In today’s culture it is very common to see pirates romanticized as fun-loving and even goofy; much of their modern-day reputation stems from their famed love of drinking! The drink most associated with them, of course, is rum (though they were known to drink just about whatever they could get their hands on!). Whether they bought or “acquired” this spirit, the tales of drunken debauchery and adventures are legendary… read on to find out just how rum became such a huge part of the pirate way of life.
Hotbed of Pirate Action
The Caribbean was once the place to be if you were a pirate; it was a veritable hotbed of piracy and was where they would most commonly capture and loot French, British and Spanish ships. Many pirates would have come from military and naval backgrounds, but would switch to piracy because of its more caring and democratic (we kid you not!) ways. You see on board a pirate ship every man had a say, the pay was better, and there were fewer rules regarding just about anything.
Rum was healthier than water
With the European expansion and “discovery” of the Americas there came new nautical issues; long-haul expeditions became more common and there was the issue, now, of stagnation in the drinking water. Mixing it with alcohol was identified as the safest way to preserve the water, therefore, and this came in many forms. The well-known drink “grog” was a blend of rum and water, and perhaps a little lime. This was rationed to naval force twice a day to keep them hydrated, but pirates could have it whenever they wished!
Rum from the Caribbean
The majority of the world’s rum used to, and still does, come from the Caribbean (mainly Jamaica and the surrounding areas) where sugar is in plentiful supply. Sugar is the ingredient from which rum is derived, by and large. Sugar was exported to Europe and America, but was expensive to transport; rum distilled from sugar was easier to ship, and so the rum trade became key to the area’s economy. An indirect result was that barrels of rum became a mainstay on ships sailing the waters of the Caribbean, and they were, therefore, popular items for pirates to loot. A common tactic was to board a ship, hold the crew hostage and loot valuables (such as liquor) for sale at ports.
Disregard for Sobriety
As a result, pirates had access to lots of rum and drank the vast majority of such plunder personally. A steady supply of this spirit kept morale high, but over-imbibing was the downfall of more than one ship and crew. Navy ships or merchant vessels also consumed alcohol, but the measures were rationed strictly; pirate ships had no such control and the result, very often, was a complete disregard for the benefits of sobriety. Several documented accounts show that such behaviour led to pirate ships being easily overwhelmed and taken because the crew was too drunk to efficiently defend itself.
You see rum was a huge part of a pirates life, but could be both good and bad.