Social and Economic Effects of the Tobacco Industry in the "New World"

Topics: Tobacco, Nicotiana, Plantation economy Pages: 5 (1888 words) Published: December 10, 2010
Although King James I had given the London Company goals (find gold and silver and find the lost colony of Roanoke) to complete on the journey to the “new world,” neither of them were truly accomplished due to the outburst of the new and thriving tobacco trade in the Chesapeake region. Because tobacco had given colonists an opportunity for independence from England in an economical sense, tobacco plantations became the foundation that helped develop the colonies into prosperous and more stable communities for King James I. There were a few key components in the tobacco industry of the early 17th and 18th centuries that affected the Chesapeake region: institution of slavery, England’s authority in the trade, and socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages.

The Indians in the Virginia area were already cultivating a certain type of tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, but this was thought to be too harsh by John Rolfe, one of the early English settlers. Rolfe had begun the cultivation of another strain of tobacco, Nicotiana Tabacum, in 1612 in Jamestown although the selling of those seeds to a non-Spaniard was considered illegal under Spanish law. Quickly, Rolfe learned the strenuous tasks that needed to be performed for the proper cultivation of tobacco. During this time, Pocahontas had walked into Rolfe’s life, and he wooed her. She and her father finally agreed to marriage, which had brought eight years of peace with the Indians(Borio). It was thought that Pocahontas may have taught some of the cultivation techniques that the Indians used to Rolfe. Because this tobacco was the only positive economic boost that the settlers were able to offer to the king, the first shipment of tobacco was sent to and sold in London in the year 1614. Although King James I loathed tobacco, he understood that this product was the only thing that his colony really had to depend on for survival. Also, it realized a profit for London because other countries across Europe were demanding the tobacco; therefore, King James I obliged the colonists to export all tobacco to London before sending the shipments to other countries(Borio).

In time, tobacco had made Jamestown the first permanent settlement of the “new world.” The growth of tobacco became so popular that colonists were growing the plant in the streets of Jamestown. Because tobacco was becoming so common, laws were passed to make farmers apportion a certain amount of their land to the farming of food and other necessities. Jamestown exported ten tons of tobacco by the year 1619, and by 1639, 750 tons were exported. When the wish for tobacco grew in England, the call for the necessary supplies for the colonies to stay alive and successful increased, the colonists could trade goods freely with England basically in return knowing that they had access to all the supplies they would need. And because of this inevitable want and demand for tobacco, it was the premier good between the colonies and England. Furthermore, the colonists were able to trade tobacco like a type of “currency” between themselves, and it was also used to pay for things such as taxes and fines Tobacco cultivation required a great deal of work; most plantation owners bought slaves so that more tobacco could be grown, harvested and processed. Slavery grew to be a large part of the tobacco industry, and ultimately developed into a requirement for tobacco plantations and other farmers, too. Cultivation of tobacco was a year-long process, starting in January or February when the slaves would prepare the seed beds. Seed beds aren’t where the tobacco would flourish completely, it would eventually be moved to another field for growth and harvesting. About mid-March the tobacco seeds would be sown and then slaves would rake the seed beds and cover them with pine boughs to protect the young and vulnerable tobacco plants. In May, the plants were transplanted to another already-prepared field, which had knee-high hills every...
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