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Much of our cultures items that we use, wear, or drink today, can be dated further back than one actually thinks. For example rum can be traced back to the slave trade and perhaps earlier. Most noteably is the Captain Morgan Rum Company, founded in 1945 by Sam Bronfman as a subsidiary of the larger Seagram's Company. The recipe used to create Captain Morgan's Original Spiced Rum originated in Jamaica where the Seagram company bought it off local residents, and the rum itself is brewed at the Long Pond Distillery in Jamaica. Captain Morgan, a british "pirate", is actually a part of Jamaica's history and played a role in the Jamaican slave trade, the triangular trade, as well as sugar plantations, all of which are integral parts of the history of rum. Captain Morgan rum helps bring all the pieces of the slave trade together in a cohesive manner the connection betweeen rum and the slave trade and its integral part in not only Jamaican, but world history.


The main ingredient in rum is sugar cane. Sugar cane is produced by fermentation of yeast. The difference between white rum, gold rum, and dark rum is due to the aging process. The by-product of sugar, molasses is used and distilled to be produced into rum. The difference in Captain Morgan rum, is that it includes Jamaican spices into it to create a different taste than regular dark rum. Essentially the initial reason behind incorporating spices is due to the fact that the rum creates was very strong and they needed something to soften the taste. Although rum became popular on sugar plantations and many believe this is the birthplace of rum, it is possible that it was not. There are a few indications that rum was around long before this date. One example is that Malay people made a very similar drink named “brum” thousands prior to the first sugar cane plantation. Another consideration is the reference that Christopher Columbus made about “a wine made of sugar” during the 1600’s. For the sake of credibility, let us focus on actual facts and historic events. Through all the researched conveyed, it can be said with certainty that the Caribbean holds the title of birthplace of rum. It was Columbus who introduced the sugar cane plantations to Hispaniola on his second voyage in 1494.

The Spanish plantations grew rapidly in the 16th century on islands such as Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico. At this point, the Spanish were only using the by-product of their plantations to feed the slaves and livestock. It was the Portuguese who were fermenting the molasses, the production waste, in Brazil and producing alcohol. The taste was unwelcomed by the Portuguese themselves but the African slaves and the Natives would drink it. The British quickly realized the monetary potential alcohol could have and developed the production of rum. They acquired techniques which enabled them to improve the taste of rum soon after 1640. During this time period, the drink was known by the name of kill-devil. The name evolved to Rumbullion by the 1650’s. This was an English word derived from Devonshire. Rumbullion was soon shortened to Rum, which is the known term for the beverage now.

Triangular Trade

The sugar cane industry can be thought of as a major contributor to the triangular trade. The triangular trade refers to the "triangle" that the people on ships made. This refers to the first leg, the travel from Europe to Africa to obtain slaves by trading goods such as cloths, copper, guns and ammunition. Once slaves were traded, they were taken to the Caribbean and Americas. Conditions for slaves on the ships were terrible. Not only were they brutally tortured, but they were also packed in so tightly on ships that there often was no hope for sanitary conditions. To make matters worse, disease was rampant on ships, and many of the slaves never made it across the Atlantic ocean to their destination in the Caribbean. Upon arrival, goods traded for slaves consisted of sugar, rum, tobacco, and molasses. Then on the last leg of travel, Europeans brought the goods back to Europe, making the third and last leg of their travels.

Plantations in Jamaica

It appears that slaves began to emerge in Jamaica soon after Christopher Columbus arrived. The actual natives of the land were used as slaves to the Europeans advantage, which severely deteriorated the population, mostly due to disease and violence,increasing the need to obtain slaves from a different source. Also a major contributor to the deterioration in population is the introduction of European diseases to the native individuals who were not resistant to the diseases. After this decrease in population, they began to use African slaves. It is reported that the first ship of African slaves to Jamaica was in 1513 by the Spanish and Portuguese. Soon after this the ratio of slaves to European colonists was extremely high, and this number grew as more slaves were brought to Jamaica. It can be assumed from the information found that sugar was one of the most important crops of the Caribbean, although other crops like indigo, coffee and rice were also grown. Other reasons for the emergence of sugar plantations besides the arrival of Christopher Columbus came from the relative monetary gains sugar cane was producing in comparison to tobacco and cotton. This increased the amount of slaves in the Caribbean as well as increased sizes of plantations. To give a general sense of a description of a plantation, it usually was 900 acres. There was typically a Great House where the owner worked and the slaves were usually African as well. The slaves were divided into gangs by age and fitness. Even children worked at the plantations.

By 1700, Jamaica had an abundance of sugar plantations,from having 70 plantations in the late 1600s to growing to over 680 plantations. Therefore, it is no suprise that Jamaica became the world’s main sugar producers. However, towards the late 1700s, sugar plantations were on the decline. An article in The American Historical Review (1914) describes one Jamaican plantation as being burdened with disease as well as outlines that just the specific plantation described had 150 slaves. This article was describing the plantation toward the end of the 1600s and describes the difficulty of cultivating, the high cost of slaves, which in turn outlines the decline in slavery. The relationship between the production of sugar and slavery began to dwindle as the profitability of sugar plantations began to decrease. Sugar prices fell due to increasing competition and slave prices began to increase due to depopulation of areas where slaves were acquired. Also the emergence of abolitionist movements began to raise ethical questions regarding the use of slavery for economic gains so much so that some abolitionist groups tried to convince people to stop using sugar to end slavery. Slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1807, and it is likely that these factors were contributors. After this occurred, sugar plantations became wage labour places, but gradually declined. Although true, Jamaica still produces sugar to this day.

Captain Morgan

The image of Captain Morgan on the rum bottle is not just invented for marketing purposes, but this individual actually has roots that trace back to Jamaica. Henry Morgan, born in 1635 was a Welsh “pirate” who fought for the English against the Spanish for control of the Caribbean. He is known for his incredibly large raids and his attacks on prominent targets. He was known for his attacks on Portobello, as well as Maracaibo and Panama. Although modern day marketing depicts Captain Morgan as a 'Pirate' he was acting on behalf of the British Crown against Spain's interests in the Caribbean. He was granted a Letter of Marque to raise a fleet against Spain and was paid whatever he plundered from his tours. He was knighted by King Charles the II of England, and subsequently after this, he 'retired' to Jamaica and was granted the position of Vice Governor and the rights to his own land- which became a very successful sugar plantation, and died in Jamaica in 1688. Through his position in the government of the colony of Jamaica, as appointed by King Charles II, he was significant in helping with the development of Jamaica as a successful British colony. Although true, in his many raids, he was also responsible for the torture and many deaths of Spanish civilians. Since even before his death, he maintained a legacy due to his success and constant pressure on the Spanish lands. He can be considered one of the greatest “pirates” ever, and there are places in Jamaica named after him: Morgan’s Valley, and Morgan’s Cave. Now his most visible and known significance is probably due to Captain Morgan’s rum company.


Although this article uses some journal articles, it can be said that some of the information obtained was from general websites. Information is also difficult to find when obtaining history in the 1400's as there lacked availability of many primary sources. Some of the dates may be off, as there is no official record of Captain Morgan's birth, or any detailed information about Jamaica when Christopher Columbus began to take over, other than his journal. One must proceed with caution when looking at information from sources that are not extremely credible. It can be argued that history is a difficult area to research, as much of history of this time was recorded as a primary source, or was an individual or bias perspective. Although true, the information provided can give one a sense of the political times of the world, European power, goods and services in demand, and the social and moral setting of the time, as well as most importantly, the slave trade.

Jamaica played a pivotal role in the production of sugar cane, as well as and important role in the slave trade. From Christopher Columbus to Captain Morgan, these individuals were key contributors to the success of the sugar cane industry. Although these men were labelled as heroic or knights, they were responsible for their contribution to slavery, and their violence towards natives to the Caribbean islands. These individuals used the sugar cane industry, which helped fuel the triangular trade and growth of slaves and plantations in Jamaica, as well as the demand for rum. Even though the slave trade as we know it is no longer present, its contribution to history can be seen through Captain Morgan Rum.

References Accessed on March 24, 2012. (Sheridan, R) Africa and the Caribbean in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The American Historical Review , Vol. 77, No. 1 (Feb., 1972), pp. 15-35 Accessed on March 24, 2012. Accessed on March 26, 2012. Accessed on March 27, 2012. Accessed on March 29, 2012. Accessed on March 29, 2012. Accessed on March 29, 2012.