After rum's development in the Caribbean, the drink's popularity spread to Colonial North America. To support the demand for the drink, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America was set up in 1664 on present-day Staten Island.
Boston, Massachusetts had a distillery three years later. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry. New England became a distilling center due to the technical, metalworking and cooperage skills and abundant lumber; the rum produced there was lighter, more like whiskey. Rhode Island rum even joined gold as an accepted currency in Europe for a period of time.
Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies before the American Revolutionary War had every man, woman, or child drinking an average of 3 imperial gallons (14 l) of rum each year.
To support this demand for the molasses to produce rum, along with the increasing demand for sugar in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, a labor source to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean was needed. A triangular trade was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies to help support this need. The exchange of slaves, molasses, and rum was quite profitable, and the disruption to the trade caused by the Sugar Act in 1764 may have even helped cause the American Revolution. In the slave trade, rum was also used as a medium of exchange. For example, the slave Venture Smith, whose history was later published, had been purchased in Africa for four gallons of rum plus a piece of calico.
The popularity of rum continued after the American Revolution, with George Washington insisting on a barrel of Barbados rum at his 1789 inauguration.
Rum started to play an important role in the political system; candidates attempted to influence the outcome of an election through their generosity with rum. The people would attend the hustings to see which candidate appeared more generous. The candidate was expected to drink with the people to show he was independent and truly a republican. In the 1833 Mississippi state senate election, one candidate, Judge Edward Turner, poured his drinks and socialized with the people. He was more personal and it appeared as if he was going to win. The other candidate, a Methodist parson named Dick Stewart, announced he would not be pouring their drinks and they could have as much as they wanted; Dick Stewart won.
Eventually, the restrictions on rum from the British islands of the Caribbean, combined with the development of American whiskey, led to a decline in the drink's popularity.