merchant and revolutionary patriot Henry Laurens, a commercial importer on an extensive scale of wines, including the fine Madeiras for which South Carolinians had a notable taste. Notwithstanding his interest in this part of the wine trade, Laurens did all he could to encourage the development of wine-growing in South Carolina itself. He assured one English investor who thought of planting vines in the Carolina back country in 1764 that all that was wanted was "time enough for experiments and perseverance . . . I am quite sure that good Grapes may be produced and kept up even in the Lower parts of Carolina ."[8] For evidence, he could point to a splendid vine in his own Charleston garden, which yielded, he said, some three to four hundred pounds of white grapes each year. "This vine of mine has given Spirits to our New French incomers; 'tis said by many Gentlemen to be as fine as any they have seen in Lisbon or Spain and the French cry out; C'est beau et bon ." A later writer identified Laurens's vine as a Chasselas Blanc, a true vinifera;[9] but despite his success with a European vine, Laurens himself seems to have thought a native industry would be based on native vines. Laurens, of Huguenot origin himself, took a special interest in the Huguenot settlement of New Bordeaux, where winegrowing was the main purpose of the community. On a trip through France in 1772, while he drifted on a canal boat through the vineyards of Burgundy, he could not help imagining, as he wrote to his family, a


The wines of Madeira, privileged by the commercial agreement between England and 
Portugal, became the overwhelming favorite of the American colonies. The choice and
 rare madeiras sought out by American connoisseurs, especially in such port cities as 
Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston, were drunk according to cherished rituals. Here
 the decanter for holding the wine, the rinser for cleaning the glass, and the "monteith" 
for cooling the glasses, are shown. (From S. Weir Mitchell,  A Madeira Party , with introduction 
by William J. Dickerson, M.D., and appendices on Madeira wine by Roy Brady [1975])


vision of South Carolina's future in which he saw "my grand children receiving, exporting, and drinking wine made at Long Canes and Keowee, convey'd by the Savanna, Edisto, Ponpon, Santee, and Cowper Rivers to Charles Town."[10]

In 1773 the young Bostonian Josiah Quincy, on a tour through the South, was greatly smitten with the luscious Madeiras provided by his South Carolinian hosts; he noted that Joseph Allston, one of these hospitable gentlemen, had "propagated the Lisbon and Wine-Island grapes with great success."[11] South Carolina was not destined to rival the Wine Islands in the matter of sweet wines; indeed, no major commercial winemaking has ever been established there. Yet it has continued to be the scene of experiments and has an unbroken, and sometimes significant, history of viticulture down to the present day. Its most important episodes in the eighteenth century belong to the continental emigré communities, to be described later.

To the south of the Carolinas, in the inhospitable humidity of Florida, it yet seemed possible to produce wine. The settlers in the country probably knew nothing about the unhappy Huguenot colony of 1564 on the St. Johns River in Florida or the Spaniards on Santa Elena. But they could see wild grapes such as those described by the early American naturalist William Bartram on his travels in Florida, where he found the soil "peculiarly adapted for the cultivation of vines." Here Bartram saw vines "astonishing" for their bulk and strength: "they are frequently nine, ten, and twelve inches in diameter, and twine round the trunks of the trees, climb to their very tops, and then spread along their limbs, from tree to tree, throughout the forest."[12] In the twenty-year interval (1763-83) of British possession of Florida, the home authorities offered bounties for the production of certain commodities, wine among them, and the records show that there were actually exports in 1774-79[13] Florida claret could only have been a rare, exotic, and dubious beverage, however.

Perhaps some of it was made by the colonists brought over to the settlement promoted by Dr. Andrew Turnbull. The acquisition of Florida, most southerly of American colonies, at once stimulated the imaginations of colonial planners along the familiar lines: here would be a place to grow wine, oil, and silk! It occurred to at least three of these speculators that the people to do the work should be Greeks, real Mediterranean people. William Knox, agent in London for Georgia and East Florida, formally proposed such a move to the Board of Trade in 1763; Archibald Menzies, a Scot who had travelled in the Levant, published a pamphlet in the same year to the same purpose; and in 1766 Dr. Turnbull, another Scot, actually set out to make the experiment.[14]

Turnbull, who had served as British consul in Smyrna and who had married a Smyrna Greek, thought he knew how the plan could be worked. Forming a company with certain highly placed Englishmen, including George Grenville, the prime minister, Turnbull succeeded in acquiring grants of land that ultimately totaled 101,000 acres.[15] He at once took his family to Florida to settle them there and to choose a site. This he found some seventy miles south of St. Augustine (then the only settlement of any consequence along the coast), at the mouth of the Indian


River. Turnbull then sailed back to Europe to recruit his colony, which he was enabled to do by a bounty paid by the Board of Trade for every hand that he could sign on. Hearing that Italian laborers might be available, he called with his ship at Leghorn and managed to enlist a number of paisanos . But in Greece he ran into trouble. The Turks, who then ruled the country, made it difficult for him everywhere he went, and at last he was forced to restrict his efforts to a wild region of the Morea, where the mountaineers had been fiercely holding off the Turks for years. Turnbull collected almost 400 of them, starved and desperate as they were. He then sailed back to the west, and set up his recruiting station on the island of Minorca, off Spain, whose impoverished inhabitants, Spanish-speaking and Catholic, were added in large numbers to the Italians and Greeks already assembled.

When Turnbull set sail again for Florida late in 1767, he took a fleet of eight ships loaded with grape cuttings and with 1,500 emigrants—some miscellaneous French and Corsicans included with the Minorcans, Italians, and Greeks. This was the largest single group ever to begin a settlement in the New World, and of course its size did nothing to ease the tensions already generated by its mixed and incongruous elements. Revolt and disease broke out almost as soon as this bewildered and ill-sorted group found itself on Florida soil, struggling to clear land of its tropical vegetation and to impose upon it the Mediterranean order of vines, olives, and mulberries.

Turnbull did his best. He resided with his family on the huge property, called New Smyrna after his wife's native city; he personally directed the large-scale operations of land clearing, building, canal digging, and planting that were in fact carried out with some success. But the whole thing was too unwieldy to prosper long. Expenses mounted far beyond what had been foreseen. Serious quarrels with the colonial governor arose, further dividing the colonists. And, finally, the outbreak of the Revolution dissolved what was already beginning to fall apart. In 1781, disgusted and heavily out of pocket, Turnbull retired to Charleston and returned to the practice of medicine.

We know that grapes were planted at New Smyrna, but not much more than that. The German traveller Johann Schoepf, who knew Dr. Turnbull in Charleston after the collapse of New Smyrna, learned from him that the vines planted had "thrived tremendously" and that Turnbull had developed a method of training them on high stakes "as is customary in Madeira."[16] Any further resemblance between the viticulture of New Smyrna and Madeira must have been illusory.

In North Carolina, the failure of the original grape-growing scheme to come to anything had not changed the fact that the region abounded in native grapes. The explorer and surveyor-general of the colony, John Lawson, writing in the first decade of the century, calls the grape the most important of the native fruits and describes six varieties. First are the "black bunch-grapes, which yield a crimson juice." "Bunch-grape" is a southern term, used to identify the standard sort of cluster-yielding vine as opposed to the familiar rotundifolia vines of the south-


eastern states with their separate large round berries. Another sort of bunch grape in North Carolina, Lawson says, is notable for its yield of light, almost white, juice. The remaining four varieties Lawson calls "Fox-Grapes": black and white "summer" varieties, ripening in July, and black and white "winter" varieties, ripening in October or November. These were, evidently, rotundifolia, for they did not set fruit in clusters (to the general confusion of things, "fox grape" in the South usually means rotundifolia; elsewhere, it usually indicates labrusca). The vines of the summer grapes "always grow in swamps, and low moist lands. . . . They afford the largest leaf I ever saw, to my remembrance, the back of which is of a white horseflesh colour." Winter fox grapes grew on all soils and were "great bearers. I have seen near twelve bushels upon one vine of the black sort." Both red and white varieties of bunch grapes and the four varieties of rotundifolia "grow common, and bear plentifully."[17] The account makes clear how tantalizingly close the vision of winemaking was to all the early settlers and how baffling the withdrawn promise must have been.

Lawson tells of transplanting native varieties to his garden, where they flourished, and he had also made the experiment of planting Vitis vinifera from seed, with hopeful results. Lawson was captured, tortured, and killed by the Tuscaroras two years after his book appeared, and his grape growing died with him. He makes clear in what he published how utterly Without guidance the aspiring vine grower was in the New World, even though he stood surrounded by vines. Lawson had a number of ideas about what might be done, all of them wrong. For example, he thought that the "deep, rich, black mould" of the river valleys was the most suitable soil, since there the native rotundifolia grew in such luxuriance that it was sometimes impossible for a man to force a path through them. He thought, too, that the European vine in America should, like the American vine, be allowed to grow unpruned, and encouraged to "run up trees, as some do, in Lombardy, upon elms." Whether the native varieties could be improved by grafting he was not sure, but he did not doubt that "that noble vegetable the vine" could quickly be brought to perfection in Carolina.[18]

There were optimists among public officials as well as among private individuals in North Carolina. Governor Gabriel Johnston informed the Board of Trade in London in 1734 that experiments in vine planting were then going on along the Cape Fear River. Using the familiar and still persuasive appeal to mercantilist theory, Johnston urged that the commissioners grant some official "encouragement"—that is, a subsidy—so that England might get its wine from its own colony rather than pay "ready money to foreigners" for wine, and, at the same time, avoid forcing the colonists to turn to manufactures in competition with those of the mother country. The commissioners, no doubt wary after long experience of disappointment, replied drily that they would be glad to encourage winemaking, but that they would like to have some wine from the colony first.[19] Johnston persisted, or at least he claimed to have persisted, in turning the thoughts of the Caro-


linians to winegrowing; in 1749 he wrote to the duke of Bedford that his efforts, prolonged through fifteen years, "have brought wine and silk to a good degree of perfection."[20] What that meant, if anything, is not explained by any other record.

Johnston was an exceedingly unpopular and ineffective governor, and his claims to have persuaded the settlers to carry out any of his policies must be doubted, however attractive those policies might have been in themselves. Governor Arthur Dobbs, Johnston's successor, reported early in 1755, shortly after his arrival in Carolina, that the native grapes of the colony yielded "rich wines," but he adds that the vines "want proper vine dressers to improve them."[21] Things were in much the same condition that they had been in a century earlier when the colony was founded in the hope of producing a "rich commodity" of wine.

An exception might be made for the Moravians who settled at various communities in North Carolina in the mid eighteenth century: they made there—as they did also at their settlements in Pennsylvania—some trials at cultivating vineyards. Their object, however, was not to develop an industry, but rather to supply their own simple needs, especially that for communion wine. When European grapes failed, they cheerfully accepted the alternative of making what they needed from the vines growing wild in the woods around them. Thus we hear of their making nineteen hogsheads from wild grapes in 1769, presumably a regular practice.[22]

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