The Tobacco Trade
ALTHOUGH tobacco, in King James' view, was "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain," and "dangerous to the lungs," it became the mainstay of Virginia and Maryland economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and ever since has been popularly associated with the colonial history of the Chesapeake Bay country.1
Among the objectives of the Virginia Company in planting a colony on the shores of the Chesapeake was to secure a fruitful land from which England might import all necessary commodities she then had to buy from foreign countries, an objective that fitted in nicely with the theories of mercantilism, the prevailing economic philosophy of the day.2 By supplying England with necessities she would otherwise have to import from abroad, the colony would help the mother country reduce her foreign imports and obtain a favorable balance of trade. With this in view, the Virginia Company urged the colonists to send home a great variety of products--lumber, naval stores, wine, skins, and fish, besides roots and herbs to be used medicinally or as dyestuffs.3
As none of these products could be cultivated on a large enough scale or commanded a sufficiently elastic market in England to make them suitable staples for Virginia, the colony languished during its early years. Eventually, as a result of experimentation, the Jamestown settlers stumbled upon a commodity that proved economically feasible. In 1612 a confirmed smoker, John Rolfe, found that tobacco would grow well in Virginia and sell profitably in England. Becoming the rage almost overnight, tobacco captivated the colonists' imaginations like precious metal during a gold rush. They planted it in every available clearing, including the fort and streets of Jamestown, and by 1619 Virginia, which
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Publication information: Book title: Tobacco Coast:A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era. Contributors: Arthur Pierce Middleton - Author, George Carrington Mason - Editor. Publisher: Mariners' Museum. Place of publication: Newport News, VA. Publication year: 1953. Page number: 93.
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