Welcome to the True Treats Experience! The club for discerning, curious and fun-loving folks who love history.
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Coming your way via our email correspondences and social media appearances:
Opportunities to be a True Treats taster, whether one of our historic candies, teas or snack foods. We send the sample – you tell us what you think!
Contests with hardly any rules and a tasty prize.
Interesting, hard-to-find recipes, many undiscovered and primarily made by women at home.
An insider’s view of True Treats EXCLUSIVE gift boxes and collections – with first dibs on limited edition products.
Unique historic cards, perfect for birthdays, congratulations messages, & more.
Links to lost-and-now-found movies, candy ads, photos, and more.
PLUS – a special email address for our True Treats Experience friends, so you can contact us about finding hard-to-find recipes, candies that your Grandma loved, and candies, snacks, even drink mixes that you’d like us to carry.
All about True Treats
True Treats is unique. YES! We carry old time and retro candy – but our timeline is older than that! Our sweets, snack foods, teas, and cookbooks span the FIRST in history to the 20th century. True Treats has 500+ products for you to discover, try, and share!!
Since Susan Benjamin opened True Treats in 2010, we have been the nation’s ONLY research-based historic sweets, treats and candy store. You can find our products in museum gifts, specialty shops, AND, of course — on our Web site and at our brick-and-mortar stores. No matter where you find True Treats, you’ll find the product’s story on the label, box, and tag with an historic image to match.
True Treats Chocolate Table Mid-1800s-Mid-1900s
Meet our Founder, Food Historian Susan Benjamin
A nationally recognized food historian, Ms. Benjamin, has devoted her time to researching the history of candy, snack foods, teas and treats since 2010. A former academic, cultural researcher, and communications strategist, Ms. Benjamin digs deep into American food culture from kitchens to fields to the frontlines of American history. You may know Ms. Benjamin from one of her many media appearances from the History Channel, PBS, and Vice.com, on radio shows ranging from ABC news to NPR affiliates, or publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or through TV productions such as Jeopardy, which featured her store on one of their questions.
As an author, Ms. Benjamin has written ten books which have sold internationally and been translated into five language. Her most recent book, “Sweet as Sin,” was on the Smithsonian’s list of “Best Books about Food.” AND she is working on #11 – due out in 2024! Always – she brings her findings to visitors at her brick-and-mortar and online stores and, as part of the True Treats Experience – TO YOU!
The Many Faces of Our True Treats Experience Tasters
Our First Ever Grapefruit-Ade Tasting!!
****LOOKING for the perfect -and perfectly unique- gift? Looking for lost candy? An important recipe? As part of the True Treats’ experience, you get an exclusive connection. Reach us by phone, email, or Facebook and we’ll get right back to you with answers and ideas***
We offer other historic experiences such as teas – the origin of medicine which was the origin of…. CANDY: Here are a few of them:
Buttercreams are usually not first-in-mind for chocolate-lovers when deciding on just-the-right chocolatey snack. But, at one time, buttercreams and other cream candies, were the pièces de résistance of the chocolate world. Their story begins, of course, with chocolate itself and culminates in the heyday of chocolate innovations – the mid-1800s through the 1920s.
Before there were buttercreams, there was the cacao tree which originated in Mesoamerica…and from this tree grew the cacao bean. The bean, by the way, springs directly from the trunk of the tree – a true sight to behold!
The cacao’s route was circuitous, to say the least, having left Mesoamerica for Mexico, to, variously, Native Americans of the Southwest and Spain with Spanish conquerors, then elsewhere in Europe, via the marriage of royalty from one chocolate-loving nation to another, THEN back on British ships to North America where European settlers got hold of it.
Chocolate in the “New World”
The first sighting of the cacao amongst European immigrants appeared in a petition drafted in 1670 by Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard “to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee and Chucalettoe [sic].” The officials agreed although, as in Europe, chocolate had its detractors, primarily those who considered it a sin.
About 100 years later, an Irish immigrant, John Hannon, started the first chocolate mill, turning the cacao bean and its internal “nibs” into the ingredients for a coveted, if not bitter, drink. Hannon was brilliant but not entirely business-like and not at all wealthy. So, he brought in James Baker, a wealthy Harvard College graduate and businessman, for help.
The Birth of Baker’s Chocolate
After literal nose-to-the-grindstone, the company was producing 900 pounds of chocolate for the Colonists. Not all 18th century inhabitants were equal, of course, and neither was their chocolate. Baker’s shamelessly made three varieties: “No. 1 Premium” or “Best Chocolate” the purest, and most expensive line for the wealthy few; “No. 2” or “Common Chocolate,” was a grade below, and used by workers of European descent; and “No. 3,” known as “Inferior Chocolate” used by enslaved workers in the South and West Indies. This version was thick with rice – more a gelatinous brew than a satisfying drink.
The Hannon-Baker partnership ended for reasons unknown, but one thing is certain: Hannon went on a trip, possibly to the West Indies in search of cacao, and was never heard from again, likely killed in a shipwreck. The business was called “Baker’s Chocolate’, forever misleading people to believe the brand was just for bakers.
Card for Baker’s Chocolate
Baker’s Chocolate Logo, 1873
Early Chocolate Enthusiasts
Then, as now, chocolate had many fans, some illustrious. One was Judge Samuel Sewall, who, from 1674 to 1729, kept a journal where he recorded uniquely commonplace goings-on, giving historians access to the lives of the Puritans and candy enthusiasts a glimpse of the early life of chocolate.
In his diary, Sewall wrote in 1697 about having “chockalett” and venison for a breakfast where “Massachuset and Mixco meet.” In 1702, he recorded bringing Minister Samuel Whiting “2 balls of Chockalett and a pound of figs,” because he was “languishing” and Mrs. Stoddard “two half pounds of chockalett” instead of Commencement Cake. Chocolate as medicine and gift was common, as were its alleged aphrodisiac properties. Today, in that regard, little has changed.
By the way – Sewall was a prominent merchant, and one of the judges who bestowed the tortuous sentences at the Salem Witch Trials. Within five years, he was wracked with shame and guilt, publicly apologized, fasted yearly in repentance, and became an early and ardent abolitionist.
Chocolate and the American Revolution
Other celebrated chocolate enthusiasts included Benjamin Franklin. He admired the exotic bean for its alleged health and medicinal value which included curing smallpox. His shipments to officers in the French and Indian War included “6 lbs. of chocolate” (plus sugar, tea, coffee, vinegar, cheese, Madeira, Jamaican spirits, and mustard). His friend and fellow Revolutionary, Thomas Jefferson, said: “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the preference over tea and coffee in America, which it has in Spain.”
Another benefit: chocolate was a great alternative to British tea.
How did Chocolate Taste?
This early chocolate was a bitter drink that wealthy New Englanders enjoyed at various times, particularly at breakfast or, possibly, instead of breakfast. They had to work to get it, too, first by boiling water which they poured over a cake of chocolate, then stirred constantly in a chocolate pot until the chocolate had dissolved, and, at last, the liquid was rich and frothy. (This process changed little from the original where chocolate was poured back-and-forth to create a frothy consistency.) Depending on the hour and purpose, they may have added sugar, spices, milk, or even wine, which they probably needed after all that effort.
Starting in the early 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was on the march and innovations were on the rise. While the U.S. was embroiled in a Civil War, Europeans were creating innovations in the world of chocolate. Among the leaders were the British Quakers with such familiar names as the Cadburys, Rowntrees, and Frys who went on to pioneer the use of factory methods for making chocolate and the steam engine for grinding beans. They also invented the candy bar!
The new possibilities for chocolate were endless, producing enrobed creations be they chocolate bonbons, truffles with gnash centers, or creams including “buttercreams.” They were voluptuous, yes, and the best ones of all were French. By French, the chocolates weren’t necessary fromFrance, but were in the “French style,” such as the French style cream-filled candy, introduced in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London. It won an adoring audience in the US, who had long been enamored in all things French.
The “French-style” creams and other chocolates were marvelous, sweet, yet gritty. Things changed in 1879 when Swiss chocolatier Adolphe Lindt (yes – that Lindt of Lindt chocolate) invented a “conching” machine, which massaged the gritty chocolate into soft and supple submission.
Buttercreams in the U.S.
So popular were these chocolates that some post-war U.S. “chocolatiers” devoted themselves to their existence. Others, such as the illustrious Shrafft’s Confectionary of Boston, made them en masse then wholesaled them to smaller companies. Schrafft also carried chocolates in their own retail shops, complete with the French-ish names such as “D’Or Elegante,” and distinct gold-hued packaging. Their ads said:
“From the French comes the motif for this distinguished package, but only Schrafft could have supplied such chocolates. Search among the most exclusive shops of London, Paris, Rome-you will find nothing to compare to them. The golden box of chocolates is now offered for the first time. It contains the daintiest of our French truffle, nuts, fruits, and cream centers.”
Not all creams were touted as being “French” but all did have upscale sounding assortments with names like “Society Chocolates,” “Lady Fairfax Chocolates,” and “Paradise Chocolate.” Their advertising was sensual and sublime. Here’s one from Mead Chocolate in 1920: “A box of Belle Mead chocolates is an open door to the magic realms of chocolatery where all’s delicious. Made from the purest ingredients moulded into sweets of rare delight-into bon bons and raspberry creams, into peppermint and orange paste, mapled creams and caramels, and many other luscious morsels.”
Belle Mead Advertisement, December 19, 1920
Gradually, creams, as well as other glamourous chocolates, found a new home in daily settings. During Prohibition, restauranteurs sold them as an after-dinner replacement for alcohol. During WWI and World War II, chocolate-makers recommended that families at home send packages to the troops – while supplies lasted.
Whitman’s Ad, World War II
Today, creams have returned to their status as the perfect punctuation for events, tucked in Valentine’s Day collections, given as gifts – be it thank-you’s or birthdays, or bought and saved for just-the-right moment. As before, they’re still luxuriously sweet and flavorful.…with roots reaching deep into Mesoamerica.
You may love Necco Wafers (as I do) or not like them at all…depending on your taste and memory of when you ate them. As for me – I once lived near the Necco factory in Cambridge Massachusetts and would knock on a side door of the building on an occasional Thursday. That was the day when the company store was open to workers, and a woman, maybe a manager, would open the door and give me some samples. I always offered to pay, and she always brushed me away. But why the side door? Why not go to my local pharmacy, candy store, or so many other spots and buy some there? BECAUSE: Tropical! My favorite Necco Wafers were the hard-to-find tropical varieties and the factory had rolls a’plenty. Not that the other flavors weren’t good enough. For me, they too were good enough and then some.
Necco Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Courtesy: BOSTON.com)
Love them or not, one thing is TRUE: Necco Wafers were an early candy, a true first footprint on the path to Retro candy and the story is amazing…starting with OLIVER CHASE!
Who Invented the NECCO Wafer?
Today’s retro candy was invented, more or less, in apothecaries where sugar reigned as a flavoring and curative. Some were actual pharmacies – some, shall we say, were sketchy. So, it makes sense that Oliver Chase, a genuine pharmacist, would be among the first to create what would be an early retro candy. Chase had immigrated from England in the 1840s and set up an apothecary in Boston with his brothers Silas and Daniel. One of his products was “soft paste,” lozenges consisting of sugar, gum Arabic, a flavoring and possibly gelatin.
As a medicine, Chase, like other pharmacists, mixed in numerous arcane and familiar ingredients: peppermint or ginger for stomach problems, rhubarb for constipation, ginger for nausea, and opium for just about everything else. As a candy, Chase replaced the bad tasting ingredients with tasty flavorings that would appeal to grown-ups and kids alike. The ingredients are pretty much the same as stick candy or Turkish delight, but the texture was both smooth and chalky. Customers report they used NECCOs as a practice communion wafer and their grandmothers used them as a sugary sedative to keep the grandchildren quiet at church.
NECCO Wafer: Problem/Solution
Chase’s lozenges were exceptionally popular, which created a problem. The production process was so slow, he got further and further behind the orders. Besides, making the lozenges was tedious, exact work: according to Scientific American of 1868, the “plastic” sugar was rolled into a sheet then cut, lozenge after lozenge, like crackers from dough. The batter was temperamental, it had to be just the right consistency, measured and pressed to make close-to-exact doses, with as little handling as possible.”
So, in 1847, Oliver Chase developed a lozenge cutting machine where he cranked dough onto plates with lozenge-size indentations. The lozenges tumbled out in uniform sizes as quickly as his hand could turn.
Chase called the result the “Chase Lozenge” or “Hub wafer” – one with a glazed and the other with a transparent wrapper. “Hub”, by the way, was a nickname for “Boston”. Later, the confection was called the Necco Wafer. For the first time, candy-makers could quickly produce consistent pieces and medicine-makers create predictable doses. Chase’s machine was revolutionary.
What Other Candies Were People Eating When Chase Created the NECCO Wafer?
Grown-ups and kids were eating other candies, but few survive today. One was Turkish delight also called Turkish “paste,” which actually resemble fruit squares and an invention from around 1805 – the Gum Drop. Others include the Gibralter, made in the nation’s first commercial candy company in 1806; pulled creams, which evolved in the mid-1800s; hand-pulled sticks which go back who-knows-how long…probably 1600s; and sugar plums, a broad range of candies with a tiny nuts or seeds surrounded with sugar such as Cream Filberts (late 1700s) and sugared or Jordan Almonds (ancient Romans).
What distinguished Chase was his use of machinery to make the candy, so it was every-ready to enjoy.
Turkish delight Cream Filberts Gum Drops
Romance and the NECCO Wafer
Oliver soon partnered with his brother Silas to make a sugar pulverizing machine that, according to their patent application of 1850 “…consists of a cylindrical vessel or mortar made of caste iron or other suitable material and of such thickness and dimensions as circumstances may require.”
Almost twenty years later, another Chase-inspired change was on the way, this one by Daniel Chase. During the 19th century “conversation lozenges” were popular in England, where little sayings were hand-printed on the candy. Some were romantic, such as “Love me” while others inspired precisely the opposite. The temperance movement was behind many of those, with such sobering comments as: “Drink is the Ruin of Man,” and “Sobriety is the way to riches.” In the U.S., Daniel invented a “motto-making” machine that printed sayings quickly and directly on heart-shaped candies, focused entirely on matters of the heart, not the liver. The result is called “Sweethearts.”
As the candy industry grew, the confectioner’s role seemed to have taken on greater stature. In 1912, the Americana, an encyclopedia, says:
“Of course, we know that in the early days, the art of manufacturing confectionery was confined almost exclusively to the apothecaries and physicians, both of whom made use of these sweets in their attempts to disguise the unpleasant characteristic of their medicines…During the 19th century the confectionery trade has experienced its greatest development for it is since the dawn of that century that it has become what it is to-day, one of the world’s great business enterprises. In the making of this transition, the druggist has not ceased to be a factor in the trade. He still requires his medicated candies but, in this respect, he has become a purchaser…”
The Americana also noted that:
“…candy usually was confined to such ordinary products as the old fashion stick candy, sugar plums, and the ordinary molasses candy…In 1846, Oliver R. Chase, who with his brother, formed the firm Chase & Company, invented a machine for the making of lozenges…In 1866, a further innovation in lozenge innovation was produced by Daniel G. Chase. This was a machine for printing on candies and it was to those invention that the well-remembered conversation lozenges owe its existence… Since that day, the history of the confectionary trade has been a constant record of development.”
Packing Necco Wafers Mid-1900s
The Necco Wafer Goes to War (Or does it?)
The Chases may have ushered in the industrialization of candy, but there’s more. It’s possible, and I underscore possible, that the Chase Brothers sent Oliver’s lozenge to the Union soldiers. This distinction is relevant because many in-the-know people such as reenactors, historic Web sites, and NPR’s quiz show Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me indicate this exchange of sweets definitely happened. I called the New England Confectionary Company for confirmation after I failed to find original sourcing. A young, chipper-sounding employee from their outsourced PR department merrily informed me that the Necco was not in the war. Silly, silly NPR.
Here’s my opinion. Seeing how friends, family, and businesses sent candy to Civil War soldiers during the war, why wouldn’t Oliver Chase and his popular lozenge be among them? So, did they send or didn’t they? My vote is yes. Either way, Admiral Byrd definitely did take 2 ½ tons of the lozenges on his expedition to the South Pole and during World War Two, when Hershey was busy with the D – Ration, the U.S. sent Neccos to troops because they were “practically indestructible”
Necco Wafer Eaten by Soldiers in WWII
The NECCO Candy Company – Moving On and Up
Over the years, the company underwent many changes. After building a factory on Melcher Street in Boston, the Chase brothers opened a “Western” branch in Chicago. It was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1872, the Boston factory burned down as well. The company rebounded, and in 1901, joined the other companies to rise up as the New England Confectionery Company. All went well as the company opened a factory in South Boston, then one in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1927 and where I went to buy candy decades later.
NECCO- Boston Early 1900s
NECCO- Boston Early 1900s
Necco Chimney in Cambridge Massachusetts
Necco Wafers, Sweethearts, Clark Bars, Mary Janes, Slapstick & Squirrel Nut Zippers
But, as fate would have it – and does with so many companies – it changed hands in the corporate style of hand-changing…too many names to bother mentioning. At one point, in a move to stay afloat in the ever-changing world of vintage candy, NECCO bought out other candies. Their mission was simple: Be the provider of retro, old time, and vintage candy–WHATEVER you want to call it! Their selections went onto include Squirrel Nut Zippers, Clark Bars, Mary Janes, Candy Buttons, Banana Chews, Canada Mints, Necco Wafers, Slapstick, Sweethearts and Sky Bar…among others.
Image: UK Daily News
In a story sad for all of us – the NECCO factory moved out of Kendall Square in Cambridge where it had a time-honored home. The building became the high budget, albeit soulless, property of MIT. NECCO resituated in Revere Massachusetts….just down the road… then…went bust.
NECCO Last Stop in Masschusetts, Revere
The End that Isn’t (Fortunately)
While the NECCO company went under, not all the NECCO candies went with it. The Necco Wafer is now being made by Spangler, itself a venerable company with an impressively long history starting in 1906. A related Candy Button is available, and the Clark Bar (made by Davied Clark, maker of Teaberry Gum) is now made by the Boyer Company maker of Mallo Cup and comes in two shapes – cup and traditional bar. Our version of Canada Mints really is made in Canada where they were invented (no surprise!) and Mary Janes seem to be sliding on and off the retail radar since last year. We love them all – for their memories and their tastes.
A sweet, woody flavor, the marshmallow root tea makes an interesting blend and is great on its own. I like to add a little sweetener, but that’s personal choice. The texture is smooth, as marshmallow has a high mucilage content, and thickens when cool.
What does the marshmallow plant look like?
The marshmallow plant, or Althaea officinalis, is a relative of the hollyhock, with pastel-colored, papery flowers. The plant, especially its roots, have a sticky substance that once gave the marshmallow its taste and texture. Today, the root is widely available as tea: the mucilage is like a syrup in hot water but thickens into a sweet gel when cool.
What does marshmallow for the body?
Marshmallows are no mere fun food but one of humanities’ earliest confections. They originated from the root of the marsh-mallow plant, an herb of the mallow family which, no surprise, grows in marshes. Ancient Egyptians boiled and mixed the root with honey to create a dense, cake-like confection reserved for the gods and royalty. But the true value of the marshmallow was its medicinal qualities. The root contains a gel-like mucilage that was said to soothe sore throats, gastrointestinal inflammation, stomach ulcers and, even, work as a laxative, among other qualities.
What don’t we use the marshmallow plant today?
As delicious as the marshmallow was as a confection, it was replaced by instant gelatin in the mid-1800s. The mucilage just made it too sticky and temperamental for people to make at home.
Marshmallow Tea Recipes
As a tea, the marshmallow lives on, enjoyed for its flavor, health benefits, and history. As a sweet – not so much, but we DO have vintage marshmallow recipes from Eleanor Parkinson’s book “The Complete Confectioner” published in in 1864 if you want to give it a try. PLEASE – let us know if you do!
For marshmallow tea, here’s the easy route:
Place one or two teaspoons of marshmallow root in a cup of hot water. Let steep about 10-minutes. Add sweetener and drink while warm. The tea will grow thicker when cooled.
Place the mixture in a covered jar and let sit overnight. Enjoy the drink with honey or other sweetener or as is.
Truly Old-Time Marshmallow Recipes
from Eleanor Parkinson in 1864
If you want to give this recipe a try, you may need to cut the quantities to size. Remember early cookbooks were written for domestics in the homes of the well-to-do or for the homemaker herself (aka “Woman of the House”) so she could manage the staff. The quantities might need to be adjusted for today’s smaller size of friends and family.
Marshmallow Lozenges. “Marshmallow roots in powder one pound, or slice the root and make a strong decoction, in which you dissolve the gum, fine sugar four pounds. Mix into a paste. If six drops of laudanum be added, with two ounces of liquorice, the pectoral quality of these lozenges will be improved. Good for obstinate coughs.”
Syrup of Marshmallows — Sirop de Guimauve “Fresh mallow roots eight ounces, water one quart, sugar three pounds. Cleanse the roots, and slice them; make a decoction (See Decoctions), boiling it a quarter of an hour, so as to obtain the mucilage of the root; strain, and finish as wormwood. One ounce of liquorice-root and one ounce of white maidenhair, with a few stoned raisins, may be added.”
Snickers. Jolly ranchers. Jelly beans. Gummi bears. What’s your favorite Halloween candy? Are you old school, and love candy corn and licorice? Or are you into extremely sour – or hot – candy? Today, as we continue our Halloween week, it’s all about candy, including the origins of trick-or-treating, retro candy and stories behind some of your favorites. A candy historian and an insider from the candy industry joins us with some “sweet” facts and to field your calls. What do you consider the best and worst candy? Got any favorite Halloween candy memories? Guest: Susan Benjamin: Candy historian Owner of True Treats Author of “Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure” Town Square with Ernie Manouse is a gathering space for the community to come together and discuss the day’s most important and pressing issues.
This Halloween, I was inundated with interviews about all aspects of candy, not just Trick o’ Treat. From the wildly different questions and comments came one theme: a contempt for Candy Corn. Personally, I don’t get it. Candy Corn is a harmless, gentle member of the candy family with not a ting of scandal unlike, say, the false razor-blade-in-apple-scandal.
Besides, history proves the magnificence, if not longevity, of Candy Corn. The yellow, orange and white pyramid candies began as “Chicken Feed” in 1888, made by the Wunderle Company, the candies were of the same marshmallow-ish texture of other popular sweets of the time – Circus Peanuts, Cream Candy, and Marshmallow Biscuits ie., caramel covered marshmallows, among them.
Candy Corn was unique, however, in its fall colors and corn-like look, helping it transition from an everyday candy to a Halloween extravaganza. The reason: early Halloweens, while ribboned with ghostly stories and wild pranks, were more like Harvest Festivals with sumptuous nuts, fruits, and other seasonal delights. The Candy Corn fit in.
True, for generations Candy Corn remained a penny candy mingling well with the jelly beans and gummies on the shelves beside it. Today, candy corn is primarily made by Brach’s Confections and Jelly Belly, with around nine billion pieces enjoyed (or not, as the case may be) each year, most of it during Halloween.
I recently had an experience in my hometown of Shepherdstown, WV. It was about racism, not against African Americans but Muslims, and it did not directly involve me. Still, I felt strongly about it and got involved. The situation, which is still ongoing, gave me new insight into how Mrs. Spencer and, dare I say, the escaped slaves, felt.
Here’s how it started: I found, among other things, an anti-Muslim meme on the Facebook page of the town’s police chief, who is also a star in the hit show Ghosts of Shepherdstown which reaches tens of thousands of people. Someone had shared the meme and it stayed there for ten days until I called it out. Through Facebook I revealed the post and said the community needed to make decisions about how the town could prevent such posts in the future.
Here’s what happened: At the prompting of a town council member, the chief took the meme down. Once he did, the town council member told me the matter would not be discussed any further. The chief soon weighed in on Facebook, saying he too had rights to freedom of speech and could express what he wanted.* The town’s people rallied behind him and were among hundreds who testified on his behalf , volunteering that he was “nice guy” and a “good, honest man” although that was never the question. Some castigated me for calling him out in the first place. I did contact a number of attorneys and local political figures about the matter. The response was minimal. The chief never apologized for the meme.
Insights into Mrs. Spencer: From my experience I could imagine with greater clarity the loneliness Mrs. Spencer must have felt. She was part of a community of decent people. Still, the overwhelming population were not abolitionists. They may have addressed issues in the safety of a group, at church, for example, but were unwilling to confront them in the immediacy of their communities. To stand out from the crowd in protest is difficult –to be an activist abolitionist in the early 1800s must have been remarkably isolating.
Mrs. Spencer was also up against those with the greatest power: the police, attorneys, political figures. Even more to the point, she was standing up to an unjust law which, if broken, would have profound consequences on her and her son’s lives, including fines, imprisonment, and physical punishment. Whatever supports that were available, were few and too hard-pressed to devote time to any one person.
As for the slaves – it’s hard to grasp their perspectives in this regard, many existential in nature. How could they fathom why a mass of people could subject them to such inhumane treatment? And how could they make sense of a universe where their very children were stolen from them? We can only focus on their actions, their songs and words, and their many modes of resistance.
And in Conclusion…
The issues regarding the meme were existentially jolting. I wake up in the morning asking how my neighbors could fail to confront that sinister form of racism. These are people who vote, join marches, comment on the news. What does this say about their ability to act on their convictions? To take a stand outside of the group? Work against their best interests for something of consequence? I wake up in the morning and confront the community that I love. The meme is somewhere in cyberspace. But Mrs. Spencer, and other abolitionists of the early 19th century, and above all, those who were enslaved, did not have that escape.
*The reality behind the chief’s claim to freedom of speech was untrue: the courts make provisions for law enforcement officers. Punishments range from fines to firings.
It’s hard to know where the enslaved people in Mrs. Spencer’s buggy started. Slaves labored at the ports of Salem and many other nearby places in the 18th and 19th centuries. Likely, they didn’t come from the South, as freedom was too far for escape. Regardless, they traveled on inconspicuous roads and paths, with little food, drink, or chance to rest.
The escaped slaves fled for many reasons, among them the harsh reprisals of slaveholders; starvation and brutality where they worked; and the need to seek out family members who were sold away from them. How they found Mrs. Spencer is also unknown: possibly through a formal network of abolitionists or through informal contacts. They waited out the hours as the buggy rocked on gutted roads, moving slowly forward then stopping when Mrs. Spencer sold her candy, keeping up the guise of normality.
Within the buggy, they were certainly cramped and hungry, whiffs of sea air filtering through the wooden buggy skin, penetrating the suffocating air. There they encountered icy loneliness: outside was a world of strangers where even the sympathetic ones could turn them in or silently let them be caught. Should the worst happen, they could be flogged, branded, imprisoned, returned to slavery, or killed.
Mrs. Spencer resisted enslavement by transporting slaves toward their freedom. The enslaved people resisted, too, by escaping. Some succeeded.
Mrs. Spencer: The Nation’s First Candy Store and Abolitionist
The fascinating and revealing story of the nation’s first candy begins in 1800 when Mrs. Mary Spencer and her son Thomas were shipwrecked in Salem, Massachusetts, after sailing over from England. As you can imagine, Mary Spencer was destitute, having lost everything she owned in the wreck. The town’s women felt bad for her, and learning she was an excellent cook, raised money to buy her a barrel of sugar. Cane sugar was expensive at that time, and women didn’t have the means to make money. It’s likely they had to raise the funds through church functions and other means.
With the sugar, Mary Spencer made what she called the “Gibraltar,” the British name for a family of confections. The ingredients—cream of tartar, sugar, lemon or peppermint flavoring, and corn starch—were standard in many sweets and medicines, and similar to an after-dinner mint. She sold the candy from a pail on the steps of the First Church in Salem.
It’s important to remember that at that time women couldn’t vote, rarely owned property, and certainly weren’t entrepreneurs. Regardless, Mary Spencer took the money from her candy and bought a horse and buggy which she used to travel from town to town selling the Gibraltar. She was so successful that, in 1806, she bought a house on Buffum Street in Salem. She lived on the second floor of the house and opened the first candy store on the ground floor. There she sold the nation’s first commercial candy – the Gibralter.
Mrs. Spencer’s success was partly due to her shop’s seaside location and the steady flow of seafaring customers: in war time, sailors and seamen; in peacetime, seamen, traders, merchants, and pirates. The Gibraltar was sturdy enough to withstand humidity from the sea and was cut and wrapped in triangular pieces that easily fit in small spaces on board, where it was carried to China, the Far East, Africa, and the East Indies. But something else was at hand.
As Mary Spencer went from town to town selling the nation’s first commercial candy, she secretly transported escaped slaves who hid in a false bottom beneath her seat. As for her son Thomas: he was a soap box abolitionist, who challenged passers-by to join the resistance movement.
When Mary Spencer died around 1828, Thomas put her body in an easily transportable cooper coffin. After running the company for a few years, he returned to England, where a large sum of money and possibly a title, awaited him. He buried his mother there. George Pepper bought the business from Thomas Spencer and his employee, George Berkinshaw, bought it from him. The Berkinshaw family still owns it today. As for the buggy: it’s housed in the Peabody Essex Museum.
“Jonathan Walker, a sea captain from Maine, was caught transporting escaped slaves to freedom in the Bahamas. He was arrested, imprisoned and branded with the letter “S.S.” on his hand which stood for slave stealer.”
Yesterday, I gave a talk at the D.G. Cooley Elementary School in Berryville, Virginia, about the history of candy with plenty of samples as we went. Skeptics, such as health professionals or parents who fastidiously limit their children’s intake of sugar, may cringe. Candy? In the classroom? Seriously? No worries – I’m on their side.
But first, a little background. Candy is uniquely qualified for teaching children. They can relate to it directly – it’s not abstract, difficult, or about grown-up achievements. It’s about something in their realm and so, about them, complete with positive associations of candy bags at birthday parties and salt water taffy on family vacations. Just as important, candy gives them a visceral learning experience that touches all their senses- they see, smell, taste, touch, and even hear the sound of candy crunching.
The best part of candy in the classroom, though, is the multi-faceted education that the young students literally consume. The early history of our nation, for example, is interwoven with cane sugar, the primary reason for slavery and a central component of the American Revolution. The stories through time are fascinating and the experience immediate: the children taste the chocolate Thomas Jefferson and John Adams ate, the candy bars the World War I soldiers relied on for health and nourishment, and the 10th century medicine used in Arabic apothecaries, now known as the Turkish Delight.
Other lessons relate to the Industrial Revolution and what it reveals about the foods we eat. Students sample the licorice root – yes, a real root – then travel through time to the licorice and the red twist. They try the cacao bean then the industrialized milk chocolate. They discover that all through history people ate what came from the ground and tree as well as the fish, birds, and livestock that lived. Today our experience of food frequently begins in the supermarket, with a range of ingredients, revealed on the all-important label. In the process, they also learn about marketing from branding to market-driven ingredients in such favorites as the Pixy Stix, which has colors and smells specially added to the actual ingredients to enhance the eating experience.
And those lessons are only the beginning! No matter what the content, though, the children leave better informed and more able to make wise decisions about the foods they love. All this in an hour or so of fun.
If you’re a teacher and want to know more about True Treats’ programs, please contact us. If you want to use candy in the classroom yourself, feel free to call or e-mail us for advice.