Changing Perspectives

Staff have been really busy working on our new Interpretive Guide which will include a fantastic new layout.  We are also going to include some great content on the 20th century perspective that was such a huge influence on the way they did the Reconstruction.  Sometimes we forget that “History” is not made of unchanging facts and certainties.  History is our PERSPECTIVE of what happened before! 

While thinking about how we can talk about this evolution with visitors, I stumbled onto this amazing timeline by Colonial Williamsburg’s Costume Design Center, which celebrated their 75th anniversary last year!  They have developed this website feature that goes through their program and the changes that have happened since they started in 1934. 

http://www.history.org/history/clothing/designcenter/timeline/

It includes some fantastic images you can click to enlarge, and really highlights how our knowledge and accuracy has improved since we started interpreting historic sites like Pennsbury!  Enjoy!

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September Collections Featurette

 

Pewter Chocolate Pot

by Rebecca Remmey

 Date of Origin: reproduction, original circa 1708

Description: Reproduction of a silver chocolate pot made by John Wisdom in London of English Silver and currently owned by Williamsburg.  Has lidded spout and hinged finial.

William Penn’s time in Pennsylvania occurred during the height of drinking chocolate’s popularity. As a member of the upper-class and the governor of Pennsylvania, Penn was not only able to enjoy this fashionable new beverage; he would have been expected to do so. His preference for drinking chocolate and his strong desire to obtain it while he was in Pennsylvania, where it was even more rare than in London, is shown in a letter he wrote in August of 1700 to his associate Logan asking for him to send chocolate to Pennsbury “by all means, if to be had”.

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree, which have naturally bitter taste. The general method of preparing them for consumption began with them being dried, peeled, and slowly heated, usually using some sort of iron plate. Next, an iron roller would be used to sweeten the cacao by mixing in things like sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ambergris or musk to be made into small cakes. Drinking chocolate could be made from these cakes by scraping off flakes and mixing them with a liquid such as milk or mulled wine. Eggs would then be mixed in with the liquid and stirred with the mill (a wooden stick with multiple notches around one end) to thicken the drink. Other commonly added ingredients were honey, salt, and flour. Flour served to take up some of the fat from the thickening of the liquid in order to make the beverage easier to digest. The resulting chocolate drink would have been richer than modern day hot chocolate because it contained the full measure of the bean’s cocoa butter. The type of pot which contained drinking chocolate was generally practical in form with straight sides, a domed cover, and an opening to insert the molinet (a wooden stick used to stir and mix the thick drink).

The cacao tree is generally thought to have originated from the Amazon in South America and spread to the surrounding regions by man. The earliest evidence of the beans use for consumption is from as early as 1100 B.C.E. with cacao residue found on pottery in Honduras. However, it wasn’t until Cortez conquered the Aztecs in the early sixteenth century that chocolate was discovered by the Spanish, who then brought it to Europe.

Production and distribution of chocolate did not emerge in England until after 1655, when the British capture of Jamaica and its cacao plantations made the cacao beans available for trade. Once there, the popularity of chocolate exploded with the first chocolate houses appearing just two years later in 1657. Chocolate, along with coffee and tea, brought caffeine to Europeans for the first time, creating an entirely new type of beverages which were non-alcoholic and served to stimulate the mind and body. Due to the fact that the beans could not be grown locally and had to be imported from far away, chocolate was extremely expensive: when the first chocolate house opened in 1657 its price per pound would today have been somewhere between 50 and 75 USD. This meant that chocolate was a luxury reserved for the upper class until the invention of the steam engine in the late eighteenth century enabled its mass shipment across the continents. It continued to find favor with consumers, establishing itself as the favored morning beverage of the elite to be enjoyed daily with breakfast. Drinking chocolate reached was at the height of its popularity during the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, but had largely been discarded in favor of tea by the end of the next fifty or so years.

For Further Reading:

Bensen, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian Magazine. March 01, 2008. Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian.com.
http://www.smisonianmag.com/arts-culture/brief-history-of-chocolate.html.

Cavicchi, Clare Lise. Pennsbury Manor Furnishing Plan.

Davis, John D. English Silver at Williamsburg. 1976.

Phillips, Phoebe. The Collectors’ Encyclopedia of Antiques. New York: Bonanza Books and Crown Publishers, Inc., 1978.

Thirsk, Joan. Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760. New York: Continuum Books, 2007.

Wilson, C. Anne. Food & Drink in Britain. Constable London.