The 'Taliaferro' (pr. "Tolliver"), 'Robinson' or 'Robertson' was a small-sized apple grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. This cultivar appears to be extinct, though some horticulturalists assert that the 'Highland County' cultivar may be related, or even the same cultivar under a different name.
Jefferson called the variety "Taliaferro" in reference to a Major Taliaferro from whom he got his first samples of the fruit. Taliaferro himself claimed that the apples came from a farm owned by the Robertson or Robinson family, hence the other varietal names.
Jefferson stated the 'Taliaferro' apple was very juicy and good for eating. He praised it as the best cider apple he had tasted, producing a hard cider similar to wine or Champagne. In 1835, a gentleman named William Kenrick described the fruits as being small, only 1-2 inches in diameter, with white, red-streaked skin. Kenrick claimed the apples were unfit for eating, but reaffirmed their value in cidermaking.
The Taliaferro Cider Apple: No Longer Monticello’s Mystery Apple
The quest for the Taliaferro has recently been altered dramatically by research undertaken by Susan Walker, Chief Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court of Alabama. Walker became captivated by the mystery of the Taliaferro after growing historic apples at her Alabama farm. She composed an eighty-four-page monograph, “Of Lost Letters and Forgotten Fruit: Timothy Pickering, John Taliaferro, and the Mystery Apple of Monticello,” exploring all dimensions of the apple’s documentary history. These include an examination of the potential sites where the apple was initially grown near Williamsburg, the history of who grew and sold the Taliaferro in the nineteenth century, and fascinating revelations about why William Coxe, author of the first distinctly American book on horticulture, A View Toward the Cultivation of Fruit Trees (1817), incorrectly described the Taliaferro by confusing it with another Virginia apple. The ultimate significance of the monograph, a revelation that might lead to the actual discovery of the apple itself, is the Walker description of its qualities, pieced together through some remarkable documentary sleuthing.