The photograph above is of the historic Morgan Lewis sugar mill, built in the early 1700s on the island of Barbados. It is one of only two intact sugar mills remaining in the Caribbean. As noted in the history of sugar (Jan. 21 post), with the rise of coffee, tea, and chocolate in Europe, the demand for sugar led to an explosive expansion of the sugar trade. Sugar plantations spread like wildfire through the French, Spanish, Dutch, and English colonies in the Caribbean (or West Indies, as they were then known), as well as in South America, especially Portuguese Brazil.
As always in history, the rise of one thing led to the rise of something else. Processing sugar leaves byproducts, most notably molasses, and what better thing to create from molasses than some form of alcohol (the only thing that remained more in demand than coffee and tea)? Distillers were close on the heels of the growers, and the colonies of the West Indies were soon cranking out copious amounts of a new beverage made from molasses. And so rum was born out of the sugar trade. However, rum was more than just a nice way for a Caribbean pirate to blind himself at the end of a successful day of pillaging. For a few hundred years, it became a surprisingly important part of international economics, politics, and events. Continue reading