Notes on Rum from the Book Sugar: The World Corrupted
February 05, 2022
I recently read the book Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz [amazon][bookshop]. This book compares sugar production and consumption patterns specifically looking at the place of sugar in England as it grew from a luxury item to an everyday necessity. The book is academic and not an easy read, and eventually makes some points about the place of sugar as a tool for increased productivity under capitalism. But along the way it has great facts and statistics that I've referred to several times.
Many people consider it a very important and useful reference, as do I. But the book was written in the 1980s and really feels like it.
I then discovered a more recent book (2018) on sugar, Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity by James Walvin. [amazon][bookshop] It is organized by themes in each chapter - slavery, partnering with tea/coffee, American history, sodas, obesity, etc. Having recently read other books on soda and sugar, I mostly read the chapters on slavery and on rum.
The notes below are just some things I noted from the chapter "Rum Makes Its Mark."
- Until rum became a valuable export commodity, many planters were happy to allow slaves to use the residue from sugar manufacturer to make their own alcoholic drinks.
- Heavy rum drinking in Barbados led to “dry belly-ache” caused by lead poisoning, but this was only discovered in 1745.
- By the end of the 1600s most rum from Barbados was sold to New England.
- In the 1770s between 15 and 20 percent of income from sugar plantations came from selling rum.
- A lot of rum was sold to Africa in exchange for slaves. In 1680, a merchant from Barbados discovered that rum sold better than brandy on parts of the African coast; afterward rum sales increased.
- On Jamaica, “In towns throughout the slave societies, rum shops (often run by freed slaves, by people of color, and most notably, by women) were common. Tum was a prominent item for sale over the counter bye slaves with an entrepreneurial bent." I wonder if this is the historical origins of rum shops on all the Caribbean islands.
Some of this information bleeds into what I'm learning in my next book: Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History by Prof. Frederick H. Smith [amazon][bookshop]. It was recommended by a couple of smart rum nerds. I'm only about 30 pages into the book and it's great! It is covering the consumption of rum by the enslaved people who made it, and has information on the pre-distilled sugar cane beverages of the Caribbean.
I'll probably do another blog post on what I learned from that book when I finish it.
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