So asks reader Bernard, and I love it. Bernard, it all has to do with the fact that in the Colonial era rum was liquid currency. It was more valuable by weight than any other commodity save gold. It kept indefinitely and like the American Express card was recognized at over 15 million locations worldwide. For a short time the English government even recognized rum as money, which no doubt made banking a whole lot more fun.
As highly valued and heavily transported as it was, rum made an excellent target for privateers. What were privateers? Think of them as early military contractors: government-paid out-of-uniform toughs who sailed the high seas settling scores, exacting retribution and collecting debts on behalf of their masters. Unofficially, of course.
As you can imagine privateers tended to collect quite a lot of loot in pursuance of their duties, a bunch of it drinkable. And very often, they drank it. In fact it happened with some regularity that a ship full of privateers would eventually decide they’d just as soon keep all the booty they collected for themselves and continue on robbing and plundering on a freelance basis, at which point they became known as pirates. So that’s where the yo-ho-ho comes in.
Of course rum drinking wasn’t limited to privateers and pirates. Cargo and military ships would sometimes pay their crews with rum. And let’s face it, how many sailors were going to let that stuff sit around until they made landfall? Eventually rum wages became rum rations, a sort of fighting sailor’s fringe benefit. The American and especially British navies maintained that tradition for centuries after Colonial times. Today rum rations are passé, the practice having been discontinued all the way back in 1970.