Trade Goods > Rum
Rum is a type of alcohol that is made from sugarcane and its associated products such as molasses. Through the processes of fermentation and distillation a clear liquid is produced that is then aged in oak barrels. Most of the rum of the world both during the Golden Age of Piracy and the present day is produced in the Caribbean and Latin America. Although it is produced elsewhere now, the history of the product is steeped in the West Indies.
Rum was famous not only among pirates but among the Royal Navy and the Spanish as well. In the Golden Age of Piracy the trade and exchange of rum was almost as valuable as coined money and it was one of the major products on the Trans-Atlantic Triangular Trade route. It was so important to sailors because it provided a way for them to have fresh drinking water as the alcohol would kill all the bacteria.
The pirates created a concoction called bumbo out of rum while the Royal Navy made grog out of it by mixing rum with Beer or water. The Spanish called rum, ron viejo or "old rum", and ron añejo or "aged rum".
OriginsThe precursors to rum date back to antiquity. Development of fermented drinks produced from sugarcane juice is believed to have first occurred either in ancient India or in China, and to have spread from there. An example of such an early drink is brum. Produced by the Malay people, brum dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo also recorded a 14th-century account of a "very good wine of sugar" that was offered to him in the area that became modern-day Iran.
The first distillation of rum in the West Indies occurred on the massive sugarcane plantations that developed during the 17th century. It is believed that this happened on the British island of Barbados where slaves working on a plantation discovered that molasses could be fermented into alcohol. Later the colonists realized that by distilling this product they could remove the impurities and create a smooth alcohol. The earliest mentions of rum in the historical record are from a 1651 document from Barbados that states;
"The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor."
Rum was also found in a tin bottle found on the Swedish warship named the Vasa that sunk in 1628. As soon as rum developed however, its popularity surged across the New World. In 1664 the first rum distillery was set up in the Province of New York on Staten Island in order to meet the colonists growing demand for the product. Another distillery developed in Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay three years later in 1667.
Rum in fact would become the single largest export and the most prosperous industries of the New England. Eventually the success of the product spread to all the other colonies and it would become one of the major exports from British North America back to Europe. In order to support this massive consumer demand for rum along with the growing demand for sugar meant that more plantations had to be developed and more slaves imported to work them. This helped established the Trans-Atlantic Triangular Trade which saw the movement of manufactured goods such as guns, luxury goods, cloth, beer and iron be exported from Europe to West Africa where they were traded with local kingdoms and tribes for slaves that would be sent to the New World. From West Africa luxury goods such as gold, ivory, spices and hardwoods would all be brought back to Europe.
The slaves from West Africa were then brought to the Caribbean and British North America where they were sold at various slave markets. Ships would then pick up products such as sugarcane and its products such as sugar, molasses and rum and head up to either British North America or back to Europe. If they headed to British North America merchants could also pick up goods such as whale oil, furs and hides along with natural resources such as lumbar, indigo, tobacco, silk and rice before heading back to Europe to sell everything at a massive profit. Goods would also go from North America to West Africa such as rum, iron, gunpowder, cloth and tools.
The sugar trade was so important to the imperial structure that the Sugar Act of 1764 may have been responsible for initiating the American Revolution. Rum was popular all throughout the American Revolution as well as George Washington requested a barrel of rum from Barbados at his first inauguration in 1789. However, over time with bans on British rum imports and the rise of American whiskey the popularity of rum has waned since its heyday during the Golden Age of Piracy.