What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Good CHOCOLATE … by the Single Pound.”
Today many Christians will celebrate Easter by eating chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits, and a variety of other chocolate treats, but 250 years ago colonists drank rather than ate the “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in newspapers and sold by shopkeepers. Along with coffee and tea, chocolate was a popular beverage in eighteenth-century America. Colonists consumed all three hot and sweet, adding sugar to temper any bitterness. Rodney Snyder records this recipe originally published in 1769 in The Experienced English Housekeeper: “Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour a quart of boiling water upon it; mix it well and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night; then mix it again very well; boil it in two minutes, then mix it till it will leave the froth upon the tops of your cups.”
According to Mary Miley Theobald, “Chocolate was usually sold ground and pressed into cakes wrapped in paper.” English shopkeepers and grocers usually sold cakes that weighed two to four ounces, but the one-pound cake was most common in the American colonies as a result of lower import duties making the product less expensive for consumers. Chocolate came from cacao plantations in the West Indies, but much of it arrived as cacao beans. Snyder reports that “a Boston newspaper carried an advertisement for a hand-operated machine for making chocolate” in 1737, the same year that “an inventor in Massachusetts developed an engine to grind cocoa that was inexpensive to run and could produce 100 weight of chocolate in six hours.” Chocolate makers regularly advertised in colonial American newspapers. They outnumbered their counterparts in Britain. Theobald indicates that nearly seventy chocolate makers had set up shop throughout the mainland colonies at the advent of the American Revolution, compared to only one in Britain. By then over 320 tons of cocoa beans had been imported into the colonies.
Chocolate was an important commodity and popular beverage in eighteenth-century America, especially as efficiencies in local production lowered the prices for consumers. In purchasing, processing, and drinking chocolate, colonists participated in a network of trade that connected them to plantations elsewhere in the Atlantic world. Even though some of the production took place locally, colonists who enjoyed a cup of chocolate benefitted from the labor of enslaved men and women on cocoa and sugar plantations. The “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in colonial newspapers was not merely a sweet treat. Instead, it had a complicated history. In consuming it, colonists participated in the perpetuation of slavery.