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.
It is generally supposed by botanists and horticulturists, that the Isabella grape is indigenous in the Carolinas. About the commencement of the present century, Mr. Lespeyre, a Frenchman, on returning to his home at Wilmington, North Carolina, from a visit to Europe - his homeward voyage being by the West Indies - brought some grape roots for cultivation, among which was the Isabella. These he cultivated successfully, and as early as 1809, or 1810, the Isabella grape was sold in the Wilmington market from Lespeyre's garden. Soon after this, Mr. Lespeyre moved into the country, near the residence of a Mr. Gibbs, to whom he gave roots of his grape; and a few years later, Mr. Gibbs gave some to the elder Prince, of Flushing, N. Y., who, supposing they were natives of Carolina, called them Isabella, in compliment to Mrs. Isabella Gibbs.
A Spaniard from Catalonia being on a visit to Lespeyre, on seeing said grape, inquired how it came to be growing there; adding that it was a Catalonian grape. I was told the above by Dr. James F. McRee, a botanist, and an old resident of Wilmington. He was well acquainted with Lespeyre, and bad eaten of his grapes long before they were known to either Gibbs or Prince.
Judge Ruffin of North Carolina knew Lespeyre, and he also corroborates the fact of the introduction of the Isabella, as related to me by Dr. McRee.
The Isabella was introduced into this country by Lespeyre from either Spain or the West Indies.
It has never been found native in the United States by any botanist.
[On reading the above, we were almost ready to exclaim, "Have we any native grapes at all?" Certain persons have done their best to take from us the Rebecca, Anna, Herbemont, and others; Mr. Prince has given the Delaware bodily to the "foreigners;" and now, at this last moment, Lespeyre rises from the dead to rob us of the Isabella. Truly we have fallen among strange times; soon we shall have nothing left that we can call our own. But let us see. It does not seem from the above that Lespeyre himself claimed to have introduced the Isabella; this claim, as we understand it, was put forth by others after his death, and with the confessed doubt that they did not know whether it was from Spain or the West Indies, and we think it may fairly be doubted whether it was from either. If either of the gentlemen above-named ever heard Lespeyre say that he introduced the Isabella, they probably at the same time heard him say whence he brought it; and precisely on this point we should like to hear them speak: their position would give weight to anything they might say of their own knowledge. It might then become necessary to go a step back of this; but at present we see no occasion for it. The remark of the Catalonian is entitled to but little consideration in the present aspect of the case.
We have no evidence that he was capable of discriminating on the subject at all; a similar remark might be made by anybody, but would be of no force of itself.
On the other hand, we have testimony of a much more positive character. If the catalogues and gardens of Europe be searched during the beginning of the present century, and for some time after, no grape at all answering to the Isabella will be found; and even if one were discovered, or the fact were admitted for the sake of argument, it could be promptly met by the supposition that the vines or seeds were carried to Europe by some of the early Spanish adventurers; nothing, therefore, would be gained by such an admission, if made. It was considerably later before the Isabella and Catawba were introduced into Europe, and they were at once assigned their proper place, and characterized as " foxy;" a term of considerable significance in this connection. The Isabella, in fact, has unmistakable internal evidence of its native origin. Aside from the peculiarities of its foliage, wood, etc, it has a peculiar and characteristic flavor which impels us at once to assign its parentage to Vitis labruaca. This peculiar flavor is common to no foreign grape whatever; and may bo regarded as positive evidence of the origin of any grape possessing it, no matter how faintly.
Moreover, there is a marked characteristic in the pulp and skin of the native grape which to our mind is decisive of the whole question; and we should unhesitatingly pronounce a seedling to be of native or foreign parentage from an inspection of the berry alone. As bearing on the subject in hand, we may mention the fact, that seedlings have been raised from Vitis labrusca which have been almost reproductions of the Isabella. Taking all these things: into consideration, and others which might be mentioned, we think the Isa-bbella may still be retained on the list of native grapes. - Ed].