Chocolate in Colonial Military Life
As chocolate became increasingly popular throughout the 1700s, it also was increasingly enjoyed by members of the military. By the middle of the 18th century, chocolate was accessible to almost everyone living in the American colonies and was inexpensive enough to be considered a nourishing and energizing staple for soldiers of all ranks.
At the time of the French and Indian War, chocolate was considered an essential supply for military officers. In 1755, Benjamin Franklin provided supplies for troops marching to the Forks of the Ohio to overtake a strategically important French fort. The rations provided by Franklin included sugar, tea, coffee, and six pounds of chocolate for each officer.
Later in the war, Boston-based sutlers William Tailer and Samuel Blodgett, who supplied a Massachusetts provincial regiment stationed at Crown Point, New York, recorded that they regularly sold chocolate to the soldiers of the regiment. Men who purchased chocolate from the sutlers almost always purchased sugar and wine at the same time. These ingredients were likely used to make wine chocolate, a very popular recipe that required mixing and boiling together wine, chocolate, sugar, and flour.
By the time of the American Revolution, chocolate was even more readily available. While traveling to Fort Ticonderoga in 1776, Chaplain William Emerson of Concord, Massachusetts wrote to his wife regarding supplies he forgot to pack, “I hope my dear you will not forget to send me a little Skillet and 2 or 3 lb. of Chocolat….” Once he arrived at the fort, he happily reported in another letter to her, “This morning I breakfasted just as I would at Home, my Porringer of Chocolate was brought in, in as much Order as need be.”
While most troops enjoyed chocolate for its energizing and nourishing properties, some may have taken advantage of its availability in schemes to escape their military duty. In 1775, General Philip Schuyler wrote to Connecticut’s Governor Trumbull that he believed some men “had procured their discharges by swallowing tobacco juice to make them sick. Others had scorched their tongues with hot chocolate to induce a belief that they had a fever.”
In 1779, the Continental Congress officially defined rations for Continental officers. These definitions specified that colonels and chaplains would receive four pounds of chocolate per month, majors and captains would receive three pounds, and lieutenants would receive two pounds.
Throughout the major conflicts of the 1700s, soldiers in colonial America relied on chocolate to nourish them and raise their spirits. For men in camps and forts cross the colonies, chocolate served not only as a filling and energizing beverage, but also as a warm and sweet reminder of home.