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How Rum Helped the U.S. Win Its Independence

Rum may was a key player in America’s revolutionary days

(Geoffrey Clements/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

American revolutionaries liked to drink. It didn’t matter too much whether they wer drinking beer, cider or wine—so long as it got them busky, biggy or fuzl’d (all terms from Benjamin Franklin’s list of more than 200 synonyms for “drunk”). But in the years leading up to the war, Rebecca Rupp writes for National Geographic's The Plate, there was one libation that reigned supreme: rum.

An offshoot of the Caribbean’s sugar trade (rum is fermented molasses), the drink quickly found its way to the American colonies. So much of it, that in 1699 a British observer commented that rum was “much ador’d by the American English” as “the Comforter of their Souls, Preserver of their Bodies, Remover of their Cares, and Promoter of their Mirth.” Some historians think around this time American men drank, on average, three pints of rum every week.

So was rum the spirit that sprung the spirit of the revolution?

At the very least, the colonists were miffed when the British taxed the ingredients for their booze under the Sugar Act of 1764. And, some speculate rum may have helped the American cause by assembling some of the Revolution’s most important figures.

Rum may have also charged up Paul Revere’s legendary 1775 ride. He “is said to have paused in Medford, Massachusetts, at the house of Isaac Hall,” Rupp reports. "His mission? Not only to warn of the approaching, British, but likely, to toss back a slug or two of rum.”

From National Geographic:

Medford, in Revere’s day, was in the midst of the American rum boom, and Hall – as well as serving patriotically as captain of the local Minutemen – owned a distillery that turned out a rum strong enough to make “a rabbit bite a bulldog.” 

The refreshment may have made Revere’s long gallop more pleasant. But thank goodness he still managed to stay on his horse. 

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