Chocolate in the American Revolution: Will America Ever Be Satisfied?

So, how does Alexander Hamilton; U.S. Treasurer, the bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scottsman end up increasing the tax on chocolate in 1792 (1), when his colleague at the time, Thomas Jefferson was the one to promote it to John Adams in 1785? Thomas wrote to John Adams stating that chocolate’s superiority “both in health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” (2)

 

To start out this battle, let’s turn to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical, “Hamilton.” Specifically, at 1:33 where Hamilton says to Jefferson “would you like to join us? Or stay mellow doing whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello?” While the rap style cabinet battle focuses on a prior issue, it’s a fact that Jefferson made his first purchase of chocolate in 1775, followed by his praise of chocolate in a letter to Adams in 1785. It can be assumed that song writer, playwriter, and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda was referencing recreational substances Jefferson consummed in Monticello, although, he could just as easily be referencing the relaxing sensation assosciated with enjoying a frothy chocolate beverage. In fact, Hamilton actually considered cocoa and chocolate to be medicinal. In March of 1792, Alexander Hamilton set taxes on pretty much anything that wasn’t food. With chocolate becoming more and more popular, Hamilton was extremely on top of his marks to condsider it as medicinal for the taxes and tarrifs.

The two statesmen had a rocky relationship that can be traced back to how they were raised; Jefferson was cultured and rich while Hamilton was poor and had to fend for himself. Chocolate was easily available to Jefferson given the circumstances. Had Hamilton been raised in a different area he would have been the one picking the cacao pods. Differences aside, Hamilton did end up endorsing Jefferson in the 1800 election, which just so happened to be shortly after this chocolate tax. Though, history tells us the endorsment was just to spite his longtime rival and eventual asassin, Aaron Burr.

Unlike traditional Mayan or Aztec preparation, in this time period, the entire chocolate process began midway with the cake. They would then shave off pieces of the cake which would then be combined with a liquid, such as water. Different from classic preparations, the cocoa shavings could also be added to milk, or even wine. In addition to the chocolate mills that were used to create that heavenly froth, eggs were added into the mix to help ease the process and additional nutrients. Adding eggs not only demonstrates the modernization and cultural change, it shows a similarity to when chocolate was a gruel with corn maize.

 

silveraskos
Silver Askos, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Beginning with his introduction to chocolate, Jefferson was an avid drinker. A conclusion cannot be drawn as to when he first indulged in the concoction, but it is known that he made his first chocolate purchase in 1775. It wasn’t until after he was elected that he returned from an excursion to a Roman temple in Southern France. He ordered his very own silver chocolate pot, that was in the form of an askos. (4) This silver pot was known in the Jefferson household as “the silver duck.”

An askos can be used for any small amount of liquid. A flaw with using this design for a chocolate drink is that there’s not too much room for a frothing device, odds are this was done in the kitchen just before being served. Thomas Jefferson may have even picked this specific vessel so that he could enjoy serving the chocolate into his own cup, creating a bit of his very own froth.

washingtoncup
Image credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, and Gardens’ 2012 annual Colonial Chocolate Society meeting presentation.

George and Martha Washington were also fans of chocolate. They were such huge fans in fact, they ordered up to 50 pounds of chocolate at one time! (5) George Washington was actually Commander in chief of the U.S. forces when food rations were set into place; and yes, you guessed it, chocolate was included for all soldiers. Their set of China was found to have a few of these special cups for drinking chocolate. These cups set themselves apart from other cup and saucer sets the Washington’s owned because of the lid, to keep the chocolate hot, and the handles on either side, as their tea cups did not have any handles at all.

Benjamin Franklin was known to have sold chocolate in his printshop. Under his pseudonym, Richard Saunders, he recommended chocolate as treatment for small pox patients in Poor Richard’s Almanac, to help them gain weight. (6) This links back to when Alexander Hamilton listed chocolate as a drug for the tax increase. While this adds weight to Hamilton’s description, it’s still clear that many Americans, who could afford it were consuming chocolate for pleasure, not treatment.

After hurling tea into the Boston Harbor, what did everyone go out and drink ? Well, yes, beer and coffee, but more importantly there was a spike in chocolate which is what led Thomas Jefferson to making his famous prediction. Overall, it’s clear that America and chocolate consumption, even from the time of our country’s birth is like “Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it right?” (7) Our hunger for chocolate will never be satisfied.


 

Sources

1- Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over The Centuries, Philip K. Wilson and William Jeffrey Hurst

2- http://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/1789

3-https://americanhistory.si.edu/sites/default/files/Lange_Chocolate%20Preparation.pdf

4-http://ushistoryscene.com/article/american-drinking/

5-http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/fall/21063/heritage_chocolate/1357175

6- Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, Louis E. Grivetti, Howard-Yana Shapiro

 

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