tv Invention of Rum CSPAN November 17, 2019 3:40pm-4:01pm EST
campaign trail, and make up your own mind. c-span's campaign 2020, your unfiltered view of politics. widener university professor jordan smith talks about the invention of rum and its impact on the atlantic world during the 17th and 18th centuries. we recorded the interview at the organization of american historians' annual meeting in philadelphia. are here atith, you the organization of american historians' annual meeting talking about rum. why? smith: i am working on an ongoing book project that looks at the impact of the invention of rum on the atlantic world. rum was invented not in one moment, but over centuries as different groups of people from the americas, europe and africa
converged and kind of combined cultures and experiences. >> and why rum? prof. smith: i think what is really interesting about rum, it's so ubiquitous. washington, george mount vernon, everyone is bringing rum. it is served on washington's table. martha washington said in a letter to the house manager that rum may always be had, imported from a distillery locally in alexandria, virginia, but also from the caribbean. part of the economy, bringing in hired workers to get some of their wages in rum, and people who received rum for anything from childbirth to getting a cow out of the mire. it's one of these moments where you can see how different groups of people who you don't always think of in conjunction with each other interact around an item that's part of everyday
life. >> when and where is it invented? prof. smith: i argue in the book that rum was initially invented in barbados, in the early to mid-17th century, when europeans from england and scotland as well as native people from south america and africans arrive in barbados, within about 18 months of each other. there is a moment when people want alcohol, all those groups of individuals were used to having alcohol, but they were far removed from where they had lived previously, and certain overhols don't travel well in the atlantic ocean. so there are people interested in making alcohol, with some experience making alcohol. there are new products they get to experiment with fermenting to turn sugars into alcohol. and some of the equipment necessary to make rum still,
copper stills, arrive on the island for different purposes. there was a period of experimentation, drawing in the different groups of people, and within a couple decades, they are producing a number of different beverages. things from bananas and plums, but also things from the waste products of sugar production, which becomes rum. i was argue -- i argue it was invented in barbados, and kind of reinvented as a commodity, and the knowledge to make that commodity travels from barbados to the rest of the caribbean, and north america, england and scotland even. >> and what on the island of barbados are they using? prof. smith: so, when the native people are brought from south america, they bring with them sugarcane. rumthe base ingredient for is usually the waste products from sugar. that is the base ingredient usually. >> and how is it being made at
this time? prof. smith: you would take whatever kind of waste products you had, talking about sugarcane that might have been damaged when it was eaten by rats, or damaged in a hurricane, or the molasses taken out of the sugar as it is being turned into granular sugar, and they are taking all these waste products together, mixing them together with some water, some source of yeast, allowing fermentation to take place for maybe two weeks as the sugar becomes alcohol. then there put in a closed copper still, where you are able to extract most of the alcohol, and only some of the water, creating a more concentrated alcoholic beverage. >> who is drinking it? prof. smith: everybody. a lot of the rum is being consumed on the plantations where it is produced, especially early on, the producers are the consumers. that's an important point. it suggests to us, when we try to figure out why rum gains the
qualities it does, partly because whoever is making it is also thinking about what they want to consume, what properties they want it to have. eventually, it is also being theed kind of locally, smaller plantations that might not have a distillery. it is being traded to africa. alcohol is the second most traded item in the transatlantic in northade, and america it becomes an important part of european trade with native people. so really, just about everybody, including people who we would consider basically children today, would have been drinking rum, in large quantities. >> is it a lucrative commodity? prof. smith: the thing that might differentiate rum from beer or wine or brandy and whiskey is that it's a value-added rather than substitution, because you are able to harness the waste products of sugar production and turn them into rum. it would increase the value of
sugar production, so it is very lucrative, and beyond just making money, it also in the caribbean encourages industrialists in places like north america to start making rum on their own, centralizing production in a new way. >> looking at documents from that time or in your research, how much are people paying, what are they trading for to get rum, and in what quantities? prof. smith: so, it depends. individuals might go to a tavern and by some small quantity of rum, for personal consumption. >> and how much would that cost? prof. smith: i couldn't even, pennies.ts, you could get a little bit of rum for very little money. this is already in an era where arele, rum, they
experimenting with aging, different qualities and different types of product. from the caribbean ended up being more valuable than rum made in north america, for instance. >> who is making it at first, and where does it go from there? prof. smith: in the larger book kindct, i document how rum of emerges from the margins of society in barbados, as the individuals with the cultivation of sugar, so native people, enslaved africans, start experimenting with different types of alcohol production. athink early on, it's not commodity yet. there's room for individuals not part of the dominant culture to experiment with making it. but it becomes a commodity,
becomes incredibly lucrative. so plantation owners and enslave to require slaves, individuals to carry out more work in rum production. so over time, especially the 18th-century, the work becomes concentrated in the hands of enslaved individuals for the the extentcredit to that credit is being given to investors, to slavers rather than the actual bodies and minds producing it. >> and where does he get exported to, and why? prof. smith: again, really anywhere a british ship is going, rum is going with it. that suggests, also the knowledge of how it is produced is being circulated between the caribbean, north america and britain. but later on in the late 18th century, you also see rum going as far afield as south asia and
even australia. rum is always on these ships. part of rations for sailors, but also sometimes as a trade item. >> what impact does this new industry have on the colonies? prof. smith: it becomes one of the largest industries in north america. are about 140ere rum distilleries throughout the georgiacolonies, from to present-day new hampshire, even some in canada. ofse are a particular type industrial production, i argue, slavery, which resembles plantation slavery from the caribbean more than other forms of northern slavery, to places like boston and
philadelphia, where we are today. >> what do you mean by that? prof. smith: the way the distilleries work in the northern cities, they often have as many as eight or 10 enslaved people working in them, and usually supervised by a hired distiller. that's a little different from what happened in other industries in the north, like shipbuilding or making iron, where the workers worked alongside each other. so it is more hierarchical. of the larger uses of industrial slavery in the north. >> and what effect does it have on slavery, the institution? prof. smith: i think the invention and production of rum has several influences on slavery. mostit's one of the frequently traded items in the slave trade, and shows the connections between places like boston and newport, rhode island and this trade.
rum production can also encoura ge the movement of enslaved bodies. book casesin the where individual enslaved people are moved against their will from plantations in barbados, for instance, to boston, where they are valued for their expertise. i tell the story in the book manuscript of a man in 1730 who is removed from barbados, carried around to different distilleries in boston, advertised as an expert in rum production, or making the barrels necessary for rum. this is a powerful reminder of how slavery was not just, it wasn't just taking a physical body, but it was also taking a mind, and it tells us something about the intellectual history of slavery where individuals are producing knowledge.
not just carrying knowledge, but producing expertise, adding value. personwas that worth more, because of his expertise? prof. smith: yes. with him in particular there are other complications that make it harder to weigh, but in general, d at plantation records and records of producers to see how they valued skilled workers. i found enslaved distillers, people who make stills or the barrels necessary to carry rum often distilleries, were valued higher than other enslaved people who were not given those jobs. >> when did you develop your interest in the history of rum? what was it? prof. smith: even as an undergraduate student when i was first involved with history, i thought alcohol was a way to
think about how a variety of different people interacted, because it was so ubiquitous in american society and the psy societies of the atlantic world. i spent some time working at mount vernon. it had a reconstructed 18th-century distillery. part of an early effort to make different types of alcohol there . andas really hard work, sometimes didn't go as planned. of information and expertise individuals, ensl aved individuals must have had, that we took for granted. it caused me to rethink the part of the alcohol process, the production, whether that might tell us about the history of the atlantic world, but also how we think about expertise. >> so you were making rum, the
way people were doing it? prof. smith: initially i was making whiskey, and eventually had a chance to make rum as well. again, it's inspired by how it was done, not always exactly how it was done in washington's time. but the physical process raised questions that dovetailed nicely with what i was learning about how we talk about industries and work in early america. >> and when you say it didn't turn out as expected, did you make some really bad rum? [laughter] prof. smith: more than that, i remember when we didn't know how batches,r fermented and we came in one morning and the floor was covered in foam. we had time to reflect cleaning up the foam that developed because of something that wasn't really written in distillation guides from the 18th-century, but something enslaved and hired distiller's would have known from their own experience. >> what should people know about
learning history by doing history? ,rof. smith: well, i think we it can really add to our understanding of certain processes, what it means to kind create anylcohol or commodity. that can be really valuable. we also have to be mindful that techniques,certain we will never really be able to replicate the broader milieu of the 18th century, nor would we want to. it will never really be the same. i cannot speak to certain experiences tied up in slavery or anything else, but i can learn something from momentarily working with the same sorts of tools people in the past might have used. >> jordan smith, thank you. you. smith: thank
>> this is american history tv, each weekendhere we feature 48 hours of programming exploring our t -- past.asttttttttttttttt >> this weekend on "the presidency," a look at pulitzer prize winning artist pat olyphant's political cartoons focusing on the presidencies from lyndon b. johnson to ronald reagan. here is a preview. >> i love this cartoon. [laughter] moving on to the nixon campaign. this is right after richard nixon announced as a republican candidate for president, that he will end the war and win the
peace in vietnam. he's presenting himself as a dove, after supporting every hawkish escalation of the war up until that point. captures that it the commentary at the time and for years afterwards didn't capture, just how impossible it would be for any of the candidates to come up with a satisfactory outcome in vietnam. nixon was trying to avoid saying he would win the war, because he knew he could not do that and it would not be credible. and really didn't have much of a plan for ending it, or winning the peace, as we will get into a little later. so the idea of him scrambling to sort of pull a rabbit out of a hat is perfect, i think. i want to draw everyone's attention to the facial expression on the rabbit.
[laughter] jaded, butd as others might take a different way. one really curious. when i thought of the phrase xon," i neverni thought of a magician. i thought of someone who did other kinds of tricks. the problem with richard nixon, i always thought, was not that he was an incompetent trickster, but he was way too good at it. >> i guess my reaction was tricky dick, too. i knew a lot about the eisenhower haven nixon relationship, and eisenhower always thought nixon was too partisan and also immature. rebrand himself when he ran the second time for president in 1967. the new nixon, who was more mature, who could poke fun at
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