The Influence of Tobacco On History

Discussion in 'Education' started by PoliticalChic, Jan 14, 2010.

  1. PoliticalChic

    PoliticalChic Diamond Member

    Oct 6, 2008
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    Brooklyn, NY
    1. Buddhism describes the interconnectedness of all things as a spider web, Indra’s net, on which every knot on the net is tied a pearl. Everything that exists or has existed is one of the pearls, and every pearl is tied to every other pearl. And on the surface of every pearl is the reflection of every other jewel on the net. Think of the 17th century as Indra’s net: every place on earth is interconnected, some with more threads than others, because of where they were, what was made there, or found there. Some places had less ‘threads’ due to fortifications, or regulations aimed at isolation. Trade, immigration, emigration, conquest: all created ‘treads.’ Animals and plants, pathogens and seeds, words and ideas: ‘threads.’

    2. In 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first non-Americans to see indigenous people of the Americas smoke, though Amerigo Vespucci gets the credit for making the first reference to tobacco in print, in 1505. Jacques Cartier tasted tobacco in 1535. Champlain observed tobacco in 1599, describing it as “a kinde of herbe, whereof they take the smoake.” And when Indians feted the French in 1603, he offered them tobacco: Champlain called the gathering a ‘tabagie’.

    3. Native tobacco had a nicotine content many times higher than what is now smoked, and induced psychotropic effects and trances, and was thought to ease a wide variety of complaints. The analgesic properties of tobacco were thought to give smoking medicinal as well as religious properties, realms that overlapped in seventeenth-century pharmacology.

    4. Tobacco moved along the webs of trade, Europe first. And with smoking went religious, medical, social and economic practices. Transculturation is a term coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in 1947 to describe the phenomenon of merging and converging cultures. Wherever tobacco showed up, a culture that did not smoke became a culture that did. Continuing the connection with the spiritual, the Christian clergy- with the exception of the Jesuits, became avid smokers. So much so that the Vatican told priest that they could not smoke in church. Sailors, soldiers, and priests were the first European smokers.

    5. The first botanical entry on tobacco to appear in a medical text was by Rembert Dodoens, 1553, and this evidenced that the tobacco plant itself had arrived in the Low Countries. He didn’t know what to call the plant, so he borrowed the name of a plant with a similar flower, and some narcotic properties with which he was familiar: henbane. In Portugal, Damiao de Goes claimed that his kinsman was the first to bring tobacco from Brazil prior to 1553. Tobacco traveled to France when de Goes gave Jean Nicot seeds from his garden, and he brought it to the Queen, Catherine de Medici, in 1566. Thus the scientific name for tobacco: Nicotiana.

    6. In 1591 in Mexico, Juan de Cardenas listed the medicinal properties of tobacco based on the reports of Spanish soldiers who used it to stave off hunger, thirst and cold, stating that it kept them ‘warm and healthy.” With this understanding, it fit in well in England’s cold, damp climate. By 1597, every English apothecary was prescribing tobacco!

    7. At the turn of the century, Virginia tobacco was but a novelty, yet smokers were willing to pay its weight in silver. High duties and high prices for Virginia tobacco set the scene: control of the supply. Europeans began to set up plantations, and by about 1610, colonization was no longer speculative, but affordable and profitable. As beaver pelts funded French exploration in the north, tobacco gave the English impetus to transplant themselves to Virginia and dispossess Natives.

    8. But tobacco farmers found that the supply of labor was sorely lacking. Indians would not do the work, the solution was to find those who had to work- slaves. Starting in the 1630’s, the Dutch West Indian Company bought slaves in Africa, sold them to plantation owners in the Caribbean and Brazil. The new system of trade that emerged was tobacco and sugar from the Americas, slaves from Africa worked plantations in the Americas and silver mines in South America, and this paid for goods from Europe and the Americas to Asia. So, it was on the trinity of silver, tobacco, and slaves that the colonization of the Americas rested.

    For a fuller and much more interesting telling of tobacco’s influence on history, read “Vermeer’s Hat,” by Timothy Brook.
  2. AkronGuy

    AkronGuy Member

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Interesting post Political. I do concur that tobacco was an imporant economic factor in the developement of the 13 Colonies, but trade with the Caribbean, natural resources, and it's strategic location on the Atlantic played a larger role in it's formation and expansion.
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