The original claim to fame
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In 1806, the shop’s founder, Mary Spencer, and her young son were stranded in Salem when their ship from England wrecked en route to Marblehead, Massachusetts. It soon became known that the now-destitute Mrs. Spencer had been a confectioner in England, known for making Gibraltars, a sugar paste candy. Locals pitched in to buy her a barrel of sugar — a costly commodity at the time — to make her confections. She soon set up shop, selling the candies on the steps of the First Church and then, later, by wagon around town.
In 1835 Spencer’s son sold the business to George Pepper, who added the more masculine Black Jack molasses candy to the lineup. The Burkinshaw family purchased the company in the early 20th century, and the fourth generation of the family continues to run the shop today, making candies from original molds and recipes.
Shops like Pepper’s remained unusual in American culture until the mid-19th century, when mechanization made bulk candy manufacturing possible. Up until then, most confections were made at home and, with the exception of caramel, bore little resemblance to what we now call “candy.”