Chocolate – Rations and Currency

Way back in the cold winter of 1667, Boston candy maker John Hull lamented that a shipwreck cost him the revenue from the cocoa beans that he had shipped to France. A year later, Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard received permission from the leaders of the Boston Colony to sell coffee and “chucoletto” in houses of public entertainment.

The first record of cacao beans arriving on these shores is 1641 and they came to Florida on a Spanish ship from Mexico. The Spanish probably got the beans and recipes from the Mayans who boiled the crushed beans in water and then added honey or sugar to sweeten the drink or hot peppers to make it spicy.

By the mid 17th Century, chocolate was popular in Spain and The Netherlands. In France and England, due to transportation costs and taxes, chocolate was expensive and drunk by the wealthy.

The British Parliament, never a group to miss an opportunity to tax something to raise money for a British king, passed a series of Navigation Acts beginning in 1651. The laws required any goods coming into England from a foreign land had to be transported on English ships manned by English sailors. Parliament’s intent for these acts was to monopolize transportation of bulk cargo. These acts were targeted at England’s traditional enemies – Spain which was the largest European consumer of chocolate – and France.

Keep in mind, in the years leading up to the American Revolution, U.S. shipyards produced over 50% the English merchant marine fleet. Made in the U.S. ships cost roughly half the cost of one built in England and the Colonies still had forests full of oak from which to make more ships.

Thirteen Colonies were much closer to the source of cocoa beans – the islands in the Caribbean and Mexico. Since the beans were carried on British ships manned by British crews, the cargoes were not subject to the taxes under the Navigation Acts. Distance and this exemption lowered transportation costs when compared to the cost of tea from India.

Records on chocolate and chocolate makers from Colonial times vary from very detailed to really sketchy. What we do know is taverns and coffee houses such as those started by Barnard and Jones served chocolate beverages as well as coffee and tea.

Chocolate was popular, readily available and cheap. Shops sold bricks of chocolate that our Founding Fathers used to shave into boiling water and flavor to their personal taste with sugar, honey, cinnamon, cloves, anise, nutmeg and even chili peppers. Like the coffee/tea/chocolate houses, everyone who drank chocolate had their favorite mix.

By the time the American Revolution began, there were 70+ chocolate businesses up and down the Atlantic coast making chocolate bars and offering recipes on what you could add to chocolate and boiling water. Most of the chocolate makers were centered in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. There was even a chocolate maker in Charleston, SC.

Chocolate was even used for medicinal purposes and as currency. Bricks of chocolate were used to pay soldiers in the Continental Army and was so well liked, that chocolate became part of the standard rations given to the Continental Army. And, ever since then, rations given to U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen contain some form of chocolate.

Image is chocolate leaves, pod, beans and chocolate from Pinterest.

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