In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, England was a hub for the cocoa and chocolate trade. What does this mean for London? There was a lot of crime happening revolving around cocoa and chocolate. There is a huge collection of court documents from the Old Bailey Trial Archive which was located on the west side of London dealing with crimes of chocolate origin.
The Old Bailey Courtroom, London, England
You would think the crimes were pretty simple and very few occurred. You would be wrong. There was murder, simple grand larceny, burglary, receipt of stolen goods, shoplifting, petty larceny, highway robbery (yes, literally), assault, forgery, housebreaking, counterfeiting and fraud. People really knew the value of chocolate and cocoa! In these records found at Bailey, a total of 82 crimes by 113 different defendants were involving cocoa, cacao or chocolate. The earliest court document comes from May 31, 1693.
But still, chocolate and cocoa cases as a whole were not violent. Most of them involved some form of theft or another. Only 2 of 82 cases were considered to be of a violent nature. One of these cases was committed by someone only named as D.P. They were charged with murder. A witness says that he and D.P. had conspired on the preceding day before the murder while drinking cups of chocolate at the Bridges Street Chocolate House in Covent Garden. D.P. was convicted, but the records did not indicate what his punishment was for the crime. I’m guessing it was not no chocolate for a year.
Highway robbery happened quite frequently back then – literally. This was considered as severe a crime as murder. Dec. 6, 1721, Sir Edward Lawrence was both beaten and robbed by a Mr. Butler Fox. Fox stole the contests of Lawrence’s purse as well as six pounds of chocolate. The testimony at the trail revealed that Fox and his accomplice enjoy a cup of hot chocolate made from the stolen chocolate after the incident. I did not make that up.
Of the 113 people brought to trial for chocolate and cocoa related crimes in 82 cases, 62 percent of the defendants were convicted. People were serious about chocolate and cocoa crimes. Remember from last week, these are commodities and they were rare at the time. Sentences ran from 6 pence to 30 shillings monetarily. Other punishments for the defendants include printed apologies, branding (ouch), whipping (ouch, again) or incarceration for one to three years in either the Newgate prison or an unspecified prison location. Unbelievably, some even received the sentence of “transportation” which meant that they were deported from England to either America or Australia for between seven and fourteen years. My guess is at that point they would rather stay in America or Australia, but who am I to judge?
Would you believe that some defendants were executed for chocolate crimes? You could be executed for the following: stealing manufactured chocolate, cocoa or cocoa nuts (cocoa beans), cocoa shells (shelled cocoa beans they used to make tea with – I need to research this more because it sound like a brilliant idea!), or chocolate related manufacturing or serving equipment and utensils. Basically, don’t steal anything chocolate or it could cost you your life.
Can you imagine someone getting a death sentence for stealing a case of chocolate bars today? Things were tough back then. It just shows that envy, greed and temptation follow people wherever there’s money to be made. Cocoa beans, shells and manufactured chocolate were easy to sell. Chocolate making equipment could be taken apart and sold for parts or transported for sale elsewhere. The interesting fact is that most of these crimes were reported in court to be spur of the moment crimes committed on a whim by employees and servants. Watch your chocolate and cocoa, you just never know who is after it.