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April 13: A Candle-Making Monopoly, 1763

April 12, 2015

20120521-Whaling Pesche_De_La_Baleine_GarnerayFour Jews — Aaron Lopez, Naphthali Hart, Jacob Rodriguez Rivera, and Moses Lopez — were among the ten signatories to the Spermaceti Candle-Making Agreement signed in Newport, Rhode Island on this date in 1763 (a revision of an agreement signed nearly two years earlier). The agreement bound candle manufacturers to pay a maximum price per ton of sperm whale head matter, and to “use all fair and honorable means” to prevent new rivals from entering the candle manufacturing business. Most feared and most targeted were whalers themselves, whom the cartel tried to prevent from acquiring the large iron screw presses needed to squeeze the oil out of the raw, crystalline spermaceti. The group endured for some twelve years, at which time there were twenty-four signatories to the agreement. Aaron Lopez (1731–1782), born Duarte Lopez, was a converso from Portugal who became the wealthiest person in Newport and left extensive documentation of his business life — which extended to the human slave trade.

“The art of manufacturing candles from the headmatter of sperm whales began in America around 1748. It is generally agreed that Jacob Rodriques Rivera, a Sephardic Jew living in Newport, Rhode Island, introduced the process after immigrating either directly or indirectly from Portugal.” —Nantucket Historical Association