As the sugar trade grew in the American colonies in the early 18th century, so did the production of rum. In those days, the distilling was done in the colonies and in particular, Newport, Rhode Island. By 1769 twenty-two distilleries were operating in Newport and it had established itself as the rum capital of the world. Using blackstrap molasses, pot stills, and local water these distillers created a flavorful rum that was enjoyed throughout the world.
However, the second half of the century proved to be much more difficult for the industry. First, the Sugar Act of 1764 increased the cost of getting sugar and molasses from the Caribbean. Second, as Newport was one of the cities that was occupied by the British during the revolution, many of the merchants that made and traded rum there fled their homes and businesses. Finally, by the turn of the century, settlers had moved west and began to turn their corn and barley in to whiskey which was a much less expensive spirit.
By 1817 only two distilleries remained in Newport. Economics, changing tastes, and political turmoil had taken its toll and in 1842, John Whitehorne went bankrupt and the final distillery in Newport closed. Shortly there after, in 1872, Rhode Island's last distillery, the John Dyer distillery in Providence, shut down.
For 135 years the once thriving Rhode Island distilling industry lay dormant. Finally, in 2007, Newport Distilling Company received the first license to distill in the state since the close of the John Dyer distillery. Naturally, the goal is to recreate the rum that had been world famous 250 years ago. Using the same blackstrap molasses, local water, and pot still techniques, this rum has been resurrected and is now called Thomas Tew.