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May 7, 2011

Yo, ho, ho ... and a bottle of Caldwell's rum!

For many years, Newburyport and the rum trade were synonymous, and the rum trade here was known throughout the world.

As we know, rum is manufactured and distilled from molasses. Years ago, molasses was imported to Newburyport from the West Indies. The Caldwell Co. was known for distilling and producing one of the finest, if not the finest, rums in the world. It lasted well into the 20th century. The Caldwell building, consisting of the business office and distillery, was located along the Merrimack River in the area of Cashman Park. And, of course, every wharf rat who grew up along the river knew well of them, their distillery and the wharf.

In 1872, the Caldwell Building was constructed at 200 Merrimac St. They extended the building and distillery down toward the wharf and ... raised the roof in 1876. Caldwell's wharf was located behind the building and stretched between their building and what now is known as Lombardi's Fuel Co. Caldwell's was still operating up into the 1940s.

It was a thriving business. We, young wharf rats, were familiar with Caldwell's during the 1920s and 1930s, and we enjoyed their empty bottles. They had very fancy, thick, glass bottles, both round and square. Their bottles were of a very heavy glass, and the words, Caldwell's Old Newburyport Rum were embossed in large italic lettering on every bottle. Both, the round and square quart bottles, were just beautiful.

Molasses was imported on ships from the West Indies and distilled here. I happen to know a William Caldwell (born 1791 and died 1868) was married to Jane Wheelwright of Newburyport. Earlier, an Alexander Caldwell, who was born in Litchfield, N.H., in 1746, had migrated to Newburyport, where he was employed in the distillery. Later, that distillery became his company — The Caldwell Rum Co.

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