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Tobacco and Social Structure in Early Virginia

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Scotland therefore, took a larger portion of tobacco trade than London. In 1720, Scotland, Liverpool, and Bristol transported around 40 percent of the tobacco. The goods were bought using promissory notes that were a presentation of various amounts of tobacco thus; control over the industry was of major importance. Virginia’s politicians ensured that the inspection law was followed and that all low-quality tobacco was burned. In 1623, an amendment was made to ensure that some selected men in every settlement condemned such tobacco. In 1630, the law banned use of inferior tobacco in paying debts3. In 1641, the existing acts were repealed and the only part that remained is the one choice of tobacco inspectors.

Cultivation of tobacco kept spreading and Scottish merchants resold the tobacco in northern Europe. In a step to accelerate growth, the general assembly came up with an act that created port towns where tobacco intended for trade would be stored. Warehouses were already in existence but they spread more widely. In counties that lacked warehouses, they were built and standardizing of tobacco quality was emphasized. The two major types of tobacco that were grown boosted export of tobacco in Virginia.

One of them is sweet scented and the other is Orinoco. The sweet scented tobacco was unique only to Virginia. The English men preferred the sweet scented tobacco since they considered it as the best in the world. Orinoco, which is stronger, had a large market in Europe. Orinoco ended up becoming popular even amongst the English smokers. By the eighteenth century, Orinoco tobacco was in very high demand4. The availability of labor for cultivation of tobacco promoted the tobacco industry into becoming a dominant industry.

Tobacco is labor intensive and the costs are high. In Virginia, the Indian method of cultivation was applied. It involves girding trees, burning the underbrush, and then planting tobacco under the dead trees. Plantation of tobacco requires manual labor and since Virginia had available labor, the industry quickly blossomed. During the colonial period, a male laborer tended more than 6,000 hills every year. Indentured servants who were available in plenty in the seventeenth century met the demand for workers.

With improvements on economic and political conditions, the source of labor became slaves. African slaves were used on the tobacco farms and this raised the tobacco industry to high levels. Even though there was some opposition to slavery, by the time revolution took place, it was accepted both socially and politically.

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