The Roots of The Tobacco Trade
Tobacco was discovered by the early peoples of both North and South America who were the first to smoke tobacco. When the Europeans came to the New World they were offered tobacco by the indigenous people and recognized it's importance. This valuable crop was soon being farmed en masse on plantations worked by enslaved native peoples.
Right: A native american pipe, used for smoking tobacco
Tobacco had become extremely valuable as people in both Europe and Asia wanted to try this new miracle drug. It had been labeled by merchants as a cure-all. But to sell tobacco, you needed tobacco. Tobacco plantations began to pop up all over the landscape, tended by native peoples (and later, Africans). These plantations put out massive amounts of tobacco and in turn received today's equivalent of several million dollars.
Below: An illustration depicting a tobacco plantation in the mid 1800s
Economics of the Tobacco Trade
The tobacco monopoly was largely controlled by the Spanish and East India Company, making growing tobacco without pardon a possibly deadly act. This plant was so valuable it had become worth it's weight in silver by 1600. John Rolfe was an early settler of North America, and has been given the credit of being the first to successfully cultivate tobacco in America for export. This feat was accomplished at Jamestown, Virginia. Rolfe, who had been unimpressed by American tobacco when compared to fine Spanish tobacco, decided to grow his own. He had a small pouch of Spanish tobacco seeds smuggled into Jamestown. His first export weighed in at just over a ton of tobacco which he sold back to the mainland. This wasn't much, but all great things have small beginnings.
"A Cure For All That Ails You"
For as long as tobacco has been around people have been either for, or against it. Ads preached it's wonderful health benefits, stating it will prolong your life and improve your virility. While some others were vehemently against it, accusing it to be the work of the devil.
Below: A cigarette advertisement from the late 1800's
Depiction of 1850's tobacco plantation from the article "The History And Mystery of Tobacco".