In today’s culture, pirates are often romanticized as characters who just wanted to have a good time, and a large part of that mystique centers on their love of drinking. While pirates were known to drink anything they could get their hands on, the drink most commonly associated with them, of course, was rum. Whether they attained rum as loot during a raid or purchased it at port, their tales of drunken debauchery are the stuff of legend. Read on to find out how rum became such an intrinsic part of a pirate’s way of life.
Hotbed of Pirate Action
The Caribbean was once a hotbed of pirate action, where they would plunder ships belonging to the British, French and Spanish. Many pirates started out as military sailors, but made the switch to pirating because they found the lifestyle much more appealing: no navy commanders to answer to, better pay and perhaps most importantly, no rules about drinking or essentially anything else.
With the discovery of the Americas, long-haul sailing expeditions ran into problems with the drinking water they transported going stagnant, so mixing it with alcohol became a safer alternative. The well-known mariner’s drink grog, which was a blend of rum, water and sometimes lime, was implemented by the navy and rationed to sailors twice daily for hydration, whereas pirates drank it whenever they pleased.
Rum from the Caribbean
The majority of the world’s rum came from the Caribbean (and still does), mainly Jamaica and the surrounding area. Sugar is a large commodity there and is the ingredient rum is derived from, and while some sugar was exported to Europe and America, it was quite expensive to transport. However, large quantities of rum distilled from sugar were easier to ship, and the rum trade became an essential part of the area’s economy. Therefore, barrels of rum became a mainstay on thousands of ships sailing the Caribbean waters and a popular item for pirates to loot. When they boarded a ship, pirates would often hold the crew hostage for ransom and steal any treasure, liquor and other valuables they could sell off in ports.
Disregard for Sobriety
Subsequently, pirates had access to plenty of rum and drank the majority of it themselves. A steady supply of it boosted morale and kept the crew members quite happy, but over-imbibing sometimes became the downfall of a pirate ship. While a military or merchant ship crew consumed alcohol, their measured rations were usually watered down and distributed at specific times. In contrast, pirate ships were typically run with a weakened sense of morality and discipline, which for many led to an utter disregard for sobriety. This led to several documented accounts which recall pirate ships being easily overtaken because the crew was too drunk to fight or defend itself.
In keeping the pirate spirit alive, raise your rum-filled glass and toast the wild swashbucklers who came before us!