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Tobacco Laws: 1633

Virginia tobaccoAt right: The rise of Virginia tobacco as a world trade commodity coincided with the arrival of the first ship of slaves in 1619. The creation of the plantation lifestyle planted the seeds for a long period of slavery in this colony. Visit the Colonial Williamsburg site for more information about Virginia’s slave laws.

The European cultivation of tobacco began in Brazil about 1600, and the “stink” created in the streets and marketplaces by “puffing in each other’s faces” was noted by historian Ibrahim Pecevi. Over the following decade, tobacco raised a “stink” in other areas as well. King James despised the weed and physicians lodged complaints that people were smoking tobacco without a prescription. By 1610, Sir Francis Bacon noted that tobacco had become a widespread addiction.

But, John Rolfe was determined to find a profitable crop for the fledging Virginia colony, and by 1613 – one year after the first crop was planted – Rolfe’s first tobacco harvest arrived in England. This variety, which seemed “smoother” than any other that England had ever tasted, became wildly popular. By 1614 Virginia had entered the world trade market protected under English laws. By 1620 tobacco was being used as currency in Virginia, a trade option that endured for two centuries.

Virginia, for all intents and purposes, became a single-crop colony until 1 February 1633, when tobacco laws were codified. This act limited tobacco production to reduce dependence on a single-crop economy. While crop rotation became more commonplace simply out of necessity, tobacco remained the main world trade crop for Virginia for many decades.

Today, if Virginia planters choose to continue growing tobacco as a cash crop, they will choose to do it without the government’s help. The federal tobacco price support program has been terminated, and farmers now have to negotiate directly with the tobacco companies. In the end, they will probably have to settle for lower prices for their crops due to a declining demand for tobacco created by new laws that prohibit smoking in public facitilies across the nation.

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