The first rum distilled at “Habitation Trou Vaillant” in Martinique was exported to North America under the name of Rhum Saint James.

In 1765, Martinique became one of the most productive “sugar islands” in the Caribbean.

On the island’s west coast, at the foot of Mount Pelée, the Brothers of Charity managed the Fort Saint-Pierre hospital by request of Louis XV, primarily to care for wounded soldiers, but also those in need. For the needs of the hospital, the Superior of the Order, Father Edmond Lefébure, had a sugar refinery built next door, at the place called “Trou Vaillant”. True to tradition, the sugar refinery led to the creation of a vinegar factory where the molasses residues were distilled to obtain “guildive” or “tafia”. Father du Tertre and Father Labat, both eminent botanists, had already worked on the distillation process and had stills brought over from France to improve the quality of these rather rustic alcohols which were the stuff of pirates and servants.

Father Lefébure, who had obviously already grasped the potential of this sugar cane brandy, decided to continue their work and devoted himself to producing a rum worthy of the name. A precise description in the archives of the different qualities of brandy suggests that Martinique “agricole” rum was emerging. Father Lefébure was not only a man of God. He was also a good manager with an entrepreneurial spirit. He entrusted the marketing of the excess rum to one of the other brothers, Father Gratien, who had no choice but to offer the production from Trou Vaillant to the geographically-close English colonies of North America. Shipping “Tafia” to France was prohibited since the edict of January 1713 (up until 1803) to avoid it competing with spirits distilled from wine. However it was difficult to pronounce “Trou-Vaillant” in English! In the domain, each “Habitation” had a different name and one of them, close to Trou Vaillant” was called Saint Jacques. In English, Jacques translates as James (from the Latin Jacomus), a first name which the English had brought to France after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. It was only natural for these men of God to choose the name of a saint for their rum! Saint James rum was born.

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1882 – 1885

Paulin Lambert purchased “Habitation Trou Vaillant” and registered the Saint James brand with its famous square bottle.

After the Revolution and up until 1820, the religious domains in the colonies were declared national property belonging to the State.
In 1820, under the Restoration, these deeds were cancelled by royal order. This return to normal enabled a shrewd and enterprising man, Paulin Lambert, a trader from Marseille, to turn his mind to rum production in Martinique. Saint-Pierre had become the leading rum port in the world and production was starting to become more organised. Small sugar refineries were disappearing, leaving only the larger ones equipped with “Creole” distillation columns (continuous distillation).

Paulin Lambert finally purchased several “Habitations” including “Trou Vaillant”. Was he already aware of the potential of “Saint James” as a name? An English-sounding name opened vast horizons! Be that as it may, he registered the brand on 21 August 1882 and personally took charge of production, demanding that the entire process should be controlled from growing the sugar cane to bottling…

The shrewd, practically-minded Paulin Lambert, whose casks of Saint James rum had invaded the quays of the port of Marseille, decided to bottle his rum and chose a revolutionary format for the era, a glass bottle with a square base! This was an efficient way to use the space in ships’ holds and to reduce breakage. The identity of the Saint-James brand was born with its label, also registered in 1882, in the middle of which was a crocodile in a field of sugar cane.

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The first SAINT JAMES 1885 vintage was put on the market.
Rare bottles are still kept in the Vintages Cellar at the Distillery to this day.

A significant detail for the time: Paulin Lambert made sure his production stood out from that of his competitors at a very early stage, already referring to it as “Saint James, the leading agricole rum from the French West Indies”. This suggests that he was using the “vesou” (fresh sugar cane juice) itself rather than molasses.

The trader went still further in his approach, deciding in 1885 to offer his clientele of connoisseurs a vintage rum. This was an original initiative at a time when rum was always blended. This vintage would be the first in a long list. Paulin Lambert was a canny communicator, and did not hesitate to boast the merits of his rum “recommended by medical experts the world over” on his advertising boards.

In 1889 he set up a banner measuring thirty metres by four metres on the high ground above Saint-Pierre, on which could be read “Plantations Saint James”. This poster immediately became a navigation reference point for sailors and a welcome message to all who landed on the island. Most of the inhabitants of the Old Continent who only heard about these far-flung countries through a few exotic products often discovered at the Universal Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900, ended up associating the image of Saint James rums with that of Martinique, to the point that the island was often referred to as “the country of Saint James rum”.

From 1895 onwards, Saint James was growing fast, opening sales outlets in the largest European cities.

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Mount Pelée erupted, destroying the town of Saint Pierre and the Saint James site. Miraculously, Habitation SAINT JAMES was only partially destroyed.

On 8 May 1902 at two minutes past eight in the morning, Mount Pelée, which had been grumbling for a week, erupted, sending a pyroclastic surge racing down its slopes, consuming everything in its path in just a few hours.

The town of Saint Pierre was reduced to cinders. There were 30,000 victims. Miraculously, the Saint James plantation and distillery which were in a very deep valley, survived this apocalypse and were only partially destroyed.

Despite this apocalyptic event, activity restarted very quickly as demand for rum was high. Three other sites opened at Saint-Joseph in 1911, Lamentin in 1912 and Case-Pilote in 1929. It should be remembered that parcels sent to the soldiers in the Great War contained a bottle of Saint James rum and the war lasted for several years.

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The company Cointreau acquired Rhums Saint James and brought all production together at Sainte-Marie.


1973 was a pivotal year. The company Cointreau bought Rhums Saint James rum and set up a new distillery at Sainte-Marie on the island’s Atlantic coast. This was a unique opportunity to create a vast production site right beside the sugar plantations on rich soil well exposed to the sun.

The inauguration of this site was a major event: Jacques Chirac, then prime minister to the President Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture, travelled to the island to preside over the inauguration of the new ageing cellars and the 300 hectares of sugar canes owned by the plantations.

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This was the first open day for the distillery which was to become the Rum Festival in subsequent years.

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Martinique rum obtained “Rhum Agricole A.O.C Martinique” status (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or protected designation of origin in English) in 1996.

Currently, Martinique is the only French overseas department to hold an A.O.C.
The first overseas A.O.C, for a white alcohol no less, placed Martinique rum among the prestigious alcohols linked to a geographical origin. This appellation reflects the unique character of Martinique agricole rum, expressing the close link between production, terroir and generations of skill and knowledge.

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La Martiniquaise bought Rhums Saint James.

In 1990, the holding companies of the Hériard Dubreuil and Cointreau families joined forces to form the Rémy-Cointreau group. Thirteen years later on 14 July 2003, the Rémy Cointreau group sold Saint James to La Martiniquaise, which thus became the leading group producing and distributing European A.O.C. Agricole rum.

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Opening of the Maison de la Distillation

Here can be found various distillation techniques from the era.
The Saint James Vintages Cellar on-site offers an exceptional collection of vintages dating from 1885 to the present.

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Plantations Saint James celebrates its 250th anniversary.

In 2015, Plantations Saint James celebrated its 250th anniversary with a vast programme of events to match this occasion.

The festivities began in mainland France in May with an anniversary evening in the heart of Paris.

On this occasion, two limited editions, the Cuvée Anniversaire 250 ans, and the Carafe Millésimes, were presented.

During the whole of 2015, Saint James participated even more closely than usual in art in all its forms in Martinique.

On the Sainte Marie site, completely decorated in the colours of the 250 anniversary, for one month each, 12 famous artists successively held unique exhibitions.

The week of 6 to 12 July, traditionally when the festival celebrating the end of the sugar cane harvest is held, was particularly eventful. The programme included a rich variety of events inviting participants to discover the secrets of Saint James rum: a private tour of the Sainte Marie production site, a Masterclass with tasting given by Marc Sassier, the Saint James oenologist, and a cocktail competition between the best barmen in Martinique were highlights of this anniversary week. An artistic work was also specially created by a famous artist. The evening of 9 July 2015 was particularly noteworthy, with numerous surprises in store for the guests. This anniversary year came to a dazzling close with a very special edition of the rum festival.

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Inauguration of Habitation La Salle and Atelier du Rhum.

A new space unveiled at Plantations SAINT JAMES.

Habitation La Salle is a former sugar refinery founded at the end of the 17th century at Sainte-Marie in the North-East of the island which used to produce pure sugar cane juice to distil “tafia”, the ancestor of rum.

Its restoration and opening to the general public on 16 December 2019 aim to showcase the epic tale of Martinique agricole rum.

The Habitation can be reached by the Plantation Train from the SAINT JAMES Distillery. It offers several areas to visit, following the historic path from sugar cane to rum: from the wooden mills used to crush the sugar cane and extract the juice to the “guildiverie” where the first rums were distilled.

This journey ends with the discovery of the Rum Workshop, an exclusive tasting* area and shop selling LA SALLE cuvées bottled using artisan methods and sealed with wax, with the possibility to personalise bottles using pyrography.

Further information in the Visit section.

* Free tasting, reserved for visitors over 18.

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