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1 The Beginnings, 1000-1700
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The Other Colonies in the Seventeenth Century

The experience of the English in Virginia was a model, repeated more or less fully and persistently, in all the other colonies of seventeenth-century America. If we disregard exact chronology and simply follow the map of the coastline from north to south, each separate region presents its brief chronicle of experiment and failure. To begin with Maine, in the far north: in 1620 a speculator named Ambrose Gibbons proposed to found a plantation at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, on what is now the Maine-New Hampshire border, and there, in that bitter northern climate, to "cultivate the vine, discover mines . . . and trade with natives."[89] The latter two objects he might hope to realize; the first one, in the then state of botanical knowledge, could only be a wish rather than a practical possibility.

To the south, in Massachusetts, there is a pleasant fiction that wine from native grapes figured in the first Thanksgiving, in November 1621. [90] The Pilgrims of course saw "vines everywhere" at Plymouth Bay, as William Bradford wrote, [91] but the unique source from which our notion of the original Thanksgiving is derived, Edward Winslow's letter of 11 December 1621, makes no reference to wine at that meal. Winslow does describe the "grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also"[92] to be found growing in the local woods, but that is another matter. Perhaps the Plymouth Pilgrims had made wine from those grapes, but if so Winslow does not tell us.

In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wine was made from native grapes in the first summer of settlement in 1630[93] The result was doubtless one of the reasons why the colonists petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Company back in London to have Frenchmen experienced in "planting of vines" sent out to them. Unluckily, the company could not find any, though "vine-planters" were on the list of those things "to provide to send for New-England" that it noted in its preparations for 1629. [94]

The example of winegrowing was set at the top of the hierarchy in Boston. Governor John Winthrop, in 1632, secured the grant of Conant's Island in Boston Harbor, on condition that he plant a vineyard there. Three years later his rent for the place, then called Governor's Garden, was set at "a hogshead of the best wine that shall grow there to be paid yearly." In 1640 this was changed to two bushels of apples—evidence that winegrowing had not succeeded. [95] Despite this result, the intelligent and experienced Dr. Robert Child, preparing in 1641 to emigrate from


England to Massachusetts, proposed to establish a vineyard in the colony, and visited France during the vintage season to learn how the French made wine. "Already in imagination," as Samuel Eliot Morison writes, "he saw the hills of New England lined with terraced vineyards, becoming the Beaune or the Chablis of the New World." Child at last arrived in Massachusetts in 1645, having sent several varieties of vines before him and intending to establish his vineyard in the Nashua Valley. Despite his confidence that "in three years wine may be made as good as any in France," nothing came of his intentions; he was soon embroiled in quarrels with the Puritan magistrates and returned to England before success or failure with his vines could be determined. [96]

The discouraging experiences of Winthrop and Child were the familiar story in Massachusetts, but travellers and local historians continued for decades to comment on the abundance of native grapes in the region. No further effort to develop winegrowing seems to have been made until late in the seventeenth century, when Huguenot settlers planted vineyards in western Massachusetts; [97] vines of their planting still grew there as late as the 1820s, sufficient evidence for the fact that they must have been using one of the native species. [98] At the same time, another group of Huguenots planted vines in Rhode Island, from which they succeeded in making wine that was well received in Boston. [99] Both settlements soon came to an end, however: Indian attack drove the Huguenots from western Massachusetts, and legal difficulties over land title those in Rhode Island. The once-celebrated nineteenth-century American poetess Lydia Sigourney—"the Sweet Singer of Hartford"—was married to a descendant of one of the Massachusetts Huguenots. After paying a visit of piety to the remains of their settlement in 1822 she produced a poem addressed to one of the vines still growing there:

        Not by rash, thoughtless hands
Who sacrifice to Bacchus, pouring forth
Libations at his altar, with wild songs
Hailing his madden'd orgies, wert thou borne
To foreign climes,—but with the suffering band
Of pious Huguenots didst dare the wave
When they essay'd to plant Salvation's vines
In the drear wilderness. . . . [100]

The rest of the poem is in the same style. It is pleasing to think that this decorous vine, turning from Bacchic orgies, adapted itself so well to the austere style of Huguenot Massachusetts. But as it was certainly an American native, it had never known anything about Bacchic orgies, though the fact would probably not have disturbed the lady's muse.

As for Rhode Island, viticulture did not persist after the retreat of the Huguenots, dispossessed in 1692 from their settlement at Frenchtown. The charter of Rhode Island, granted by King Charles II in 1663, contains the expression of the royal intention to "give all fitting encouragement to the planting of vineyards (with


which the soil and climate seem to concur)." [101] The judgment is correct: Rhode Island ought to be a winegrowing region, but the social and economic conditions were evidently wrong, despite the example set briefly by the Huguenots.

The state of things in New England generally was summed up in 1680 by the early historian William Hubbard:

Many places do naturally abound with grapes, which gave great hopes of fruitful vineyards in after time: but as yet either skill is wanting to cultivate and order the roots of those wild vines, and reduce them to a pleasant sweetness, or time is not yet to be spared to look after the culture of such fruits as rather tend to the bene , or melius esse , of a place, than to the bare esse , and subsistence thereof. [102]

Even the growing of grapes in farm gardens never caught on in New England. The Yankee tradition was simply to make use of the wild grapes growing freely in every wood, so that the work of selection and cultivation to improve the native varieties never really got started. Massachusetts was highly important at a later stage of American viticultural history for what it did do at last towards improving the natives—the Concord grape is its best known, but by no means its only, contribution; meantime, the settlers turned to rum and Madeira.

Further down the coast, in the New Netherland of the Dutch settlers, a vineyard was planted as early as 1642, but was destroyed by the severe winter temperatures; though we do not know, this fact suggests that they were vinifera vines. [103] Immediately after the English took over the colony from the Dutch in 1669, the new governor granted a monopoly of grape growing on Long Island to one Paul Richards, who also received the privilege of selling his wine tax-free. [104] Whether he ever had any to sell the records do not tell us, but such silence is significant. A Dutch traveller visiting Coney Island in 1679 found abundant grapes growing wild and noted that the settlers had several times planted vineyards without success. "Nevertheless," he added, "they have not abandoned the hope of doing so by and by, for there is always some encouragement, although they have not, as yet, discovered the cause of the failure." [105] This could hardly be bettered as a summary of the colonial experience: repeated effort, repeated failure, persistent hope, and the tantalizing fact of flourishing wild grapes. How many trials may have been made in the promising terrain of the settlements around New York harbor, and along the Hudson River, there is no means of knowing.

The Swedes along the Delaware in what is now New Jersey and Delaware were just as eager as the English and the Dutch to turn their place in the New World into a fountain of wine. The official instructions given to the Swedish governor, Colonel John Printz, in 1642. included viticulture among the objects of the colony, [106] but it was not long before the Jersey farmers turned to apple growing instead and began to produce the cider for which they were famous throughout the colonial period and after.

Across the river in Pennsylvania, William Penn hoped to make viticulture flourish in his American woods. In 1683, within a year of his arrival in the new


William Penn took French vines with him to Pennsylvania in 1682, his first trip to 
the colony he had founded, and in the next year had his French  vignerons  lay out
 vineyards. The portrait shows him as he appeared around 1696. (Drawing by Francis 
Place; Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

colony, Penn recorded that he had drunk a "good claret" made of native grapes by a French Huguenot refugee, Captain Gabriel Rappel. [107] He wondered then whether the future of American winegrowing might not lie with the native varieties rather than with the European vinifera:

'Tis disputable with me, whether it be best to fall to fining the fruits of the country, especially the grape, by the care and skill of art, or send for foreign stems and sets, already good and approved. It seems most reasonable to believe, that not only a thing groweth best, where it naturally grows; but will hardly be equalled by another species of the same kind, that doth not naturally grow there. But to solve the doubt, I intend, if God give me life, to try both, and hope the consequence will be as good wine as any European countries of the same latitude do yield. [108]

The idea of developing the native grape of course occurred to others too. Around 1688 Dr. Daniel Coxe, a large New Jersey proprietor resident in London, describ-


ing the wealth of his lands, wrote that they abounded in grapes, from the best of which was made "very good wine" and, from the less good, brandy. "It is believed by judicious persons, French vignerons and others, that some sorts of them improved by cultivating would produce as good wine as any in the world." [109]

Possibly, if Penn had in fact turned to the "fining" of the native vine, he would have developed a successful viticulture. But he seems to have concentrated on vinifera instead. Before he left England on his first voyage to Pennsylvania, Penn had sent for vines from Bordeaux to be taken with him. [110] These he had had planted for him by a Huguenot refugee named Andrew Doz on a spot now a part of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, along the banks of the Schuylkill. [111] Like all other such trials, this one had no immediate success, though it had later results not dreamed of at the time.

Penn also took an interest in the work of Francis Pastorius, leader of the Pietist German settlers at Germantown, who in 1691 chose for their town seal a device showing a grapevine, a flax blossom, and a weaver's spool. The meaning of the seal, Pastorius wrote, was to show that "the people of this place live from grapes, flax, and trade" (that is, the weaving trade). [112] Though the community flourished, the grapes did not. And Penn, who kept a cellar in his Philadelphia house, had to furnish it, not with the vintages of Germantown or the Schuylkill, but with the produce of Europe. Perhaps he was not sorry to do so, despite that "good claret" he once drank from his own woods. The favorite wines of the Penn household, we are told, were "canary, claret, sack and madeira." [113] Pennsylvania was in no way ready to yield such wines.

Many miles south of Penn's woods, some twenty years before Philadelphia was laid out, Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of Maryland, in 1662 instructed his son the governor, Charles Calvert, to plant a vineyard and to make wine. To the original 240 acres of vineyard on the St. Mary's River (in the far south of the colony, just across the Potomac from Virginia) another hundred acres were added in 1665. [114] Wine made from this is reported, with the uncritical optimism of all such early responses, to have been "as good as the best burgundy." [115] In 1672 Lord Baltimore sent over a hogshead of vines to the colony, but his son reported in the next year that every one had perished, frustrating his hope to be able, in a few years, "to have sent your Lordship a glass of wine of the growth of this Province." [116] Tobacco established itself so quickly and overwhelmingly as the dominant crop in seventeenth-century Maryland that viticulture, whether as good as the best in Burgundy or not, had no chance.

Passing by Virginia, whose struggles with the grape we have already seen, we arrive at the Carolinas, which offer the most striking illustration of what we may call the Virginia syndrome in seventeenth-century America. Raleigh's expedition in 1584, we remember, took note of the promise made by the abundant wild grapes growing thickly along the Carolina coast. Some eighty years later, in 1663, the proprietors of Carolina, newly chartered by Charles II, drew up proposals for a colony that would concentrate—despite the experience of Jamestown—on just


Seal of Germantown, Pennsylvania: the three leaves of the 
clover bear a weaver's spool, a flax blossom, and, on the 
right, a grape vine, to show that the German Pietists who
 founded the town in 1683 meant to live from winegrowing
 and weaving, (Masthead ornament from the  Germantown
 [Germantown Historical Society], Fall 1986)

those "three rich commodities," wine, silk, and oil, that Hakluyt and others had dreamed of producing in an English Mediterranean invented along the Atlantic coast. Sir William Berkeley, one of the distinguished proprietors of the Carolina colony (together with such eminent figures of Restoration England as Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Lord Shaftesbury; Lord Clarendon, the lord chancellor of England; and the duke of Albemarle) was commissioned to appoint a government for Carolina. His instructions included a proviso for setting aside 20,000 acres of land for the proprietors, taking care that some be "on sides of hills that look to the southward which will be best for vineyards";[117] such land would be highly profitable, it was argued, for an "acre in the Canaries" then produced £ 60 per annum, [118] and what might not be expected from virgin land? One wonders what Berkeley, who had been in Virginia for more than twenty years and had seen the vine-growing plan fail again and again, thought of all this? He was interested in the possibility of viticulture, and, as has already been mentioned, had planted a vineyard of native vines to set an example to the colonists. Certainly the production of the longed-for "rich commodities" had not had fair trial yet, and who could say what might not be done in a different, untested place?

In the way of so many New World projects and speculations, this grandiose official scheme for viticulture does not seem even to have been begun, much less. carried out, though the evidence, as usual, is exceedingly indistinct. The economic development of North Carolina was generally slow: the northern coast was largely without good harbors, settlement there advanced gradually and irregularly, and such trade as there was was mostly carried on through the ships and merchants of other colonies. All this, as one historian writes, "produced a type of small-scale farm economy primarily self-sufficing and essentially local and isolated." [119] Some traffic in tobacco grew up, but the main resource came from the great pine forests and their yield of tar, pitch, turpentine, and lumber of all kinds. Grape growing and winemaking do not seem to have gotten started at all in the earliest settlements of


what is now North Carolina (the separation between the two Carolinas did not officially exist until 1712). The surveyor appointed by the proprietors wrote in 1665 that he did "most highly applaud" their "design of making wine in this country";[120] but we hear nothing afterwards of the result of that design in the first settlement in this colony.

A second settlement in North Carolina, along the Cape Fear River farther south, was publicized by a prospectus setting forth the inducement of seven years' exemption from customs duty on all wine produced locally; [121] once again, no evidence exists to show that anybody managed to enjoy the privilege.

In what was to become South Carolina, the first settlement was directed by the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas themselves from their headquarters in London. So far, their hopes of generating those "precious commodities" wine, oil, and silk in the huge territory granted to them by royal charter had been entirely frustrated: the settlements in the northern parts of the colony were not commercially productive; the attempt to settle on the Cape Fear River to the south had quickly failed. Now they would try again, yet farther to the south, to make the land yield wine. Accordingly, the leader of the expedition, Joseph West, was instructed to take vines with him when he sailed in 1669. [122] The colonists established themselves around what is now Charleston, South Carolina, on the Ashley River, and reported in their first summer that "there is nothing that we plant but it thrives very well"; "the land," they concluded, would bear "good wine." [123] At first the need to provide food delayed the experiment with vines. By early 1672, however, Joseph Dalton, a member of the colony's council, wrote to Lord Ashley that he hoped the new crop would set them free to begin on

the husbandry of vines and olive trees. . . We have indeed plenty of diverse sorts of grapes here, some very pleasant and large but being pressed the thickness of their outward skin yields a kind of harshness which gives us reason to fear (though we intend to make trial of them) that they will hardly ever be reclaimed or with very great difficulty. We must therefore recommend to your Lordship to furnish us with the plants of good vines and olives with some persons who know the true husbandry of them; herein your Lordship need not doubt the diversities of vines, for I do verily believe we have ground suitable to all their variety. [124]

In the same year a Spaniard sent to spy out the land where the English had settled reported to the authorities that each house in Charleston had a trellis "for grape vines of different sorts." [125] Were the colonists trying out the native vines on these trellises? It seems likely.

Ashley was evidently strongly attached to the hope of profit through the trinity of wine, oil, and silk, for in 1674 (he was by then the earl of Shaftesbury) he wrote to his kinsman Andrew Percevall, then about to sail for Carolina, that the proprietors Were determined to "lay out their money in procuring skilfull men and fit materials for the improvement of the country in wine, silk, oil etc.," and that a plantation of 12,000 acres was to be set aside for experiment in these things. [126]


Three years later the proprietors wrote to the colony that they were "laying out in several places of the world" for both plants and for "persons that are skilled in planting and producing vines, Mulberry trees, rice, oils and wines and such other commodities that enrich those other countries that enjoy not so good a climate as you." [127] That something, at least, towards recruiting skilled winegrowers was done is attested by the evidence of a Savoyard who fled from English Carolina to Spanish St. Augustine in 1683; he told the Spaniards that he had come to Carolina under a four-year indenture to plant vines. [128] That he had later felt compelled to escape the colony might mean any of a number of things. It is not, however, very likely evidence of flourishing vineyards.

A new turn was taken in 1680, when the first organized company of Huguenots landed in South Carolina expressly to undertake the manufacture of silk, oil, and wine. [129] The religious persecution of the French Protestants called Huguenots—persecution that went on despite the legal protection of the Edict of Nantes—drove these people in large numbers out of France to places all over the world, especially to England and to those spots on the globe where English colonies had been planted. Huguenots helped, in this decade, to establish the great winegrowing enterprise of South Africa around Cape Town; and, though they did not fully succeed in winegrowing on the American continent, they certainly had a large share, in their settlements and in the work of individuals scattered here and there in the colonies, in keeping the effort alive. As we have heard of them already in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, so we shall hear of them repeatedly in the sequel. These early Huguenots of South Carolina, though not the first of their kind to arrive in America, have the distinction of having founded one of the most successful and important centers of French influence in British America.

In the report of Thomas Ashe, a gentleman who went out on the same ship that was, at the expense of King Charles himself, carrying the Huguenots to South Carolina, we hear the familiar hopeful note, the conviction of quick success just round the corner:

't is not doubted, if the Planters as industriously prosecute the Propagation of Vineyards as they have begun; but Carolina will in a little time prove a magazine and staple for wines to the whole West Indies; and to enrich their variety, some of the Proprietors and Planters have sent them the noblest and excellentest vines of Europe, viz. the Rhenish, Clarret, the Muscadel and Canary, etc. His Majesty, to improve so hopeful a design, gave those French we carried over their passage free for themselves, wives, children, goods, and servants, they being most of them well experienced in the nature of the vine, from whose directions doubtless the English have received and made considerable advantages in their improvements. [130]

Ashe also tells us that some Carolina wine had already been sent to England and that it was "well approved of" by the "best palates." In the same year as Ashe's report, 1682, an employee of one of the proprietors, Samuel Wilson, published in London an Account of Carolina with an encouraging report on the success of the


Huguenots. They had planted vineyards of the European varieties sent over with them and also had hopes of making good wine from some, at least, of the native varieties. Meanwhile they had succeeded in making a little wine "very good both in colour and taste"[131] —no doubt this is the wine that Ashe refers to, and no doubt it was from native grapes, muscadine especially.

It was a hopeful time: another observer in the year 1682, writing from Charleston, says that the colonists had "great hopes" of making good wine, and that "this year will be the time of trial, which, if it hits, no doubt but the place will flourish exceedingly, but if the vines do not prosper I question whether it will ever be any great place of trade." [132] In the next year, one of the Huguenots, Frances de Rousserie, a native of Montpellier, was awarded a grant of 800 acres by the proprietors "because he had with great industry applied himself to the propagation of wine and other things in Carolina." [133] But by that time it was no doubt becoming evident that, despite the great hopes, the vines did not prosper. De Rousserie, if he succeeded, presumably did so with native vines.

Thus the impulse that the Huguenots gave to winegrowing could not have lasted long. A decade later, in 1694, the assembly passed an act to "encourage the making of wine, indigo and salt"[134] —a sure sign, as such acts had earlier been in Virginia, that wine was not being made. In the same year, one James Boyd was granted 3,000 acres as a bounty for his labors in "endeavoring the establishment of a vintage";[135] but this exception merely confirms the general fact. As Robert Beverley wrote in 1705, the Frenchmen sent to Carolina on purpose to make wine "could not succeed in it, but miscarried in all their Attempts." [136]

The early hopes of winegrowing in South Carolina petered out in the efforts of Sir Nathaniel Johnson. Johnson, who lived in South Carolina from 1690 until his death in 1713, served as governor of the colony for six of those years. He was an energetic experimenter with plants and crops, especially keen on succeeding in the manufacture of silk—he named his plantation on the Cooper River, near Charleston, "Silk Hope." He tried to promote winegrowing, too. According to the Quaker John Archdale's account, Johnson planted a "considerable vineyard";[137] another contemporary, John Lawson, tells us that Johnson had "rejected all exotic vines, and makes his wine from the natural black grape of Carolina." [138] But at the same time, Lawson makes it clear that Johnson's experiments created no general response. There was not experience enough to solve the questions of winemaking in a strange world where the old practices simply would not work and where men knew not what to do. On Johnson's death, his estate went to a daughter, and, according to a later eighteenth-century writer, "she married; and her husband destroyed the vineyard and orchard to apply the soil to Turky-corn." [139]

Visionary forms of viticulture were still available, however. In 1717 the projector Sir Robert Montgomery put forth in London proposals for a model colony, to be founded in the territory of South Carolina (the region in question is now part of Georgia and Alabama) and to be called Azilia. As Montgomery correctly noted, there were in the destined regions of settlement vines flourishing upon the hills and


bearing grapes in the "most luxuriant plenty." [140] The neatly schematic map of the proposed margravate of Azilia published by Montgomery shows stylized vineyards as part of the picture, but the entire project remained a dream. The scheme is a slight added testimony to the stubborn persistence of the idea that wine could be grown despite all the discouragements.

The last word on the enterprise of winemaking in seventeenth-century South Carolina may be spoken by the English writer John Oldmixon in his History of the British Empire in America (1708). After quoting various enthusiastic reports on the produce—actual or fancied—of the colony, Oldmixon naturally asks: "Since the climate is so proper, since the grapes are so plentiful, and the wine they make so good, why is there not more of it? Why do we not see some of it?" He answers his own question thus: "The inhabitants either think they can turn their hands to a more profitable culture, or impose upon us in their reports; for I would not think them so weak, as to neglect making good wine, and enough of it, if they could, and thought it worth their while." [141] Oldmixon has put it very clearly. The colonists could not make the European vine grow, nor was it yet worth their while to develop the native vine. About the time that Oldmixon was putting his skeptical questions, John Lawson in North Carolina was explaining the difficulties from the settler's point of view: "New planted colonies are generally attended with a force and necessity of planting the known and approved staple and product of the country," Lawson wrote. Because the planter's time was thus taken up, the country would have to wait first until skillful vignerons should set to work and make it their chief business. Then, Lawson continues, "when it becomes a general undertaking, every one will be capable to add something to the common stock, of that which he has gain'd by his own experience. This way would soon make the burden light, and a great many shorter and exacter curiosities and real truths would be found out in a short time." [142]

It must be admitted that nothing like this has happened yet: viticulture and winemaking have never become enterprises general throughout the United States, and even now no genuinely national means of coordinating experiment and of disseminating information exists. Nor is there any national policy designed to encourage the production of wine. It is an innocent recreation to imagine what might have been, however, had the colonists somehow managed to make winegrowing with native grapes a staple activity up and down the Atlantic seaboard and so have given us a tradition of wine. We would by now, for sure, have a wealth of regional and local varieties and styles, complex enough to challenge the interest of connoisseurs through a lifetime. The vision of what might have been if things had gone that way has been gracefully sketched by Frank Schoonmaker and Tom Marvel in their now classic American Wines . Their catalog of wines that might have been but never were realized begins in Maine, "where there is a little wine grown north of Bath . . . it is pale and thin and possesses a peculiar bitterness which the inhabitants say is due to the vines being grown near brackish waters." Massachusetts, in this imaginary review, presents an array running from the "spicy pink Chicopee"


of the Connecticut Valley to the white wines of Cape Cod, "without which no loyal Bay State son or daughter would think of eating Cape Cod oysters." Connecticut boasts of its Housatonic wines, "the best reds east of the Hudson"; the Delaware Valley yields "full-bodied and generous vintages" both red and white; New Jersey produces a wine savoring of cranberries, much esteemed by the oenophiles of Philadelphia; and so on down along the coast, to the red Pocomokes and white Choptanks of Maryland's Eastern Shore. It is a charming fancy, still worth pursuing. [143]


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