1948 The Bon Vivant's Companion by George A Zabriskie (2nd edition)


The BonVivant's Companion

chest—Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!" The hero of the story thought the "dead man's chest" referred to the pirate's strong box, but it didn't. Nor did it refer to the torso of a deceased buccaneer. The "dead man's chest"—whether Robert Louis Stevenson knew it or not—was a small islandoff the south coastofPuerto Rico,known astheCajadeMuertos, or DeadMan'sBox, because of its shape, which suggests a coffin. It was a hangout for pirates,according to local legends, and so difficult to get to and from that, no doubt, the "fifteen men" were marooned there to die (we tried to go over but the boatmanwouldn't attempt a landingin rough weather). The piratesattacked the city of Ponce, on the main- iland, so often that the inhabitantsmoved the city four miles inland to get away from them. Roberto Cofresi, the only native-born Puerto Rican pirate, began hisbloodycareerat Ponceandendedit there,after being chased by two dozen Spanish men o' war.He died before afiring squad at El Morro 115 years ago . . . and now he has a brand of rum named after him. Columbus brought sugar cane to the West Indies, fromSpain or Por tugal, on his second voyage in 1493. Ponce de Leon encouraged its cultivation and Puerto Rico had a sugar miU as far back as 1523, and was distilling rum as earlyas 1575. After the settlement of New Eng land, rumbecame animportantarticle inAmerican commerce. Shrewd Yankee traders transplanted some of the rum distilling business to the colonies, importing molasses for this purpose. The rum thus distilled was usedas a medium of exchange in the African slave traffic and be came, indirectly, one of the causes of the Revolutionary War—had there been no rum, there 'would have been no molasses imports, no molasses taxand, ergo, fewer quarrels overtaxation without represen tation, which caused us to breakawayfromEngland. In earlycolonial days, unscrupulous fur traders also used rum to pay the American Indians for their furs. Rum was the original "firewater" and has always been known as a fighting drink (it is a federal offense to sell it to Indians, even today). For hundreds of years rum was—and probably still is—the official drink of the British Navy, which served a daily ration of "grog," which is rum and hot water, to every seaman. And grog, of course, wasthe favorite drink of the pirates. [36]

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