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A Global History Of Tobacco

Feb 27, 2008
Tobacco's history goes back too far to trace. Paleontologists project that it may have begun growing in the Americas as long as 8000 years ago, and archaeological data indicates that folks have been smoking it, one way or another, four almost four thousand years.

It was natives of the Americas who first showed the many and varied ways that tobacco can become part of the life of a culture. Among some native communities, it saw religious use (in extremely heavy doses), a practice that survives among today's Cree and Ojibway.

It was part of inter-tribal trade (both as a commodity and, when smoked in pipes, as a way to formally seal a bargain); and it was a ritual, a way of marking the specialness of any occasion. As the poet and cultural commentator Wendell Berry once observed, stimulant use in these cultures was celebratory, convivial, and occasional - not the furtive, obsessive, and solitary pursuit it's become for so many of us. But in addition to its ritual uses, tobacco could also be left uncured and eaten, drunk, or used in enemas.

Unfortunately, this plant that had so enriched the lives of America's original inhabitants would soon imperil them. European adventurers discovered tobacco's unique appeal on arriving in America in 1492 and after; desiring to increase tobacco production, Europeans seized native lands, fought native people, and imported African slaves to maximize the profit-making opportunities tied up in this little plant. The story of John Rolfe, founder of the Virginia Jamestown Settlement and future husband of Pocahontas, is instructive - we all heard about this brave explorer in elementary school, without learning that his mission in Virginia was to steal lands to grow tobacco. Whatever the morality of Rolfe's business venture, or of the colonialist project in which it formed a part, Rolfe was certainly a successful businessman, developing improved strains of the plant and shipping 40,000 pounds of it to England by the year 1620.

Tobacco was controversial among Europeans from the beginning. King James I called it "lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse." James I wrote those words in 1604 - not coincidentally, the year in which the English imposed heavy tariffs on the importation of the stuff.

Tobacco was a lodestone for the economy of the American South, and the use of it was accordingly well-nigh everywhere. Soldiers and farmers chewed, smoked and dipped it.

The tobacco industry grew throughout the Americas, as well, and was especially closely linked to the life of Cuba, where the finest tobacco grew. The Crimean War (1853-1856) offered the plant another boost in popularity, as Turkish tobacco achieves general availability in Europe for the first time. Smoking rooms, smoking jackets, even smoking caps and slippers become part of every Victorian gentleman's home, and fashion plate Prince Edward, despite his mother Queen Victoria's well-known hatred of smoking, promotes smoking by his own well-remarked example. In 1855, the decade's halfway point, Cuba exports 356.6 million cigars - a record yet to be equaled.
About the Author
CigarFox provides the finest cigars that include cigar brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Gurkha, Macanudo, Rocky Patel, Romeo, Drew Estate, and many more. Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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