I seem to be becoming immersed in Anglo-American history. The mention by Nisakiman that James I had increased the duty on tobacco by 4000% (in 1604) started me looking for more information. It turned out that his son, Charles I, had also raised tobacco duties in 1633 by some unknown amount. It was nearly all coming from Virginia.
TOBACCO was introduced to Europe by the Spanish, who had learned to smoke it from Native Americans. Despite some early criticism of “drinking smoke,” tobacco became popular among the middle classes in England…
By 1630, over a million and a half pounds of tobacco were being exported from Jamestown every year.
The tobacco economy rapidly began to shape the society and development of the colony. Growing tobacco takes its toil on the soil. Because tobacco drained the soil of its nutrients, only about three successful growing seasons could occur on a plot of land. Then the land had to lie fallow for three years before the soil could be used again. This created a huge drive for new farmland.
Settlers grew tobacco in the streets of Jamestown. The yellow-leafed crop even covered cemeteries. Because tobacco cultivation is labor intensive, more settlers were needed.
With tobacco sales in England (and nearly everywhere else) rocketing, the American colonists were growing it everywhere they could, and commanding more land to grow it (which brought them into increasing collision with native Indians), and requiring more and more labour – which eventually resulted in the import of slaves.
The original English settlements in Jamestown had no slaves, but by 1700 there was not enough labour to be of sufficient use. The first black slaves arrived in 1619 and in 1660 only 3% of the colonists were black. By 1680 the black population still only composed less than 7%. Between 1667-1686 Virginia created a legal structure for holding black families in permanent slavery, and imported a huge quantity of slaves after 1700 to provide sufficient labour to grow tobacco. At the time of the first census in 1790, 20% of the residents in Virginia were slaves.
By 1630, the English tobacco market had become thoroughly flooded as colonial supplies overwhelmed English demand. Prices accordingly collapsed. In Bermuda’s case, the wholesale price of island tobacco fell by 96% in just eight years, plummeting from two shillings, sixpence in 1622 to twelvepence in 1628 and falling again to sixpence the following year. In 1630 it bottomed out at a mere penny per pound.
At the end of the 16th century, tobacco retailed by the pipeful at 3d. per fill. Then as imports increased, it sold by the pound, at 20s. – 40s. , up to 1619. In mid-century, “Spanish” tobacco sold at 7sh. per pound in Ipswich: 17½ – 35% of its price in the early seventeenth century. By the 1670s, the retail price stood at a shilling or less per pound, although the best Virginia cost more than twice as much at 2s. 2d. per pound. In 1681, average tobacco sold retail at 6d. per pound.
If tobacco wholesale prices were one penny/lb in 1630, the retail price of tobacco must have been wholly made up of the tobacco duties imposed first by James I and then by Charles I.
If you were an English smoker in England in 1630, you were paying Charles I the full price of the tobacco in your pipe, while being told that you were one of
a nomber of ryotous and disordered Persons of meane and base Condition , whoe, contrarie to the use which Persons of good Callinge and Qualitye make thereof, doe spend most of there tyme in that idle Vanitie…
Another one of this “nomber of ryotous and disordered Persons of meane and base Condition” seems to have been a certain Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell’s popular image is that of a dour Puritan but in his private life, he was fond of sherry and beer, smoked tobacco and appreciated music.
I’ve been arguing recently that smokers have exerted hidden influence in both the recent Brexit and Trump votes. I’m now beginning to suspect that smokers may have exerted similar influence on the eve of the English Civil War of 1642-1651.
The causes of the English Civil War are ascribed to various things, including religious differences, a breakdown of relations between Crown and Parliament, and excessive taxation imposed by spendthrift Charles I – for example Ship Money used to fund the Royal Navy.
But with the prevalence of smoking in England rising dramatically in the 30 years prior to the civil war, isn’t it likely that one of the largest groups to feel the effects of excessive taxation were England’s new class of smokers? And wouldn’t they have seen their champion in the “ryotous and disordered” Oliver Cromwell rather than “Persons of good Callinge and Qualitye” like Charles I, or like the medical profession that had started the complaint about smoking.
1603: ENGLAND: Physicians are upset that tobacco used by people without physician prescription; complain to King James I.(TSW)
So English people took up smoking in large numbers from about 1610 onwards. The medical profession (no doubt as wonderfully competent then as they are now) complained. Huge duties were then imposed on tobacco by the Crown. After the ensuing civil war, during which the Crown was overthrown by smoking-and-drinking Oliver Cromwell, tobacco duties must have been lifted (or substantially reduced) if tobacco subsequently retailed at a shilling or less per pound.
What’s so different between then and now – except that we haven’t had the civil war yet?