Chronology of Rum, Rhum Agricoles and Cachaça

The history of sugar cane, rum, rhum agricole and cachaça is closely interwoven and offers exciting insights into world history. We have compiled the facts that are important for a better understanding of the spirits.

This is the first part of our series of articles dealing with rum, rhum agricole and cachaça:

Part 1: Chronology of Rum, Rhum Agricoles and Cachaça
Part 2: Cachaça
Part 3: Rhum Agricole
Part 4: Theatrum Botanicum – Sugar cane.
Part 5: Sugar cane processing in Antigua in 1823
Teil 6: Rum

Sugar cane, the basis for rum, rhum and cachaça, has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for a long time, in Morocco from 700, in Spain from 750, in Malta from 900, in Sicily from 960, finally in Madeira from 1425 and in the Canary Islands from 1480. [44] It is therefore not surprising that in the 14th century Genoese merchants began to produce a domestic spirit from sugar cane in order to avoid the high import costs of arrack. They also called their product Arrak or Acqua Vitae. [1] [39a]

Christopher Columbus, posthumous portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo from 1519.
Christopher Columbus, posthumous portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo from 1519. [27]

After Christopher Columbus had discovered numerous islands in the Caribbean in 1492, he took sugar cane shoots from the Canary Islands with him on his second expedition in 1493. In 1494 , it was reported from Santo Domingo that the small amount of sugar cane planted on Hispaniola was thriving. However, a sugar economy could not be established due to the unstable population situation. This did not come about until around 1510. More precise details cannot be given with certainty. Some sources say that a certain Aguilón produced the first sugar around 1505. This is contradicted by other statements, according to which the first person to plant sugar cane on the island was Pedro de Atienza, and the first person to produce sugar from this cane was Miguel Ballester. According to other statements, the first sugar was produced by Gonzalo de Velosa. These inconsistencies are due to the fact that several successive or co-existing production methods and techniques existed and were confused. If one takes into account whether the sugar was produced by oneself or by outside labour and with what technical aids, and whether it was intended for one’s own use or for the market, these inconsistencies dissolve. There was no significant sugar production until 1515, when rotating rollers were used to process the sugar cane. [2]

Illustration of sugar production, plate 2 from Girolamo Benzoni's book "Americae Das Fünffte Buch" published in 1595.
Illustration of sugar production, plate 2 from Girolamo Benzoni’s book “Americae Das Fünffte Buch” published in 1595. [33]

Sugar cane is also cultivated on the other islands from this period onwards. For example, sugar cane came to Cuba in 1511, and there is evidence of sugar production in Jamaica in 1527. [3]

Martim Affonso de Sousa, from Pero Lopes de Sousas report "Diario da navegação da armada que foi á terra do Brasil - em 1530 -s sob a capitania-mor de Martim Affonso de Souza", Lisbon 1839.
Martim Affonso de Sousa, from Pero Lopes de Sousas report “Diario da navegação da armada que foi á terra do Brasil – em 1530 -s sob a capitania-mor de Martim Affonso de Souza”, Lisbon 1839. [28]

Sugar cane was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese as early as 1504 or 1505. [39c] In Brazil, a Portuguese admiral allegedly had sugar produced as early as around 1520; the sugar mentioned in the Lisbon customs register in 1520 and 1526 may have come from this production site. Martim Alfonso de Sousa founded São Vicente in 1532 as the first permanent Portuguese settlement in America [4] and had three sugar mills built. He also had copper stills installed to distil a sugar cane spirit (Aguardente de Caña) from sugar cane wine (Garapa Azeda). [1] [3] [39b] Sugar cultivation was intensified from 1534 under Duarte Coelho Pereira. [3] [5]

Punishment of the slaves, plate 3 from Girolamo Benzoni's book "Americae The Fifth Book" published in 1595.
Punishment of the slaves, plate 3 from Girolamo Benzoni’s book “Americae The Fifth Book” published in 1595. [33]

Part of the history of rum is also the use of slaves. As an example of this, Bartolomé de Las Casas should be mentioned. He was one of the earliest defenders of the human rights of the Indians and preached against their enslavement. His works include the earliest denunciations of the genocide of Native Americans, which he witnessed as an eyewitness. He used his position at the Spanish court and in the Catholic Church to advocate for Native rights. Although new laws were passed by the Spanish king at his instigation, they could not be enforced. It was also due to his influence that the papal bull “Sublimis Deus” was issued in  1537 which forbade the enslavement of indigenous Indians and all other people. During Las Casas’ lifetime, the indigenous people of the Greater Antilles, the Tahínos, had already been wiped out by forced labour, hunger and disease, except for a few survivors. [34] [35] [14a]

Bartholomé de Las Casas - "Kurtze Erklärung der fürnembsten Thaten, so durch die Spanier beschehen", plate 1, 1599.
Bartholomé de Las Casas – “Kurtze Erklärung der fürnembsten Thaten, so durch die Spanier beschehen”, plate 1, 1599. [36]

Although Bartolomé de Las Casas had some of his works printed, these were only intended for a narrow circle of readers, such as Prince Philip. Publications on “West Indian affairs” without the permission of the Council of the Indies were severely punished, from 1558 even with the death penalty. Therefore, most publications originated outside Spain. Examples include “Kurtze Erklärung der fürnembsten Thaten, so durch die Spanier beschehen in etlichen Orten der neuwen Welt” [Brief Explanation of the Most Noble Acts Done by the Spaniards in Several Places of the New World] published in Frankfurt am Main in 1599 or “Warhafftiger vnd gründtlicher Bericht der Hispanier grewlichen, vnd abschewlichen Tyranney, von jhnen in den West Indien, so die Neuwe Welt genennet wirt, begangen” [True and thorough account of the great and terrible tyranny committed by the Hispanics in the West Indies, which is called the New World] , published in 1597 (as a reprint of the first edition of 1552). [34] [36] [37] [14a]

The first 50 African slaves were taken to Hispaniola in 1510. [38] This kind of trade already had a long tradition in Africa. Already 400 years earlier, West African kings on the coast of Angola and the Ivory Coast sold captives as slaves to the East Indies. [14b]

In Cuba, a sugar cane liquor (Aguardiente de Caña) is produced in 1598. [1] [17]

Johann Moritz Prince of Nassau-Siegen, called "The Brazilian" in a painting by Pieter Nason in 1675.
Johann Moritz Prince of Nassau-Siegen, called “The Brazilian” in a painting by Pieter Nason in 1675. [26]

In 1621, the Dutch West India Company [6] took control of northeastern Brazil. This company was founded in 1621 by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and was given a monopoly on trade in West Africa and the Americas. Among other things, it founded Niew Amsterdam on Manhattan in 1626 and Dutch Guiana [7] on the north coast of South America, where the Dutch had already established smaller trading posts from 1600. Dutch Brazil [8] was a Dutch colony in north-eastern Brazil from 1630 to 1654 and included parts of the country already settled by the Portuguese. Parts of the Portuguese colony were already occupied between 1624 and 1627, and the province of Pernambuco was conquered in 1630. In 1636, Johann Moritz Prince of Nassau-Siegen was appointed Governor General for Dutch Brazil; he promoted sugar cane production. [25]

In 1627, the first 80 British settlers settle on Barbados, [1] [11c] [11j] the first sugar cane arrives on the island from Brazil in 1630. [9]

In 1637, Pieter Blower, a Dutch emigrant from Brazil, settled in Barbados, bringing with him sugar cane shoots and stills. [1] [17] At first, the sugar cane was only planted for fodder, or to make a distillate from it. As tobacco cultivation was no longer financially viable, the settlers began to grow sugar cane for sugar production in 1642. [10] [11c] To increase the value of the crop, a spirit was distilled from the molasses, which we know today as rum. Barbados is believed to be the first place where rum (from molasses) was produced. [11a]This use of molasses was very profitable; the sale of rum and molasses covered all the costs of the sugar cane plantation, so the proceeds from the sale of sugar could be booked entirely as profit. [11g] At first, Barbados only produced for its own needs. By 1650, Barbados already had 75,000 inhabitants. [11d] In 1655, an estimated 4 million litres of rum were produced on the island, although there was no export market. Each Barbadian drank about 40 litres of rum per year. [11h] The importance of rum for the inhabitants is shown, for example, by Richard Ligon’s statement: „Strong drinks are very requisite, where so much heat is, for the spirits being exhausted with much sweating, the inner parts are left cold and faint, and shall need comforting, and reviving“. [11j] As sugar exports to Europe increased, the surplus rum and molasses were also exported. [11l] So eventually more than 90% of the rum exported from Barbados and Antigua went to North America, and from other islands it was often 100%. Rum from Barbados was so common that there the phrase “Been to Barbados” was synonymous with being drunk. [11m] How high the proceeds were is shown by the fact that even as late as 1715 the value of exports from Barbados was not only above that of the other islands, but even above all the other North American British colonies put together. [11i] In the Spanish colonies, on the other hand, where much molasses was also thrown away, rum made from molasses did not play a role. Rum was not common there, and the Spanish wine and brandy producers obtained an export ban on rum in order to preserve their sales market. [11k] The same applies to the French islands, because the French winegrowers and cognac producers successfully prevented the export of rum and molasses to France in order to protect their own monopoly. [11e]

French settlers settle in Martinique in 1635. [1] In 1637, sugar cane imported from St. Kitts was cultivated on Martinique for the first time. [9] However, it took until 1640 for the first slaves to arrive to work in the sugar cane fields. [12] In 1644, Benjamin Da Costa, of Dutch descent, immigrated to Martinique from Brazil and brought sugar milling and distilling equipment with him to the island. [13] [17] [39d]

In 1643, Alvaro de Luces informs us in a report on Cuba that aguardiente de cachaça is produced in most sugar mills and aguardiente de caña in others. [1]

In 1650, the word “rum” was used for the first time in a plantation deed from Barbados. There it says that the “Three Houses” estate has “four large mastic cisterns for liquor for rum“. [14] [11f]

In 1654, the Connecticut Supreme Court prohibited the importation of rum from Barbados and ordered the confiscation of “whatsoever Barbados liquors, commonly called rum, Kill Devill or the like[9] [18] [11b] Similar laws to control the rum trade existed in Bermuda in 1653 or in Massachusetts in 1657. [11b]

Richard Ligon - A True & Exact History Of the Island of Barbadoes, 1673.
Richard Ligon – A True & Exact History Of the Island of Barbadoes, 1673. [29]

In 1657, Richard Ligon, an English Civil War refugee living in Barbados from 1647 to 1650 and owner of half a sugar cane plantation, published his work on the history of Barbados. In it, he describes in detail the sugar and rum production on the island. [15] [29]

The first rum distillery in North America was established in 1664 in what is now Staten Island. The first rum distillery in Boston opened in 1667. [16] [17] The rum was made from Cuban molasses. [1]

Johannes Vingboon - Niew Amsterdam 1664.
Johannes Vingboon – Niew Amsterdam 1664. [30]

In 1664, in Nieuw Amsterdam, in what is now Manhattan, Dutch settlers begin to make a brandy from molasses, [17] having already distilled various brandies from 1640. [1] [11r] In the same year, Niew Amsterdam, administrative seat of the Dutch colony of Niew Nederland, surrendered to the British without a fight. It was later renamed New York. [19]

Illustration of sugar production from Jean-Baptiste Du Tetre's book "Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François", Volume 2, Paris 1667.
Illustration of sugar production from Jean-Baptiste Du Tetre’s book “Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François”, Volume 2, Paris 1667. [31]

In 1667, Jean Babtiste Du Tertre described in his book “Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François” that in Martinique various raw materials from sugar production were fermented to produce spirits, locally called “tafia” or “guildice” (probably derived from “kill devill”). The raw materials include molasses, but the most common is a juice called “vésoü”, which is used to make a drink that is widely produced and consumed on the islands. [20] Even today, the fermented mash from which rhum agricole is made is called vesou. We can therefore assume that rum for local consumption, at least in Martinique, was also produced from sugar cane juice at the time of rum production from molasses.

Admiral Edward „Old Grog“ Vernon.
Admiral Edward „Old Grog“ Vernon. [41]

In 1687, rum becomes an official part of the daily rations in the Royal British Navy, [1] having first been officially issued in 1655 during the attack on Jamaica. [11n] Then, in 1731, the one-gallon (about 4.5 litres) beer ration is also replaced by a half-pint of rum with an alcohol content of between 70 and 85% by volume. [1] In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon ordered that in future rum should be served twice a day and diluted with water (in a ratio of 1:4), instead of once a day undiluted as before, in order to limit the side effects of the alcohol. This mixture was called “grog” after the admiral’s nickname. In 1756, this dilution finally became binding on the entire British Navy. [11o] In 1823, the ration was reduced by half and halved again in 1850. [11p] The daily rum ration, called “tot”, was abolished on 31 July 1970, so that this day went down in history as “black tot day”. [21] [11q]

Between 1715 and 1720, the first rum distillery was founded in Medford, Massachusetts, by John Hall. Medford rum was famous for its high quality;[11t] the “New England rum”, on the other hand, was of poor quality, but also cost only a third to half of a rum from the West Indies. [11s] However, rum lost importance after American independence, partly because molasses became more difficult to obtain, and whiskey took its place. [11e]

Franz Carl Achard.
Franz Carl Achard. [32]

François Charles Achard researched and bred the sugar beet. He was convinced that sugar could be produced from it and asked Frederick the Great for support. As he wanted to see proof that the process was ready for production, a beet-raw-sugar-production-trial-commission was set up. At the end of 1799, 57.5 pounds of sugar and 37 quarts of brandy were obtained from 15 hundredweight of beet, and attempts were made to build up a sugar beet industry in the following years. [22] In 1806 Napoleon finally imposed a continental blockade, [40] which kept cane sugar out. This gave sugar beet a chance, but it failed to produce sugar economically from cane until the end of the blockade in 1813. When cane sugar became cheap again in the 1820s, almost all German beet sugar factories closed down. This was not the case in France. There, the import of cane sugar was banned in 1811 and the beet sugar industry was intensively promoted. In 1840, there were already over 500 beet sugar factories in France. [23] Thus, the availability of beet sugar increased and the French colonies lost their market. In Martinique, for example, 57% of the agricultural land was cultivated with sugar cane in 1870. In order to survive, some distilleries produced rhum directly from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. This is how rhum agricole was born or reborn. [24] Its production was promoted on the French islands by the phylloxera plague that occurred in the 19th century. This first appeared in 1863 and destroyed large parts of the French wine-growing regions by 1885. Since wine and cognac were no longer available in sufficient quantities, the demand for rhum agricole from the French colonies grew. [42] [43]

In 1883, equal quantities of sugar were produced worldwide from sugar beet and sugar cane. [9]

  1. Helmut Adam, Jens Hasenbein, Bastian Heuser: Cocktailian 2, Rum und Ca­cha­ça. 1. Auflage. ISBN 978-3-941641-41-9. Wiesbaden, Tre Torri Verlag, 2011. Pages 18-44.
  2. Peter Martin. Zucker für die Welt: die Anfänge der Sklaverei und der Fabrikgesellschaft in Amerika. ISBN 978-3798324077. Berlin, Technische Uni Berlin, 2012. Daraus: Am Anfang ein Arzt, Pages 54-56.
  3. Edmund O. von Lippman: Die Geschichte des Zuckers seit den ältesten Zeiten bis zum Beginne der Rübenzucker-Fabrikation. ISBN 978-3-642-50361-0. Heidelberg, Springer Verlag, 1970. Neudruck der Ausgabe von 1929. Pages 422-424
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Vicente,_S%C3%A3o_Paulo: São Vicente, São Paulo.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duarte_Coelho: Duarte Coelho.
  6. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niederl%C3%A4ndische_Westindien-Kompanie: Niederländische Westindien-Kompanie.
  7. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niederl%C3%A4ndisch-Guayana: Niederländisch-Guayana.
  8. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niederl%C3%A4ndisch-Brasilien: Niederländisch-Brasilien.
  9. Edward Hamilton: Das Rum-Buch. ISbn 3-7852-8432-2. München, Lichtenberg, 1998. Daraus: Page 267-270.
  10. http://www.totallybarbados.com/barbados/About_Barbados/Local_Information/History/3591.htm: 1637 – 1702 – From Tobacco to Sugar; From White Servants to Black Slaves.
  11. Wayne Curtis: And a Bottle of Rum. A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. ISBN 978-0-307-33862-4. New York, Three Rivers Press, 2006. 11a = Page 14-15. 11b = Page 15. 11c = Page 16. 11d = Page 18. 11e = Page 136-139. 11f = Page 26. 11g = Page 27. 11h = Page 29. 11i = Page 19. 11j = Page 34. 11k = Page 43. 11l = Page 43-44. 11m = Page 45. 11n = Page 54. 11o = Page 56-58. 11p = Page 60. 11q = Page 61, 11r = Page 96. 11s = Page 98. 11t = Page 100. 11u = Page 102.
  12. https://de.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Martinique: Martinique.
  13. http://www.euvs.org/en/collection/spirits/rum/martinique: About Martinique.
  14. Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown: Cuba. The Legend of Rum. ISBN 0-9760937-8-2. London, Havana Club Collection & Mixellany Books, 2009. 14a: Page 28ff. 14b: Page 30ff.
  15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Ligon: Richard Ligon.
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rum: Rum.
  17. https://www.drinkadvisor.com/en/drinks/rum.html: Rum.
  18. Margaret .A. Clarke & Mary An Godshall: Chemistry and Processing of Sugarbeet and Sugarcane: Proceedings of the Symposium on the Chemistry and Processing of Sugarbeet, Denver, Colorado, April 6, 1987 and the Symposium on the Chemistry and Processing of Sugarcane, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 3-4, 1987. Elsevier, 1988. Daraus: R. Harris & D. H. West: Carribean Rum. Its Manufacture and Quality.
  19. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nieuw_Amsterdam: Nieuw Amsterdam.
  20. http://www.rhum-agricole.net/site/en/mq_rum: Martinique rhum. A production with roots in history.
  21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Tot_Day: Black Tot Day.
  22. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/bibliothek/unsere-schaetze/gewerbegeschichte/achard/achard-als-zuckerruebenpionier/: Achard als „Zuckerrübenpionier“.
  23. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/bibliothek/unsere-schaetze/gewerbegeschichte/achard/zuckerherstellung-und-wirtschaftspolitik/: Zuckerherstellung und Wirtschaftspolitik.
  24. http://www.rhumdefrance.com/history-of-french-rhum.html: A Brief History of French Rhum.
  25. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Moritz_%28Nassau-Siegen%29: Johann Moritz (Nassau-Siegen).
  26. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Johan_Maurits_%281604-1679%29_by_Pieter_Nason.jpg: Johann Moritz Fürst von Nassau-Siegen, niederl. Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, genannt: „Der Brasilianer“. Gemälde von Pieter Nason, 1675.
  27. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christopher_Columbus.PNG: Christoph Kolumbus, posthumes Porträt von Sebastiano del Piombo aus dem Jahr 1519.
  28. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Martim_Afonso_de_Sousa_-_Diario_da_navegacao_da_armada_que_foi_a_terra_do_Brasil_em_1530.jpg: Martim Afonso de Sousa, aus Pero Lopes de Sousas Bericht „Diario da navegação da armada que foi á terra do Brasil – em 1530 -sob a capitania-mor de Martim Affonso de Souza“, Lissabon 1839.https://archive.org/details/trueexacthistor00ligo
  29. https://archive.org/details/trueexacthistor00ligo: Richard Ligon: A true & exact history of the island of Barbadoes : illustrated with a map of the island, as also the principal trees and plants there, set forth in their due proportions and shapes, drawn out by their several and respective scales : together with the ingenio that makes the sugar, with the plots of the several houses, rooms, and other places, that are used in the whole process of sugar-making … all cut in copper. London, Peter Parker, 1673.
  30. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:GezichtOpNieuwAmsterdam.jpg: Ansicht von Niew Amsterdam im Jahr 1664 von Johannes Vingboon.
  31. http://www.loc.gov/item/2003663735/: Abbildung der Zuckerherstellung aus Jean-Baptiste Du Tetres Buch „Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François“, volume 2, Paris 1667, between Page 122-123.
  32. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FranzCarlAchard.jpg: Franz Carl Achard.
  33. http://data.onb.ac.at/ABO/%2BZ185158008: Girolamo Benzoni: Americae Das Fünffte Buch, Vol schöner vnerhörter Historien, auß dem andern theil Ioannis Benzonis von Meylandt gezogen (etc.). Frankfurt am Main, Johan Wechel, 1595.  Plate 2 and 3, engraved by Johann Theodor de Bry.
  34. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolom%C3%A9_de_Las_Casas: Bartolomé de Las Casas.
  35. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sublimis_Deus: Sublimis Deus.
  36. https://archive.org/details/kurtzeerklrungde00unkn_0: Bartolomé de Las Casas: Kurtze Erklärung der fürnembsten Thaten, so durch die Spanier beschehen in etlichen Orten der neuwen Welt, : so in folgenden Kupfferstücken, schön, zierlich vnd künstlich derselben bey jeder Historien, jetzt ins Teutsch dar gegeben werden. Frankfurt am Main, 1599.
  37. https://archive.org/details/neweweltwarhafft00casa: Bartolomé de Las Casas: Newe Welt. : Warhafftige Anzeigung der Hispanier grewlichen, abschewlichen vnd vnmenschlichen Tyranney, von jhnen inn den indianischen Ländern, so gegen Nidergang der Sonnen gelegen, vnd die Newe Welt genennet wird, begangen. Frankfurt am Main, 1597.
  38. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantischer_Sklavenhandel Atlantischer Sklavenhandel.
  39. Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown: The Soul of Brasil. 1. Auflage,2008. 39a: Page 29. 39b: Page 52. 39c: Page 106. 39d: Page 111.
  40. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kontinentalsperre: Kontinentalsperre.
  41. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward-vernon-1.jpg: Edward Vernon.
  42. http://www.drinkology.de/blog/spirituose/rhum-agricole-rum-aus-frischem-zuckerrohrsaft/: Rhum Agricole – Rum aus frischem Zuckerrohrsaft.
  43. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reblaus: Reblaus.
  44. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/bibliothek/unsere-schaetze/gewerbegeschichte/achard/herkunft-und-verbreitung-des-zuckerrohrs/: Herkunft und Verbreitung des Zuckerrohrs.

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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