Commercialization of Cultivated Tobacco

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabaccum) was first introduced from Mesoamerica to North America in 200 AD. Native Americans used tobacco, above all, in religious ceremonies. After 1492 and the onset of Columbian Exchange, Europeans took an interest in the plant. Use of tobacco, including as a medicinal cure-all, spread to royal courts (particularly the French court) throughout Europe. However, it was the English settler John Rolfe (1585–1622) who, having settled in Jamestown, Virginia, became the first European to successfully raise tobacco as an export crop. By 1612, the first seeds had been planted. Thereafter, it became the Virginia Company’s most important export crop, paving the way for tobacco to be used more widely as a recreational drug. The cultivation and worldwide distribution of tobacco has had a severe impact on the environment. In order to establish acreage, large areas of forest were cleared, following which, soil degradation often ensued. As agriculture underwent modernization, the intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides further complicated matters.

Further Readings: 
  • Burns, Eric. The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.
  • Gately, Iain. Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. New York: Grove Press, 2003.