History of Tobacco

History of TobaccoWhen settlers first migrated from Virginia to North Carolina, they struggled to grow any crop, much less tobacco, partially because of the dry, sandy soil. Because Londoners viewed tobacco as a desired luxury and bought it exclusively from Spain, the new North American colonists knew if they could raise tobacco, they could earn a living off of selling tobacco to England (tobacco was both rare and expensive). Growing tobacco, however, proved to be troublesome, and the quality of the first crop of North Carolina tobacco was poor. How did North Carolina change from a state that struggled to raise crops to one that dominated the tobacco market? And how did that empire come to an end?

The following timeline tells the story of settlers of the early colonies, their discovery of tobacco, and the eventual wealth and power tobacco brought to North Carolina.


North Carolina Tobacco Timeline

1586
Sir Francis Drake visits Roanoke Island to see how the new colonists are faring. Facing constant lack of food and Indian attacks, the colonists returned to England with Drake and appeared before Sir Walter Raleigh to present gifts from their colonization attempt. One of these gifts was dried tobacco leaves and tobacco seeds. Colonists learned tobacco planting from the Indians, who used it in their pipes.
Sir Walter Raleigh plants and cultivates the North Carolina tobacco seeds, and some of the seeds are sold to farmers in central England. The English prefer the taste of this tobacco to the Spanish tobacco they had been buying .
 
1590
During the 1590s, tobacco was rare and expensive. The cost of tobacco was as high as $125 a pound for the best and over $15 for inferior grades.
 
1655
Colonists from Virginia begin traveling south to start a colony, since Virginia was becoming crowded (pop. = 22,000) .
 
1663
King Charles II grants an area from Florida to the border of Virginia to explorers from England who wanted to colonize in North America. The colonists are dubbed The Lords Proprietors of Carolina. As colonists from Virginia come to Carolina, they bring their tobacco farms with them.
 
1669
The Albemarle Assembly of Carolina passes a tax exemption to new settlers for a year and prohibits creditor suits for five years. The inability to collect on debts of the new Carolinians, along with the competition of Carolina tobacco, infuriates Virginians. Carolinians, however, are struggling to survive against Indian attacks and difficulties in shipping their goods from Virginia ports.
 
1672
Tobacco takes the place of currency to pay for services from clergymen, educators, officials and soldiers. The Carolina Assembly sets the maximum price of rum at 25 pounds of good tobacco.
 
1673
The Parliamentary Plantation Act of England imposes a penny per pound tax on tobacco shipped from one colony to another. The tax leads to Culpeper's Rebellion, named after John Culpeper.
 
1679
Virginia passes an Act that prohibits importation of Carolina tobacco because of its poor quality. Carolinians saved the good leaves for sales on their farms and exported a lesser quality product.
 
1682
Thomas Ash publishes a promotional tract for Carolina tobacco.
 
1700
Carolina tobacco is a monopoly for a small group of Yankees.
 
1715
Carolina is growing slowly and has only 3 towns with enough people to give them representation in the Assembly.
 
1725
Groups of Germans, Scotch-Irish and Welshmen settle in Carolina, increasing the settlement rate. They grow tobacco because they are familiar with that crop.
A number of roads run from the upper sections of North Carolina to southern Virginia, allowing for the transport of tobacco despite the 1679 Act. Most Carolina farmers don’t want to compete with Virginia tobacco export and are happy to make a meager living.
 
1726
Virginia renews the exclusion of North Carolina tobacco.
 
1729
The charter of the Lords Proprietors ends, and ports are established at Brunswick and Wilmington.
 
1731
The Privy Council in London repeals the Virginia Act of 1726.
 
1765
Port Roanoke (Edenton) becomes the main export center for NC tobacco.
 
1773
A Moravian in Old Salem, Matthew Miksch, opens a tobacco shop and sells cured, rolled tobacco leaves for smoking or snuff.
 
1776
The British wage a "Tobacco War" against Virginia, destroying millions of pounds of tobacco. The reduction of the Virginia supply opened the market for North Carolina.
 
1839
Stephen, a slave on the farm of Captain Abisha Slade in Caswell County, accidentally discovers "Bright" leaf tobacco as he tends the wood fires to cure tobacco. After falling asleep for several hours, he awakes to find the fire dying and nearly out. Hurriedly casting hot coals into the fire, he inadvertently creates a blast of heat, turning the tobacco leaves a bright yellow color, never seen before in the States. Other tobacco farmers soon begin using the "Slade" technique to cure what is called Bright leaf tobacco.
 
1855
Up until now, six Piedmont counties adjoining Virginia have ruled the tobacco market. Farmers discover that Bright leaf tobacco needs thin, starved soil, and farmers who cannot grow other crops find that they can grow tobacco. Formerly infertile farms are now worth 20-35 times their previous worth.
 
1857
Captain Slade makes $35 per hundred pounds for 20,000 pounds of tobacco, the highest profit any farm in the States had seen to that date.
 
1858
A small tobacco factory opens in Durham, around which the entire town grows.
 
1870
The factory in Winston begins manufacturing tobacco for sale.
 
1871
Durham opens its market for the sale of tobacco.
 
1872
Furnace cured Bright leaf tobacco becomes the popular type. Winston begins marketing its tobacco.
 
1874
Lucky Strike water tower and smokestack in Durham built.
 
1880
There are 126 tobacco factories in North Carolina, producing 6.5 million pounds of chewing tobacco and 4 million pounds of smoking tobacco in one year, worth $2,300,000. Some factories, including four in Durham, rolled 2,347,207 cigarettes.
 
1884
The factory of W. Duke, Sons and Company in Durham begins implementing a cigarette-rolling machine invented by James A. Bonsack in 1880. The machine significantly speeds up production, rolling 120,000 cigarettes a day.
 
1890
James B. Duke joins with 4 of his biggest rivals to start a new tobacco company. He becomes president of American Tobacco Company in Durham.
 
1895
North Carolina tobacco harvests exceed 100 million pounds. The market is dominated by only a few, with little competition.
 
1899
The world's largest tobacco corporation is formed, with its corporate headquarters in Durham. The corporation is called the Tobacco Trust.
 
1900
Tobacco is valued at $16 million and will increase to $1 billion by 1951.
 
1911
After the federal government decides that the Tobacco Trust violates the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Trust is dissolved. Several competitive tobacco companies result.
 
1919
Wilson is the world's largest Bright leaf market. Smaller factories begin closing due to the inability to afford expensive equipment, leaving only a few to dominate the market.
 
1921
RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem spends $8 million on advertising, mostly on Camel.
 
1930
The American Medical Association begins publishing studies linking cigarette smoking to health problems.
 
1939
President Roosevelt makes tobacco a protected crop as a result of World War II.
 
1964
The First Surgeon General's report links smoking to lung cancer.
 
1965
The Surgeon General's warning is mandatory on cigarette packs.
 
1967
Hawthorne Books publishes Lloyd Mallon's It is Safe to Smoke but take it off the market in November after Hawthorne discovers tobacco companies financed it.
 
1970
RJR closes down "mouse house" facility in Winston-Salem.
 
1971
Federal government bans cigarette advertising on television and radio.
 
1987
American Tobacco Complex in Durham closes.
 
1996
Quotas are established for tobacco growers for the amount of flue-cured tobacco they can grow.
 
2001
In December, the State legislature revisits the subject of tobacco quotas and decides to increase them.