Wine dating from the American Revolution era discovered at historic New Jersey house

Madeira wine from 1796 was found in the wine cellar of now Liberty Hall Museum.

ByABC News
July 11, 2017, 1:25 PM

— -- Benjamin Franklin once said, "Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance."

It seems his opinion may have been popular in the days of the founding fathers -- a New Jersey museum recently discovered wine dating back to about 20 years after the American Revolution.

During a six-month renovation of the wine cellar on the historic grounds of the Liberty Hall Museum, the team found three cases of Madeira wine believed to be from 1796 and an additional 42 demijohns believed to be from the 1820's.

"It's a very large historic house museum originally from 1770 and over the last five to six years we decided to take the house room by room and make repairs and update and evaluate a lot of the structures," Bill Schroh, director of museum operations at Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University told ABC News.

"We decided to restore the wine cellar, which hadn't been looked over since 1949 and we never could have imagined finding what we did," he added.

Close up of the label on a bottle of 1796 Madeira wine in the cellar at Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey.
Liberty Hall Museum

According to Schroh, the museum team found what they believe are revolutionary-era spirits from six different time periods in old wooden crates, covered in dust. They appear to have been shipped to John Kean in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

The wine cellar at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University in New Jersey.
Liberty Hall Museum

"It turned out there were three crates of it and inside were bottles labeled 'Robert Lenox of Philadelphia 1796,' when they were first bottled," he added. "The wine had been re-bottled once it came over to America. We also found 42 of large casks, demijohns, covered in wicker, that date back to 1820."

"We had to do the research, but luckily for us it was all there so we didn't run against a dead end at all," Schroh explained. "We could go even further to find out about Lenox."

The museum had the wine tested by The Rare Wine Co., a California-based premier wine merchant, which helped confirm its authenticity and highlighted some of its historical features.

According to the wine company's founder Mannie Berk, Madeira was one of the most prestigious wines in the British colonies. "By the time of the American Revolution, [Madeira] had become a fortified wine of compelling character, and it was this wine that achieved a place in American popular culture unique in its history," Berk wrote in an article for Rare Wine Co.

Demijohn casks on display at the Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey.
Liberty Hall Museum

After the wine cellar renovations were completed, the demijohns, original wooden shipping crates and full bottles of Madeira were put on display inside the museum as part of the exhibit open to the public.

"We kept some of it in the antique wine cages, but it's also on display cabinets along with racks and other displays inside the wine cellar. People can come, see it and learn about the history from Colonial times," Schroh said.

The Liberty Hall Museum is located on the campus of Kean University in Union, New Jersey, which was founded in 1855.

A six-month restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum in Union, N.J., uncovered three cases of Madeira wine dating to 1796 and about 42 demijohns from the 1820s while restoring its wine cellar.
David J. Del Grande/AP