It is believed that the first sugar cane sprouts were brought to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. Imported from the Canary Islands. Its stems are first planted on the island of Hispaniola, current territory of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Gonçalo Coelho planted the first stalks of sugarcane in Brazil in 1502 and soon mills and stills sprouted along the coast, producing the first cachaças from raw cane juice that quickly fermented in the hot sun.
As the colony of Brazil grew, the sugar industry spread plantations throughout the land and carried cachaça along with them. The area known as Pernambuco was the epicenter of the sugar industry at the time.
Portugal relied on the taxes from wine that was shipped to the colonies, but Brazilians preferred cachaça. So, Portugal tried to shut down the party, banning the production of the spirit. In protest, a group of distillers seized control of Rio in 1660 in what is now called the Cachaça Revolt. Portugal rolled back the law, but would try again and again to cut off cachaça.
Richard Ligon immigrated to Barbados from England in the mid-1600s. His book on the History of Barbados references an alcoholic beverage served at dinner parties made from the skimmings of sugar known as "Kill Devil".
Barbados proved to be a perfect location for growing sugar cane. The small island nation soon grew to be the most populated country - and richest - per square mile at the time.
As the sugar became more profitable, other islands began producing sugar along with it's byproduct - rum. In Martinique, their version of the sugar cane distillate, RHUM, was produced directly from the sugar cane juice and became know as "Agricole". As France began using Sugar Beets for satisfying the demand for sugar, the growers began to produce even more "RHUM Agricole."
The picture depicts a typical example of cutting the sugar cane in Antigua.
The distillation process was rudimentary in the 1600's. Basically, the fermented molasses or cane juice was heated up to separate the water from the alcohol. It was then cooled down to extract the distilled alcohol - rum.