Skip to Content

Colonial molasses trade

« Back to Glossary Index

**Colonial Molasses Trade and Rum Production:**
– Economic significance of the molasses trade
New England’s emergence as a leading rum producer in the 18th century
– Secure business relationships between North American colonies and the French West Indies
Triangular trade involving rum, enslaved Africans, and molasses
Molasses as a key commodity in triangular trade
– Rising rum production in the early 18th century
– Large surplus of molasses in the last decades of the 18th century
– Development of local distilleries by English planters to address surplus
– Increase in rum production by the early 18th century

**Challenges and Foreign Competition:**
– Dutch threat to the molasses trade monopoly
– Growth of Dutch trade with colonies and New England in the early 18th century
– Importation of Dutch molasses by Boston and other areas
– Significant foreign molasses imports in New York compared to English sources
– Increase in French molasses imports to colonies
– Agitation in England due to foreign imports

**British Regulations and Acts:**
Molasses Act of 1733
– Imposition of high taxes on foreign molasses shipped to North American colonies
– Aim to control molasses trade and promote British molasses
– Widespread smuggling operations in response to colonial protests
Sugar Act of 1764
– Taxes imposed on molasses imports to colonies post-French and Indian War
– Aim to regulate trade and increase revenue
– Colonists’ protests leading to repeal in 1766
– Persistence of smuggling despite the act
– Navigation Acts restricting American shipping until around 1830

**Rum Industry and Distilleries:**
– Concentration of rum industry in middle colonies and New England
– Dominance of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in domestic rum exports
– Number of distilleries in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and their annual production
– Presence of local distilleries in other colonies like Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania
– Economic importance of rum distilleries in creating jobs, stimulating local economies, and boosting exports
– Role of rum distilleries in the growth of the shipping industry and colonial trade networks

**Impact of Rum Trade on American Revolution:**
– Significance of rum trade in the colonial economy
– Influence of British regulations on molasses and rum on colonial unrest
– Proliferation of rum smuggling due to high taxes
– Colonists’ use of rum as a form of protest against British policies
– Influence of rum trade on colonial attitudes towards British authority

The colonial molasses trade occurred throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the European colonies in the Americas. Molasses was a major trading product in the Americas, being produced by enslaved Africans on sugar plantations on European colonies. The good was a major import for the British North American colonies, which used molasses to produce rum, especially distilleries in New England. The finished product was then exported to Europe as part of the triangular trade.

Caribbean colonies in 1723.

Sugarcane grows in hot, humid climates. After landing in the Canary Islands, Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean during his second voyage to the Americas, in 1493. During the eighteenth century, sugar-refining methods at the time produced much more molasses to sugar than they do today. It was estimated that "as much as three parts molasses was produced to four parts sugar, and on an average it was estimated that the ratio of molasses to sugar was about one to two." This molasses was either used for table use or in the production of rum.

To make rum, sugarcane juice is fermented with yeast and water and then distilled in copper pot stills. The liquor was given the name rum in 1672, likely after the English slang word rumballion which meant clamor. Sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean often sold rum on discount to the naval ships so that they would spend more time close to the islands, providing protection from pirates. Rum also gained popularity in Britain as English ships brought the liquor from America across the Atlantic.

« Back to Glossary Index