Central Falls, bankrupt and floundering in the 21st century, is reverting to grassroots fund-raising, evoking its colonial history in the manufacturing of its “Chocolateville” chocolate bars, only serves to emphasize the impact on the early Rhode Island economy and its history of chocolate production, a once highly prized and profitable commodity with presumed ‘miraculous’ properties.
Chocolate bars, prepared by Andrew Shott, a famous chocolatier and former pastry chef at New York’s Russian Tea Room, are being sold in behest of Central Falls, R. I., for $5.00 each at Whole Foods in Providence. A portion of each sale goes to the cost of the bars’ manufacture and the rest to the children of Central Falls, once the landmark called “Chocolateville.”
First brought to North America by the Spaniards from Mexico as early as 1520, the power of chocolate was considered magnanimous and even dangerous to the “fairer sex, especially in Spring, when mixing romance, novels, and ‘like inflamers’ during this great carnival of nature.”
Chocolate was used in preparation for small pox inoculations, to treat gout, to reduce the incidence of fainting, and chocolate cups were used by surgeons to extract the poison from the bite of a mad dog. Court records from as early as the 1700’s reveal the monetary values of chocolate and chocolate cups and pots, stolen from break-ins at the homes of ordinary citizens. Chocolate is shown at the root of blackmail, murder, and pirating.
Indeed, the role of chocolate in colonial America is one of substantial importance, as cacao beans, the sweet treat ground from them, and the utensils early settlers used to imbibe were once a major commodity noted in medicinal remedies of all sorts, and even used to shroud the taste of poison in assassination attempts of greats such as Napoleon Bonaparte. From the early 18th century, chocolate brought via the “Triangle Trade” to Rhode Island and Boston is recorded according to bean size and value with regard to origin.
Shipping records show that the first cacao beans brought to Rhode Island docked at the port of Newport in 1763 and later, Providence in 1807, yet the bulk of cacao bean-laden cargoes were received in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Boston where the bounty of chocolate merchants were clustered. The fact that merchants were willing to load an entire ship with nothing but cocoa, 150 tons or 300,000 pounds, proves how important a commodity cocoa was to the economy.
“Save Chocolateville” bars are available at Whole Foods on North Main Street in Providence and also at Garrison Confections at 72 Ledge Street in Central Falls. RI.
sources: Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage. Edited by Grivetti and Shapiro. Copyright 2009. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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