The "Mother Vine" on Roanoke Island. Image from Sallie Southall Cotten, The White Doe or the Fate of Virginia Dare (1901).
Located at the northern end of Roanoke Island, the Mother Vine and its grapes may have been among those that Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe spotted in 1584 during their American expedition, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. Having already toured the most abundant grape-growing regions of Europe, the explorers observed that North Carolina was “so full of grapes, as the very beating and surge of the Sea overflowed them. . . .” and pointed out that “in all the world the like abundance is not to be found.”
What the two saw was probably the agricultural work of Croatoans, who reportedly made wine from the white grape or vitis rotundifolia. These grapes undoubtedly provided sustenance for the early settlers of the Lost Colony.
When Ralph Lane served as Governor of Roanoke Island (1585), the settlement was divided between “planters” and “the colony.” The planters unquestionably cultivated grapes where the Mother Vine now stands.
But historical evidence for the large vine dates no farther than the 1720s. Then, Peter Baum, a Swiss-German vinter and former resident of New Bern, received a land grant for the area on which the Mother Vine now grows. A descendent, Solomon Baum (1813-1898) recalled that in his childhood the vine was the biggest on the island and that he heard his father and grandfather recall the largeness of the vine during their childhoods. This indicates that the vine had been cultivated by Native Americans long before.
Many wineries in and out of North Carolina, such as Old Mother Vineyard of Manteo and Car-Cal wines of Greensboro, according to historian Clarence Ghodes, have used Mother Vine folklore to increase their sales.
Sallie Southall Cotten, The White Doe or the Fate of Virginia Dare: An Indian Legend (Philadelphia, 1901); William Etheridge, “The Mystery of Mother Vineyard,” unpublished document, Dare County Library, Manteo, North Carolina; Clarence Ghodes, Scuppernong: North Carolina’s Grape and Its Wines (Durham, 1982).
By Troy L. Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Places, Colonial North Carolina