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General History/Rum in the American Revolution


Hello, I'm writing a term paper on distilled drinks, especially rum, and how they affected both the American Revolution as well as the slave trade. I know that distilled drinks such as Rum and Brandy were used to control not only the slaves, but the slave traders as well. I also believe that the slave trade and the American Revolution are connected, and one of the connections between the two is rum. After all, since sugar and molasses were predominant in the slave trade, enforcing the Molasses act would leave thousands of american sailors without jobs. In addition, Americans really liked their rum.

Now, onto my actual question. I was wondering if you believed that the slave trade would have ever been able to reach the height that it did if rum had never become a part of it. And how do you believe this would have, in turn, affected the American Revolution? If rum was no longer crucial in the slave trade and therefore Molasses was no longer as important in the world and the colonies, one would tend to come to the conclusion that the Molasses act would not have spurred the American Revolution in the way that it did. In your opinion, do you believe I am correct in assuming this?

Thanks for your help, it's greatly appreciated.

Hi Allie,

The rum trade absolutely contributed to the slave trade.  Both were part of one of the first major international trade systems that involved America.  Sugar for rum was a labor intensive job in an area where many of the workers died regularly from disease.  A large influx of slaves was seen as necessary to meet demand.  While there still would have been a significant slave trade for other agricultural needs in the west, rum definitely increased this.

The rum trade was also significant because it was the first major trade system from the colonies that avoided England.  Trade was done directly with islands in the Caribbean, in violation of British trade laws.  Because the British could not enforce the trade laws, many leading colonial traders became smugglers, openly trading with others and ignoring British restrictions and tariffs.  The Molasses Act, passed in the 1730's did not spur the Revolution because it was so largely ignored.  But it did help American Colonists realize that their interests were becoming divided from those in England.  It was also the English attempts to enforce those laws (and pass new ones) that would have restricted trade and taxed it more heavily, that did lead to the Revolution.

If Caribbean trade had been nonexistent or very small, then the British trade restrictions probably would not have seemed as onerous to the colonists.  So while the rum trade might not have been vital to the cause of Revolution, it certainly was a major contributing factor.

- Mike  

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Michael Troy


My specialties are 17th through 19th Century history, especially in the Americas and Europe. I also have a fair knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman History, and some knowledge of Medieval European history. My expertise is focuses on Military and political history, but I`ll take a crack at anything.


I have been a guest lecturer at George Washington University. Mostly, I have just read hundreds of books about world history.


J.D. Univ. of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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