Christopher and the chocolate factory

Here’s a riddle: what do chocolate and paper have in common? Are you thinking candy wrappers? Think bigger. Chocolate and paper helped win the Revolutionary War.

A friend introduced me to this story when he posted a newspaper clipping from the New London Gazette dated December 20, 1771: “Christopher Leffingwell Makes and sells Chocolate by the Quantity at his Shop in Norwich … Also Makes and Sells Writing, Cartridge, and Wrapping Paper as cheap as can be imported from Great Britain …” (sic)

At various times Christopher Leffingwell (1734-1810) had a paper mill, a stocking and glove factory, a nail factory, a fulling mill for wool processing, a clock factory, a dye house, a comb factory, and a grist mill near Yantic Falls in Norwich. Among all these practical enterprises, I thought the existence of a chocolate factory seemed unexpectedly whimsical. It wasn’t. It was a political statement.

Christopher was a proponent of economic independence from Great Britain, a sentiment in sync with growing American anger over British taxes. When colonists began boycotting English goods, many people switched from drinking tea to cocoa because cacao beans could be imported from the Caribbean without going through English middlemen. During the war, cocoa was also important as rations for the army because it could be shipped dry and wouldn’t spoil.

His paper mill (the first in Connecticut) was another contributing factor in the war effort because paper was used for making musket cartridges. YouTube has a video demonstrating the technique. Paper was also vital for disseminating information and influencing public opinion. New London newspaper man Timothy Green published the news of Lexington and Concord on Leffingwell stock. A year later, he printed an inflammatory political cartoon depicting British statesmen forcing tea down a recumbent America’s throat while looking up her dress.

Besides manufacturing critical products, Christopher procured supplies for the Continental Army throughout the war. For example, in February 1776, he wrote to George Washington advising him that "a quantity of Shells & Shott from N. York … have been Brot from N. London to this Town (sic)." Washington was trying to break the British siege of Boston, so these munitions were urgently needed. Christopher enumerated the quantities of shell and shot and promised to “forward the Shells first & as fast as possible.” (The Library of Congress holds this letter among its George Washington Papers.)

This arms shipment occurred shortly before the British evacuated Boston, ending an 11-month occupation. Christopher had a hand in this, too. He was one of the men who bankrolled the expedition to capture British-held Fort Ticonderoga and its store of military equipment. One of his recruits for this daring mission was a Preston man, Edward Mott. At Christopher’s request, Mott kept a detailed journal of the expedition. You can read all about it online at Internet Archives. Fifty-nine cannons captured at Ticonderoga were dragged back to Boston; the largest were mounted on the heights above the city, leaving the British no choice but to withdraw.

His efforts didn’t stop with securing arms. Christopher was a member of the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence, a confidant of Governor Jonathan Trumbull and Silas Deane, and an officer leading the local militia. In the years before Arnold burned New London, British ships periodically menaced the city from offshore. At one point, Christopher and his men were stationed briefly at Millstone in case the British mounted an attack.

Christopher died an old man after a long life fully lived. Besides his contributions to the nation and his business successes, he'd funded a bridge over the Shetucket River, given Norwich land to extend Broadway into downtown, supported the establishment of turnpikes and lighthouses, and served in many civic positions. He lived near Leffingwell Place in the house where his father and grandfather had operated a tavern. Today, if you tour this 344-year-old inn (now known as the Leffingwell House Museum), you’ll be walking in a great man’s footsteps.

 

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