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1696 Danckerts Map of Florida,the West Indies and the Caribbean
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Mr. Marco Pierini is from Tuscany, Italy. He has had a real passion for history and a few years ago he discovered rum. He is now "Got Rum?" Rum Historian.
RUM AMONG THREE EMPIRES
In the second half of the XVII century, when rum starts its triumphal march, three great colonial Empires divide up most of the Caribbean.
The Spanish Empire still dominates the main islands, Cuba, Portorico, part of Santo Domingo. The French Empire keeps Martinique, other smaller islands and part of Santo Domingo (now Haiti) under its tight control. The English Empire has long occupied Barbados and other smaller islands, and in 1655 it succeeds in wrestling the great island of Jamaica from the Spanish.
Sugarcane was grown everywhere, therefore rum could be produced everywhere. But the choices of the three European countries were completely different.
In this article we are going to look at the relationship between the three empires and rum in the century in-between the emergence of rum in Barbados and Martinique, around 1650 and 1756.
Let us start from the oldest, the Spanish Empire: Spain was a major producer of wine and brandy. A significant part of this production was exported to the Spanish colonies in America and to Northern European countries, among them England. The Spanish producers of wine and brandy saw rum as a threat to their interests and got the government to discourage the production of alcoholic beverages in the colonies with all the means at its disposal.
Bans on growing grapes, bans on the sale of alcoholic beverages to the natives, prohibition to sell local alcoholic beverages in the towns, and so on.
Over time, a long succession of laws were introduced, which forbade distillation, with the most brutal punishments. These laws were not always fully enforced (through and through), but surely they negatively affected the development of rum production. To this we must add the decline of sugar production, which has not yet been fully explained by historians, and a dimished fondness of Spanish people for strong distilled beverages. As a result, rum production in the Spanish colonies was, for a long time, limited and of low quality.
France too was a great producer and exporter of wine and brandy. French producers too feared the competition of rum. But the choice of the French government was totally different. Rum production was never banned. What was banned, instead, was the export of rum to France. It was allowed, though, to export rum to Canada, then a French colony, to Africa, where it was traded off for slaves, and to all foreign countries. In particular, great quantities of rum and molasses were exported, indeed of ten smuggled, into the thirteen colonies of North America.
Moreover, in the French colonies sugar production was thriving and the French were fonder of strong liquers than were the Spanish. Therefore, rum production in the French colonies of the Caribbean was always significant and of relatively good quality.
England did not produce wine or brandy. On the other hand, English people drank heavily, they had always done. They imported wine and brandy mainly from France and Spain. And they paid good money for them. It was a constant flow of wealth which left the English shores to boost the coffers of its most dangerous enemies. Therefore England, or better, by now the British Empire, dealt with the new beverage in an entirely different way.
Instead of forbidding or limiting the production and exports of rum, the British Empire promoted it in all possible ways, trying to substitute rum for imported wine and brandy.
It was not an easy undertaking and it took time, and certainly it was not pain- free for the health of many British subjects.
But it was successful. The British Empire quickly became the most important producer and consumer of rum. And rum was considered something typically British. More on that later.
-This article was written by Mr. Marco Pierini, The Rum Historian for "Got Rum?" magazine-