In 1493 the Spanish introduced sugar cane into the West Indies and enslaved the native populations to work their sugar plantations. Sugar was produced by crushing the cane, boiling the resulting juices, and then leaving the syrup in clay pots to cure. A viscous liquid, molasses, was then poured off leaving the pure sugar behind and for every two pounds of sugar produced a pound of molasses was also created. This industrial waste was fed to slaves and livestock but, with no other practical use for it, most of the molasses was dumped into the ocean. It was probably the slaves who first realized that if molasses was mixed with the liquid skimmed off the cane juice during boiling and fermented, it produced an intoxicating beverage. Colonists soon realized that this mixture was an excellent starting point for distillation and by 1650 British planters in Barbados and the French in Martinique began creating a drink called rum in pot stills. Rum rapidly became the alcoholic beverage of choice in England and colonial America and soon many of the sugar growing islands in the Caribbean were also distilling rum.
In 1733 the British parliament, in an attempt to regulate commerce and collect duties by forcing trade through the ports of Kingston and Nassau, passed the molasses act which imposed a high tax on molasses or rum coming from any non-British island and also made it illegal for the colonies to trade alcoholic beverages directly between one another. The molasses act was not enforced initially and by 1742 England was at war with both France and Spain so there was no worry about the colonies trading with other nations.
When the hostilities with Spain and France ended, however, Britain began to look for additional sources of revenue from the colonies to help pay for the war costs. Although it provoked much anger amongst the American colonists, enforcement of the molasses act began in 1750.
HOW THE FORMER PIRATES HELPED THE COLONISTS
The end of the war had also brought dire economic consequences for the pirates who had become privateers but had been released from government employment. The more entrepreneurial amongst them, the ones who had fast ships capable of outrunning the British revenue cutters, elected to help the American colonists avoid what they felt were unjustified taxes by smuggling for them.
With the help of the former pirates, American goods were then traded with the ever obliging merchants on Harbour Island, Bahamas, or went directly to Martinique where the rum was cheap.
NEXT BOOK IN THE SERIES
In Rum & Wrecks, which I am currently writing, we find the protagonists from Pirates of the Bahamas becoming rum smugglers, after a harrowing experience with the Spanish regarding salvaging a ship makes Jack realize that smuggling might be safer than wrecking.