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Tobacco And The Start Of Slavery History Essay

Back in the 1600s, there was a town called Jamestown. It had many hardships. At first, no women came over, only the men and their sons. As time progressed, the people who knew how to build homes and shelter faired much better than the ones whom did not. At one point, winter had come and most of the population of Jamestown was not prepared for the cold and for food supplies. There were many shocking stories arising out the genuine shortage of food and the resulting starvation, with reports of people killing others to eat them. It was not until the local growing of tobacco did the town turnaround from its downward spiral, but this discovery also marked the beginning of slavery.

According to Captain John Smith, “none of the native crops were planted at first, not even tobacco.” The reason for this was that the settlers; attention was on anything they could grow for food. The two highest priorities for the settlers were food, as well shelters to live in to protect themselves from the elements. Shelters proved to be extremely important and essential for survival, especially during the cold times. As time moved on, the settlers did interact with the Native Indians and found them using tobacco but “under the name of uppowoc or apooke.” Most likely, they bought or traded for some tobacco during that time. It was not until 1612 did tobacco “cultivation began among the English settlers, even in small patches.” However, two years before, John Rolfe “found that tobacco could be obtained only by buying it from the Indians, or by cultivating it.”

From this mindset, it could be guessed that Rolfe tried to grow a small patch for himself and cut his reliance from the Indians. Rolfe was also trying to find a way to make some money, and find a local product that could be sold overseas in England that would be profitable. Nevertheless, adding one and one together “John Rolfe became the first colonist to successfully grow tobacco.”

Rolfe had become accustomed to the “fragrant aroma and taste of the imported Spanish tobacco,” and so had the people in England. Spanish tobacco became the standard or the bar which other tobacco was compared too. A native tobacco plant of North America was the nicotiana rustica. It was found to be substandard when compared to the tobacco grown in the Spanish Colonies. In 1611, Rolfe “decided to experiment with seed of the mild Spanish variety.” This batch, as they called it, was Rolfe’s first experimental crop. When it arrived in England, it was stated that its quality was great, but the Spanish grown tobacco was still better. Rolfe came out and said, “"no doubt but after a little more triall and expense in the curing thereof, it will compare with the best in the West Indies." Rolfe was trying very hard to get the tobacco grown in the west to be wanted.

By 1617, Rolfe’s experiment turned out to be a success, as his business was thriving. He had shipped “20,000 pounds of tobacco was exported from Virginia.” Tobacco in England was nothing new, the people have already gotten accustomed to it and it was something that only the rich or people who had some money could afford. Tobacco grew extremely well in Virginia, as the climate was perfect for cultivation. Virginian “Tobacco also had a greater advantage Over All Other Staples in That It Could Be Produced in Larger Quantities Per Acre.” Since in virginia there was plenty of land, they were able to export a gargantuan amount. The Virginia grown tobacco had brought down the price of tobacco to a much more affordable price, that even more people in England started purchasing tobacco. Spanish tobacco was very expensive in England which almost made it extinct, but the rich still purchased it for special occasions. Since the Virginia-grown tobacco could be produced in such large quantities, there was plenty of supply for the demand.

In 1616, Jamestown had been impacted by a fever and the “following description indicates the impact of the "fever": there were "but five or six houses, the church downe, the palizado's broken, the bridge in pieces, the well of fresh water spoiled; the storehouse used for the church..., [and] the colony dispersed all about, planting tobacco." The town was falling apart, they have few buildings left, the water supply was spoiled and the town in shambles. The settlers had nothing left, hardly a population, but when the colony dispersed to plant tobacco, it became the only thing to do. The Settlers started “growing in the streets and in the market place.” Whatever space they had to grow tobacco in, they used it.

By 1622, “plantations extended at intervals from Point Comfort as far as 140 miles up the James River.” The colony was feverishly spreading out and planting they even stopped caring about hunting, as they “gave the Indians firearms and employed them to do their hunting” This shows how focused the colonists were on tobacco. However, later in 1622, all the space they had for planting and cultivation was greatly reduced due to the “Indian Massacre of 1622.” This event was when the Indians suddenly attacked the colonists and killed many of them. But still, “the planters were able to produce 60,000 pounds of tobacco,” which had tripled from the amount produced back in 1617. So even with the massacre the colonists were still able to produce a large amount of tobacco.

Sometime after the massacre, the settlers started extending their territory to cultivate tobacco. They “they took over the fields cleared by the Indians which were said to be among the best in the colony.” This made it easy for planters, as they did not have to clear the ground beforehand, they did not have to spend time clearing the trees and waiting for the stumps to rot out, this greatly spead up the planting process.

With the expansion of the settlers into more land, a “head-right” system was developed “which gave fifty acres of land to any person who brought a settler to the colony.” This meant that people who were already in the colony were strongly encouraged to bring over more people from England. The people brought over were known as indentured servants. In 1619,” A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants,” as well which were very similar to the indentured servants whom were brought over from England. People in England were offered a paid voyage to the colony, but they had to work on the land for a certain period until they had paid their dues. This was the start of slavery, as time progressed; the colony started importing more Blacks. In 1624, “The Dutch, who had entered the slave trade in 1621 with the formation of the Dutch West Indies Co., import blacks to serve on Hudson Valley farms.”

At first there was no slavery at all,” The first general planting in the colony began at West and Shirley Hundreds where twenty-five men, commanded by a Captain Madison, were employed solely in planting and curing tobacco.” The first planting in the colony was done for pay, as they were employed. The “head-right” system was in place so that people would come over from England, it mostly lured poor or landless people. Shortly after the indentured servants that came from England, stated that it is a lot of work, it would never end. Many of them did not feel comfortable and loathed about the lower death age. They were also not treated properly by the landowners who brought them over.

Since no one wanted to do any work, the salve trade was on in full force as you could buy a slave or trade food for one, for a relatively cheap price. Slave work was so badly needed for tobacco cultivation that “African Slavery was legalized in Virginia and Maryland, becoming the foundation of the Southern agrarian economy.” It was now legal and normal for settler to buy a slave, which made slavery and the demand of slaves even higher. “African American slaves grew slowly at first, by the 1680s they had become essential to the economy of Virginia.” The economy relied heavily on salve work

Planting tobacco was not a hard task but it was a very time consuming task and with the many and many Acers of land that landowners had, they needed a workforce to take care of all the land. “For to sow it, you must make a hole in the earth with your finger and that as deep as your finger is long, then you must cast into the same hole ten or twelve seeds.” You also had to keep it watered if it had been a dry time. You also had to manage and keep working with the tobacco as it “was hoed for the first time about eight to ten days after planting.” This is exactly what slaves did.

The Slavery industry was big “between 13,000 and 20,000 slaves were brought into Virginia and Maryland between 1619 and 1697” The slaves were African peoples, which had been picked up by British merchants with large vessels which either brought slaves from “Africa or were reshipped from the West Indies.” The Slave industry has become the trading commodity. West Indian and Portuguese companies also shipped slaves. The Portuguese were primarily sending slaves to the Spanish Colonies. Almost all of the companies or merchants were getting the majority of their slaves came from the “People from the Bight of Biafra (present day eastern Nigeria or ad jacent Cameroon).”


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