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Jean Jacques Dufour

   In 1796 Jean Jacques Dufour emigrated from the wine-grape growing district, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland to the United States. He was impressed by reports from French veterans of the American Revolution on the scarcity of wine here — and the prevalence of strong liquor. In the cause of temperance and to further his family’s vine dressing tradition, he was determined to explore the possibilities in this newly formed country.

    Upon arrival, Dufour visited the gardens of Peter Legaux  near Philadelphia, others in the Baltimore area and Jefferson’s Monticello before investigating the country’s interior. President Jefferson personally encouraged him to try producing wine in the west. Along the Ohio River he found productive vineyards at Marietta and Gallipolis in the Northwest Territory — then only nine years old.

    Dufour traveled down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi into New France; he found that promising vineyards had been removed because they were seen as a threat to the mother country’s wine industry. He did make important business transactions and contacts in Kaskaskia, Ste. Genevieve and St Louis that supported his future experiments in grape culture. Although we have no specific record, Dufour was apparently also impressed by the vernacular architecture of the French colonists.

    In 1801, seventeen members of Dufour’s extended family joined him at the First Vineyard on the Kentucky River southwest of Lexington. The vineyard was only partly successful and they were troubled by the slavery issue. By 1802 most had moved on to the already planned Second Vineyard on the Ohio River.

New Switzerland
    The second Vineyard often labeled “Swiss Vineyards” or “New Switzerland” on maps of the period, was established in Indiana Territory just east of the Greenville Treaty Line in what was to become Switzerland County. By an 1802 Act of Congress, 2500 acres were sold to Jean Jacques Dufour on extended credit; 1200 acres were added later.

    The land was subdivided in the French manner in long narrow parcels perpendicular to the Ohio River. Parcels were resold to both men and women of the original party and a few Swiss families  who had just joined them. In 1805 Louis Gex Oboussier purchased the largest tract of 319 acres of bottomland along Indian Creek, which the Swiss renamed “Venoge” after a river in their native land. Gex Oboussier’s Venoge Farmstead became part of the Swiss community’s efforts, resulting in the first commercially successful winery in the United States. By 1810 they were shipping wines in quantity to the East Coast by way of New Orleans.     

    In 1813 the Swiss laid out the town of Vevay, which became the county seat of Switzerland County in 1814 (Indiana became a state in 1816). The Swiss were well educated and influential locally and regionally. In 1826 Dufour published “The Vinedresser’s Guide”, the standard authority on wine-grape growing for North America bringing the Swiss vintners into national attention and put them at the forefront of the wine industry.                                                                                                   

 

Louis Gex Oboussier
    Louis Gex Oboussier brought his family from Switzerland to join him on his new land. They planted grapes (including the “Cape of Good Hope” grape), orchards and food crops. A letter from Victor DuPont to his wife in 1812 (translated from the French) describes the family: “Upon entering the home of Mrs. Oboussier for whom we had some cargo, I saw a woman who got up from sitting near a corner by the fireplace and who threw her arms around my neck! Thinking that it was the custom of the land, I went ahead and let her do it and I was hugged by a dozen small girls and small boys who were around the room, when she identified herself: it was Mrs. Bornand, today Mrs. Oboussier, wife of the head man of the town, himself with a yellow and dried up appearance of 50 years (of age),  but a great philosopher (Louis Gex-Oboussier).” When the Federal mantel is set up in its original place, it is easy to envision the above scene in the Venoge cottage — it retains the feeling of that time.

    The particular wine that Gex Oboussier produced was appreciated by many including Henry Clay who visited often to discuss politics and to resupply his wine cellar.

    Louis Gex Oboussier stayed in Switzerland County until 1826 when he and his family moved to New Harmony, Indiana   He managed a store there and eventually became postmaster. The parcel of land that the Venoge Farmstead is on remained in the family until 1839.

Today at Venoge
    In nearly 200 years very little has changed in the Venoge valley that Louis Gex Oboussier first called home. The first floor restoration of the cottage is complete and the cottage is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Both a step toward recognition of the enthusiasm and involvement of the Swiss immigrants in the potential of America and the building of the American way of life. 

                                                               

                                               

 

For more information contact us at :     Venoge@embarqmail.com

 

Thomas Jefferson, Rembrandt Peale. National Portrait Gallery

Henry Clay, Allyn Cox after George P. A. Healy, The U.S. Senate