Top 10 drinking myths, legends and ancient rituals

Rum and gunpowder – 18th century pirates

During the 18th century, it was apparently common for pirates to add gunpowder to rum, with Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach) in particular said to drink gunpowder-laced rum before boarding enemy ships. The practice was said to be a form of Dutch courage, and to enforce his reputation as a crazed and unpredictable foe.

However the custom of adding gunpowder to alcohol actually dates back to the 1600s when sailors in the British Royal Navy were regularly paid in rum rather than money.

Suspicious of their officers watering down their rum, sailors would add gunpowder to their grog to test the relative proof of the spirit. If the mixture failed to flare up it was deemed ‘under-proof’ and watered down. If it flared a bright blue, it was considered to be at or above ‘navy-strength’ – 54.5% ABV and above.

A further origin of this custom can be traced to Haiti, where in Voodoo religion the consumption of rum mixed with gunpowder, soil from a freshly dug grave and human blood was often used in rituals.

During Tacky’s Rebellion, an important slave revolt in Jamaica in 1760, warriors prepared for battle by drinking rum mixed with gunpowder, grave dirt, and blood.

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