Tobacco is related to garden vegetables, flowers, weeds, and poisonous herbs such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, petunias, jimson wood, ground cherries, and nightshade. The family of plants is Solanaceae; the genus Nicotiana contains about 100 species, only two of which have been extensively cultivated. Nicotiana tabacam is used in cigarettes and tobacco and is the predominant type of crop tobacco.
Originally, Native Americans in the eastern United States grew Nicotiana rustica, which was the first form of tobacco introduced in England and Portugal. N. Tabacam, first introduced to the Spanish, was obtained from Mexico and South America. It has been the preferred tobacco since settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, began growing it.
Because planters believed that tobacco had to be grown on virgin soil, tobacco gradually made its way to the eastern part of what is now North Carolina. Consumer preferences for tobacco products changed decidedly from the early 1700’s.
Carl Linnaeus describes tobacco in this 1762 edition of Caroli Linnaei Species plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad general relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum system a sexuale digestas.
In 1839, bright leaf tobacco was discovered by a slave named Stephen (headman on the farm of Abisha Slade, a successful planter in Caswell County). Stephen fell asleep owing to the heat from the wood fires in the tobacco barn, and when he awoke the fire was almost out. He rushed to a charcoal pit and found some charred logs on the dying embers. He threw these on the fire, which created a sudden drying heat, which resulted in the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.
The eighteenth century became the “Age of Snuff.” Tobacco from North Carolina was used for snuff and pipe smoking, because the cigarette was not widely known outside of Spain. By the 1840’s cigarettes had become popular with French women. Much to the chagrin of anti-tobacco societies, cigarettes caught on in the United States as well. Dr. Russell Thacher Trall, an anti- tobacco campaigner, said:
Some of the ladies of this refined and fashion-forming metropolis [New York] are aping the silly ways of some pseudo-accomplished foreigners, in smoking Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article, which has been most delicately denominated cigarette. Despite such opposition to tobacco, the twentieth century saw a rise in its use.
Consumer demand established tobacco farming as an important part of North Carolina farm life. NC State, through its College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Extension program, researched tobacco and aided farmers around the world. Farmers received important information from NC State. Blue mold probably existed in the western United States for many years as a minor disease on wild species of tobacco. It came east in 1921 but disappeared for ten years before resurfacing in 1931. It is caused by a fungus that attacks tobacco.
MORE HISTORIES ON TOBACCO
Leroy Pletten has put onto the net numerous old works of interest. These old documents are a useful resource for the historian but less so to the contemporary tobacco control activist.
- From 1836 read The Use of Tobacco: Its Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Effects on The Human Systemby William A. Alcott, M.D.
- From 1845 read The Mysteries of Tobacco, by Rev. Benjamin I. Lane.
- From 1849 read Tobacco: Its History, Nature, and Effects on the Body and Mind, by Joel Shew, M.D.
- From 1859 read The Use and Abuse of Tobacco, by Surgeon John Lizars.
- From 1879 read Tobacco and Its Effect upon the Health and Character Of Those Who Use It by James C. Jackson, M.D. “…I have settled myself down thoroughly in the conviction that no habit of the American people is so destructive to their physical vigor and their moral character as that of the use of tobacco.”
- From 1881 read Tobacco and Its Effects: A Report to the Wisconsin Board of Health For the Year 1881 by G. F. Witter, M.D.
- From 1881 or 1882 read A Lecture on Tobacco by Russell Lant Carpenter, B.A. Delivered Before the Mayor and People of Bridport, England.
- From 1882 read The Substance of An Address Before the Meadville Temperance Union, by Ariel Abbott Livermore.
- From the sixth edition of the 1882 book read, The Tobacco Problem by Meta Lander (pen name; Margaret Woods Lawrence).
- From 1889 read Cigarette Hazards Report, by Jackson, Salisbury, and Baker, to The Michigan House of Representatives.
- From 1909 read About Tobacco and Its Deleterious Effects by Charles E. Slocum, M.D., Ph.D., LL.D. “It is hoped that the reader may herein be shown, forcefully, that the use of tobacco is one of the most unnatural, useless, and worst of habits, from the continued efforts and sickness necessary to form the habit, from its impairment of body and mind, its enslavement of the will, its disgusting encroachments on the pure air and other rights of those not addicted to it, and its further sinfulness in its entailment of degeneracy.”
- From 1914 read The Case Against the Little White Slaver, by Henry Ford.
- From 1922 read Tobaccoism, or, How Tobacco Kills by John H. Kellogg, M.D., LL.D., F.A.C.S. “How marvelous the ability to so camouflage its venom that millions of men are made to believe harmless a weed which almost every other living creature than man, great and small, recognizes and avoids as a baneful poison!”
Please see The History and Impact of the Tobacco Plant.
Several wonderful pages of the Dry Drunk: The Culture of Tobacco in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. From the New York Public Library, Center for the Humanities, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Several pages of tobacco history from the Waguespack Seminars and Workshops.
From Boston University MedicalCenter History of Tobacco
Maybe someone can find good stuff at The USDA History Collection search engine.
From North Carolina State Univ, Tobacco in Business and Industry and farming and more, just look around.
Read CNN’s history of tobacco. There are several good pages.
The Walter Reed Army Medical Center, offers Brief History of Tobacco Use and Abuse as a part patient education.
Start here to read the first of several pages from Bright Leaves Tobacco Materials in the Collection of NCSU Libraries.
A nice timeline from the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Pennsylvania.
Read Florida’s Cultural Legacy: Tobacco, Steam & Stone by L. Glenn Westfall.
From the Center for the Study of the American South, Tobacco Farming.
The Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism refers to tobacco.
An interesting five-minute history of tobacco for grades 3 to 12.
From Ephidrina comes their version of Tobacco in History.
Read the full story of North Carolina Agriculture History, by J. Paul Lilly, Department of Soil Science, North Carolina State University.
FORCES has A History of Tobacco by James Leavey.
Canada FORCES offers excerpts from “Smoking and health promotion in Nazi Germany”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health(1994;48:220-223).
Pour les Amateurs de Pipes et de Tabac, includes history.
A history from Fuji, lovers of the leaf, titled, “Tobacco…Working for America,” with editorial materials and economic benefits.
Torn Between Tradition and a Changing World, Amish Farmers in Pennsylvania Cling to the Old Ways of Raising Tobacco. “For generations, tobacco has been the lifeblood-or ‘mortgage lifter.'”
A history from Smoke and Be Cool.
There are two pages of history from The American Smoker, “The history of tobacco and the American Government.”
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