Thursday, August 14, 2008

Awash in Rum

Mythbusters replayed one of their pirate specials last night (again). I've poked holes in these before but I've never commented on the one about washing with rum. The myth is that pirates used rum to remove stains.

The connection between pirates and rum is strong in popular culture. Treasure Island has the song fragment Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum plus lots of rum drinking. The major brand of rum is named for a pirate, Captain Morgan (technically a privateer). Pirates of the Caribbean had lots of rum references.

The connection goes beyond popular culture. Rum is made from sugar cane which is grown in the Caribbean and it continues to be very popular there. A large portion of Port Royal sunk in an earthquake at the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. Underwater excavations of this show that every house had a room set aside for drinking rum in addition to a huge number of taverns that served it.

Since Port Royal was supported by piracy when it sank, this is a strong association between the two. There are many associations between pirates and drinking and, since rum was most easily available, this would have been the logical spirit. Some articles specified that drinking after dark could only be done on the open deck. Calico Jack Rackham was drunk on punch when he was captured.

Also, the real Captain Morgan, Sir Henry Morgan, probably drank himself to death on rum.

So, pirates drank rum. Did they do anything else with it?

This is where the myth runs into trouble. Everyone in the Caribbean had access to rum and most drank it. Everyone of these people also had to deal with stains. Even bloodstains were not unique to pirates. If pirates used rum as a cleaning agent then so would everyone else.

So did they? If it works then you would expect it to still be used today as a folk-cleaner like soda water is.

Funny thing - if you Google "rum stain remover" then you come up with references to the Mythbusters episode and ways of removing rum stains. In fact, the only reference I can find to rum as a satin remover is:
Apply mixture of 1/2 rum and 1/2 Coke to self until you no longer care about some little stain.
This joke may be were the "myth" came from.

I think that, like the one about eye patches, this needs a special classification. Not only is the "myth" busted, but it is busted as being a myth. It is more like something that someone invented just for the show.

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