The History of Chocolate in New England
We all know about the story of tea in Boston. And coffee truly came into vogue after 1773, when it was drunk both as a stimulant and a protest against British taxation. But I had no idea that chocolate, or rather drinking chocolate, has an equally long history in North America.
Did you know there were chocolate houses in Boston around 1700? Historians have located shipping records from the late 1600s detailing imports of chocolate beans from Jamaica, and a 1773 ship’s manifest lists a shipment of 320 tons of cocoa beans. That’s enough to make 32 million cups of chocolate. Bonbons and brownies came later, but it turns out that chocolate was a source of pleasure for the seemingly abstemious Puritans.
I learned all this at a wonderful new exhibit called “Captain Jackson’s Colonial Chocolate Shop” in the Clough House at the Old North Church in Boston (it’s the building located behind the church on Unity Street). It’s named after Captain Newark Jackson, a member of the congregation and merchant who owned a chocolate shop on the North End waterfront around 1740. For the cost of an at-will donation, visitors can learn about the history and craft of chocolate and then taste a sample of drinking chocolate similar to the kind served in Colonial America. And who wouldn’t love a shot of good chocolate in the middle of a long day on the Freedom Trail?
The exhibit is sponsored by The Freedom Trail Foundation and Mars, the giant chocolate manufacturer in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania (and makers of Mars bars and other sugary treats). Turns out the Mars family includes some history buffs, and they have funded exhibits like these at Colonial Williamsburg and at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York to educate the public and encourage research into early American foodways. The Old North Church gets to keep both the donations and the proceeds from the sale of the American Heritage chocolate products.
To get a taste of the exhibit and learn how chocolate was made in the 18th century, take a look at the gallery above.
You can visit from April 13-June 15 on weekends only from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. From June 16 through October, the exhibit will be open daily from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
The address is 21 Unity Street. For more information, call 617-523-6676.
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