Northshore Magazine

November 2014

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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Page 209 of 259

208 The Salem Carnes and his crew left behind was already a thriving port town. With nearly 8,000 residents, it was the seventh biggest city in the United States. The soil wasn't suited for agriculture at any scale, and no major rivers or railroads connected the town to inland communi- ties, so Salem had long made its living from the sea, says Karen Scalia, owner of Salem Food Tours. "They had a spirit of entrepreneurialism," she says. During the Revolutionary War, sailors from Salem had acted as privateers, at- tacking and plundering British merchant ships. The country's first millionaire, Elias Derby, earned his fortune in just this fashion. When the war ended, the priva- teering ships needed to be put to new use, so enterprising captains set their sights across the sea, sailing to India, Europe, and China to trade in goods such as sugar, silk, porcelain, hemp, and wine. "By 1884 and 1885, we were trading all over the world," says local history expert Jim McAllister. It was on one of these voyages that Car- nes first heard of Sumatran villages with copious pepper crops and no existing trade with the West. The Dutch and English had developed very lucrative markets in spices such as nutmeg and cloves, but no one yet had a hold on the pepper trade. Pepper was available in ports already visited by western sailors, but it was sold through middlemen, increasing prices and lowering profits. So, while traveling the Indian Ocean in the late 1780s, Carnes took note when he first heard rumors of villages along the coast of Sumatra—now part of Indone- sia—where pepper could be acquired directly from the growers. He visited the ports of Bencoolen and Padang and gath- ered as much detail as he could about the pepper-rich villages to the north. He may even have filled his hold with the spice on that first trip to Sumatra, but his ship was lost in the West Indies, it is believed, on the voyage home. Spicy History In the 18th century, pepper was a hot commodity and sea captains sought out its intense flavor around the globe.

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