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
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
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.
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 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.