History: American rum and slavery

African History Month – February

American rum and slavery

In today’s selection – the horrors of slavery. – delanceyplace.com 11/9/12 

By the late 1600s, riding the discovery and exploding demand for sugar in Europe, slavery had become the largest economic enterprise on the earth. Horror attended the capture and transport of slaves — it was commonplace for over half the slaves on a given ship to perish, often from heartbreak and despair alone. The horror attended the slavers as well, a large number of whom perished from murder, betrayal or disease.

African slaves were purchased with rum — and so a terrible cycle was established in which slaves were purchased from African chiefs and shipped to the Caribbean to harvest sugar cane, which was turned to molasses and then rum, which was then shipped back to Africa to purchase more slaves.  

America made this two sided trade into an even more terrible triangle when it learned a superior way to distill rum, and so the molasses was then shipped to New York, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia and especially Newport, Rhode Island — where is was distilled into a superior rum, then shipped to Africa to buy slaves to sell to Caribbean planters. It became for a time the largest business in the colonies:  …………….

author: Charles Rappleye
title: Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution

“The logic of slavery was simple: of all the peoples of the world, Africans had proven the best suited to withstand the heat, disease, and back-breaking toil required to raise and process cane sugar in the American tropics.

White men and indigenous Indians had been put to the test, but they died in such numbers that their impressment was abandoned. Africans succumbed as well — as many as a third died during the first two years on a plantation, a phe­nomenon known as ‘seasoning’ — but most survived, and the African trade thrived as a result. Slaves were used to raise coffee, tobacco, indigo, and other plantation staples, but most — as many as 90 percent in the period before 1820 — were employed exclusively in growing and processing sugar.

“By the end of the seventeenth century, slavery and the products of slave labor comprised the single largest economic enterprise on earth. Over the course of more than two hundred years, European carriers — British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese — had shipped more than 2 million Africans across the Atlantic in chains. But that was just the beginning. Spurred by an explod­ing European demand for sugar, traffic in slaves surged, and in the eighteenth century alone more than 6 million Africans were taken from their homeland to plantations in Brazil, the Caribbean, and, to a much smaller extent, British North America. …

“In the first centuries of the slave trade, African and European middlemen on the western coast of Africa had narrowed the list of commodities that they would barter for slaves to guns, gold, and spirits — primarily French brandy. Around 1700, interlopers from the West Indies introduced rum, and the stronger stuff quickly supplanted brandy as the preferred libation. By 1725, British traders at Sierra Leone reported to their home office that there was ‘no trade to be made without rum.’

“This development accrued to the benefit of Rhode Island, as craftsmen there had learned to distill their spirits at a higher proof and consistently better quality. African chiefs and their European trading partners quickly learned to tell the difference, which led the governor of one British trading fort to ac­knowledge, in 1775, that ‘West India rum never will sell here while there is any Americans here.’ Consequently, almost from the time they entered the trade, New England slavers specialized in rum — the Rhode Island captains came to be known as Rum Men — and their merchandise took precedence in the slave markets of Africa. Rum became the practical currency on the coast and at the European forts, with prices for slaves denominated in gallons of rum as well as ounces of gold.

“Rhode Island rum first appeared in quantity on the African coast in 1725, when three slaving voyages sailed from Newport. Over the course of the next ten years, Newport merchants sent twenty-five ships to Africa, where they traded barrels of rum for an estimated four thousand slaves. Once their cargo was loaded, they sailed a southerly route to reach the Caribbean, where they disposed of their captives and invested the proceeds in molasses, which they brought home to Rhode Island to make more rum. This was the triangle trade, and a successful run brought profits from each leg. How much depended on the particulars of the voyage, and ledgers giving specific figures are rare. But one 1747 letter sent from a slave captain to a Liverpool shipmaster gives a sense of the high end: ‘Negroes at Jamaica £50 to £55 a head bought on the Coast of Affrica at from £4 to £6 a head.’ …

“Grounded as it was in kidnapping, the slave trade bred fear and mistrust on both sides. Some slavers liked to shorten the bargaining process by grabbing the African traders as well as those captives offered for sale; retribution might be exacted upon the next slave crew to ar­rive. And even the most routine transactions involved an elaborate series of payments of tribute to the local king or his lieutenants, to various interpreters and intermediaries, and to the African trader on the beach. Wrangling over what was paid and what was delivered might quickly escalate into a ‘palaver,’ a dispute that required a formal sit-down between the parties, usually resolved through still another payment of rum, gold, or possibly tobacco. Both slavers and their African counterparts frequently resorted to ‘panyaring,’ or seizing hostages, to ensure the terms of trade.

“The greatest drawback in direct deals with Africans was time. Slaves were rarely available in quantity, and usually purchased one or two at a time. Even trading at the European forts, American slavers rarely made their cargo through a single transaction, or even several. Far more often, a slave ship would languish for three to five months on the south-facing coast, her crew members exposed to malaria, dysentery, and other mortal threats; some slave ships tarried as long as eight months to assemble a full complement of Africans.”

author: Charles Rappleye
title: Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution
publisher: Simon & Schuster
date: Copyright 2006 by Charles Rappleye
pages: 11-16
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Laura G  On 02/20/2013 at 6:21 pm

    This is why I do not ever wish my neighbours “Happy Emmancipation/Freedom Day” since this should have never happened in the first place.

  • unanimous  On 02/20/2013 at 6:57 pm

    interesting indeed….
    let me put a “cat” among the “pigeons”…

    A lot of the “slaves” sold were “dissidents” in their tribes on the African continent…rather than “incarseration” it was more profitable to “sell” your dissidents….CASTRO and CLINTON s banter comes to mind…

    CLINTON claimed that USA was a “free” country
    CASTRO claimed that CUBA was also “free”…

    he emptied his jails of dissidents by granting them US initiated “visas”



  • Frank Ferreira  On 02/21/2013 at 12:13 pm

    Interesting indeed!
    Question for the folks who sincerely celebrate ‘Black History Month’!
    When will the history of the African leaders of that day really become both exposed and accountable for their vicious role in this brutal inhuman experience? A full fair and logical understanding of this inhuman catastrophe will come full circle, when this part of its history becomes a focus point for real discovery – to accept, learn, and understand to never repeat again. Only then will real healing and logical move forward begin. Take a real look at today’s Africa – for testament regarding my question.

    • Thinker  On 02/24/2013 at 12:31 am

      It is a bit ridiculous when we understand the scale of the Atlantic Trade and the conditions of slavery in the Americas for you to now put the focus on “African leaders” of the day who could have no idea of what they were getting involved in. Sure, let’s take a real look at today’s Africa and make sure that the leaders don’t sell out the interests of its peoples for a mess of potage. Foolishly blaming the victims and implying that their weakness in the face of technological superiority and racist agression is of a similar order of magnitude as European or Arab viciousness is a red herring.

      • Frank Ferreira  On 02/26/2013 at 7:19 pm

        I do hear you about the scale etc. thinker. However if you do really think again and consider what I asked,history does not have any reflection about this fact — that I am aware of,
        The fact is nothing is ever stated as per the role of those leaders of that day To make excuses, to elect to create reasons to cover up their role, no matter how small or uneducated their contribution was — indicates a total lack of and for realism with a fair objective. To have a full understanding as to who did what, to whom, where and when. I have never been privilege to be educated accordingly.

        Related history regarding this gross crime, should and must be allowed to reflect as it really did unfold, with no cover up.of any facts involved.

        Allow me to be foolish and ask – maybe you will not want to see all participants in any crime committed focused on but just a selected few of your choice. Allow me to further ask – if one of the poor souls that was traded sold etc by one of the criminal leaders of that day, was a relative of yours. I will have to guess that not focusing on the criminal involved or the contributor to the actual crime will be OK with, and by you.

        The fact is a terrible crime was committed and all criminals that participated as well as their contributors should be focused on.How do you know,or just maybe you do? that the large scale operation (as you stated )which occurred eventually, did not start small as a result of the criminal,disrespectful behavior of those African leaders of that day towards their people who they controlled.

        Using your thinking further– then maybe it was wrong for the world to go or try to go after and focus on all the participants and contributors of the Hitler period????.

        Your approach to call my questioning (and I quote you) “to now put the focus on “African leaders” of the day who could have no idea of what they were getting involved in” and also ” Foolishly blaming the victims and implying that their weakness in the face of technological superiority and racist aggression is of a similar order of magnitude as European or Arab viciousness is a red herring”.Is surely illogical statements,

        I only process logic and I am not interested in major or minor cover ups.to suit those thinkers of the day like you. Maybe you would think it OK to be selective in focus on the current criminals and their contributors of today, both in Africa and around the world, who contribute and commit terrible carnage on their people continually. Remember (what I believe is a Guyanese saying) ‘all big things start small’ – just think about this.
        Remember a criminal who contributes is just as guilty as the one who commits the act.

        My friend I see one race the human race as much as I see one type of criminal it does not matter if they only contributed in a small way or did the outrageous act. All do share in the guilt for the criminal act.

        So I say again — let history be reflective of all parties and parts with no cover ups — ,for only then will real healing and logical move forward begin. Again take a real look at today’s Africa – for testament regarding my question.

        Further using your thinking — take a real look at our beloved Guyana.It will explain why the majority of our fellow Guyanese still live in poverty. Poor humans still being exploited, long after several years of independence, with no real,logical,beneficial move forward in sight for them. The only definite is the continued international disrespect

        Finally ; I can also understand why you elect to use a pseudonym and not your real name when responding. However I do question the word you elected to use as your pseudonym.

        Peace to you brother !!!!

  • Deen  On 02/21/2013 at 8:10 pm

    Rum and slavery the curses of colonial times.
    After the emancipation of slavery, rum was still used as a means to control the freed slaves and indentured immigrants by making the substance available to them.
    This dark side of this history was concealed during colonial times. Apparently, every effort was made by the British government to suppress this type of information from children in schools in Guyana and the Caribbean.
    I was schooled in Guyana in the 40s, 50s and 60s and I was taught much about British History, but nothing about the history of slavery and the indentured immigrants.
    Today, with the freedom of information and computer access, we are able to learn more about horrors and atrocities of the slave trade and indentured system.

  • unanimous  On 02/21/2013 at 8:25 pm

    indeed….we never stop learning..cradle to grave…

    history also teaches fools…written by its victors re-written by the vanquished.
    mistakes never to be repeated.
    today we are re-writing that history.


  • de castro  On 03/01/2013 at 7:55 am

    cc thinker
    a very brave and honest response to thinkers opinion…
    am sure thinker will have second and even third thoughts…even in disagreement…I respect both opinions as I can but learn from our differences than our likes…it is what makes the “HUMAN RACE” unique.

    Darwin had a relaspe in his thinking when he wrote

    “it is survival of the most adaptable of our species”

    adapt to the change on our beautiful planet and we will all “survive”

    kamptan…in his 69th year and counting …31 to my first century ! ha ha !

    • Frank Ferreira  On 03/01/2013 at 12:38 pm

      Thank you for your response. Although I hear you and I do believe adaptability has its logical place along side logic, honesty and fairness. However Illogical expectation is not adapting ( my understanding) and does not lend itself to being trusted and respected.
      Our beloved country Guyana needs a leader that is brave enough to EARN trust,,respect and loyalty from a very logical, fair,honest and trusting approach.One the electorate ( who continues to be insulted, abused and exploited) by those currently in power that call themselves leaders could understand and adapt to.. Adaptability to a very prosperous Guyana is needed this is indeed very logically possible. However prosperity for all could only be celebrated with one race the human race, and I only see one race the human race. .. .

  • de castro  On 03/04/2013 at 8:41 am

    cc thinker
    I thank you for your response above….
    I learn more from nature now than I was ever taught in my educational indoctrination…St Stanislaus it was “education in exchange for religious belief”

    Now I read that the POPE has resigned as he is a “homo-sexual”
    I have always argued against “celebacy” and 25 classmates 3B was expelled
    by Hopkinson for “introducing condums” in school….our motive was “money”
    To ask a teenage to be celebate is like asking a duck to stay out of the water.
    Nature teaches fools….

    on the subject above I thank you for your “determined” effort and I respect
    your honest and truthful opinion.
    That leader is already in politricks in GUYANA ….surprise surprise she
    is a “woman” but my guess is the “skeletons in cupboard” may hinder her

    With people like us pushing for change lets remain optimistic
    everlasting optimist

  • frank ferreira  On 03/04/2013 at 5:12 pm

    Kamptan, I thank you first of all for your continued interest. I hear you about the Pope, your educational indoctrination and the other stuff.

    Regarding the Pope, religion and it’s beliefs etc.
    Let me address the religious hypocrisy. At the same time allow me to state that I do understand that although religion does not play a role in my life,it does for a lot of folks and I do respect their need. .

    You see bottom line religion is about hypocrisy controlled brain washing to create false guilt/shame, money, politics, contradictions and outrageous crime.

    I consider myself a spiritual human, I believe that there is an almighty universal creative energy/power which me and every living creature is connected with and to.This energy/power continually communicates with all creation and has granted the right and privilege to choose. This will call for a separate logical conversation.

    Interesting about the Pope and I am interested to know (only if you feel good to share it)where this information is available.

    About homosexuality.
    You see the universal power who created me, created human kind and all others in a variation of sexual identities, including homosexual human kind. Each created for a specific reason only known to the universal creator
    Fortunately now some intelligent, logical world leaders are identifying with this, and the real need to speak up rightfully so they are speaking out and supporting the change in thinking required.This logical is needed, and must be achieved to educate and to overcome. The disabling, crippling tormenting fear driven by the heavy false guilt , lack of respect and shame for these human kind religious bigots including the catholic church created and instilled over many dreadful years of ignorant think-less thought domination of these human kind is criminal. No surprise they are being identified for their hidden years of possible criminality etc.during their exploitation ability of sexuality based on promotion their self aggrandizement morals. Not surprising to me is the very negative reaction the current far right ignorant religious bigots continue to expound regarding the support etc. now be given.. Enough about this.

    Guyana being lead by the correct/right female will be a breath of fresh air for all. About her “skeletons in cupboard” she will have to evaluate logically her situation and make a choice to come out or stay in. I am interested in being educated further about this individual, party etc. and if contact could be established. This will be appreciated.

    I see only one race the Human Race created by an everlasting universal power of creation.

  • de castro  On 03/08/2013 at 9:16 am

    as I do observe “protocol” will suggest you e mail me direct…


    so that I can update you on my sources of information….

    re “pope” et al….

    maybe our next pope should also be “female” ….POPE EVE 1st

    most nuns and priests do not practice “celebacy” today
    as per my personal friends who are catholic nuns and priests…
    one of my schoolmates is still practicing the “belief”..

    kamptan ps send me your e mail by responding to above e mail as i do read all my e mails..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: