I had given the London Company goals (find gold and silver and find the lost colony of Roanoke) to complete on the journey to the “new world,” neither of them were truly accomplished due to the outburst of the new and thriving tobacco trade in the Chesapeake region. Because tobacco had given colonists an opportunity for independence from England in an economical sense, tobacco plantations became the foundation that helped develop the colonies into prosperous and more stable communities for King James I.
There were a few key components in the tobacco industry of the early 17th and 18th centuries that affected the Chesapeake region: institution of slavery, England’s authority in the trade, and socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages. The Indians in the Virginia area were already cultivating a certain type of tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, but this was thought to be too harsh by John Rolfe, one of the early English settlers. Rolfe had begun the cultivation of another strain of tobacco, Nicotiana Tabacum, in 1612 in Jamestown although the selling of those seeds to a non-Spaniard was considered illegal under Spanish law.
Quickly, Rolfe learned the strenuous tasks that needed to be performed for the proper cultivation of tobacco. During this time, Pocahontas had walked into Rolfe’s life, and he wooed her. She and her father finally agreed to marriage, which had brought eight years of peace with the Indians(Borio). It was thought that Pocahontas may have taught some of the cultivation techniques that the Indians used to Rolfe. Because this tobacco was the only positive economic boost that the settlers were able to offer to the king, the first shipment of tobacco was sent to and sold in London in the year 1614.
Although King James I loathed tobacco, he understood that this product was the only thing that his colony really had to depend on for survival. Also, it realized a profit for London because other countries across Europe were demanding the tobacco; therefore, King James I obliged the colonists to export all tobacco to London before sending the shipments to other countries(Borio). In time, tobacco had made Jamestown the first permanent settlement of the “new world. ” The growth of tobacco became so popular that colonists were growing the plant in the streets of Jamestown.
Because tobacco was becoming so common, laws were passed to make farmers apportion a certain amount of their land to the farming of food and other necessities. Jamestown exported ten tons of tobacco by the year 1619, and by 1639, 750 tons were exported. When the wish for tobacco grew in England, the call for the necessary supplies for the colonies to stay alive and successful increased, the colonists could trade goods freely with England basically in return knowing that they had access to all the supplies they would need.
And because of this inevitable want and demand for tobacco, it was the premier good between the colonies and England. Furthermore, the colonists were able to trade tobacco like a type of “currency” between themselves, and it was also used to pay for things such as taxes and fines Tobacco cultivation required a great deal of work; most plantation owners bought slaves so that more tobacco could be grown, harvested and processed. Slavery grew to be a large part of the tobacco industry, and ultimately developed into a requirement for tobacco plantations and other farmers, too.
Cultivation of tobacco was a year-long process, starting in January or February when the slaves would prepare the seed beds. Seed beds aren’t where the tobacco would flourish completely, it would eventually be moved to another field for growth and harvesting. About mid-March the tobacco seeds would be sown and then slaves would rake the seed beds and cover them with pine boughs to protect the young and vulnerable tobacco plants. In May, the plants were transplanted to another already-prepared field, which had knee-high hills every three to four feet.
Until the tobacco plants had reached about knee-high, weekly cultivation was needed; this included priming and topping. Priming is the removal of the first two to four tobacco leaves that were closest to the ground; topping is detaching the compact leaf bunches at the top of the plants preventing the tobacco from expending energy on sprouting more seeds or growing flowers, instead of actually using the energy to grow healthier as a plant (Cotton). Tobacco plants were very susceptible to inclement weather, such as droughts or excessive rainfall.
Droughts during the summer would cause the plants to dry out and die and too much rain would drown the plants and cause the leaves to spot. Slaves were expected to do what they could to prevent this from happening; while an impossible expectation, they were with the plants everyday ta king care of them, and after harvesting the plants they were out in the fields preparing for the new year. In the tobacco industry, slaves were the milestone that kept everything together(Economic).
Without slaves, finding a laborer to work at a reasonable cost to till the ground, harvest and plant seeds, and cure the tobacco would be nearly impossible, making the cultivation of tobacco less profitable and much more difficult. Between 1690 and 1750, there was a population increase from seven percent to thirty-five percent in the Chesapeake Bay areas. Clearly slaves became increasingly common in these areas because of the relatively inexpensiveness. Most slaves on a specific plantation would reproduce, and in essence exceed the value they were purchased for.
Regardless, there was a requirement for more fresh, nutrient-rich soil. Many plantation owners and farmers would trade things like pots and pans to the Native Americans for their land, making the acquisition of new land and the displacement of the Indians very simple(Economic). Growing tobacco was very harsh on the soil, rendering it incompatible for tobacco crops every 3 years. Although this seems to be a disadvantage, some farmers saw this as an advantage because most European products, including grain, couldn’t grow in the Virginia soil, as it was previously too rich to sustain these products.
Because the colonies supplied England with what seemed like endless tobacco, there was no trade of tobacco outside this agreement (Cotton). One more problem with tobacco was that it depended on a foreign market for revenue. Throughout the 17th century, the prices of the tobacco rise and fall, causing planters to try to take control of the situation by restricting their production. But the colonists were at the mercy of England, and there was much confusion on how the proceeds were spent.
There were many problems with the relationship between England and the colonists’ tobacco trade, and the inevitable debt of the plantation was probably the worst. Each year there would be necessary purchases that the planters needed to make, but without enough profit they made those purchases with debt(Economic). Oronoco and Sweetscented were the two varieties of tobacco found cultivated in the Chesapeake area. Both distinctive from the other, each had their own separate taste, smell and appearance.
Oronoco leaves were strong, bulky, coarse and sharp, while Sweetscented leaves were mild, round and fine. Overall, Sweetscented was cheaper than Oronoco and was considered the best in the world. But the demand for Oronoco in all of Europe other than England was much higher than the demand for Sweetscented, Englishmen thinking the Oronoco was too strong and preferring the Sweetscented. This is why the Oronoco hade a much more widespread market of trade, while Sweetscented was only mostly popular in England(Borio).
Tobacco was included in many government laws at this time, mostly in the protection of it, and the maintenance of the price, influencing some civil and criminal processes. In Maryland and Virginia, tobacco was the foremost source of revenue for the colonial governments. Taxes placed on each hogshead of tobacco exported brought in a great deal of money for these colonies(Borio). As the population increased around the tobacco plantations, the production of tobacco also increased, and so did the exports to England. Per year, the colonies were exporting about 20,000,000 pounds of tobacco to England at the end of the 17th century.
The quality and the price still were troubles in the tobacco industry, in 1660, England became so rich in tobacco that the prices plummeted and colonists were not making enough money to even survive. To bulk up the quantity of their tobacco, colonists started exporting “trash tobacco,” which was tobacco mixed with materials like leaves and the dirt and things swept up from their floors in their homes. While this “trash tobacco” had fixed the financial problem at the current time, it had hurt the colonists in the long run because their reputation was questioned(Economic).
The demand for the colonial tobacco across Europe declined as the quality of the tobacco declined, and authorities decided to make regulations to try to fix the problem. By limiting the production of tobacco, standardizing the amount of tobacco in a hogshead, and forbidding the shipment of bulk tobacco, they were able to recover the quality of the tobacco cultivated in the “new world. ” While good in theory, these solutions eventually collapsed because there was no way to actually inflict the laws. In 1730, the
Virginia Inspection Acts had been passed ensuring that these laws were followed and enforced. These acts had changed the tobacco industry so that quality was improved and they stayed intact until the revolutionary war. Using warehouses to officially inspect the tobacco, it was required that all tobacco go through an authorized inspection before being exported to England. The colonists in Maryland ultimately learned about the Virginia Inspection acts, giving Virginia and advantage over Maryland in quality of tobacco.
Finally in 1747, Maryland had too passed an Inspection Act so that their reputation was also mended(Economic). During these inspections, planters would receive something called a transfer note for loose tobacco bundles. Transfer notes allotted the person who had it to random amounts of tobacco from the transfer tobacco total stock. Transfer tobacco came from the excess tobacco from other planter’s hogsheads, often being tobacco that was not a sufficient amount for another full hogshead. People like clergymen, innkeepers and artisans would often keep a small patch of this transfer tobacco for trade.
These people would take their tobacco to the transfer tobacco warehouses, and receive a transfer note that they could either sell or trade for items that were necessary(Economic). Tobacco cultivation was very successful, so it had brought thriving economical wealth and created a stable economic foundation for the “new world. ” Colonists may have resorted to self-sustaining planting and farming without the cultivation of tobacco, leaving them with out the independence economically from England.
Growing tobacco was like growing a “money tree” in one’s backyard, because it was used as a type of “cash” to pay off debts and fines, as well as for trade. It is quite possible that the ability for economic independency and progress more than balances out with some of the negative undertones to the displacement of the Native Americans, the establishment of slavery, and the deterioration of the soil for the colonists seeking and opportunity for stability and independence economically.