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6 The Early Republic, Continued
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The South in the Early Republic

A brief look at the South will close this chapter. The South was not merely the source of usable native hybrids—the Isabella and Catawba from the Carolinas; Bland's grape and the Norton from Virginia. It also had a part in the many winemaking trials made after the Revolution.

Despite the presence of such distinguished amateurs as Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, Virginia was not one of the leaders in the development of viticulture and winemaking in the early days of the Republic. No doubt many private gentlemen kept up their interest in the subject: Adlum reported that the Virginians were more eager for cuttings from him than any others.[90] Josiah Lockhart, for instance, of Frederick County, bought 2,000 vines of Catawba from Adlum and was producing a few gallons of wine by 1827.[91] One notable event, of considerable importance for the future, was the introduction of the Norton grape by Dr. D. N. Norton of Richmond, Virginia. Sometime around 1820 Dr. Norton planted seed from a vine of the native grape called "Bland" that had fruited near a vinifera grape; one of the resultant seedlings he selected for its superior qualities, which would later be recognized by commercial plantings in Virginia, Missouri, and elsewhere.[92]

Something has already been said about the Scuppernong wine of North Carolina, which had reputation enough to attract Jefferson's interest. "Scuppernong" properly refers to a white variety of the species rotundifolia, the muscadine grape, a variety first brought to notice in North Carolina and much cultivated there from the early nineteenth century on. The popularity of the variety has led to the name Scuppernong being used for muscadines generally, but I restrict it to its original reference. The wine that Jefferson drank and liked was the produce of well-to-do planters around Edenton and Plymouth in the low country on Albemarle Sound; some of this, at least, came from cultivated vineyards. Whether grapes from wild vines were also used is unclear, but seems highly likely. Farther south, Scuppernong wine was almost a vin de pays for the poor; all along the Cape Fear River for a distance of seventy miles, we are told, farmers made wine from the wild grapes and


used it "as freely as cider is used in New England."[93] Observers from time to time noted the ease with which such wine was produced, prompting them to wonder whether it might not be promoted from a hobby or cottage industry to become a staple product for the enrichment of the state.[94] Certainly North Carolina needed such a thing, for its agricultural economy in the first part of the century was well-nigh desperate, the consequence of reckless farming and exhausted soils. More land lay abandoned than was actually in production, and the population declined with emigration.[95] The State Board of Agriculture recognized the possibility of grape culture by distributing vines in the state from 1823 to 1830; but, though the newspapers wrote of what might be done, little in fact came of the effort to turn the worn-out lands of the state into vineyards.[96]

The possibilities of the high ground in the western part of North Carolina, so different from the low and swampy coastal plain favored by the muscadine, were also explored. Around 1827 the state legislature made a grant of 500 acres in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, in the Blue Ridge country, to a Frenchman who undertook to grow grapes experimentally there.[97] What he did, or whether he did anything, are questions for which, as so often happens, no record has been found to answer.

It is in South Carolina, with its intermittent but persistent history of grape growing, going back to the early Huguenot emigration, that much of the interesting work is to be found. Towards the end of the century, the South Carolina Society for Promoting Agriculture (later the Agricultural Society of South Carolina) attempted to assist winegrowing along the familiar lines of importing cuttings from Europe and distributing them for trial,[98] with the usual result: the members were "inexperienced in the peculiar culture of the vine, their labourers were hirelings who did but little, and finally their funds failed them."[99] The one essential thing omitted from such a recital is that the climate and diseases killed the vines quite independently of all the other failures. After this disappointment, the society tried another tack by subsidizing a self-proclaimed expert to cultivate vines near Columbia. A contemporary historian says laconically that "their liberality was misapplied."[100] It is not clear whether this person was the same as "one Magget" who obtained a grant from the legislature around 1800 for the purpose of developing viticulture.[101] Perhaps so; and perhaps it was the same person who in November 1798 gave the address to the Agricultural Society published anonymously as "A Memorial on the Practicability of Growing Vineyards in the State of South Carolina." This was filled with extravagant claims and unreal calculations, demonstrating that, unlike cotton, rice, tobacco, and indigo, the grape presented "an inexhaustible source of riches and opulence."[102]

More productive than the publicly supported efforts were those of individual vineyard owners, of whom there had always been many in South Carolina. The focus of activity after the Revolution shifted from the coast at Charleston, or along the Savannah River, to higher ground around the newly established capital at Columbia and beyond. Benjamin Waring raised grapes and made wine as early as


1802 at Columbia; he was evidently working with a superior selection of native grapes, for he was able to produce wine without added sugar, though with one gallon of brandy to every twelve of juice—a considerable dose to us but a modest measure then.[103] Another, later, Columbia grower was James S. Guignard, who for many years grew Catawba and Norton grapes, as well as one that he called "Guignard."[104] Samuel Maverick, best known for his pioneering work in establishing the cotton culture of the South, was an enthusiastic viticulturist too. At his estate of Montpelier, at Pendleton in the far western corner of the state, Maverick made trials of various grapes, both native and foreign, and of different methods of training, as well as experimenting with soils, fertilizers, and horticultural methods. By 1823 Maverick had nearly fifty varieties growing and with the typical optimism of the time predicted that wine would soon be as valuable to the South as cotton then was.[105] When Caroline Olivia Laurens, wife of Henry Laurens, Jr., visited Maverick in July 1825, she found him full of proselytizing zeal. First he presented the party with "wine of his own manufacturing, equal to Frontinac," and then "he conducted us to his vineyard, which covers an acre or more of land. . .. The old man seemed very desirous that his neighbors should try the cultivation of the vine; he said that he thought this as good a country for grapes as the South of France, and he had no doubt that in a few years wine will be as lucrative a commodity as cotton."[106]

The most active and effective grower was Nicholas Herbemont of Columbia, who began growing grapes about 1811 and who did much to advertise the possibilities of winemaking in South Carolina for the next twenty years. I have not been able to learn much about him. He was evidently French-born, rather than a descendant of the South Carolina Huguenots.[107] He is sometimes referred to as "Doctor," but, on his own authority, he had no claim to the title.[108] In any case, he was an articulate and literate man, writing often for the agricultural press. Like Adlum, he was interested in the technicalities of winemaking and in the search for better native varieties. It is no surprise that, as a Frenchman, he did not immediately concentrate upon the native grapes; it is said that he returned to France in order to bring back vinifera vines to his adopted country.[109] But experience made it clear that success lay with the natives.

Herbemont's best wines came from a grape that he called Madeira, and that others called Herbemont's Madeira; it is now known simply as Herbemont. A member of the subspecies of aestivalis called Bourquiniana, the Herbemont grape probably contains vinifera blood as well. It is eminently a southern grape, sensitive to cold and requiring a long season; given the right conditions, Herbemont is that rare thing among natives, a grape with a good balance of sugar and acid. The white wine that Herbemont made from this grape he called "Palmyra wine" after his farm at Columbia.[110] It is much to be regretted that this excellent practice of naming the wine after the place of its production did not set a clear precedent and so spare us the clarets, madeiras, champagnes, burgundies, and ports whose borrowed names have confused and obstructed the development of a distinctive range of


American types and terms. Herbemont's other favored grape was the Lenoir, another variety of Bourquiniana, also restricted to the South, and giving a red wine better than the average expected from other native grapes—a very guarded praise. Herbemont was not the discoverer or the exclusive promoter of these grapes, both of which had an earlier history quite independent of him. But he did bring them to public notice in connection with his own successful manufacture of wine and he deserves to have his name perpetuated by the first of them.

Like all native winegrowers, he had to overcome much prejudice. The South Carolinian lawyer and politician William John Grayson reported that he and other legislators once sampled the wine of the "urbane and kind hearted" Herbemont. Grayson thought the wine "very pleasant. But not so my more experienced colleagues, adepts in Old Madeira and Sherry; they held the home article in very slender estimation. They thought it, as they said, a good wine to keep, and were content that it should be kept accordingly."[111]

Unlike Adlum, Herbemont did not produce a book on winegrowing, though a series of his articles on grape culture contributed to the Southern Agriculturist (1828) was reprinted as a pamphlet in 1833.[112] Perhaps for this reason in part, and perhaps too because he worked in the relative obscurity of the new, raw town of Columbia, he did not achieve the same effect as Adlum; in every other respect he seems entitled to the same recognition as his better-known contemporary. One might fairly think of them as sharing a divided labor, the one appealing to the mid-Atlantic states and to the North, the other to the South.

The uncertainties of a cotton-based agriculture on exhausted soils and in competition with new lands to the west made the search for alternative crops a familiar business in the seaboard states of the South. Viticulture was a frequently suggested possibility, and, as we have seen, the legislatures of both Carolinas supported experiments that would, it was hoped, bring it into being. Herbemont had his own special ideas about the public usefulness of a winegrowing industry. He was frightened by the future of a South with a slave population whose occupation—cotton—was disappearing from the older regions. What would happen if the slave population continued to grow while the work for which it was destined continued to diminish? What was wanted was a new industry—winegrowing—and a new kind of labor—"suitable labourers from Europe."[113]

In 1827 Herbemont presented his ideas to the South Carolina senate in the form of a memorial urging that the state subsidize the emigration of "a number of vignerons from France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland" who could be established in small communities throughout the state to turn the unprofitable pine barrens and sand hills into rich vineyards. The idea is one familiar from the beginning of southern colonization, but this time, at least, Herbemont recognized that European practices could not be simply transferred unchanged to the United States: "Experience has shown, that the mode of cultivation must be very different here from what it is in Europe." Nevertheless, Europeans could be quickly taught, and would then form a source of labor fit to carry out the agricultural transformation of the state.


The senate received the memorial with murmurs of praise for the "unwearied perserverance, untiring industry, and botanical research of the memorialist," but noted with regret that the state of the treasury would not allow the scheme to be acted on.[114]

A comparable scheme had been submitted to the South Carolina legislature a few years earlier by two promoters named Antonio Della Torre and James C. W. McDonnald. They proposed in 1825 to bring over Italian farmers—"a well conducted free white body of labourers"—to introduce the cultivation of that classic triad in the dream of American prosperity, wine, silk, and oil. Forty thousand dollars, they thought, would be enough to meet expenses through the necessary waiting time before profits started to roll in. Except that the language of their memorial is in a later idiom, one might be reading a prospectus of the sixteenth century—with the difference that the nineteenth-century visionaries were aware of earlier failures. These, however, were easily explained away, and appeal made to the unanswerable evidence of the native vine: "Your memorialists . . . feel assured also that the Great Author of nature would not have caused festoons of the wild grape to adorn many parts of this state, if He intended to declare—'this shall not be a wine country.'"[115] To this theological argument the legislature was politely respectful, but it did not see fit to support the faith with $40,000.

In Georgia, too, winemaking was thought of as a possible way out of agricultural depression. The committee on agriculture of the Georgia legislature reported in 1828 that the desirable commodities of which there was hope were—wine, silk, and oil! The persistence of the original vision, intact, after all the years since the colony's founding says much about the power of the wish over experience. But the committee had, it said, evidence that "very good wine was made in the state as early as 1740."[116] Is it possible that the evidence was that pathetic single bottle of Savannah wine presented to Oglethorpe by Stephens (see above, p. 51)?

Any genuine evidence in favor of the practicability of winegrowing in Georgia would have come from the examples of enthusiastic amateurs. The best known was General Thomas McCall, who, since 1816, had been tending a vineyard on piney land in Laurens County and making wine in small commercial quantities. His experience, which recapitulates the general American pattern, is interesting partly because it went back so far. McCall had known Andrew Estave, the Frenchman who directed the luckless public vineyard at Williamsburg in the early 1770s; McCall also read and made use of St. Pierre's Art of Planting and Cultivating the Vine .[117] He thus bridges the gap between the unbroken failures of prerevolutionary efforts and the tentative successes of the early nineteenth century. McCall, like everyone else, first planted vinifera grapes; when they failed, he fell back upon native vines, particularly one he called Warrenton, now identified as Herbemont. From a local fox grape he also made a wine with the delightful name of "Blue Favorite."[118] McCall had a technician's turn of mind: he kept careful notes on weather and on his wine-making procedures, and contributed an essential improvement to technique by making use, for the first time in the American record at any rate, of a hydrometer to


measure sugar content and so make possible accurate adjustment of the must.[119] This was a great and necessary development if well-balanced, light, dry table wines were ever to displace the over-sugared, brandy-bolstered confections that appear to have been the standard of such wine as Americans had contrived to make. The reputation of McCall's wines was such that the governor, in his message to the legislature in 1827, proposed that the state subsidize their production as a basis for a larger industry.[120] When he began his efforts, McCall said, he had for many years been unable to make "a single convert to the faith . . . they call me a visionary, and other names, as a reward for my endeavours."'[121] In time, he succeeded in interesting other amateurs to dabble in winemaking, and there was a period in the 1820s and early 1830s when Georgian connoisseurs were beginning to talk boastfully about the select vintages of their state. The impulse died with the individuals who imparted it, however; another generation would pass before anything resembling a continuing industry arose.

In 1830, at Philadelphia, the eccentric and unfortunate botanist and savant-of-all-trades, Constantine Rafinesque, born in Constantinople, but long resident in the United States, published the second volume of his Medical flora , a comprehensive treatise on the plants of North America having pharmaceutical value. Rafinesque, an original but undisciplined observer, who died in obscure poverty in the next decade, and whose classifications are the despair of later students, included in his work a long treatise on Vitis , with special reference to American vines and American conditions. He had, he tells us, worked in the vineyards of Adlum at Georgetown in preparation for his opus,[122] and he evidently thought highly enough of the sixty-odd pages that he devoted to the subject in his comprehensive treatise to republish them separately in the same year under the title of an American Manual of Grape Vines and the Method of Making Wine . Though his classifications are fanciful, and his advice on winemaking of no particular originality, Rafinesque obviously cared much about the possibilities of winegrowing in this country, and took the trouble to survey the state of the industry not once but twice, first in 1825 and again in 1830.[123] It is this information that still gives his curious treatise some authority after a century and a half have lapsed.

Dufour, we remember, had surveyed American grape growing at the end of the eighteenth century, and had found scarcely a single vineyard worthy of the name from New York to St. Louis. The changes made in the next quarter of a century are indicated by Rafinesque's summary. In 1825, he learned, there were not more than sixty vineyards to be found in the entire country, ranging from one to twenty acres, and aggregating not more than six hundred acres altogether. That was just after Adlum's introduction of the Catawba, the plantings of the Dutchmen around York, and the experiments of McCall, Herbemont, and others in the South; their contributions had not yet had their chance to take effect. Five years later, in 1830, Rafinesque found that the pace of things had accelerated in unmistakable fashion. There were then, he reported, two hundred vineyards of from three to forty acres, making a total of five thousand acres—a miniscule amount measured


Among his many interests, the unfortunate Constantine
 Rafinesque (1783-1840) paid special attention to grapes 
and wine. He worked in John Adlum's vineyard to gain 
experience, published an  American Manual of Grape 
Vines and the Method of Making Wine
, and made two 
surveys of American winegrowing activity. Rafinesque was 
an inveterate traveller and writer. His main work was in 
botany and ichthyology, but he taught modern languages, 
worked as a merchant, and wrote on banking, economics, 
and the Bible before his death as a neglected pauper. (From
 Rafinesque, "A Life of Travels,"  Chronica Botanica  8, no. 2 [1944])

against the undeveloped expanses of the United States, but still an impressive increase in a mere five years, testifying to a new confidence and a new sort of success in viticulture, so long attempted and so long frustrated in this country. Approximate and even doubtful as Rafinesque's figures are, they are at least symbolically valid as an expression of what was happening at last in the first part of the nineteenth century. As an act of piety towards the pioneers, Rafinesque set down the names of the vineyardists who had done the work: in New York, Gibbs, Prince, and Loubat; in Pennsylvania, Legaux, Eichelberger, Carr, Webb; in Maryland, Adlum; in Virginia, Lockhart, Weir, and Noel. The list goes on and does not bear quoting in full. But it marks the first time that such a thing could have been compiled, and for us it marks the point from which the growth of an industry can be measured. There have been many changes, diversions, obstructions, and failures since Rafinesque compiled his list, but there has not, since then, been any further doubt that the work of winegrowing in this country was a permanent fact rather than a prophecy—at least so far as nature's assent is concerned.


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6 The Early Republic, Continued
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