HISTORY OF NATIONAL RUM DAY
Rum’s early history runs parallel with that of the Americas and some would say few liquors have had a bigger impact on the new world. While some form of rum has been distilled since the third century BCE, it wasn’t until 17th century colonizers began growing sugarcane in the Caribbean that rum’s popularity exploded. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar production and rather than let this excess go to waste they distilled it into booze (good call).
Initially called “kill devil” for its high alcohol content and less than savory taste, the process of fermenting and distilling molasses became steadily more sophisticated and the spirit significantly more enjoyable. The etymology of the word “rum” is still open for debate but among the most agreed upon theories is that it is derived from the terms rumbuillion or rumbustion — both meaning an upheaval — but eventually shortened to rum.
Rum production quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and beyond, to islands such as Bermuda, Nevis, and Jamaica, becoming one of the most popular spirits and even being used as currency. Rum became so popular in colonial America that it eventually contributed to 80% of the exports from New England and a tax on sugar in the 1760s led directly to the American Revolution.
However, not all of rum’s history is so rosy. Like many of the labor-intensive industries of the early American economies, the sugarcane and thus the rum trade was based on slave labor and the spirit’s popularity contributed to the slave trade that existed in America until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.