THE reader is entitled at the outset to know the sad truth that I have never found the expression "Tobacco Coast" in any colonial document pertaining to the Chesapeake country. Yet I like to think that English tobacco merchants sitting over their steaming bowls of coffee and puffing churchwarden pipes in the Virginia and Maryland Coffee House, near the Royal Exchange, London, referred informally to their commercial activities along the Tobacco Coast, much as the merchants trading to Africa spoke of the Grain Coast, Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, and Slave Coast to designate areas along the Gulf of Guinea from Sierra Leone to Nigeria in accordance with their principal exports to Europe.
But whether it was used in the eighteenth century or not, the expression is admirably adapted to my purposes. It epitomizes Great Britain's mercantile interest in the Cheasapeake colonies and places emphasis on the maritime rather than the territorial aspect of colonial Virginia and Maryland, and on the commercial rather than the agricultural aspect of the history of tobacco.
Just as a condemned criminal used to be permitted to speak to the crowd gathered to watch him hang, so, by ancient custom, an author is allowed to state his purpose and define the scope of his work before the reviewers pull the trap and leave him dangling at the end of a rope. And I mean to avail myself of the opportunity to speak before anyone cuts the ground out from under me.
My purpose is to deal with every aspect of the maritime history of colonial Virginia and Maryland and thereby to show how Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries profoundly influenced the historical development of those colonies by providing a natural system of waterways that facilitated rapid settlement, made possible the large-scale production of tobacco, rendered seaports unnecessary below the fall line, and presented Virginia and Maryland