It was originally called rumbullion. Richard Ligon in 1651 said, “Rumbullion alias Kill-Devill . . . is made of suggar cane distilled, a hott, hellish and terrible liquor . . . will overpower the senses with a single whiff.”
The world rumbullion formerly existed as either Royal Navy jargon for “an uproar” or Creole slang for “stem stew” It was shortened to rum years later, but its reviews did not get any better. In 1654 a General Court Order was issued in Connecticut to seize and destroy “whatsoever Barbados liquors, commonly called rum, Kill Devill, or the like.” Demon rum was first coined by Timothy Arthur in his 1854 temperance play “Ten Nights in a Barroom,” and it wasn't long before the phrase came to describe all forms of evil alcohol.