On July 9, 1771, Jeremiah Snow of Springfield arrived at the Liberty Mill complex with two casks of raisins and left with three pounds of indigo, 25 pounds of tea, a yard and a half of Russian duck, two reams of paper and 12 pounds of chocolate. This marked the first chocolate transaction in the mill ledger; it would be far from the last.
One can only surmise why Snow purchased such relatively random items. After all, he was a goldsmith and silversmith, and would become an important maker of swords for the colonial armies during the Revolutionary War. However, he was known to be a customer of Worcester merchant Stephen Salisbury, so one could imagine Snow being asked to pick up a few things since he was going to Boston anyway.
As we have noted, there wasn’t a lot of cash to be had in these early days of America, so barter of various goods such as chocolate was the norm. That was especially true in and around Boston, which played host to dozens of chocolate-makers and retailers. Not only did chocolate and cocoa taste good, serving cocoa was seen as a patriotic protest against taxes on tea and other such intolerables instituted by the British. As with other industries at the time, the source of horsepower for chocolate-grinders was mostly limited to the fall of water. But some, literally, were powered by horses, allowing them to operate in the middle of Boston.
Prior to the ascendency of the Baker Chocolate Company of Dorchester (more on that in a moment) chocolate-making was a sideline – in many instances being carried out in part of an existing slitting, fulling, four or paper mill. All that was required was a special set of grinding stones and a chocolate kettle.
Early chocolate-makers who were also customers of the Liberty Paper Mill included Caleb Davis, General Joseph Palmer and George Leonard (a Loyalist who had to leave town when things got hot for the British….) Davis paid for a supply of writing paper with 25 pounds of chocolate in the summer of 1771. Leonard paid for paper with more than 100 pounds of chocolate in 1771 and 1772; and Palmer paid for paper and other goods with almost 250 pounds of chocolate in 1773.
The history of chocolate-making in Milton in the mid- to late-1700s is a bit cloudy, and centers around a mysterious man named John Hannon.
The story goes – mostly – that Hannon, an out-of-work Irishman, approached James Boies, Edward Wentworth, and Henry Stone who owned a saw mill on the Neponset River in Milton. He was certain that if given space and horsepower, he could commence making chocolate almost immediately. Supposedly, James Baker – a store owner across the river in Dorchester – took an interest in Hannon’s idea and financed the refit of the mill.
From there, historians have differed about who made chocolate for whom, where it was made, who owned the business, who owned the mills.
The ledger from the Liberty Paper Mill adds even more uncertainty.
On Oct. 6, 1772, John Hannon purchased a ream of foolscap writing paper. Between then and September 1774, Hannon would buy more than 50 reams of paper, along with bed cord, indigo, blankets, horse collars and other sundries. Over that same time frame, he paid with more than 350 pounds of cocoa shells and chocolate.
Straightforward enough, but there appear to be some anomalies. In January 8, 1773, Vose, Lewis and Crane lent Hannon a chocolate kettle. On Jan. 30, they sold Hannon 2 two bags of cocoa and (the entry is sketchy) more than 150 pounds of chocolate. The kettle was returned in August, at which time Hannon also ground up 200 pounds of chocolate for the mill.
The last Hannon entry is in early 1774, when he sold the mill 14 pounds of chocolate.
- So, why was Hannon buying so much paper?
- Where was he making his chocolate?
- Why did the Liberty Paper Mill own a chocolate kettle and why did John Hannon need one?
- Where was Hannon grinding cocoa and making chocolate?
- Why did the mill sell chocolate to Hannon?
- Where did the Liberty Mill get the chocolate to sell to Hannon?
- What happened to Hannon between September of 1774 and 1779 when he set sail for the West Indies and was never heard from again?
- From late 1774 until 1781, no chocolate is listed in the ledger as being bought or sold at the Liberty Paper Mill. The trade in chocolate resumed then through 1790 and ends once again. What happened during those seven years?
What is most likely at play here is the nature of business ownership in the mid-18th century. From our perch in the 21st century we like to have such matters crisp and clean. But such was not the case back then. Buildings could be owned by one person; the water privilege owned by another; the business operating on the property by another; sales and distribution by another still. We know there were at least nine ledger books, and assorted day books and shop books associated with the mill on the Neponset, so it is easy to imagine that a good deal of the comings and goings during its time have been lost to history.
There are several written accounts that say James Baker rented part of the Liberty Mill in the late 1780s, but corroborating records don’t exist. Remember James Boies, one of the original mill owners sought out by Hannon? He was the brother-in-law of Liberty Mill partner Daniel Vose. He was also son-in-law of Jeremiah Smith, who sold his share of the mill to Vose in 1769.
So much history; so many coincidences; so few records.