The History of Tobacco Part I

by Gene Borio


Huron Indian myth has it that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco . . .


Last major update: 04/22/97
Thanks to tobacco researcher Larry Breed (LB) for his contributions. He recently found a little tome called "This Smoking World" (1927), and shared some of its events (TSW). I am also beginning to incorporate events referenced in Richard Kluger's monumental Ashes to Ashes (RK) and The American Tobacco Story (ATS). Another important source is Bill Drake's wonderful The European Experience With Native American Tobacco (BD)
• The sacred origin of tobacco and the first pipe (Schoolcraft)
• c. 6000 BC: Experts believe the tobacco plant, as we know it today, begins growing in the Americas.
• c. 1 BCE: Experts believe American inhabitants begin finding ways to use tobacco, including smoking (via a number of variations) and in enemas.
• c. 1 CE: Tobacco was "nearly everywhere" in the Americas. (American Heritage Book of Indians, p.41).
• 600-1000 CE: UAXACTUN, GUATEMALA. First pictorial record of smoking: A pottery vessel found here dates from before the 11th century. On it a Maya is depicted smoking a roll of tobacco leaves tied with a string. The Mayan term for smoking was sik'ar
The Chiapas Gift, or The Indians' Revenge?

• 1492-10-15: Columbus Discovers Smoking
• 1497: Robert Pane, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, writes the first report of native tobacco use to appear in Europe.

• 1518: MEXICO: JUAN DE GRIJALVA lands in Yucatan, observes cigarette smoking by natives (ATS)
• 1519: MEXICO: CORTEZ conquers AZTEC capitol, finds Mexican natives smoking perfumed reed cigarettes.(ATS)
• 1530: MEXICO: BERNARDINO DE SAHAGUN, missionary in Mexico, distinguishes between sweet commercial tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and coarse Nicotiana rustica.(ATS)
• 1531: SANTO DOMINGO: European cultivation of tobacco begins
• 1534: CUBA, SANTO DOMINGO: "Tall tobacco"—sweet, broadleaved Nicotiana tabacum—transplanted from Central American mainland to Cuba and Santo Domingo.(ATS)
• 1548: BRAZIL: Portuguese cultivate tobacco for commercial export.
• 1554: ANTWERP: 'Cruydeboeck' presents first illustration of tobacco. (LB)
• 1535: CANADA: Jacques Cartier encounters natives on the island of Montreal who use tobacco.
• 1556: FRANCE: Tobacco is introduced. Thevet transplants Nicotiana tabacum from Brazil, describes tobacco as a creature comfort. (ATS)
• 1558: PORTUGAL: Tobacco is introduced.
• 1559: SPAIN: Tobacco is introduced.
• 1560: PORTUGAL, FRANCE: Jean Nicot de Villemain, France's ambassador to Portugal, writes of tobacco's medicinal properties, describing it as a panacea. Nicot sends rustica plants to French court.
• 1564 or 1565: ENGLAND: Tobacco is introduced by Sir John Hawkins and/or his crew. For the next twenty years in England, tobacco is used cheifly by sailors, including those employed by Sir Francis Drake.
• 1566: FRANCE: Nicot sends snuff to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, to treat her migraine headaches. She later decrees tobacco be termed Herba Regina
• 1568: FRANCE: Andre Thevet provides first description of tobacco use. In Brazil, he wrote, the people smoke it and it cleans the "superfluous humours of the brain". Thevet smoked it himself. (LB)
• 1570: Claimed first botanical book on tobacco written by Pena and Lobel of London.(TSW)
• 1571: SPAIN: MEDICINE: Monardes, a doctor in Seville, reports on the latest craze among Spanish doctors--the wonders of the tobacco plant, which herbalists are growing all over Spain. Monardes lists 36 maladies tobacco cures.
• 1573: ENGLAND: Sir Francis Drake returns from Americas with 'Nicotina tobacum'. (LB)
• 1575: MEXICO: LEGISLATION: Roman Catholic Church passes a law against smoking in any place of worship in the Spanish Colonies
• 1577: ENGLAND: MEDICINE: Frampton translates Monardes into English. European doctors look for new cures--tobacco is recommended for toothache, falling fingernails, worms, halitosis, lockjaw & cancer
• 1580: CUBA: European cultivation of tobacco begins
• 1585: ENGLAND: Sir Francis Drake introduces smoking to Sir Walter Raleigh (BD)
• 1586: Ralph Lane, first governor of Virginia, teaches Sir Walter Raleigh to smoke the long-stemmed clay pipe Lane is credited with inventing (BD).(TSW)
• 1586: GERMANY: 'De plantis epitome utilissima' offers one of first cautions to use of tobacco, calling it a "violent herb". (LB)
• 1586: ENGLAND: Tobacco Arrives in English Society. In July 1586, some of the Virginia colonists returned to England and disembarked at Plymouth smoking tobacco from pipes, which caused a sensation. William Camden (1551-1623) a contemporary witness, reports that "These men who were thus brought back were the first that I know of that brought into England that Indian plant which they call Tabacca and Nicotia, or Tobacco" Tobacco in the Elizabethan age was known as "sotweed." (BD)
• 1587: ANTWERP: First published work totally on tobacco, 'De herbe panacea', with numerous recipies and claims of cures. (LB)
• 1588: Hariot writes about tobacco in Virginia
• 1590: LITERATURE: Spenser's Fairy Queen: earliest poetical allusion to tobacco in English literature. (Book III, Canto VI, 32).
• 1595: ENGLAND: Tabacco, the first book in the English language devoted to the subject of tobacco, is published
• 1595: Matoaka is born to Chief Powhatan. She is given the nickname Pocahontas--"Frisky," "Playful One" or "Mischief"
• 1596: LITERATURE: Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humor is acted on the 25th of November, 1596, and printed in 1601. In Act III, Scene 2, Bobadilla (pro) and Cob (con) argue about tobacco. (BD)
Seventeenth Century--"The Great Age of the Pipe"

When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization. -- Daniel Webster. 1782-1852.

Tobacco comes into use as "Country Money" or "Country Pay" in the colonies. Tobacco continues to be used as a monetary standard--literally a "cash crop"-- throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, lasting twice as long as the gold standard.

So prominent is the place that tobacco occupies in the early records of the middle Southern States, that its cultivation and commercial associations may be said to form the basis of their history. It was the direct source of their wealth, and became for a while the representative of gold and silver; the standard value of other merchantable products; and this tradition was further preserved by the stamping of a tobacco-leaf upon the old continental money used in the Revolution. --19th century historian (DB)


• 1600s: Popes ban smoking in holy places. Pope Urban VIII (1623-44) threatens excommunication for those who smoke or take snuff in holy places.
• 1600: BRAZIL: European cultivation of tobacco begins
• 1600: ENGLAND: Sir Walter Raleigh persuades Queen Elizabeth to try smoking
• 1601: TURKEY: Smoking is introduced, and rapidly takes hold while clerics denounce it. "Puffing in each other's faces, they made the streets and markets stink," writes historian Ibrahim Pecevi.
• 1602: ENGLAND: Publication of Worke of Chimney Sweepers by anonymous author identified as 'Philaretes' states that illness of chimney sweepers is caused by soot and that tobacco may have similar effects. (LB)
• 1602: ENGLAND: Roger Markecke writes A Defense of Tobacco, in response to Chimneysweeps (LB)
• 1603: ENGLAND: Physicians are upset that tobacco used by people without physician prescription; complain to King James I.(TSW)
• 1604: ENGLAND: King James I writes "A Counterblaste to Tobacco"
• 1604: ENGLAND: King James I increases import tax on tobacco 4,000%
• 1605: ENGLAND: Debate between King James I and Dr. Cheynell.(TSW)
• 1606: SPAIN: King Philip Ill decrees that tobacco may only be grown in specific locations--including Cuba, Santo Domingo, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Sale of tobacco to foreigners is punishable by death.
• 1606+: ADVERTISING: ENGLAND: America and advertising begin to grow together. One of the first products heavily marketed is America itself. Richard Hofstadter called the Virginia Company's recruitment effort for its new colony, "one of the first concerted and sustained advertising campaigns in the history of the modern world." The out-of-place, out-of-work "gentlemen" in an overpopulated England were sold quite a bill of goods about the bountiful land and riches to be had in the New World. Daniel J. Boorstin has mused whether "there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising."
• 1607: JAMESTOWN saga begins
• 1610: ENGLAND: Sir Francis Bacon writes that tobacco use is increasing and that it is a custom hard to quit. (LB)
• 1610: ENGLAND: Edmond Gardiner publishes William Barclay's The Trial of Tobacco and provides a text of recipies and medicinal preparations. BArclay defends tobacco as a medicine but condemns casual use(LB)
• 1612: CHINA: Imperial edict forbidding the planting and use tobacco.(TSW)
• 1612: JAMESTOWN: John Rolfe raises Virginia's first commercial crop of "tall tobacco."
• 1614: SPAIN: King Philip III establishes Seville as tobacco center of the world. Attempting to prevent a tobacco glut, Philip requires all tobacco grown in the Spanish New World to be shipped to a central location, Seville, Spain. Seville becomes the world center for the production of cigars. European cigarette use begins here, as beggars patch together tobacco from used cigars, and roll them in paper(papeletes). Spanish and Portuguese sailors spread the practice to Russia and the Levant.
• 1614-04: JAMESTOWN: John Rolfe and Pocahontas (Rebecca) are married
• 1614: ENGLAND: First sale of native Virginia tobacco in England; Virginia colony enters world tobacco market, under English protection
• 1614: ENGLAND: "[T]here be 7000 shops, in and about London, that doth vent Tobacco" -- The Honestie of this Age, Prooving by good circumstance that the world was never honest till now, by Barnabee Rych Gentleman (BD)
• 1614: LITERATURE: Nepenthes, or the Vertues of Tabacco, by William Barclay; Edinburgh, 1614. Recommends exclusively tobacco of American origin (BD)
• 1616-06-03: JAMESTOWN: John Rolfe and Pocahontas arrive in London
• 1617: Dr. William Vaughn writes:
Tobacco that outlandish weede
It spends the braine and spoiles the seede
It dulls the spirite, it dims the sight
It robs a woman of her right
• 1617: MONGOLIA: Emperor places dealth penalty on using tobacco.(TSW)
• 1619: ENGLAND: An unhappy King James I incorporates British pipe makers.(TSW)
• 1619: JAMESTOWN: First Africans brought into Virginia. John Rolfe writes in his diary, About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty negars.
• 1619: JAMESTOWN: First shipment of wives for settlers arrives. Future husbands had to pay for his prospective mate's passage (120 lbs. of tobacco).
• 1620: ENGLAND: 40,000 lbs of tobacco imported from Virginia. (LB)
• 1620: Trade agreement between the Crown & Virginia Company bans commercial tobacco growing in England, in return for a 1 shilling/lb. duty on Virginia tobacco.
• 1621: Sixty future wives arrive in Virginia and sell for 150 pounds of tobacco each. Price up since 1619.(TSW)
• 1621: ENGLAND: Tobias Venner publishes "A briefe and accurate treatise, comcerning....tobacco" claiming medicinal properties, but condeming use for pleasure. (LB)
• 1624: Pope threatens excommunication for snuff users; sneezing is thought too close to sexual ecstasy
• 1628: Shah Sefi punishes two merchants for selling tobacco by pouring hot lead down their throat.(TSW)
• 1631: European cultivation of tobacco begins in Maryland
• 1632: MASSACHUSETTS forbids public smoking
• 1633: CONNECTICUT Settled; first tobacco crop raised in Windsor
• 1633: TURKEY: Sultan Murad IV orders tobacco users executed as infidels. As many as 18 a day were executed. Some historians consider the ban an anti-plague measure, some a fire-prevention measure.
• 1634: RUSSIA: Czar Alexis creates penalties for smoking: 1st offense is whipping, a slit nose, and trasportation to Siberia. 2nd offense is execution.(TSW) (BD)
• 1634: EUROPE: Greek Church claims that it was tobacco smoke that intoxicated Noah and so bans tobacco use.(TSW)
• 1635: FRANCE: King allows sale of tobaccco only following prescription by physician.(TSW)
• 1637: FRANCE: King Louis XIII enjoys snuff and repeals restricions on its use.(TSW)
• 1638: CHINA: Use or distribution of tobacco is made a crime punishable by decapitation.
• 1639: NEW YORK CITY: Governor Kieft bans smoking in New Amsterdam
• 1640: Greenwich Village, NY is known to Native Americans as (var.) Sapponckanican-- "tobacco fields," or "land where the tobacco grows."

•In 1629, Niewu Amsterdam's Gov. Wouter Van Twiller appropriated a farm belonging to the Dutch West India Company in the Bossen Bouwery ("Farm in the woods") area of Manhattan island, and began growing tobacco. The first Dutch references to the Indians' name for the area appear around 1640.

• 1647: TURKEY: Tobacco ban is lifted. Pecevi writes that tobaco has now joined coffee, wine and opium as one of the four "cushions on the sofa of pleasure."
• 1647: Colony of Connecticut bans public smoking: citizens may smoke only once a day, "and then not in company with any other."
• 1650: Colony of Connecticut General Court orders -- no smoking by person under age of 21, no smoking except with physicians order.(TSW)
• 1660: ENGLAND: THE RESTORATION OF THE MONARCHY The court of Charles II returns to London from exile in Paris, bringing the French court's snuffing practice with them; snuff becomes an aristocratic form of tobacco use. During Charles' reign (1660-1685), the growing of tobacco in England, except for small lots in physic gardens, is forbidden so as to preserve the taxes coming in from Virginian imports..
• 1661: VIRGINIA Assembly begins institutionalizing slavery, making it de jure.
• 1665: EUROPE: THE GREAT PLAGUE Smoking tobacco is thought to have a protective effect.
• 1665: HEALTH: ENGLAND: Samuel Pepys describes a Royal Society experiment in which a cat quickly dies when fed "a drop of distilled oil of tobacco."
• 1666: Maryland faces oversupply; bans production of tobacco for one year.
• 1675: SWITZERLAND: The Berne town council establishes a special Chambres de Tabac to deal with smokers, who face the same dire penalties as adulterers.
• 1676: Heavy taxes levied in tobacco by Virginia Governor BERKELEY lead to BACON'S REBELLION, a foretaste of American Revolution. (ATS)

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This page was written and donated to History Net by Gene Borio ©1997, the Tobacco BBS 212-982-4645. WebPage: •Original Tobacco BBS material may be reprinted in any non-commercial venue if accompanied by this credit