Ahoy there sailor! Here we will learn a little bit of the history behind the tasty spirit, known as rum. The history of both rum and pirates is detailed and rich. Any fan of rum will almost certainly know it was a favourite beverage for the swashbuckling scallywags, but maybe you never asked yourself why was it a favourite? It was certainly a tasty and sweet beverage, even the most modest of people could not resist.
Today, most rums are distilled from molasses. To begin with, rum was distilled from sugarcane, making a sugarcane spirit, also known as rumbullion, and later rum. Introduced in the 1500s, the Caribbean had the perfect conditions to grow sugarcane, becoming a pivotal trade commerce. By the golden age of piracy, around the 1600s and 1700s, it was the perfect drink for pirates to obtain as it was so plentiful and cheap.
Aye, me hearties, pirates drank rum because it was tasty and bountiful, but there was more to it than that. Here are interesting facts and tidbits about rum and piracy, ARR!
1. A remedy for scurvy
The classic trope of a pirate having scurvy is indeed a true one. Scurvy was a common disease amongst sailors and pirates, caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. Vegetables were scarce among ships because they went rancid far too quickly, and there wasn’t any technology at the time to store veggies on the ships.
Scurvy was a terrible disease that caused the sailors to swell in parts of their body, then lead to bleeding all over, and a searing pain in their limbs. On top of this ulcers grew on their gums causing their teeth to fall out. Lime juice was mixed with water and rum as a remedy for scurvy, in an attempt to raise vitamin C levels. No wonder Captain Jack Sparrow was always so drunk, he must have mixed used this remedy in his rum to keep his pearly whites so clean. Can’t say the same for the rest of his crew though…
2. Rum was safer to drink than water
Freshwater was an extremely difficult resource to obtain during the Golden Age of Piracy, on land, and certainly at sea. Water had to be stored in barrels and became stagnant during their voyages. Have you seen a fish tank that hasn’t been cleaned in a few weeks? The stagnant water would look like that, with green growths throughout. The water became dangerous to drink. Although when rum was added, they found the water became safer to drink. The fact that rum was so easy to obtain, pirates and sailors opted to use rum and ration out the clean water to stay hydrated. This rum and slimy water cocktail became known as grog. Yum.
3. Rum kept up the spirits of the crew
“Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!” as the famous lines in Treasure Island go. This isn’t only because it’s a fun little tune to sing, but rum was used as a morale boost.
Pirates lived a hard life, living at sea months at a time, only to spend a few days back at land. Even though their lives may have been filled with excitement and adventure, with a chance of becoming rich, it was equally filled with terrible conditions. Every day that a pirate lived there was a very high chance they may have been killed or died from any manner of things like starvation, dehydration, sickness, and danger. It can almost be guaranteed that this style of life would wear a person’s spirits down.
In order for the captain to keep up higher morale, they would allow their crew to get extra rations of rum. Rum is, as we know, an alcohol and alters the chemical balance in your brain and causes you not to care so much about anything. So having a slightly drunk crew was always better than a sober, miserable crew on the verge of mutiny!
4. Rum was used as a currency
When people think of pirates they think of dirty sea aring ne’er do wells, that pillaged, killed, drank whatever they wanted, and they would be right. Although, pirates actually had a social order or at least the ones that were actually feared on the seas. Thus, in turn, they actually traded goods with other pirates, sailors and even settlements. One of the main materials for trading was rum, they were pirates after all and probably had enough to spare.
Rum was even used as a currency here in Australia. Trade was mainly run by the controversial NSW Marine Corps, nicknamed the Rum Corp, of course! Governor William Bligh made rum trading illegal, accusing Rum Corp of corruption, and later arresting corp officer John Macarthur. By 1808, these actions led to Australia’s only military coup, known as the Rum Rebellion, which saw Governor Bligh overthrown and imprisoned. Macarthur was released promising to be on good behaviour, the trusty promise of a rum drinker, if ever there was one. Illegal Tender Rum Co.’s 1808 Barely Legal range, produced in an Australian rum distillery, is a homage to the events that took place during the Rum Rebellion, which saw Australia as a force to be reckoned with.
5. The original Captain Jack was too drunk to fight
Captain Jack is synonymous with piracy, thanks in part to the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean films, but mainly to the very real and one and only… Calico Jack! His name was representative of his clothing and personality, wearing a motley of colours and having a fiendishly flamboyant nature.
Although Calico Jack was clever, cunning and organised the mutiny of his original villainous Captain Charles Vane, he was a bit of a coward. Jack and his crew would sail around the Caribbean and mainly attack and pillage small fishing boats because they were easy prey. He wasn’t quite as noble as Jack Sparrow.
Eventually, Calico Jack’s piracy came to an end. He, among his crew, all got drunk, then in turn were captured by a pirate hunter named Jonathan Barnet. According to sources his whole crew, except two women, one of them the infamous Anne Bonny. He was eventually executed, his cowardice was condemned by Anne Bonny saying; “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”
At ease, sailor
The history of rum goes hand in hand, or rather cutlass in cutlass, with the history of pirates. Both are essential in shaping the modern world that we know today. So, next time you pour yourself a rum, remember there is a history attached, as deep and rich as the drink in your hand. Ahoy for now, but just remember there are many hundreds of thousands of stories connected to the history of your drink. Some as glorious as Black Beard himself, and others as scandalous as Captain Calico Jack.