This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
This is an American Grape, a native of Dorchester, South Carolina, and was introduced into this state by Mrs. Isabella Gibbs, the lady of George Gibbs, Esq., of St. Augustine, who then resided at Brooklyn, Long Island, and in honor of that lady, has been called Isabella Grape."
In his description of the grape, which follows, Mr. Prince further remarks: "This grape, of which but a single vine existed in any garden in 1816, and which I at that time met with in the possession of the gentleman before mentioned, (alluding to Gen. Swift,) and deemed worthy of a notice, and a name," etc.
In the recent conversation referred to with Gen. Swift, he remarked: "The Isabella Grape originated eight miles from Charleston, S. C, at Goose Creek, in a garden. It is a hybrid between a Burgundy Grape, introduced by the early Hugenots, who settled in South Carolina, and the Fox Grape of that state. The Isabella Grape was taken from the garden where it originated, to Mr. N. Smith's plantation, on Cape Fear, in South Carolina, and from there was carried by Mrs. Col. Gibbs, to Brooklyn, N. Y. I afterwards purchased the residence and garden of Col. Gibbs, where I found the grape, and first introduced it to the late Mr. Prince. He proposed to name it after Mrs. Swift. I replied, No. Let justice be done; call it after her who introduced it here, Mrs. Gibbs - her name is Isabella, and the grape was so named."
Such, unquestionably, is the history of the Isabella Grape, so far as its introduction into Brooklyn, and its name is concerned. At what time the grape originated, or was first known in South Carolina, Genl. Swift has no knowledge. It may have been cultivated many years in the neighborhood of its origin; and from Charleston Mr. Vernet may have obtained it, as it has not since been known as a West India grape, and between Charleston and Norwich then, more than now, existed much commercial intercourse. Yet this is not certain. But certain it is, for near ten years - possibly more - the grape was known in Connecticut, before it was in Brooklyn. Genl. Swift also stated to me that he wrote an account of the grape and its introduction to Mr. Prince, for Skinner's American Farmer, published in Baltimore, in 1819 or '20.
To the above account, while in the mood, I will devote a moment to a brief
Gossip on Grapes.
Early in last October I spent a delightful week in Cincinnati. It was the week of their great State Cattle Show, their grand Horticultural Jubilee, and it was also a week of hospitality, of kindness, and polite attentions, from those residents with whom, together with some of my neighbors, and friends of my own state, I became acquainted. During our sojourn there, we visited the finest and most extensive vineyards in the neighborhood, Mr. Long worth's, Mr. Buchanan's, Mr. Ernst's, Mr. Resor's, and others. The luscious, large, plump, and wonderfully developed fruit of the Catawba, then in their full ripeness, excelled any out-door native grapes I ever beheld, not excepting the finest Isabellas of Long Island, or the Hudson valley - hardly excelled, indeed, by the Black Hamburgh of a hot-house; and the numerous vineyards of the Catawba, dotting the hillsides and valleys, from an area of a few rods, to fifteen acres in extent, around the city, to an eastern man, were truly a luxury to look upon. This, too, is the grand grape of the Ohio valley, and the only good table grape, except the Herbemont, which I found in the garden of Mr. Longworth, that attracted my attention.
The Herbemont is small, but of a delicious, mild and aromatic flavor; and from a sample of its wine, tasted at Mr. L.'s, it must become a valuable wine grape.
They are not more than two-thirds the size of those of New-York, inferior in juice and flavor, and most of them had a shrivelled appearance. Possibly the soil, (a friable limestone clay,) is in fault, for a finer climate to perfect their growth and ripening, I can hardly imagine. And such, I was told, is the usual character of the Isabella at and about Cincinnati.
En passant on American wines. I was familiarly chatting not long since, at a dinner table over a glass of wine, with a distinguished American - I could tell his name, but for the thought that I were boasting of a great man's acquaintance and friendship - and I named the Champagne Catawba of Cincinnati. "Don't tell me of American wines," said he - "we have a thousand good things in America - more than any where else - but we can't make good wines. The volcanic and other friable soils of western Europe, swept by the Atlantic winds, are the only good wine soils of the world, we hear of. From the northern coast of the Mediterranean we get some tolerable wines. In eastern Europe, and Asia, we know of none. In California and on our Pacific coast, we may, in time, produce good wines - possibly from the native grape found there; and when so, we'll talk of American wines. But for the present we must be content to grow cotton and wool, and our other valuable products for the wine countries of Europe, and let them grow wines for us in return." Perhaps it is so; for I could not gainsay authority so high on such a subject, as on many others, from which there is hardly an appeal.
Yet, the Champagnes and Hocks of Cincinnati, are largely drank at the best public tables there, and, I am told, preferred, at the same price, to the foreign Champagnes and Hocks. Time must yet test this matter. Yours truly, Lewis F. Allen.
Back Rock, July, 1851.