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A Brief Look At The History Of Pipe Smoking

Aug 17, 2007
Smoking may have been practiced more than 2,000 years ago, according to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus. He describes Scythian tribesmen in Asia Minor, who "have a tree which bears the strangest produce. When they are met together in companies, they throw some of it upon the fire 'round which they are sitting, and presently, by the mere smell of the fumes which it gives out in burning, they grow drunk, as the Greeks do with wine. More of the fruit is then thrown on the fire, and their drunkenness increasing, they often jump up and begin to dance and sing. Such is the account which I have heard of these people." The fruit referred to by Herodotus is supposed to have been hemp.

One of the first descriptions of tobacco smoking in the New World reached France through a report of Jacques Cartier, who explored the St. Lawrence River as far as where Montreal, Canada, now stands. In giving his account of the voyage, Cartier describes the Indians' use of tobacco:

"There groweth also a certain kind of herb, whereof in summer they make great provision for all the year, making a great account of it, and only men use it, and first they cause it to be dried in the sun, then wear it about their necks wrapped in a little beast skin, with a hollow piece of stone or wood like a pipe.

"Then when they please they make a powder of it, and then put it in one of the ends of the said pipe, and laying a coal of fire upon it, at the other end suck so long that they fill their bodies full of smoke, till it cometh out of their mouths and nostrils, even as out of a chimney. They say that this doth keep them warm and in health; they never go without some of it about them."

The sixteenth-century French explorer and his fellow countrymen had little liking for the peppery fumes, and tobacco was not mentioned again in France for another twenty years.

When the conquering Spaniards first witnessed the American Indians puffing violently at smoldering tobacco leaves, they tried it out themselves, and soon fell into the habit of pipe smoking. The sailors then proceeded to carry the practice of pipe smoking back to Europe, where it grew and spread.

The settlers in the new world were quick to exploit the increasing demand for tobacco in Europe, and many British colonists in Virginia made small fortunes in tobacco cultivation. At first, they grew the native North American variety, Nicotiana rustica, which they had seen raised by the Indians. But the fortunes of the tobacco growers greatly increased after 1612, when John Rolfe, the husband of the Indian princess, Pocahontas, imported seeds of West Indian tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum, to Jamestown. This more desirable variety was an instant success and from then on every British-bound ship leaving the colony carried many bales of tobacco in its hold.

By this time, the value of tobacco had become so universal and so well established that the settlers used it as currency. Some of the colonists, starved for female company in the predominantly male settlements, advertised in England for wives, offering tobacco in payment for their passage. They were willing to deliver one hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco for the passage of each of "a hundred young women of agreeable person and respectable character," making each prospective bride literally worth her weight in tobacco.
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