Tobacco & Slavery

When America was in the process of colonization by European powers who began settling their people there, they required large numbers of labors to work on their farms. Most of the people who were enslaved and sold in America were Africans.

The transatlantic slave trade involved many millions of people, and its history and legacy have had an impact all over the world. There were European slave traders, ships’captains and sailors as well as African traders and the African people captured and enslaved.

They cultivated the land which were highly fertile and produced crops in vast quantities. Colonizers saw that these crops were commercial in nature. The produce were shipped to Europe and earned huge profits. One of these was Tobacco.

Dunhill Early Morning Pipe Tobacco, 1990's Murray
Dunhill Early Morning Pipe Tobacco, 1990’s Murray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tobacco is called Nicotiana tabacum in scientific language and English were to make huge profits by selling it just as they did by selling illegally opium produced in Bihar India to Chinese people. The opium trade had two effects which favored English to defeat the Chinese and dictate the terms in future trade of Silk. These were making the Chinese people addicts and siphoning of the money from China. Anyway we are talking about tobacco.

Original people of the Americas were already growing it when the colonizers got foothold there. It originated in the Andes mountains in South America. It was not only smoked but also used in ceremonies and as a medicine. They smoked it through pipes.

It was Mr. John Rolfe who was one of the first English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia which was founded in 1607. He introduced the sweeter Caribbean tobacco to Virginia. Heavily forested island of Barbados were cleared for cultivating the tobacco. Tobacco was the most profitable export from mainland North America before cotton was established, and from the Caribbean before sugar took over.

Tobacco cultivation requires lots of hard work. Many diseases which were unknown to Americans came along with Europeans and reduced the local population. This made the English to capture the Africans and sell them as farmhands in America.

Tobacco became very popular throughout Europe. Francis Drake first introduced it to England in 1585, and Walter Raleigh made it fashionable. It was seen as a miracle medicine, curing anything from stomach ache to gunshot wounds, and snakebites to bad breath.

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