The Colonial Tobacco Industry

American Husbandry (London, 1775), 1, 222 passim; reprinted in Guy Stevens Callender (ed.), Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860 (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1909), 22-5.

This plant [tobacco] is cultivated in all parts of North America, from Quebec to Carolina, and even the West Indies; but, except in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, they plant no more than for private use, making it an object of exportation only in these provinces, where it is of such immense consequence. . . .

One of the greatest advantages attending the culture of tobacco, is the quick, easy, and certain method of sale. This was effected by the inspection law, which took place in Virginia in the year 1730, but not in Maryland till 1748. The planter, by virtue of this, may go to any place and sell his tobacco, without carrying a sample of it along with him, and the merchant may buy it, though lying a hun dred miles, or at any distance from his store, and yet be morally sure both with respect to quantity and quality. For this purpose, upon all the rivers and bays of both provinces, at a distance of about twelve or fourteen miles from each other, are erected warehouses, to which all the tobacco in the country must be brought, and there lodged, before the planters can offer it for sale; and inspectors are appointed to examine all the tobacco brought in, receive such as is good and merchantable, condemn and bum what appears damnified or insufficient. The greatest part of the tobacco is prized, or put up into hogsheads by the planters themselves, before it is carried to the warehouses. Each hogshead, by an act of assembly, must be 950 lb. neat, or upwards; some of them weigh 14 cwt. and even 18 cwt. and the heavier they are the merchants like them the better; because four hogsheads, whatsoever their weight be, are esteemed a tun, and pay the same freight. The inspectors give notes of receipt for the tobacco, and the merchants take them in payment for their goods, passing current indeed over the whole colonies; a most admirable invention, which operates so greatly, that in Virginia they have no paper currency.

The merchants generally purchase the tobacco in the country, by sending persons to open stores for them; that is, warehouses in which they lay in a great assortment of British commodities and manufactures, to these, as to shops, the planters resort, and supply< themselves with what they want, paying, in inspection receipts, or taking on credit according to what will be given them; and as they are in general a very luxurious set of people, they buy too much upon credit; the consequence of which is, their getting in debt to the London merchants, who take mortgages on their plantations, ruinous enough, with the usury of eight per cent. But this is apparently the effect of their imprudence in living upon trust. . . .

There is no plant in the world that requires richer land, or more manure than tobacco; it will grow on poorer soils, but not to yield crops that are sufficiently profitable to pay the expences of negroes, &c. The land they found to answer-best is fresh woodlands, where many ages have formed a stratum of rich black mould. Such land will, after clearing, bear tobacco many years, without any change, prove more profitable' to the planter than the power of dung can do on worse lands: this makes the tobacco planters more solicitous for new land than any other people in America, they wanting it much more. Many of them have very handsome houses, gardens, and improvements about them, which fixes them to one spot; but others, when they have exhausted their grounds, will sell. them to new settlers for corn-fields, and move backwards with their negroes, cattle, and tools, to take up fresh land for tobacco; this is common, and will continue so as long as good land is to be had upon navigable rivers: this is the system of business which made some, so long ago as 1750, move over the Allegany mountains, and settle not far from the Ohio, where their tobacco was to be carried by land some distance, which is a heavy burthen on so b ulky a commodity, but answered by the superior crops they gained: the French encroachments drove these people all back again; but upon the peace, many more went, and the number increasing, became the occasion of the new colony which has been settled in that country.