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A Brief History of Tobacco

1492 - Christopher Columbus received tobacco as a gift from the Arawak people of the Bahamas
during his famous voyage to the Americas.

1556 - European explorers introduced tobacco to France and, quickly thereafter, to the rest of Europe.

1571 - Spanish physicians employed tobacco as a medicine.

1584 - Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer, introduces Sir Walter Raleigh, another
explorer of reknown, to smoking while in England.

1612 - The first commercial tobacco crop was grown in America.

1619 - The first African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia to work the tobacco plantations.

1640 - Smoking was banned in New Amsterdam (now New York City). Greenwich Village, then north of the city limits, was known as "the land where tobacco grows."

1661 - Slavery was officially legalized in Virginia.

1730 - The first tobacco factories - "snuff mills" - opened in Virginia.

1775 - The American Revolution began and was, in part a "tobacco war." Along the Chesapeake Bay-then referred to as the "Tobacco Coast"-the British tobacco taxes and what seemed to the growers like a perpetual state of debt to British merchants were major factors in the revolt. Tobacco, however, helped finance the Revolution by serving as collateral for loans from France.

1861 - During the Civil War, tobacco was issued along with rations of food and drink. Many northerners were first introduced to tobacco in this way. Also, cigarettes begin to become popular. Before this time tobacco was mainly smoked in pipes and cigars.

1864 - The first cigarette factory in the United States was opened.

1917 - The U.S. War Department sent massive numbers of cigarettes to World War I soldiers.

1940 - Hitler calls tobacco the "wrath of the red man against the white man for having been given
hard liquor" and begins the world's first national anti-tobacco movement. He raises taxes on tobacco
to 90% of the retail price,

1987 - The U.S. Congress banned smoking on airline flights of less than two hours.

1998 - California became the first state to ban smoking in bars.

1998 - Attorneys general of 46 states signed and agreement with the tobacco industry to settle state lawsuits.

It is not known when tobacco was first used, but information dates back more than 2,000 years when the native people (Aztec and Mayan) of Central and South America used tobacco in medical and religious rituals. This is known because archaeologists have found an ancient Mayan vase that shows a scene of dancing and smoking skeletons--a symbol of the death god. So even thousands of years ago, tobacco represented death.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus came to the New World and landed in the "West Indies." This is why the native people were called Indians. In his journal, Columbus wrote about certain dried leaves that gave off a distinct smell. Soon after, another Spanish explorer, Rodrigo de Jerez, brought tobacco back to Spain. The people were so afraid to see smoke coming out of his mouth that he was put into prison; they thought he was possessed by demons. By the time he was released from prison a few years later, smoking had become a popular activity throughout Europe.

Tobacco became a large part of the new colonial American economy in 1612. John Rolfe and investors from England set out to grow tobacco in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Until then Spain had dominated the tobacco trade. Rolfe married the Native American, Pocahontas and made her the first "poster girl" of tobacco. Together they went to England and secured more money for investment in the colony. The marriage assured that the native people would not attack Jamestown or upset the new cash crop. The new wealth brought new settlers and slaves. Tobacco
growers were given up to 300,000 acres of land on which to grow tobacco. As the land was needed for tobacco and the rising population, the Native American Indians were pushed out of their villages.

Tobacco was taxed heavily by the British, who mandated that all tobacco be shipped to England. The colonists did not like to pay taxes on tobacco, and this was one of the economic causes of the Revolutionary War. The first loan given to the revolutionists was given by France with a promise of tobacco sent in return.

By the mid-1800's, it is estimated that 40% of all the colonists were slaves used in farming. In the mid and late 1800's, big plantation tobacco growers, such as the Reynolds and Duke families, began their billion-dollar tobacco empires. During the Civil War these families sided with the Confederacy because they did not want their free (slave) labor to end.