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4 Other Colonies and Communities Before the Revolution
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Maryland and Pennsylvania: the Discovery of the Alexander Grape

The sort of experimental winegrowing illustrated by the Virginia planters just before the Revolution may be taken as general throughout those parts of the colonies where there was any tradition at all of hopeful attempt. Nor were such trials limited to the familiar places. In the exotic territory of Louisiana an Englishman, Colonel Ball, who settled some miles north of New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi, managed to produce enough wine to send a sample of Louisiana claret or burgundy to King George III in 1775. The Indians put an end to this enterprise by massacring the colonel and his family. [1]

Back in the more settled regions of tidewater, Governor Horatio Sharpe informed Lord Baltimore in 1767 that he was hoping to improve and soften the native grape by cultivation. [2] He evidently favored the European grape, though, and other Marylanders agreed: Charles Carroll of Annapolis planted a vineyard in Howard County in 1770 with four sorts of vines that he called "Rhenish, Virginia grape, Claret and Burgundy." [3] After his death the vineyard was kept up by his son, the famous Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and it was still extant in 1796, making it the longest-lived of recorded colonial vineyards. [4] By that time, however, all but the native vines were reported to be dead. Growers nevertheless continued to try vinifera, as is shown by the newspaper advertisements of Maryland nurserymen


The Alexander grape, a spontaneous hybrid of vinifera and labrusca vines from which the first 
commercial wines in America were made, was discovered around 1740 by James Alexander in 
the neighborhood of Springettsbury, just above the northwest corner of Philadelphia, as shown
 in this map of 1777. This was where William Penn's gardener had planted cuttings of vinifera in 
1683. It is probable, then, that Penn's imported European vines had entered into the formation 
of America's first wine grape by pollinating a native vine. (Detail of William Faden's map of 
Philadelphia and environs; Map Division, Library of Congress)

right down to the Revolution offering European vines to be sold and planted in Maryland. [5]

Some time before the experiments of Carroll and Sharpe, an event of crucial significance had already occurred in Maryland when, in 1755 or 1756 (the second date is the more likely), Colonel Benjamin Tasker, Jr., a famous horseman and secretary to the province of Maryland, planted a two-acre vineyard at his sister's estate of Belair, in Prince Georges County, about twelve miles from Annapolis. [6] What was of immense, if unrecognized, significance in the colonel's modest enterprise was the grape he planted, called the Alexander. This, a cross between an unidentified native and a vinifera vine, is the earliest named hybrid of which we have record. According to the account given by William Bartram, the vine was discov-


ered around 1740 by James Alexander, then gardener to Thomas Penn, a son of William Penn. Alexander found the vine growing in the woods along the Schuylkill near the old vineyard established in 1683 by Andrew Doz for William Penn. [7] It is thus almost certainly a hybrid of one of Penn's European vines, and so Penn's ideas about refining the native grape were in fact realized, though by pure accident and long after his death.

Colonel Tasker succeeded in making wine of his grape, wine that quickly acquired some celebrity. On his travels through the colonies, the Reverend Andrew Burnaby had it served to him at the table of the governor of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and approved it as "not bad." [8] A more damaging description than Burnaby's faint praise is given by Governor Horatio Sharpe of Maryland, who, in response to the contemporary Lord Baltimore's request for some Maryland "Burgundy" to be shipped to him, had to reply that

There hath been no Burgundy made in Maryland since my arrival except two or three hogsheads which Col. Tasker made in 1759; this was much admired by all that tasted it in the months of February and March following, but in a week or two afterwards it lost both its colour and flavour so that no person would touch it and the ensuing winter being a severe one destroyed almost all the vines. [9]

Sad to say, the death of Colonel Tasker's vines in 1760 was followed, in the same year, by the death of the colonel himself at the early age of forty; like every other hopeful beginning of the sort of which we know anything, Tasker's flickered out quickly. In this case, though, there was a crucial difference: the hybrid grape had appeared, though how it travelled from Philadelphia to Maryland remains a subject for pure guessing. [10] The Alexander itself would persist well after Tasker, and, more important, was but the first of a list of American hybrids now grown to thousands and thousands.

Across the newly surveyed Mason-Dixon line to the north of Maryland, the scene in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the years just before the Revolution resembled that in Virginia. The persistence of indomitably optimistic men had begun to have its effect: there was growing interest in, growing discussion of, and growing experiment with the wine vine that would in all probability have led to substantial results but for the interruption made by the Revolution.

One reason to think so was the presence in Pennsylvania of a great number of Germans who sorely missed the vine they had left behind. As the traveller Gottlieb Mittelberger reported in the 1750s, the Germans in America, especially the Würt-tembergers and the Rhinelanders, missed "the noble juice of the grape." Mittelberger saw that the conditions of sparse settlement, difficult transportation, and undeveloped markets would not soon be overcome; successful cultivation of the grape would not come all at once or soon, but, he wrote, "I have no doubt that in time, this too will come." [11]

In Pennsylvania it is, predictably, Ben Franklin who stands out among the proponents of winegrowing. No man has expressed the beneficent character of wine


better than Franklin did in his well-known affirmation that "God loves to see us happy, and therefore He gave us wine." [12] From the earliest moment at which he had access to the public ear, Franklin began giving instruction to his fellow-colonists about winemaking. Poor Richard's Almanack for 1743 contains directions for making wine offered to the "Friendly Reader" because, Poor Richard says, "I would have every Man take Advantage of the Blessings of Providence and few are acquainted with the Method of making Wine of the Grapes which grow wild in our Woods." Franklin's methods required the grapes to be trodden by foot—"get into the Hogshead bare-leg'd"—and specify a long cool fermentation lasting until Christmas. The casual freedom of those unregulated days appears strikingly in this word of advice: "If you make Wine for Sale, or to go beyond Sea, one quarter part must be distill'd, and the Brandy put into the three Quarters remaining." But of course where no industry existed, the tax-gatherer was not interested; and so one might distill and sell at retail without licenses, fears, or fees. As his last word, Franklin adds a modest disclaimer: "These Directions are not design'd for those who are skill'd in making Wine, but for those who have hitherto had no Acquaintance with that Art." [13]

In 1765, long after he had ceased to edit Poor Richard , and while he was acting as Pennsylvania's agent in London, Franklin took the trouble to adapt and publish for American readers of Poor Richard the directions drawn up by Aaron Hill for producing native wine; [14] not very authentic directions, perhaps, but who could know that? The immediate impulse behind Franklin's instructing the Americans in winemaking was probably the Sugar Act of 1764; this laid a duty for the first time on the Portuguese wines—Madeira included—that the colonists by long habit had regarded as immune from all duties. As one of Franklin's friends said on that melancholy occasion, "We must then drink wine of our own making or none at all." [15]

But Franklin did not need so drastic a reason to be active in favor of American wine. In the years before and after 1765 he had been busily encouraging the development of native wines. One anecdote told by the Boston merchant and judge Edmund Quincy is illustrative. Sometime—perhaps in the 1750s—Quincy met Franklin when the latter was on a visit to Boston, and heard Franklin say that the "Rhenish grape Vines" had lately been planted in Philadelphia with good success. Quincy remarked that he would like to have some for his Massachusetts garden, and thought nothing more of the matter until, some weeks later, he received cuttings of such vines in two parcels, one sent by water and one by land. On later meeting Franklin, Quincy learned that Franklin had not only taken the unasked trouble and expense of sending the vines but had had to obtain them some seventy miles from Philadelphia, his information about their growing in the city being mistaken. The young John Adams, who records the story, sums it up as an instance of Franklin's benevolence: all his trouble was "purely for the sake of doing good in the world by propagating the Rhenish wines thro these provinces. And Mr. Quincy has some of them now growing in his garden." [16] In 1761 Franklin wrote to Quincy wishing him "success in your attempts to make wine from American grapes," but


whether "American grapes" means simply any grapes grown in America, or that Quincy had abandoned his Rhenish grapes for natives we cannot know. [17] Terminology was so loose in those days that one can never be sure.

A rising expectation that wine could be grown in America characterized the last few years before the Revolution; it has an interesting echo in a proposal made to Franklin in 1772. He was then in London, representing not only Pennsylvania but Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts as well; he was thus the man of preeminent authority and influence in all matters affecting the political and economic life of the colonies. If a projector or speculator had a notion for getting rich in the colonies, Franklin was obviously the man he would want to make sure of. One such ambitious person was the flamboyant Thomas O'Gorman, an Irish adventurer turned respectable Burgundian winegrower (as the fortunes of the Hennessys, Bartons, Lynches, and others suggest, there seems to be some secret affinity between the Irish and the French wine trade—some maintain that even Haut Brion is really O'Brien frenchified). O'Gorman, after serving with the French armies against the English, was made a chevalier, and, thanks to his Irish good looks, married a sister of that strange Chevalier D'Eon who lived sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman. The marriage brought O'Gorman a large dowry in the form of Burgundian vineyards, which supported him until the French Revolution at last sent him back to Ireland. Long before that, however, in 1772, the rumors of the prospects of winegrowing in the colonies had somehow reached the chevalier, and he came forward with the plan of a winegrowing scheme in the colonies for which he tried to get Franklin's support. The key question was obtaining a parliamentary subsidy; in the vexed state of relations between England and her colonies that, however, was out of the question. Franklin recommended the chevalier to apply to the promoters of a new American colony in the Ohio lands, but their scheme soon collapsed, though not before Franklin had received a gift of wine from O'Gorman's Burgundian estate, vintage 1772: "a Hogshead of the right sort for you," as the chevalier described it. [18]

An even more interesting gift of wine was received by Franklin from a Pennsylvania Quaker named Thomas Livezey, who operated a mill on the Wissahickon near Philadelphia. In June 1767 Livezey sent to England a dozen bottles of American wine that he had made "from our small wild grape, which grows in great plenty in our woodland"; another dozen followed later in the year. "I heartily wish it may arrive safe," Livezey wrote, "and warm the hearts of everyone who tastes it, with a love for America." [19] It may only have been Franklin's diplomatic tact, but in thanking Livezey he affirmed that the wine "has been found excellent by many good judges," and in particular by Franklin's London wine merchant, who was "very desirous of knowing what quantity of it might be had and at what price." [20] One wonders whether Philip Mazzei was one of the judges to whom this American wine was submitted, and whether it had anything to do with his decision to try winegrowing in America? Livezey continued to make wine along the banks of the Wissahickon; tradition says that he sank several barrels of it in the stream to keep


Lottery tickets for John Leacock's scheme of a "public vineyard" in Philadelphia, 1773. 
The lottery did not succeed, but a "public vineyard" was at last established by the federal 
government at Washington, D.C., in 1858. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

it safe during the Revolution, and that one or two bottles of the wine thus preserved were still extant in the twentieth century. [21]

Another Philadelphian, the naturalist and traveller John Bartram, was thinking about winemaking in this decade. After his journey of botanical exploration through the South in 1765, Bartram wrote to the Reverend Jared Eliot, the pioneer American agricultural writer, that he had found a promising grape (probably a muscadine) in Carolina and hoped to be able to propagate it and others in sufficient quantity to furnish a winemaking industry. Bartram's motive was the cause of temperance: most Americans being "eager after strong liquors and spirits," wine was a highly desirable alternative. [22] The argument is so familiar in the history of this subject that one is compelled to accept the conclusion that Americans, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were formidable drinkers. What success Bartram had we do not know. About twenty years later, Johann Schoepf wrote that many sorts of American vines, collected by the elder Bartram, could be seen in Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia, then conducted by William, the son. Schoepf reported that the grapes improved under cultivation, a frequently met assertion much easier to make than to prove. [23]

Winegrowing was evidently much in the air around Philadelphia at the end of the 1760s. Samples of wine from native grapes, produced by R. S. Jones, by Dr. Francis Alison, and by Dr. Philip Syng, were exhibited at the American Philosophical Society in 1768. [24] In the same year John Leacock, a retired Philadelphia


silversmith, and later the author of patriotic dramas, began planting for himself and other interested experimenters at his farm in Lower Merion Township "white, blue, and purple grapes, as well as Lisbon and Muscadine vines."[25] Some of these Leacock received from other local growers, some were from foreign sources. At the end of 1772 he was encouraged enough to inform the American Philosophical Society that he meant to undertake a public vineyard "for the good of all the Provinces, from which might be drawn such vines or cuttings free of all expence, as might best suit each province."[26] To finance this philanthropic project, Leacock proposed a public lottery—then a popular and legal form of money-raising in Pennsylvania—and actually issued tickets in 1773 for his "Public Vineyard Cash Lottery." By 1775 Leacock had experience enough of the afflictions that ravaged his vinifera vines—rot, insects, and weather—to wonder whether native vines might not be the answer.[27] But, as with so many other efforts at this time, the Revolution put an end to Leacock's work. He left his farm in 1777 in advance of the British occupation of Philadelphia, and does not seem ever to have returned to it.[28]

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