Drinking rum from an onion…

Originally posted 25 November 2012

When I was in North Carolina on my lecture tour earlier this month, I was puzzled by the lack of information about rum distillers in the area prior to the Civil War. I found several references to rum as a generic trade good, but little information about who was making it and in what quantity. Based on nosing through various archives, I think I have the answer: lots of people were making it, each in relatively small quantities, and there were no established regional brands. Branded goods were indeed established in the North and Midwest during this time, but branding, advertising, and commercialization of alcohol lagged in the Old South. Distilling was an everyday skill, with turpentine and wood alcohol made in high volume, and the skill at distilling one could easily be used for the other. Hundreds of small rummeries were fed by the molasses trade with the Caribbean, with the rum sold through wholesale grocers. Most was probably sold by the keg, but bottles like this one were endlessly reused.


This type of flask was called an onion bottle, and this example was dug up on a beach near New Bern. It probably was made in Holland around 1730 – too late to have actually been part of Blackbeard’s cargo, but well within the time-line for many of his fellow buccaneers.