TOBACCO, CASH CROP FOR MANY CAMPBELL COUNTIANS, WAS IN USE BY AMERICAN INDIANS AS EARLY AS 1 B.C.
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Many Campbell Countians depend on their tobacco (the Latin word for tobacco is tabacum) crops for a partial living. The beautiful leaves of this fine crop are comparable to no other crop. About the middle of August the tobacco fields begin blossoming in all their glory. The writer knew it was a Native American crop, but didn't know much of its earlier period. At this time we shall embark upon its history from the time of its discovery.
Tobacco originated in the Americas about 6,000 B.C. It is the same family as the potato, pepper, and poisonous nightshade, a very deadly plant. A one-ounce vessel contains about 300,000 seeds.
As early as 1 B.C., American Indians began using tobacco in many different ways, mainly for religious and medicinal purposes. This beautiful leaf, smoked in a pipe, was believed to be an ingredient that was a cure-all, as well as to dress wounds. It was also alleged to be a painkiller: chewing tobacco was believed to relieve the pain of a toothache.
According to history, On October 15, 1492, Christopher Columbus was offered dried tobacco leaves as a gift from the American Indians he encountered. Columbus and his sailors brought back tobacco leaves and seeds with them on their return trip to Europe. However, most Europeans didn't get their first taste of tobacco until the mid 16th century. Diplomats such as France's Jean Nicot, for whom nicotine is named, began to popularize its use. Tobacco was introduced in France in 1556, Portugal in 1558, and Spain in 1559. Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco to Britain in 1565.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries found tobacco customs spreading throughout South America, the Caribbean, and then to the North American colonies.
The Aztecs of South America smoked hollow reeds, or cane tubes, stuffed with tobacco leaves. Central and North American natives smoked long thick bundles of leaves, which were wrapped in palm leaves or dried corn-maize husks.
The Maya civilization of Central America used tobacco, but when their culture was broken up, the scattered tribes carried this product both southwards into South America, and to North America.
Englishman John Rolfe developed the first successful commercial crop in the American colonies in Virginia in 1612. Within seven years, it was the colony's largest export. Over the next two centuries, the growth of tobacco as a cash crop fueled the demand in North America for slave labor.
The growing popularity of tobacco in Europe was supposedly used as a healing power. They believed it could cure anything, from cancer to bad breath. A Spanish doctor, in 1571, wrote a book concerning the history of medicinal plants of the New World. In this book he claimed that tobacco could cure 36 different health problems. During the 1600's, tobacco was so popular that it was commonly used as money. The leafy plant was literally as good as gold.
However, the dangerous effects of tobacco usage were not long in coming. In 1610 Sir Francis Bacon noted that trying to quit the habit was truly hard. In 1632, just twelve years after the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, it became illegal to smoke publicly in Massachusetts. In this particular case, moral beliefs were the general rule rather than health reasons.
For many years, tobacco smoking was the fancy of the wealthy. In Spain, cigars were a status symbol for use only by the idle rich. Spanish beggars, through common practice, tended to find discarded cigar butts and roll them into 'cigarillos,' or little cigars, thus making the first of its kind cigarettes. At about the same time as the popularity of tobacco in Europe and the Americas, the Spanish Cigarillos were advancing in their own popularity, spreading to Italy and France. The French servicemen, during the Napoleonic wars, ultimately gave them their modern title - cigarettes.
Tobacco was produced primarily for pipe smoking, chewing, and snuff. Snuff was very popular in Europe, where decorated snuffboxes became the chief fashion accessory. This item was given as gifts, or worn as jewelry.
Cigars didn't become popular until the early 1800's. Cigarettes, in their crude form since the early 1600's, didn't become over-popular in the United States until after the Civil War, when the spread of "Bright" tobacco, a distinctively cured yellow leaf, was cultivated in Virginia and North Carolina. With the launching of "White Burley" tobacco leaf, and the invention of the first practical cigarette-making machine in the late 1800's, cigarette sales soared. By this time, advances in cultivation and processing had reduced the acid content in tobacco, making cigarette smoking somewhat easier on the throat.
Chewing tobacco was in style with the American pioneers, simply because it was seen as a response against the European practices of pipe smoking and snuff-taking.
King James I of Britain was totally against tobacco smoking. He described it as a stinking, loathsome thing, and tried to limit tobacco imports by raising excise taxes on the product. However, with this opposing move, he created a vast black market. Seeing that he had made a bad judgment concerning this moneymaker, he, within a few years, lowered taxes on tobacco, and, consequently, the British colony of Virginia was encouraged to grow the crop for export.
By the early 20th century, with the growth in cigarette smoking, articles addressing the health effects of smoking began to appear. In 1930, a study was made in Cologne, Germany, regarding the link between smoking and cancer. A short eight years later, Dr. Raymond Pearl of John Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers do. And by 1944, the American Cancer Society initiated warnings that encompassed the ill effects of smoking, although admittedly stating that no definite evidence existed linking smoking and lung cancer.
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