It is very common these days to see the life of a pirate glamorized and romanticized in Hollywood movies and novels, and much of this fun-loving and goofy reputation rests on that old rumour about their love of drinking. Pirates were widely known in contemporary sources to drink just about anything they could get their hands on, but rum was undoubtedly their favourite tonic for long voyages. Whether the spirit was gained by force, coin, or stealth the drunken escapades it fuelled are now the stuff of legend. Read on to find out how it became such a big part of their lives, and to see what effects it had.
Favorite liquor of the Caribbean!
The Caribbean waters were once the focal point for pirate activity; it was in the Caribbean that they would attack and loot naval and merchant vessels, taking the crew hostage and removing valuables for sale in ports across the waters. Many pirates would start out their careers as naval sailors, or crewmen aboard merchant vessels, but would turn to piracy either as a result of discharge from such services, or because of the attractively lenient and democratic (yes, really) life to be found amongst buccaneers. Pirates were better paid and less restricted.
Rum on pirate ships
Liquor, and in particular rum, rose to prominence on all vessels due, in part, to the advent of truly long-haul voyages that resulted from the European settling in the Americas. Grog, that well-known mariners drink, was a blend of rum, water, and sometimes lime, mixed with water to sanitize it after stagnation. In the navy this would be rationed to sailors twice a day, but pirates could have as much as they wished.
Rum from the Caribbean
The vast majority of the world’s rum came from, and still comes from, the Caribbean; Jamaica and the surrounding areas produce the most overall. Sugar, you see, was a large and plentiful resource there which was exported to America and Europe, but which was expensive to move. Rum, distilled from sugar, however, was cheaper to transport and so became a staple export. This meant that many of the ships attacked by pirates were laden with barrels of rum, ripe for the taking. They could be sold for a pretty price, but pirates tended to drink a fair chunk of this kind of loot.
Disregard for Sobriety
A result of this bustling trade and plentiful rum meant that pirate vessels were always well-equipped, and pirates always had access to rum. The relaxed rules on drinking, however, could lead to over-indulgence. On military vessels this was less of an issue as liquor would be strictly rationed, but this was not the case for pirates. The result of such lax discipline was a disregard for sobriety, and, some sources have shown, the loss of a ship! Many a ship was lost because the crew were too inebriated to defend themselves.
So you see, while rum was a big part of the pirate’s life it could be both good and bad.