— The Story of Rum —
...Is the story of the New World. On his second journey in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the first sugar cane to the Caribbean. Cane was grown to meet the burgeoning demand for sugar in Europe. Sugar, and eventually rum, would figure dramatically in the trade between the old world and the new....
Sugar and the sugar economy of the West Indies would ruin men and make men rich, would send governments to war, foster privateering and piracy, and would give rise to the infamous Triangular Trade, so called because of the shape of the three legs of the journey. The first was from Europe to Africa where goods were exchanged for slaves. The second, or the ‘middle passage’ was the transportation of slaves to the Americas. The third and final leg of the journey was the transport of goods – sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton – from the Americas back to Europe. It was, arguably, the engine that drove the world economy at that time.
The by-product of refining the cane into sugar is molasses, and it was the distillation of the molasses that gave the world rum beginning in the 16 th century. Dark, treacly brown molasses mixed with water was fermented into a crude liqueur, and finally distilled into a unique spirit that still retains its mystery and romance.
The romance of rum was no mystery to the “founders” of Bermuda. In 1609, Sir George Somers, on his way to rescue the withering colony at Jamestown, came dramatically aground on the deserted islands of Bermuda. All survived and many took solace in a dram of celebratory rum, or as it was recorded “comfortable waters”. Three years later the good ship, Plough, arrived with Bermuda’s first true settlers.
In its raw and more potent state the drink first became known as Kill Devil. Seventeenth century detractors described rum as a “hot, hellish and terrible liquor”. It was said that the drink could “light ablaze” and “provoke rumbustious behavior”. No wonder it was soon known as rumbullion. From there it was but a short leap to – Rum.
For the seafarer rum, less inclined to spoil than fresh water and sturdier than beer, became the drink of choice. Rum was the drink of Buccaneers and “old salts”, and eventually the official drink of the British Royal Navy. Every ship’s purser would dole out a daily “tot”, an eighth of a pint, for each Tar (as the shipmen were known). Purser’s, in seaman’s jargon, was reduced to Pusser, just as Boat Swain became Bosun. Today, Pusser’s rum is said to emulate the style of rum served on deck.