Chapter 1 [ Kill-devil ] The people have a very generous fashion that if one come to a house to inquire the way to any place, they will make him drink, and if the traveler does deny to stay to drink they take it very unkindly of him. Henry Whistler on Barbados customs, 1655 Ruma spirit distilled from the juice of a sugarcane plant or its by-productswas first invented in the early seventeenth century on the British island colony of Barbados. Or not. In which case it may have been invented on the Spanish islands of Hispaniola or Cuba (where it would have been called aguadiente, or "burning water"), or by Portuguese colonists on the coast of Brazil (where it would later be called cachaca). Or possibly it was first distilled by the French on one of their Caribbean island strongholds (where the poorer grades of rum were known as tafia). On the other hand, it may have been first concocted in the 1400s somewhere in Europe by secretive alchemists searching for the elixir of life and feeding through their retorts whatever fermentable matter they could get their hands on. Or just maybe it was invented even earlier by an anonymous chemist tinkering near the cane fields of coastal India. The thing is, no one really knows when rum first appeared. If you want to know about the history of sugar, overflowing archives provide enough information to lead to mental obesity. But for rum, it's a starvation diet. The West Indian island of Barbados has long claimed that first Barbadians invented rum, and it's telling that no historians have roused themselves to seriously dispute this point. Some, like rum expert Edward Hamilton, have argued that rum was first produced commercially in the Portuguese or Spanish colonies, probably in Brazil, and he has been rooting around for customs documents or ship manifests to back this up. He hasn't found anything yet. (And he guesses he may never: Rum exports from the colonies were prohibited by Spain and Portugal, which meant any rum produced was smuggled and undocumented. And even if it had been documented, the ports of the West Indies were laid waste by attackers with numbing regularity, so the archives of the earliest days are often nonexistent.) This much at least is known about rum: Sometime around the middle of the seventeenth century, an outbreak of rum occurred almost everywhere the Dutch, Spanish, French, and English were engaged in their New World errand-running. The British sea captain John Josselyn wrote of a dinner held on a ship off the coast of present-day Maine in September 1639, at which another captain toasted him with a pint of rum. Laws controlling the sale of rum abruptly cropped up in different colonies, as a warden in pursuit of a persistent truantin Bermuda in 1653, in Connecticut in 1654, in Massachusetts in 1657. Then, sometime shortly before 1650, rum surfaced at an extravagant feast held at the Barbados estate of James Drax, the most important planter on Great Britain's most important island colony. For anyone curious about the cultural history of rumor who wants to learn about the ancestry of that bottle of West Indian rum in the back of their liquor cabinetI'd argue that this is as fine a place to begin the story as any. P Barbados is pear-shaped and just twenty-one miles long by fourteen miles wideor about one-seventh the size of Rhode Island. On a map of the Caribbean, Barbados lies far to the east, like a wayward child refusing to stand in line with the rest of the Lesser Antilles, which sweep in a great arc from Puerto Rico to Trinidad. Adventurers from Portugal and Spain landed here in the sixteenth century, but finding noCurtis, Wayne is the author of 'And a Bottle of Rum A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails', published 2006 under ISBN 9781400051670 and ISBN 1400051673.