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Rum is an alcoholic spirit distilled from cane sugar or molasses. It is strongly associated with the islands of the Caribbean, where sugar cane is grown in large quantities. Rum was imported in large quantities from the British Caribbean colonies and it displaced gin as the dominant spirit in England during the 18th century.

Rum in the British Navy

The naval rum ration was originally beer with a daily ration of one gallon per sailor. This official allowance continued till after the Napoleonic Wars. When beer was not available, it could be substituted by a pint of wine or half a pint of spirits, which depended on what was locally available. In later years, the political influence of the West Indian planters led to rum being given the preference over arrack and other spirits. The half pint of spirits was originally issued neat. The practise of compulsorily diluting rum in the proportion of half a pint to one quart of water (1:4), and adding lime or lemon, was first introduced in the 1740s by Admiral Edward Vernon who was known as Old Grog, because of his habitual grogram cloak — hence the name grog.[1][2][3]. Many Royal Navy ships still carry rum, although this is now largely more for ceremonial purposes than for consumption.

Admiral Nelson

After the death of admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, in the Battle of Trafalgar, the Admiral's body was brought back to England for burial, a highly unusual undertaking, as most sailors of the time were buried at sea. To prevent Nelson's body decomposing on route, so the legend tells, it was placed in a barrel of rum. The ship's sailors, however, took sly tots of Nelson's rum as the ship traveled home. When it arrived in England, the barrel was found to be dry. This tale (actually false) has led to a nickname for rum of Nelson's blood.[4]

Rum in American history

Rum was associated with black slavery as part of the "Triangle Trade". Rum was one of the goods shipped to New England, Europe and African as part of this trade pattern.

"Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion"

In the presidential election of 1884, the Republican candidate, James G. Blaine, was linked to the catch-phrase "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion", denoting three unfavorable traits that supposedly characterized the Democratic Party. Although Blaine himself never used the phrase, the slogan was seen as an uncalled-for smear against his opponent, and he lost the election to Grover Cleveland.

"Demon Rum"

The American Prohibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries used the epithet "Demon Rum" to summarize the horrors of alcohol.

Notable rum drinks

Innumerable drinks are made with rum. Among the best-known are the Daiquiri and the Cuba Libre, the latter being basically rum and Coca-Cola. During the fad for Tiki restaurants and entertainment from the 1930s through the 1950s, numerous drinks based on rum were created and became popular throughout the world. Among them are the Mai tai, the Zombie, and the Navy Grog.


  1. Macdonald, J. Feeding Nelson's Navy. Chatham Publishing. 2004
  2. Navy Victually Board Regulations and Instructions, 14th edition, 1806. quoted Macdonald
  3. Rodger, N. The Wooden World: an anatomy of the Georgian navy. William Collins. 1986
  4. Macdonald