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.
(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 Revolution. It’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.)
This man’s life-work was so inconspicuous, that his name would now be wholly forgotten, but for one thing- he signed the Declaration of Independence. Yet his life was a most useful and worthy one. It was a good and profitable voyage, though it left no phosphorescent splendors in its wake.– Mark Twain on Francis Lightfoot Lee, 1877
Excerpted from introduction to Francis Lightfoot Lee: Forgotten Revolutionary by Sarah L. Jones, Yale University (Class of 2006), 2004.
Francis Lightfoot Lee is what one might call a “forgotten revolutionary.” Described by his niece as the “sweetest of all the Lee race” and as possessing a temper
“as soft as the dove’s,” Lee was far from being the inconspicuous man that Twain claimed he was. Lee, his memory now nearly hidden beneath the rubble of his Virginia mansion, had a life that was “most useful and worthy,” the life of a patriot of the American Revolution.
Over one hundred years after Twain wrote his sketch of Francis Lightfoot Lee, Lee has nearly become “wholly forgotten,” and, as Twain was correct to note, Lee is solely remembered for his signature on the Declaration of Independence. Yet Lee has not been granted his proper place in history, for his involvement with the founding of the country lays not only in his signature on a document, but with thirty years of an active political life, a life in which he opposed British measures, sought independence, and served the nation through a number of committees as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Second Continental Congress, and the Virginia State Senate.
Lee was certainly not an “inconspicuous” man, nor was he merely “soft as a dove.” Rather, Lee was a true patriot, not only according to standards held by his contemporaries, but also to his own.
Francis Lightfoot Lee was born in 1734 to Thomas and Hannah Ludwell Lee in Westmoreland County on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Lee was reared at Stratford Hall Plantation, and like most male children of the Virginia planter class, he was educated by a private tutor at Stratford Hall and was well read in Classical literature, history and law.
In 1758, he took his seat as representative of Loudoun County to the Virginia House of Burgesses, having moved there to maintain his lands inherited from his father. During his time as a Burgess, Lee remained attentive to the political scene of not only Virginia, but also of the colonies. He became an opponent to taxation without representation and other British offenses, which he protested not only through personal letters, but also in signing his support to important documents, including the Westmoreland Resolves of 1766.
As a member of a committee appointed to protest British policies toward the colonies in 1768, Lee maintained an active role in opposition to the British. In 1769, Lee was married to Rebecca Tayloe, daughter of planter John Tayloe II, and moved to Richmond County to the Menokin Plantation. Having settled at Menokin, Lee was elected representative of Richmond County to the House of Burgesses. Lee continued to serve as a Burgess from Richmond County until elected as a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress in August 1775.
Lee fully supported American Independence throughout most of his political career, signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Lee remained a member of Congress until 1779, serving on a variety of committees including the Board of War, Committee of Secret Correspondence, and other ad-hoc committees.
In 1779, Francis Lightfoot Lee retired from the Second Continental Congress due to the three-year limit that had since been imposed by the Revolutionary Government. In 1780, Lee again entered Virginia politics, having been elected to serve as a member of the Virginia Senate, until 1782 when he retired from politics. He did, however, remain interested in the political scene, and is purported to have supported the ratification of the Constitution.
In a letter to James Madison, George Washington wrote:
Francis L. Lee on whose judgement the family place much reliance, is decidely[sic] in favor of the new form [the Constitution] under a conviction that it is the best that can be obtained, and because it promises energy, stability, and tht [sic] security which is, or ought to be, the wish of every good citizen of the Union.
Yesterday was the 248th anniversary of the signing of the Leedstown Resolves. This courageous protestation of the Stamp Act eventually led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.
Sometime before 1678, Edward Bray had built a brick church, an ordinary, ferry, and wharf at the present Leedstown. Up to this date the site was known as Rappahannock. After 1678, it was known as Bray’s Wharf or Bray’s Church. By 1742, it was known as Leeds. Later it was known as Leedstown. Leedstown was created a town by an act of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1742.
In colonial days, Leedstown was not only a place for commerce. General George Washington often visited Leedstown. There was a ferry across the river Laytons, on the south side of the river in Essex County (it operated until about 1927 when the Downings Bridge to Tappahannock opened). Following the Revolutionary War shipping at Leedstown began to decline as many planters moved west into the Kentucky and Ohio territories.
Both Francis Lightfoot Lee (of Menokin) and Richard Henry Lee signed the Leedstown Resolves. The Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society hosts an annual event commemorating this important day in American History. For the second year in a row, this event was held at the visitor’s center of The Menokin Foundation. A standing-room-only crowd of over 60 people gathered to listen to the history of the event. They were also treated to a Color Guard presentation by local Colonial reenactors.
We thank the NNVHS for including Menokin in this celebration.
Last week was a busy one for many of the consultants for The Menokin Project as well as the Menokin staff.
Cultural Consultants Darren Barker and Liza Rogers from Barker Langham arrived from London late Sunday and we all headed off bright and early Monday morning on a field trip of regional museums. Our goal was to observe the interpretation methods being practiced by other institutions as a way of helping Barker Langham hone plan’s for Menokin’s vision, programmes (Oops, I mean “programs.” Too much time with the Brits!) and business plan.
First stop was Kenmore in Historic Fredericksburg, VA. Built by George Washington’s sister Betty Washington Lewis and her husband, Fielding Lewis, this beautiful, Georgian-style, brick mansion reflects the pre-Revolutionary-War wealth and status of the Fredericksburg merchant.
Owned and operated by The George Washington Foundation, Kenmore has, over the years, transformed itself from a decorative arts museum to one that represents a more historically accurate, 1775-1800 appearance. Most notable are the ornate plaster ceilings in the downstairs rooms.
Team member Ward Bucher of Bucher/Borges Group was also in attendance. Their firm is preparing a Historic Structures Report for Menokin that is not only identifying which elements in our collection of stone and structural timbers are available for inclusion in the restored Menokin structure, but also organizing and cataloging the massive amount of research and conservation information that has been performed and collected at Menokin over the years.
We were lucky enough to get access to Kenmore’s attic, where Ward gave a brief lesson on 18th-century roof framing, comparing Menokin’s system with Kenmore’s, the differences between which, as it turns out, maybe have accelerated the eventual collapse of Menokin’s roof.
The massive size of these timbers gives renewed respect for the craftsmen who hewed, lifted and joined them together. No small job. And no degrees in engineering!
Next stop was nearby Ferry Farm, also owned and operated by the George Washington Foundation. All that remains of Washington’s boyhood home is the footprint of the house. The foundation is in the process of re-establishing the the landscape around Ferry Farm, including building an interpretive reconstruction of Ferry Farm on top of the footprint.
The afternoon was spent at Stratford Hall, boyhood home of Frank Lee. Probably the most famous site in the Northern Neck, Stratford’s interpretation program is constantly changing to keep up with ongoing research and information about the Lees and the house as these are revealed. Part of the future vision for Stratford includes a new visitor center that will triple in size on the same site, to combine teaching and collection interpretation. Abby Newkirk, director of interpretation, led us on a detailed tour of the visitor’s center and the house, pointing out those parts of their exhibits that will change and why.
The day concluded with a trip to the grocery store for food and other sustenance to refresh for Tuesday’s activities.