Skip to main content

Rum Trade


RUM TRADE began in the New England colonies in the seventeenth century and soon became vital to the existence of a people unable to produce staple crops beyond subsistance farms. Because the lumber and fishing industries of New England were unable to find sufficient markets in England, traders sought a market in the colonies of the West Indies. There, lumber and fish were exchanged for molasses, the main product of the islands. The molasses, in turn, was manufactured in to rum, becoming one of the earliest of New England's industries.

The rum trade became part of a "triangular trade" between New England, the West Indies, and the African Gold Coast that maintained the prosperity of the northern colonies throughout the eighteenth century. In this triangular trade, molasses was sent to New England, rum to Africa, and slaves to the West Indies.

The New England colonies soon came into conflict with Great Britain over the rum trade as traders found it more profitable to deal with the French, Dutch, and Spanish than with the English. The British Parliament attempted, through the Molasses Act of 1733, to limit trade outside the empire by imposing high duties on non-British molasses imported into New England. This legislation was consistently evaded, and smuggling became an accepted practice.

In 1763 the conflict over molasses imports reached crisis proportions, largely because of the war between Great Britain and France. Parliament passed the Sugar Act, a stronger version of the Molasses Act, which attempted to enforce duties through the use of the British navy, the appointment of customs commissioners, and the issuance of writs of assistance. Opposition soared, and, by 1763, smuggling was regarded by New Englanders as a patriotic exercise.


Loades, D. M. England's Maritime Empire: Seapower, Commerce, and Policy 1490–1690. New York: Longman, 2000.

McCusker, John. Rum and the American Revolution: The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies. New York: Garland, 1989.

Temin, Peter, ed. Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

RogerBurlingame/h. s.

See alsoMolassas Trade ; Smuggling, Colonial ; Sugar Acts ; West Indies, British and French .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rum Trade." Dictionary of American History. . 25 Jun. 2019 <>.

"Rum Trade." Dictionary of American History. . (June 25, 2019).

"Rum Trade." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved June 25, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.