Kill-Devil into Rumbullion

Tom Standage’s History of the World in Six Glasses details the discovery of humanity’s first spirits: The planters of Barbados gained more than just sugarcane¬† and equipment from Brazil; they also learned how to ferment the by-products of the sugar-making process and the distill the result to make a powerful alcoholic drink. A traveler who visited Barbados in 1651 observed that the islanders’ preferred drink or “chief fudling” was “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar-canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” Rumbullion, a slang word from southern England that means “a brawl or violent commotion” may have been chosen as the drink’s nickname because that was frequently the outcome when people drank too much of it. Rumbillion, shortened to rum, spread throughout the Caribbean.