Rum, the Spirit of The American Revolution

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Mount Rushmore by John Bakator

Revolutionaries some call us, rebellion our fight and liberty our companion. You see, we’ve been fighting for our liberty from the crown. A crown hell-bent on seeing us as their royal subjects. The British think they could tax whatever they want without our say. Representation is important when you’re on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but I guess the red coats couldn’t see that for themselves. You see, people have been revering us ever since we snuck onto that ship and tossed over a few cargo loads of tea. The English are crazy about their tea, so crazy it took us tossing a bunch of it into the bay to get their attention. Well, we got their attention now, but we’ve had to pay the price in our brother’s blood. Just two days ago I saw my fellow infantry man, Horace Gable loose his leg when a musket shot lodged itself in there comfortably. He wasn’t crying out not for his momma, nor for his country. The poor fella only had one thing on his mind — and that was rum.

“Get me the rum,” he screamed. “Where is the bloody rum!”

You see, rum is important in a time of war. Hell, in hard times in general. People easily forget their was a damn Whiskey Rebellion for goodness sake, but rum, that’s the most popular drink in these particular hard times. Americans drink an average of thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine per year in today’s 1770s; but the rum, that’s the kicker. Gets you right to where you need to go and sometimes that’s in a hurry. The way I figure it, Americans are hard working peoples. And if you send a hard working people to war, to fight against tyranny and an enemy with infinitely more numbers and resources, drinking becomes more important than musket ammunition. It’s a different kind of ammunition if you think about it. For ol’ poor Gable it was something to get him through the pain, to numb the sacrifice he would have to carry for life. For the men on the frontlines fighting for American freedom, it’s everything from courage to decontaminate. For others it’s just a way to unwind and fall asleep.

For Britain it’s the very sugar the English wanted to tax. In 1699, even a British observer commented that rum was “much adored by the American English” as “the comforter of their souls, the preserver of their bodies, the remover of their cares, and promoter of their mirth.” Forget the glory of fighting for liberty for a minute and consider the role rum has in our America Revolution. Every man during this revolutionary time drank an average of three-pints of this Caribbean sugar water a week. Hell, it is widely known Paul Revere only made one stop when warning our fellow colonials. He had to make a pit stop at the house of Isaac Hall whereupon the two converse and shared a pint of rum.

Now I am no Paul Revere but I and my militiamen need to get our hands on some rum for the coming weeks. We’ve made ourselves into fine soldiers and have fought many scores of redcoats back across the Potomac. But they keep coming. And we keep pushing them back. We’ve been here for nearly two weeks and rations are starting to get low. The captain is sending 3 runners into town for provisions tomorrow morning. Turns out I’m one of them. The Captain wanted volunteers and since I grew up in these parts I know the land albeit I grew up some fifty miles north of here. I know where the shadows lay and where the fields grow tallest by the count my father and I came here often for game. The major thing is we’re not so sure there’s a town to go back to.

In the middle of the night we heard cannons to our northeast and in the morning we could all see and smell the smoke rising from the southwest. For all we know they have us surrounded on all sides. It’s going to be a dangerous gamble to head out and give away our position. It would mean not only my death but the death of my fellow countrymen. But if we don’t get food and water, hell and our rum, we’re going to die anyway. It was with these revelations the morning air turned to afternoon humidity and following the drips of sweat from my hat did the captains’ footsteps come to fruition.

“Men,” the Captain said as he entered our tent springing us to our feet.

“Today is the day you bring your childhoods to life. All those days in the sun and under the moon when you were hiding and playing will be the spirit in which sees us through this siege. Now go and spare no haste. For if you do not return in 3 days we will be forced to charge the line. Bring food and water and news of the war. It is my hope it is our general you will meet and not that of England. Go for god and country men. For your country and lady liberty salute you.”

With those closing remarks my heart burned in my chest like fire. Before it sizzled out I was leading our small company southwest towards the smoke. It was myself, and two other men – Henry Godfree and Joseph Milroy. Each had grown up in the county, well Milroy was from about twenty miles south of here and Godfree about 40 miles west but we were the closest. It didn’t matter anyway. We would have done anything to get out of that camp. A man can only sit somewhere for so long. This is what this revolution is all about. Americans are self determinate. It was time we made a move. We all understood this without saying a word to each other. Our expedition was underway and our mission was clear. Just after we were out of the eyes of our camp, Milroy stopped us and knelt to his pack.

“Here you go boys. A little something to lighten our steps.” Milroy with a slight grin and a look over his shoulder pulled out a pint of rum from his coat. “Were did you get this!” Asked Henry and I in unison. “We were not complaining but damn it was risky for you to take it.” “Hell, the way I see it is they sending us out without any food or water. We needed something. This will numb the hunger and warm our bones.” Strangely it made enough sense to kill our pride. “Reminds us why and where we’re going to too.”  It wasn’t the most admirable thing to do. Taking a bottle from our brothers camped out awaiting the next wave of redcoats. But the deed had been done and with that final thought escaping my inhibition we all took a pull from the bottle and made our way towards the town. We marched in a line each of us ten paces from the other man. We marched through the night to get to the town by morning. Our bottle had been exhausted but it kept us warm through the night. When we arrived the morning light was a shy dusk and the city had been smoked for so long a fine haze permeated throughout. 

The town was sprawled like many towns in New England. It had a main street with the town hall on one end and the city’s chapel on the other. Only none of us had been to this town before, so the preacher for all we know could have been a quaker or a protestant.

“What that over there?” I asked pointing to an unusually large building on what appeared to be the town’s main street. 

“I’m not sure,” said Henry. “It’s huge.” “Maybe it’s the town’s general store.”

“I’m not sure about that,” said Joe.

We must have kept our eyes fixated on this building for quite some time while not paying attention to our surroundings. We had just been up for nearly 24 hours and the haze wasn’t helping us because in that moment a large rustling came up from behind us.

“Stay right where you are!” Yelled a voice. I did not hear an accent but I knew we were in trouble.

“Don’t shoot!” Henry cried.
“Get up slowly and turn around. All three of you!”

We did as they said. We slowly turned around and dammit there to greet us were five men and five muskets pointed right at us. Each of the men were dressed in a grey coat fashioned with odd hats and patches of jewelry. They looked more like pirates than soldiers but they had this aura about them. Like they had seen many battles and each of their oddities was a token from a previous battle.

“Who are you men? Are you with the rebellion?”

“My name is Justice Atley, I am from Massachusetts as well as these other men. Yes, we are with the rebellion.”

“How can we know that? Who is your Captain?” He asked in an austere tone.

“Captain Milton sir, 75th Militia.” Our hands were still in the air. “We’ve come for provisions. We are bogged down between the redcoats and the river. They’ve been coming at us for weeks we can’t let up or they’ll cross into this here town and you know what will happen if they do that.” 

Upon those last words the empty rum bottle fell from Henry’s coat pocket. The clunk made the men move their muskets over to Henry who nearly fainted.  “It’s just a bottle. It’s empty.” 

The leader of the group walked over and picked up the bottle. He popped off the cork and brought it to his nose. He slowly bowled his neck to his men. They were hard with their muskets drawn at us. They were evaluating their leader. Would this be the moment they pulled the trigger on the spies. Would they have to see another man fall and die before their very eyes. They peered at us like we did the town laid in smoke. Finally his lean face came to a proposition.

“Why, its rum!” He said turning to his mates.

“Rum of the finest sugar.” They smiled in relief and began to breadth lightly amongst themselves. A large smile drew across the leader’s face. He tossed the bottle back to Henry and pulled from his waist a flask. I saw a blue coat underneath his grey mantle. “Well, we know you’re not British.” He took a sip from the flask and handed it to Joe.

“Well, of course we’re not Brits.” Said Joe. He looked like a child whose mother just bought him a new bed.

“How did the rum give it away?” I asked with my hands no longer in the air.

“If you were Brits’ you’d be drinking gin or some other ungodly spirit.

” He then pointed back to the bottle. “I’d recognize this cork from anywhere. American cork is the finest in the world.”

“My fiend we are in need of provisions. Can you help us?” I had to break up this moment for our mission. It was not easy but men were waiting for us.

“Men, I will do everything in my power to help you. My name is Washington, General George Washington. Come with me into town, we will get you your provisions as well as our easy company to liberate your militia and push back the redcoats.”