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The Tobacco Plant

( Originally Published 1938 )



The English gentlemen-adventurers who colonized America in 1607 came in search of gold. They found tobacco. The tender leaf which the world now smokes became the basis for the imperiled settlements' prosperity. Tobacco soon yielded riches greater than all the mines of Spain.

From Jamestown, John Rolfe sent the first shipment of Virginia leaf in 1613, seven years before the Pilgrims touched at Plymouth Rock to northward. Within one generation, the gentle product was known the world around.

Rolfe was the husband of the famous Indian Princess, Pocahontas. This daughter of Powhatan, red emperor of Virginia, saved the colony from disaster several times. It is likely that Rolfe learned tobacco cultivation from the Indian girl.

The couple lived at Varina near the place where Richmond, birthplace of the modern cigarette, later was established. Their unusually happy marriage brought peace between the settlers and the Indians, so agriculture thrived and soon production of the native plant became the chief pursuit of all the English in America.

Before Rolfe's experiments showed Virginians how to raise the plant, the nobility of Britain and the Continent obtained supplies from the Spanish colonies in the tropics. The Spaniards named it after the "taboca," a pipe used by the Carib tribes. Sir Walter Raleigh and his suite made it popular in England and Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal, brought it to the Medici court at Paris, where scholars termed it "Nicotiana Tabacum." The mild, less fibrous Virginia leaf soon became the favorite of smokers everywhere. Trade out of Jamestown grew with great rapidity. Production increased from 20,000 pounds in 1619 to 500,000 in 1627. By 1639, exports totaled 1,500,000 pounds.

So important became the staple that tobacco soon supplanted gold as legal tender in Virginia. It was accepted as payment for all commodities, for taxes, fines and other dues of the colony. A cavalier who would not go to church was fined 200 pounds of tobacco for his delinquency. Bondservants bought their freedom with tobacco. Every store and tavern had its warehouse for the fragrant currency.

The Rolfes grew wealthy. Pocahontas became one of the most charming matrons of the colony. Tragedy, however, soon interrupted this idyll. During a visit to England in 1617, the princess died. Rolfe returned, but in 1622, he was murdered by some of his savage kinsmen at his border farm. His son Thomas succeeded to his estates, and founded a family many members of which still produce tobacco.

As the leaf was "as good as gold," every in-habitant of Virginia sought to raise an annual crop. Rich land was plentiful; labor cheap. In fact, so many citizens abandoned trades to enter agriculture that members of the Assembly be-came alarmed. The pay of carpenters was thirty pounds of leaf a day and board, but nevertheless they threw away their saws and hammers and took up the hoe. Seamen deserted their ships to try their hand at it. Physicians preferred to treat the soil instead of feverish patients. Throughout the colonies of the south, there developed a passionate enthusiasm for tobacco that continues to this day.

All of the domestic types from which modern cigarettes are made have evolved from two varieties developed during the early days. "Orinoco" and "Sweet Scented" were the first. Later soil, climate and curing methods yielded others.

One of the important types now used in the blend of Lucky Strike is "Bright." By the English it is still known as "Virginia." This orange-colored leaf with its distinctive flavor and its high natural sugar content is produced in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida, as well as in Virginia. Since it is pre-pared for market by the distinctive flue-curing process, it also is known as "flue-cured."

A second important type used in the blend is "Burley," the fragrant brown leaf raised mainly in Kentucky, Tennessee, and in states bordering on the Ohio River. Burley is sometimes called "air-cured," since it differs from Bright tobacco in this respect.

Other tobaccos used in Luckies are "Mary-land," a rich, fine-burning, dark-brown product from north of the Potomac, and "Turkish," a highly aromatic small-leafed variety, many types of which are imported from the Near East.

Incidentally, this Turkish, the only non-domestic tobacco used in Lucky Strikes, has an interesting historical background. The cigarette in its first primitive form was invented by the Turks. During the Crimean War when England and France were allies of Turkey, the European officers learned to like the Oriental paper-wrapped "cigars." They brought the materials back with them to Paris and to London, and before 1870, a new smoking vogue was well established. American tobacconists, always alert, quickly accepted the innovation, and by 1872, cigarettes similar to those we have today were being manufactured in Richmond. The Oriental tobacco soon was supplanted to a large degree by the lighter, smoother American leaf, but to this day, cigarette smokers desire some Turkish in their blend.

The development of the modern cigarette in the seventies gave the tobacco business a mighty forward impulse. For the first time, the finest tobacco became available to poor as well as rich. Tobacco of the better grades began to sell at prices farmers had not enjoyed since 1619. Again the staple became one of the richest Southern crops, and today, with the growing demand for cigarettes, its economic importance is greater than ever.



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