Before you get excited, no, I did not get my family drunk and film them recounting some local Texas history. What I did do, though, was discover a fantastic cocktail and learn a little more about my great-great-great-etc-grandfather.
My mom and I both love the taste of ginger, so one night a few weeks ago she poured me a Dark and Stormy. It’s pretty much the ideal cocktail: tasty, visually interesting, and requires almost no effort to make. (I feel dumb typing out the recipe at the end of this post. That’s how simple it is.)
Rum is as fascinating as it is tasty, and my family has an interesting tie to the drink. A byproduct of sugarcane, is still mainly produced in the Caribbean and Latin America. Mixed with beer or water, it became known within the Royal Navy as grog; mixed with cinnamon or nutmeg, it was known to pirates sailing around the new world as bumbo. Rum was so popular in the colonies and England that it became a currency in itself, and a key economic component of the triangular trade.
And this is where we meet my great-great-great-etc-grandfather, Sir John Hawkins (pictured above). John, born in 1532 to William, one of England’s most revered sea captains and a close confidante to Henry VIII, followed in his fathers footsteps to become a reputable privateer working under Queen Elizabeth I. This is certainly a cool bit of family history but, unfortunately, John was a complete and total bastard.
Before he had even turned twenty, John killed a man in a bar fight. He was given a royal pardon for his behavior as the coroner “determined” that he acted in self-defense. You’ll excuse me if I don’t believe this. I imagine him as an Elizabethan era Draco Malfoy, hissing “My father will hear about this!” at every possible opportunity.
What makes John a real asshole, though, was that he was the first to realize the economic potential of slave trade on a large scale. He began the morally reprehensible but highly profitable triangular trade system in 1562, completing the first triangle by transporting slaves to the Americas, cash crops (like sugar and tobacco) to England, and manufactured goods to Africa. John made a ludicrous amount of money, reportedly giving his investors in England a 60% return. He earned a reputation for violence as a form of control.
After three multi-year voyages running the triangle, he returned to England and eventually entered Parliament as an MP for Plymouth, his hometown. He was appointed treasurer of the Royal Navy and accused of fraud. (Unsurprisingly, he was not found guilty.) He died of what is likely dysentery in 1595 at sea off of Puerto Rico during a failed treasure hunt with his cousin, Sir Francis Drake. And he deserved it.
If that’s not enough to make a girl want to have a drink, I don’t know what is. Here’s the recipe:
Dark and Stormy
1 part dark rum
2 parts ginger beer
Pour rum over ice. Add ginger beer. Swizzle and sip.