Madeira and the American Revolution

The history of Madeira is “a bit” murky and “a lot” thought provoking. Our personal fondness and affiliation with the drink stems from the ample supply of Madeira found in the inventory of Frank Lee after his death.

Menokin Wine Cellar (c) Hullihen Williams Moore

(SIDE THOUGHT: Wouldn’t it be FUN to have a Madeira tasting party in the wine cellar at Menokin? Email us if you’re interested. )

We have touched on the topic once before, with this interview with Julia Pearson and Bartholomew Broadbent about the history of Madeira and how it went from dreadful to delicious through a happy shipping misadventure.

But up until now, we haven’t given the Malmsey the credit it deserves in the formation of a more perfect union.  In a recent post on Atlas Obscura, writer Daniel Crown explores the Colonial obsession with Madeira in an article titled How a Thirst for Portuguese Wine Fueled the American RevolutionIt’s a good read chock full of quirky facts and figures. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • On August 8, 1775, two months after taking charge of his army, George Washington procured a large cask of the wine, as well as empty bottles, corks, and other paraphernalia. Over the next six months, he purchased hundreds of additional bottles and, eventually, an entire “pipe” (a term derived from the Portuguese word for barrel, “pipa”). A pipe of madeira held enough wine to fill 700 bottles, and a cask roughly the same. Washington, then, in preparation for war, ordered at least 1,900 bottles worth of the wine to be shared among his closest aides and confidants. (Party on, George!)
  • In 1766, John Hancock celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act by setting two pipes of madeira out in front of his house for public consumption.  (Party on, large signature guy!)
  • In 1774, John Adams reported to his wife, Abigail, that after tedious days of contentious debate, delegates to the First Continental Congress would sit for hours “drinking Madeira, Claret, and Burgundy.” (Party on, Founding Fathers!)

(ANOTHER SIDE THOUGHT: We would love to have a signature Menokin Madeira created for us. If you are, or know, an adventurous winemaker, let’s chat. You know our email address.)

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