How Rum Was Once The Backbone Of The U.S. Economy

by Shirley Williams
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Before the Declaration of Independence was signed, molasses was a major product of colonial trade. It may seem an entertaining part of U.S. history that rum was also a staple of colonial life. Molasses was the main ingredient in the making of rum.

The British controlled some of the islands of the West Indies from whence molasses came. English colonies along the Atlantic Ocean purchased molasses to make their rum from molasses imported from the British owned islands of the West Indies.

Owing to their access and purchase of molasses, New England soon became a leading producer of rum in the world. Now, this kind of trading power angered the British politicians and businessmen since they owned the very source of molasses sold as rum to other countries by New England’s exporters.

In exchange for molasses from the French West Indies, New England tradesmen exchanged molasses for staples like cheese, flour, and lumber.

The Dark Side of the Molasses Story

In order to mass-produce molasses to make rum, it required the use of slaves from Africa. In a peculiar kind of circular exportation, colonial exporters traded rum to African slaves and then traded slaves for molasses produced in the West Indies.

Fear of the Growth of Colonial Export Power

When Great Britain realized colonial exports were growing to global proportions, Parliament decided to impose a tax on imports for all non-British colonies. This was an effort to lower the price of Britain’s products to make them less expensive those the colonial traders could receive from sellers in the West Indies.

However, the tax on imports was specifically directed at colonies in America and also their plantations that produced sugar cane that was also used to make rum. The tax levied in 1733 was known as the Molasses Act. British politician, Main Bladen conceived of the idea of levying a duty tax on French West Indies imports. His scheme had much vengeance attached.

When questioned how the tax might cause the ruin of American colonies, he said, “that the duties proposed would not prove an absolute prohibition, but he owned that he meant them as something that should come very near it, for in the way the northern colonies are, they raise the French Islands at the expense of ours, and raise themselves also [to]o high, even to an independency.”

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Colonist Retaliation

Such colonist retaliation would later result in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 after continued British taxation without representation.

Colonial traders were forced to rely on smugglers who increased the volume of molasses imported by North American colonists. Many in the colonies believed the Molasses Act like the Stamp Act of 1765, Townshend Act, Indemnity Act, the Revenue Act, and others levied in 1767 and 1768 brought about the Revolutionary War in 1775 to 1783.

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