John Rolfe and Tobacco

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picture pipe
English pipe found at James Fort
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

The drought finally ended and Jamestown turned a corner. A new cash crop was introduced to Virginia which brought prosperity and a path into the future. John Rolfe is credited with being the man who introduced tobacco to America. The colonists did not like the type of tobacco the local Indians grew. They preferred the more fragrant variety that Spanish colonists grew in the Caribbean and sold with great profit in London.

picture pipe
Indian pipe found at Jamestown
(larger bowl) made of Virginia clay
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

Ralph Hamor, Secretary of Virginia, reported that Rolfe planted the first tobacco seeds that he obtained from somewhere in the Caribbean, possibly from Trinidad. "...I may not forget the gentleman worthie of much commendations, which first tooke the pains to make triall thereof, his name Mr. John Rolfe, Anno Domini 1612, partly for the love he hath a long time borne unto it, and partly to raise commodity to the adventurers..." He crossed the Caribbean breed with the indigenous tobacco to produce a plant well adapted to the local soil. Rolfe gave some tobacco from his crop to friends "to make triall of," and they agreed that the new leaf had "smoked pleasant, sweete and strong. Rolfe's first crop that was shipped to London compared favorably with the Spanish product.

The colony prospered and called for women to come to Jamestown and marry the settlers. It became a boomtown and people come in droves to America. While tobacco brought the colonists prosperity, it had a dark side from the beginning. It required a great deal of labor and so created the conditions in which slavery would later flourish. Tobacco would determine Virginia's future.

Part of The Virginia English Colony at Jamestown exhibit

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