Working Paper No. 207
History & Politics
French Wine Makers and the Launching of American Viticulture
While one cannot speak of sustained French immigration to the American colonies, some notable examples can be cited. The Labadists were mystics who lived communally on their 4,000 acre Maryland farm. There were the French settlers of Gallipolis in Ohio who, it appears, produced a wine so poor in quality it was named méchant Suresne after a wine known for its sourness produced near Paris. The arrival of French Huguenots in South Carolina is of particular interest because, for the first time, a large group of settlers reached the New World with the primary aim of growing grapes. They had left France for England to escape religious persecution and in 1763 petitioned the British Government to provide them with land in South Carolina so that they could “apply themselves to the cultivation of vines and of silk.” The request was approved. Setting sail a year latter, the Huguenots reached South Carolina founding the township of New Bordeaux in the southern part of the colony. They were joined four years later by another group of co-religionists lead by the forceful Louis de Mesville de Saint Pierre. But now came a setback. The colony’s governing body refused to provide the settlers with the funds needed to purchase vine cuttings. Saint Pierre thereupon decided to return to England and appeal for financial aide to Lord Hillsborough secretary for the American Colonies, but to no avail. Rumors had it that Hillsborough had received a 250,000 British pounds bribe from French wine merchants dismayed at the prospect of losing the lucrative American and British markets.