Introduction The Chocolate The Village The People Resouces

 


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JOHN HANNON
Hannon's Best Chocolate (1765-1779)



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Ownership of Baker's Chocolate
Introduction
John Hannon

Sidney Williams

Henry Pierce
Corporate Owners
Wrapper from Hannon's Best Chocolate made by John Hannon, ca. 1765-1779
Courtesy of the Milton Historical Society

 

Legend has it that in late 1764 a young, out-of-work, Irish immigrant named John Hannon approached local mill owners James Boies, Edward Wentworth, and Henry Stone with a proposal to start a new business venture. If he could use part of their Milton saw mill for water power he would be able to set up a small chocolate-making enterprise. Hannon learned the technique of making chocolate in London, and with a little help he felt he could develop a successful business in Dorchester and Milton. James Baker saw the potential in this business opportunity and apparently helped John Hannon get started. On March 8, 1765, John Hannon, financed by Baker, began producing one of the first North American-made chocolate products using water power.

Three years later John Hannon moved from Dorchester to nearby Boston after Boise, Wentworth and Stone sold their saw mill. He talked Edward Preston into installing some chocolate-making equipment for him in his fulling mill. Preston agreed and began making small batches of chocolate that Hannon probably sold while in Boston.


Invoice text reads,
James Baker junr. to John Hannon Jr
To Chocolate at sundry Times from Decr. 24th 1772
to June the 11th 1773 Ground for him 895 ½ # [pounds]
Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society

It is not known what type of business relationship John Hannon and James Baker had, but they at least worked for each other from time to time. In 1772 Baker ground chocolate for Hannon, and when Hannon moved back to Dorchester he made at least one delivery of chocolate on Baker’s behalf in 1774.

Hannon moved to another of James Boise’s mills in 1775 and took on Nathaniel Blake as an apprentice, after Edward Preston’s mill burned down. It appears that business was going well for Hannon in 1777, based on surviving advertisements from that year.

Tales differ on what happened to John Hannon in 1779. In one version, he sails to the West Indies to buy cacao beans; another story suggests that he took a ship to England to escape his unhappy marriage. In either case, Hannon apparently perished at sea. No one knows what really happened to him, and he was never heard from again in Dorchester.

Hannon’s widow, Elizabeth, attempted to continue her husband’s chocolate trade with Nathaniel Blake, but with no success. Some accounts claim that Elizabeth’s difficult disposition drove away Blake, just as it drove Hannon from his home. Blake made chocolate with James Baker in Daniel Vose’s paper mill until 1780, when Baker bought out John Hannon’s widow, took over full ownership of the business, and produced the first known chocolate branded as “Baker’s.”