Caribbean Rum
A Social and Economic History

Frederick H. Smith

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"The most significant contribution to the history of Caribbean rum since John McCusker's Rum and the American Revolution. . . . It adds significantly to McCusker’s work by analyzing the Caribbean environment in greater depth and by bringing the story forward by two centuries."--Anthony P. Maingot, Florida International University

Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the New World on his second voyage. By 1520 commercial sugar production was underway in the Caribbean, along with the perfection of methods to ferment and distill alcohol from sugarcane to produce a new beverage that would have dramatic impact on the region. Caribbean Rum presents the fascinating cultural, economic, and ethnographic history of rum in the Caribbean from the colonial period to the present.

Drawing on data from historical archaeology and the economic history of the Caribbean, Frederick Smith explains why this industry arose in the islands, how attitudes toward alcohol consumption have impacted the people of the region, and how rum production evolved over 400 years from a small colonial activity to a multi-billion-dollar industry controlled by multinational corporations. He investigates the economic impact of Caribbean rum on many scales, including rum's contribution to sugarcane plantation revenues, its role in bolstering colonial and postcolonial economies, and its impact on Atlantic trade. Smith discusses the political and economic trends that determined the value of rum, especially war, competition from other alcohol industries, slavery and emancipation, temperance movements, and globalization.

The book also examines the social and sacred uses of rum and identifies the forces that shaped alcohol use in the Caribbean. It shows how levels of drinking and drunken deportment reflected underlying social tensions, which were driven by the coercive exploitation of labor and set within a highly contentious hierarchy based on class, race, gender, religion, and ethnic identity, and how these tensions were magnified by epidemic disease, poor living conditions, natural disasters, international conflicts, and unstable food supplies.

Frederick H. Smith, assistant professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary.

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"Smith adds knowledgeably to the growing body of commodity-based histories, using rum to elucidate, in this case, the history of the Caribbean . . . Beginning with the use of alcohol in indigenous Carib religious rituals, continuing through the impact of the American Revolution on British Caribbean rum makers (very negative), and moving on to more contemporary temperance movements."
--Foreign Affairs

"Caribbean Rum details the story of rum making within the context of the African and European cultures, both at home and in the colonies, the political machinations of intercontinental trade, the competing colonial markets and the effects of treaties and conflicts. Most of all, the book describes the social and religious aspects of alcohol in the Caribbean. . . The story Smith tells is a fascinating one."

"The most important study of the Caribbean rum industry since John McCusker's masterful 1970 Ph. D. dissertation Rum and the American Revolution… A must read for all serious students of the early modern Atlantic World."

"Contributes to the growing field of Atlantic studies and breaks new ground in using an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates documentary, archaeological, and ethnographic evidence."
--Journal of Economic Literature

"Delving into diverse topics, such as the physical environment of the rum still, the cultural use of alcohol in West African funeral rites, and rum's commercial history, Smith's interdisciplinary approach has provided historians of the Atlantic with a well-argued, eloquent examination of one of the Caribbean's transformative goods and of "Captain Morgan's" drink of choice."

Smith covers the evolution of rum from a minor commodity, sold to supplement the booming sugar trade, to its present status as one of the most important exports of the region.
--The Chronicle of Higher Education

Intellectually rich and deliciously complex, this book stands out among others of its genre in its untiring depth of description and detail. Smith shows his undeniable talent as a reasearcher and story-teller as rum's multiple facets unfold from the very first page.
--Journal of Latin American Geography

Caribbean Rum certainly widens our understanding of the role of alcohol in West Indian society...It will be regarded as an important contribution to the economic history of the Caribbean.
--Business History Review

…Highly recommended…

"A book of many virtues. By silhouetting rum's saga against the broader background of the region, he lets the reader keep the global in view, even while focusing on the local."
--The American Historical Review

Smith has made a most valuable contribution to Caribbean economic and social history.
--Journal of Latin American Studies

…a book of many virtues… By silhouetting rum's saga against the broader background of the region, he lets the reader keep the global in view, even while focusing on the local. Historians of the region will find his overview exciting.
--American Historical Review

…thoroughly researched and well-written…Smith has made a most valuable contribution to Caribbean economic and social history.
--Journal of Latin American Studies

"A well-designed and amply illustrated book…interdisciplinary scholarship at its best."
--American Ethnologist (Online)

"This is the best book to date on Caribbean rum."
--New West Indian Guide

"Will likely become a definitive work in the field."
--I Enerario

"Provocative analysis, imaginative use of sources, and the breadth of the synthesis make this history particularly valuable to students of the region's economies and cultures."
--Caribbean Studies

" Smith should be commended for writing an Atlantic history of Caribbean rum. A well-written and engaging history. Skillfully incorporates diverse primary sources including travel books, plantation records, medical textbooks, and a delightful assortment of images. Traverses a long period of time without losing the reader or weakening his argument. A fine addition to an undergraduate or graduate seminar in Atlantic history. A must read for Atlantic historians. Historians of medicine will enjoy Smith's examination of the medicinal aspects of rum; likewise, religious studies scholars will profit from reading about the spiritual significance of rum."
--The Sixteenth Century Journal

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