Rum in the Army
I previously wrote abut how rum conquered the British market in the XVIII century, one of the biggest and successful marketing campaigns of known History: the work of the Sugar and Rum Lobby, the help arrived by Science and Fashion and the role of the Royal Navy. Now I want to write about the diffusion of rum in the Army.
Traditionally, English soldiers had beer and sometimes wine, as customary ration. The Army did not have the same problem as the Navy: to maintain water and beer drinkable during the large oceanic travels, so it did not need to introduce spirits as soon as possible.
Large distribution of rum to the soldiers began around the middle of the XVIII century in the West Indies and North America, and grew up rapidly along the century. Yet during the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763) rum was distributed only in special occasions, for instance when men had to deal with bad weather and/or hard fatigue, but it was not a daily allowance. Only during the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783), we know about a regular allowance of rum: a gill daily, that sums up to a gallon per month.
But in America, rum was cheap and easy to buy in large quantities. Sutlers (licensed or unlicensed), soldiers’ wives, planters, and often the officers themselves sold cheap rum. And soldiers bought and drank it in huge quantities. Such quantities that probably they spent most of the time in a state of inebriation.
Soldiers’ lives were both brutal and boring. Fatal diseases scourged them. Short periods of battle with fatigue and blood, were succeeded by long time of emptiness and idleness. Getting drunk was often the only escape available. But drunkenness worsened the already poor health of the soldiers, with hard outcomes on the efficiency of the Army. It also undermined discipline and stressed the relations with civilians, with discontent, floggings and court-martials. Many officers and military surgeons were well aware of the danger of this situation, but they were not able to stop it.
Soldiers wanted to drink. To distribute rum was the easiest and cheapest way to have their allegiance and diligence. To either cut or limit the rum could bring troubles and also open mutiny. Then, alcohol had deep roots in military culture. Medicine was also ambivalent: many doctors condemned the abuse of alcohol, but others thought it useful to preserve men’s health in both cold and hot weather. Last, when out of duty, troops usually did not live in military barracks, but were billeted in taverns and civilians’ houses where control was impossible and rum easily available.
So, drunkenness went on in the British Army well into the XIX Century.
But, what kind of rum did they drink? To get the answer to this question, you will have to wait until the next issue.
-This article is written by Marco Pierini-
My name is Marco Pierini. I own and run a small tourist business in my seaside town in Tuscany, Italy. With my partner Francesco Rufini we founded La Casa del Rum (The House of Rum) that runs a beach bar, distributes Premium Rums and organizes rum seminars and events.
Many years ago, I got a degree in Philosophy in Florence, Italy, and I studied Political Science in Madrid,Spain. But my real passion has always been History and through History I have always tried to know the world, and men.
Then, I discovered rum and I decided to make a profession of it. I realized Rum has a long, terrible and fascinating history, made of planters and slaves, sailors and pirates, imperial fleets and revolutions. Yet, a History still largely unknown. So I decided to join my lifelong passion, History, to my current job, rum, by writing about the History of Rum.
And here I am.