Frederick H. Smith

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:

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Rum is the alcoholic beverage produced by distilling fermented sugarcane juice and the waste products of sugar making. It was first produced in the Caribbean in the early to mid-17th century, though fermented varieties of sugarcane juice had been known in ancient India and China. The British island of Barbados and the French island of Martinique were the birthplaces of rum making. The British and French settlement of the Caribbean coincided with the increasing knowledge and expansion of alcohol distillation in Europe. Colonists produced rum to recreate the drinking practices they left behind in the Old World. More importantly, they drank to cope with the many anxieties they encountered on the colonial Caribbean frontier, especially boredom, epidemic diseases, a coercive labor system, and an imbalanced sex ratio. Rum quickly found markets in the periphery of the Atlantic world, especially among European colonists and enslaved peoples in the New World, Carib Indians, and seamen. Although little Caribbean rum entered European markets at the end of the 17th century, rum distilling helped supplement sugar plantation revenues. In the 18th century, British Caribbean rum makers pulled away from their French rivals. They found welcoming markets in London and British North America, which led to advances in distilling practices that helped strengthen the British Caribbean rum trade. Rum making also emerged in the New England colonies of British North America. Rum makers there distilled imported Caribbean molasses. The American Revolution, the abolition of the slave trade, slave emancipation, competition from European beet sugar industries, and the rise of whiskey drinking in the newly formed United States weakened British Caribbean rum making in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. French Caribbean rum makers, bolstered by the opening of French metropolitan and colonial markets, began to improve their rum industries. By the end of the 19th century, Martinique was the leading rum exporter, and perhaps producer, in the Caribbean. Despite early attempts at rum distilling in the Spanish Caribbean, it was not until the mid- to late 19th century that Spanish Caribbean rum making began to develop. In particular, Cuba, with its close ties to the US market, emerged as one of the largest rum makers in the Caribbean. However, the Cuban Revolution brought an end to the growing US market for Cuban rum. Cold War policies in the United States greatly benefitted rum makers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Article.  10085 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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