An Ancient Vine at the Crossroads of Nature, History, and Health

In 1584, Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, the first explorers sent to the New World by Sir Walter Raleigh, under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth, arrived at what is now Bodie Island. One of the first things they observed was that the land was overflowing with grapes. The English naturally thought that wine was plentiful in the region. Unbeknown to them, however, the absence of deliberately fermented beverages by Native Americans in eastern North America was universal. They simply ate the grapes.

The following year, 1585, brought yet another contingent of Englishmen to Roanoke Island. They too noticed the abundance of grapes, but knew little about fermenting them. Most of the wines in England were imported. The 1585 settlers did, however, put Native American maize to good use in a make-shift brewery.

Nevertheless, the English settlers of 1585 realized the potential of the Roanoke Island grapes. When they departed the Outer Banks for England, they took along cuttings of the Scuppernong. Alas, the plants failed in the wet and cold English climate. But that was never to be so for the more temperate southern section of North America. The story of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonies on Roanoke Island (sans their quest for the grape) is re-told every summer, in the words of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paul Green, at the Waterside Theatre on Roanoke Island. The Lost Colony, the world’s first symphonic drama, like the Scuppernong grape, is a North Carolina treasure.

    • Although never substantiated, many posited that Sir Walter Raleigh’s men discovered the Mothervine on Roanoke Island. According to Raleigh’s explorers, the native Indians grew grapes, made wine and were very knowledgeable of agricultural techniques such as equal-distance planting and trellising. Did the Indians of Roanoke Island plant the Mothervine? Another plausible theory is that the settlers of John White’s group, The Lost Colony, planted the vine.
    • In 1732, Peter Baum paid his arrears on His Majesty’s rent dating from 1729, amounting to 4 pounds 9 shillings 8 pence. The record of this payment of feudal tax to the King evidences the Crown grant to Baum, thus establishing him as part of the first documented generations of Baum family to own and occupy the “Mother Vineyard” tract.
    • In 1858, 84 year old Abraham Baum was speaking to a roving reporter from The North Carolina Reader about the Mothervine. He told the reporter that when he was a boy, &quout;the vine was the largest on the island.”
    • In 1869, the title to the Mothervine property passed to Ghauhey Meekins who had married Mahalaj Baum, late in the 1840s.
    • Solomon Baum (1813-1898) often spoke of memories of the Mothervine as being the same from his childhood to his old age. His father Maurice Baum II (1772-1839) and his grandfather Abraham Baum (1742- 1833) had told him the trunks were big and old from their earliest recollection and during their lives had not changed.
    • “The largest scuppernong vine in the world grew on Roanoke Island and covered more than one acre of ground. It was found there by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 and was living and thriving until a very few years ago. It is believed to be the parent stem from which all others sprung.”— Roanoke News – Weldon, N.C. (July 9, 1891)
    • In 1957, Jack and Estelle Wilson purchased the Mothervine property. At that time the vine covered over 1 half-acre. Jack still attends to the yearly nurturing and care of the plant.
    • In a 2005 interview with Jack Wilson, current owner of the Mothervine, the 82 year old remembers the vine as being large and old during his childhood on Roanoke Island. When he purchased the land over 50 years ago the vine covered over one half acre. When asked how old he thought the vine was, he replied with a smile; “It’s older than I am.”
    • In May 2005, a new vineyard was planted in Rose Hill. All of the plants were cuttings from the Mothervine on Roanoke Island. Thus the tradition continues.
    • July 16, 2008, The MotherVine introduced its Premium Scuppernong wine in a ceremony sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of The International Knights of the Vine.

Fountain Odom (company founder), Jack & Estelle Wilson, and Andy Griffith are all smiles as they sip the legendary scuppernong libation.