You will agree that the making and consumption of spirits in one form or another is as old as mankind, however the art of distillation was definately known to the Egyptians, Greeks and Arabs as well as the Chinese long before Europe acquired the art, probably about the 11th or 12th Century. The first surviving record of Scotish whisky was in 1494 in the Exchequer Rolls. It is believed, however that distillation was already taking place in Scotland with large scale commercial distilling commencing in the eighteenth century. It is to be noted that Ireland had some 2000 stills by the late eighteenth century.
With the landing of the Mayflower in 1620, Scottish and Irish imigrants soon brought whisky distilling to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia of which Maryland and Pennsylvania were the heartland or epicenter of Rye Whiskey. It was this Rye Whiskey that was the quintessential american whiskey until the onset of Prohibition which also dealt a death blow to the importation of some 400 brands of Irish Whisky into America . It was not until after the whisky rebellion of 1794 which took some 12,000 soldiers to quell that whisky distilling began moving into Kentucky and Tennessee and Westward.
So what about Bourbon. Some credit Elijah Craig in Scott County Virginia in 1789 with the first drinkable whiskey distilled from corn, while others say John Ritchie in 1777, Still others say it was Evan Williams that was the originator of Bourbon circa 1783. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Bourbon County (named to acknowledge French aid in the revolution) gave its name to the famous american Bourbon Whiskey.
Within the Caribbean It is believed that the Spanish started planting sugar cane within a few years of settling the New World (1492) followed by the English settlement of Barbados in 1627.
Rum distillation have been recorded as early as 1663 (Mount Gay) when Rumbullion (early rum) was traded between Barbados and New England, Virginia and Connecticut. Rumbullion was also known as Kill-devil in New England in 1651.
Jamaica, captured by the British in 1655 saw distillation of rum sometime after 1749 by Appleton Estate, Long Pond Estate in Trelawny recorded 165 Hogshead of sugar and 85 puncheons of rum in 1780 and J.Wray and Nephew in 1825. Hampden Estate was surveyed in 1684 to confirm it's boundaries in a land dispute. Estate operations was already in force when formalized in 1753 by Archibald Stirling of Scotland. Hampden then went on to become the quintessential heavy pot rum of Jamaica. During the 18 century, Jamaica was the worlds largest producer of sugar and by extension, molasses . Rum shipments were fiercely guarded by the British Navy at Falmouth where Hampden built its rum and sugar Wharf.
In the United States rum distillation started as early as 1657 in Boston, however, the British blockade of sugar and molasses as well as the molasses act of 1733 were instrumental in the shifting from rum to whiskey distilling within the USA as grain became cheaper and more readily available, especially corn which began to fuel Bourbon production around 1783. Jack Daniels (1866) is America's oldest registered distillery but Maryland had distilleries prior Americas War of Independence. Many of these distilleries moved West after the Whiskey Wars with George Washington's Tax Men.
When compared with whisky from Scotland (large scale commercial distilling), the oldest distillery is reported to be Glenturret 1775, Bowmore 1779 and Scottish Highland whisky (Strathisla) founded in 1786, Glenlivet in 1824 and Glenfiddich circa 1830-1880. I have found conflicting dates for distilleries surrounding start of operations vs. registration etc. It should also be noted the difference in spelling between Scottish WHISKY and American WHISKEY,
It is clear that Jamaican Rum or Distilled Spirit manufacturing predate many of those in Scotland as well as colonial America except for the Boston 1657 date. What is yet to be determined is which distilleries are the oldest in the British Caribbean. Mount Gay probably would be first. The earliest record of Hampden was a land survey document by Mr. Thomas Goddard dated 1684 to reconfirm Hampden's property boundary. Stay tuned for additional research findings.