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Smoking Hazards: Tobacco Cultivation In Colonial America

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Tobacco was a main crop in colonial America that helped stabilize the economy (Cotton 1). Despite the fact that tobacco took the place of the other crops in Virginia, as well as replacing the hunt for gold with tobacco cultivation. It proved to be a major cash crop, especially in Virginia and Maryland (Weeks 3). Tobacco left many people financially troubled because other occupations were disregarded or not as profitable as tobacco farmers (Randel 128). The unemployment that tobacco brought about made many colonists poor and homeless (128). After the tobacco boom started, many men signed themselves to indentured servitude hoping to be freed and given land along with other promised goods (Tunis 79). Three hundred and fifty thousand African slaves were also imported to labor on large tobacco plantations in the South (Weeks 1). The tobacco industry had a profound effect on colonial America, socially and economically.

Tobacco did not just appear in colonial America. The tobacco plant was introduced by John Rolfe to the people of Jamestown (Nobleman 12). John Rolfe also taught the colonists how to farm tobacco (Tunis 77). Though tobacco cultivation seemed to be flourishing, consumers were still getting their tobacco from the Spanish Indies, as the Spanish Indies grew milder tobacco than America (Weeks 1). This motivated John Rolfe to sail to the Spanish Indies and confiscate some of their tobacco seeds ("The Growth of the Tobacco..." 2). The tobacco from the Spanish Indies boosted the economic growth of colonial America (2). However, John Rolfe was not the first person to have tobacco in the new world. The Native Americans were the first people to cultivate and smoke tobacco and taught their trade to the Spanish (1). The Native Americans believed tobacco had a medical and religious purpose (Weeks 1). The Spanish farmed tobacco and sold it to the people of England. The people of England then traded with the Dutch, increasing demand for tobacco (Pecquet 471). Sir Walter Raleigh also contributed to the introduction of smoking tobacco in America and to the English queen, Elizabeth I (Cotton 2-3). The settlers of Roanoke Island smoked tobacco and soon presented the idea of smoking tobacco in court which became a new trend (3). Later on, as the demand for tobacco rose, more labor was needed to supply enough to satisfy the tobacco requirement ("The Growth of the Tobacco..." 3).

Tobacco farming required much labor, and colonial America could not supply that labor with just the settlers already living there. This need for labor was satisfied by indentured servants and African slaves (3). Indentured servants raised the population by bringing in people who could not afford their way over to America (Weeks 1). The indentured servants were promised freedom and land after serving for a set amount of years (Pecquet 469). Soon after, as the indentured servants were getting less and less land than promised, if any at all, Bacon's Rebellion broke out in Virginia (Lorenz 14). This forced the colonists to find a different servitude option. They turned to African slavery to quench their desire for a cheap, reliable labor source (Weeks 1). At least 350,000 Africans were needed to produce the amount of tobacco to supply for the demands of the people (1). African slavery started racial tensions and prejudice in colonial America (Bowen 3). Even though the Africans were a different color, they were a hardworking labor source used to the Southern temperatures and produced adequate amounts of tobacco (Pecquet 476).

As more tobacco was grown, the amount of land needed grew as well (476). Tobacco also needed nutritious soil which required untilled soil every three years ("The Growth of the Tobacco..." 2-3). The constant necessity for land lead to the intrusion of Native American property (Pecquet 476). This rattled the colonists' relationship with the Native Americans that was worked for so hard to achieve (476). Tobacco, though widely grown, was mainly grown in Virginia and Maryland (Tunis 77). Due to the profit of tobacco, it was grown everywhere possible, even in the streets, as was reported in Jamestown (77). Overproduction then lead to deflation in the price of tobacco (Pecquet 477). Even a little price change would result in a drastic change overall because tobacco was such a widely purchased product (470). A law was passed in 1629 limiting the production of tobacco after steep price falls (Purvis 41). Prices increased a little bit once England cut off their importation of tobacco from the Spanish Indies and started fully relying on America to ship England all tobacco produced in America (Pecquet 467). Despite the highs and lows of the tobacco industry in America, overall the price decreased (472).

Sir Thomas Dale initially limited tobacco cultivation in the colonies so colonists would not forget necessities such as growing potatoes and rice (Cotton 4). Due to previous overproduction, limits were set for how many tobacco plants or pounds of tobacco each household could have. These were measured per person in the household (Purvis 47). In 1642 tobacco prices fell so low that each plantation was only allowed to produce 170 pounds per person living in the household (Pecquet 477). Later on, each household could raise 3,000 tobacco plants for each male living there (Lorenz 25). They could raise an additional 1,000 plants for each non-laboring woman living there. Another 1,000 tobacco plants could be cultivated for each child living in the household (25). The establishment of Maryland in 1634 threw off all restrictions on tobacco production as they began to massively produce tobacco (Pecquet 477).

Tobacco, being such a highly profitable crop, also caused issues for the people of colonial America. The soil needed for a good tobacco crop had to be full of nutrients (Weeks 3). To keep soil nutritious for tobacco growth, new land was needed every three years as the previous land needed a three year break ("The Growth of the Tobacco..." 2-3). This brought the colonists into Native American territory as they searched for more land to use to grow tobacco (Pecquet 476).

The Spanish Indies posed as a big threat to the colonial Americans in the tobacco trade ("The Growth of the Tobacco..." 1). The Spanish Indies' tobacco was less harsh than the tobacco from colonial America; however, there were heavy taxes on the Spanish tobacco causing natives to purchase homegrown tobacco (Pecquet 472). Once importation of tobacco from the Spanish Indies decreased, the Spanish Indies switched to producing sugar (469). This caused colonial America to be the only reliable supplier of tobacco to the English and the Americans (469).

Tobacco cultivation was such a sudden cash crop that people disregarded their everyday jobs and became tobacco farmers (Randel



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