Organizers are adding something sweet and decadent to the mix of festivities this year during the 19th annual Siege of Fort Watauga.
This yearly event at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton will feature demonstrations by Rodney Snyder, chocolate history research director for Mars Chocolate North America.
“Although chocolate was a luxury item in Europe, it was very affordable and accessible throughout North America,” Snyder said. “Chocolate was not considered expensive, and churches in Philadelphia and New York would give out chocolate to the poor. Much as every household today has a coffee pot, every household had a chocolate pot in Colonial America. Depending on the social standing of the household, the pots were made of clay, porcelain, tin, copper or silver.”
Snyder will use chocolate’s enticing flavor and aroma to educate people about its fascinating journey throughout human history and culture.
Surprisingly, European colonists in North America had more access to chocolate than their counterparts in the Old World.
Snyder has been researching cocoa and chocolate at Mars Chocolate since 1986.
“I found chocolate history to be extremely fascinating,” he said. “Over the years, I have amassed a chocolate book collection of over 600 titles dating back to 1693, which provide a timeline of chocolate knowledge and developments over the past 300 years.”
In 2003, Mars Chocolate initiated a project investigating the history of chocolate.
“I was able to apply my knowledge to the efforts,” Snyder said.
To help educate the public about the history of the Americas, Snyder guided the development of American Heritage Chocolate, a historic chocolate based on recipes from Colonial America, which allows people to taste and experience chocolate as it was enjoyed by our founding fathers. Snyder has demonstrated and lectured about the history of American chocolate making at historic venues such as Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello, the Smithsonian’s American History and National Museum of the American Indian, the National Archives, and the Old North Church in Boston.
Snyder will be at Sycamore Shoals during the annual Siege event to make chocolate like it was made during the colonial period. Visitors will see him toast and crush the cacao beans to produce the chocolate.
Attendees will be able to sample the chocolate as well as purchase chocolate items.
“We are excited that representatives from the Historic Division of MARS/American Heritage Chocolate will be with us to demonstrate the making of chocolate along with sharing the many unique stories of chocolate during the 18th century,” said Jennifer Bauer, superintendent of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.
Bauer said that attendees will also have the opportunity to sample their historic recipes and purchase chocolate in blocks, sticks and drink mixes.|
“Chocolate was a unique drink at the time,” Bauer said. “This is a very unique opportunity to see the process of how chocolate was made at the time.”
Snyder noted that for 3,000 years, chocolate was exclusively a beverage.
“The recipes were formulated to produce an enticing drink,” he said. “The technology to produce a chocolate that could be eaten as a solid chocolate and melt in the mouth would not be discovered until 1879. If Andrew Jackson was offered a piece of chocolate today, he would expect to make a drink out of it.”
In fact, Snyder has visited Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, in Nashville for a special program.
“American Heritage Chocolate participated in a chocolate program at The Hermitage last November,” he said. “It was titled ‘Chocolate, A Uniquely American Food,’ and it highlighted how chocolate was enjoyed by Andrew Jackson as a soldier, shopkeeper and as president.”
The focus of the annual Siege would have interested Jackson, who earned fame early in life as an Indian fighter.
The Siege will, as always, offer a demonstration of daily life, as well as a re-enactment of a Cherokee attack on the settlers of the Watauga Valley. Cherokee War Chief Old Abram and his 300 warriors attacked and laid siege to 200 settlers in Fort Watauga for two weeks in 1776.
This year’s Siege will take place on Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, May 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The re-enactment will take place at 1 p.m. both days and will be staged by 150 re-enactors representing British forces, natives and colonial settlers living around Fort Watauga at the time of the siege.
Of course, Snyder will be presenting his informative program on the history of chocolate on the frontier.
He has enjoyed turning his passion into a career.
“I joined Mars Chocolate in 1986 with a degree in agricultural engineering from Pennsylvania State University and have spent my entire career researching cocoa and chocolate,” he said.
Snyder said the supply chain of cocoa beans to the chocolate manufacturer, as well as the process of converting cocoa beans to chocolate, is incredibly complex.
“Chocolate production has evolved from an art to a science,” Snyder said. “Chocolate changed its form starting in 1879 when the equipment to produce modern-day chocolate was invented. This allowed chocolate to change from primarily a beverage to a candy and confection that could be enjoyed throughout the day in many convenient formats. By the beginning of the 1900s, the popularity of eating chocolates had surpassed drinking chocolates.”
Snyder is the author of “From Stone Metates to Steel Mills: The Evolution of Chocolate Manufacture,” which is part of the chocolate history book, Chocolate: Culture, Heritage and History.
He is married to Maria V. Snyder, who incorporated cocoa and chocolate topics into her science fantasy novel Poison Study.
To learn more on the history of chocolate, circle the dates of the Siege of Fort Watauga on your calendar and be sure to attend Snyder’s programs.
Bauer encourages the entire family to turn out for this event to see how ancestors living on the frontier played a crucial role in the region’s history and in the formation of the nation.
“Hear the rattle of muskets, smell the campfire smoke and see the 18th century come to life at the Siege of Fort Watauga,” Bauer said.
Even better, enjoy all that by indulging a sweet tooth at the same time.
This event is sponsored by The Washington County Regiment of North For more information, call the park at 543-5808 or visit www.sycamoreshoalstn.org.