By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director
In my last blog post, I described my search for historical traces of chocolate in lower Manhattan. In a relatively short time, chocolate traveled from its South and Central American origins to Europe and later into North American settlements. Though the early Dutch colony of New Amsterdam rose and fell well before chocolate became a permanent fixture, by the early 1700s New York’s port was an important link in cocoa trade. Among those merchant families importing beans, the first glimpse of cocoa processing can be found on the island. By the end of the American Revolution and the turn of the 19th century, the city grew northward and chocolate had gained popularity, with several chocolate makers setting up shop.
One might think that researching this topic is as easy as entering “New York,” “chocolate,” and “history” into a search engine. Surprisingly, those yield scant results and even less clues to work with. A few books pointed me in the right direction—some names and places—but I soon realized I was drifting into relatively uncharted territory. I eventually found that the best way to crack the cases of these mysterious chocolate-makers was to begin with surviving city directories whose listings often provide a name, an address and most importantly, an occupation. The first of these directories in New York was published in 1786, with increasing regularity in years to follow. From there, genealogy records, newspapers, civil documents and maps added more life to the stories. Most often, the labyrinth comes to an abrupt halt; I may come across a name and an address, but all other details remain a casualty of history.
Read on to discover how Chef Michael unearthed clues to NYC's chocolatey history.