By Mark Hurwitz
People first enjoyed chocolate as a bitter drink in the jungles of South and Central America. Chocolate was originally used as a ceremonial drink for three native civilizations: the Mayas, the Toltecs, and the Aztecs. They believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties. The Aztecs also believed that chocolate had aphrodisiac powers. It is said that the Aztec King Montezuma drank up to 50 cups a day! Chocolate finally reached Europe early in the 16th century when Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes brought it back with them. The cocoa beans were mixed with sugar and became a sensation in the royal court of Spain.
Flash forward to the 1740s: a member of the Old North Church congregation, Capt. Newark Jackson (owner of pew # 13), opened up a chocolate shop in the North End of Boston. He was a successful mariner and merchant. He even took out a newspaper advertisement in a Boston paper to promote his Chocolate shop: “Made and Sold – By Newark Jackson, near Mr. Clarks shipyard, at the North End of Boston. Choice good chocolate, by wholesale or retail, at reasonable price.” (New England Weekly Journal, Feb. 26, 1740.)
Chocolate’s perceived medicinal value made it a natural product for apothecary shops. It was considered nourishing for the sick as well as an aid to digestion and was believed to promote longevity, help lung ailments, energize the body, cure hangovers, suppress coughs, and, as mentioned, stimulate the libido. For that reason, the Virginia Almanac of 1770 cautioned women against it, warning “the fair sex to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolate, novels, and the like,” especially in the spring, as those were all “inflamers” and “very dangerous.”
In 2003, Mars, the well-known candy company, undertook an extensive global research initiative to uncover the true history of chocolate. A group from Mars Chocolate led a team of more than 100 experts to research chocolate’s origins and history in the Americas. “CHOCOLATE: History, Culture, and Heritage” was later published with their findings. Out of this research project, the American Heritage Chocolate brand was developed by Mars Chocolate North America to help educate consumers about the history of our nation through chocolate. American Heritage Chocolate is an authentic historic chocolate made from ingredients that were available in the 18th century. American Heritage Chocolate is now sold at over 100 shops at a number of historic sites and museums across the United States and Canada, including here at the Old North Church. In the spring of 2013, The Old North Church opened Capt. Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. It is located inside the historic Clough House. There, visitors are greeted by costumed interpreters who demonstrate 18th century chocolate making. After each demonstration, visitors are welcome to sample freshly made drinking chocolate.