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Historical Tidbit
Taken from Michael Upchurch 1624-1681

Tobacco in Early Virginia
by Mae Davenport Cox

Tobacco was the life and soul of Virginia, playing a significant role in its history. Though the Indians had been planting tobacco long before the colonists arrival, that tobacco was bitter and sour. By 1612, a sweeter milder tobacco was introduced and from there tobacco became king.

Virginia’s climate was ideal for tobacco cultivation, and the colony’s economic success relied almost entirely on tobacco in the 1600s. Colonists — from the small farmer with only a few acres, to the huge plantation planters with numerous acres and slaves — staked their financial well being on this golden weed.

Tobacco was the colony’s leading export. It could be shipped more economically than any other crop, making the monetary return greater than for any other crop the colonists could produce.1

Tobacco was the medium of exchange during [the seventeenth century] and long thereafter, however the vehicle of settlement was anything acceptable to those who were involved on any side of the bargain or debt.2

Tobacco served as the currency for Virginia. It paid for work done and supplies bought. Court records show fines meted in pounds of tobacco. Tithes/taxes were also assessed in this manner. Young women’s passages to America were paid with tobacco. Voting was a colonial man’s right and if he failed to do so, he was fined 100 pounds of tobacco.3

Hogshead: During Colonial days, tobacco was shipped and stored in hogsheads. A hogshead was a very large wooden barrel that measured 48 inches long and 30 inches in diameter at the head. Fully packed with tobacco, it weighed about 1,000 pounds.4

English Shipping Laws, Taxes
In 1660, the English Crown enacted the Navigation Act requiring all shipping trade in the English Colonies be done exclusively by English ships. Plus, the act limited exports of tobacco, sugar, and other commodities to England or its colonies.

The Navigation Act of 1663 mandated most imports to the colonies be shipped through England and on English ships. In 1673, England, through the Navigation Act of 1663, created the office of customs commissioner in the colonies to collect taxes (duties) on goods passing between plantations

Colonists were most unhappy with England’s sanctions; however, it took about a hundred years before their dissatisfaction led to the Revolutionary War.

1 Tobacco in Colonial Virginia, The Sovereign Remedy, by Melvin Herndon, 1957.
2 Tobacco in Early Virginia, by Paul Drake; November 8, 2008 at VA-Roots List Serve.
3 The Upchurch Story, by Olive A. Morgan, 1971, page 18; no source cited.
4 Information about hogsheads found at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogshead.

Prices of tobacco varied throughout Virginia, county by county, just as did the taxes on it.

These prices are but a general picture of tobacco prices during Michael’s years in Virginia:

Year         per lb

1638         2p
1639         3p
1640       12p
1641         2p
1642         2p
1644      1˝p
1645      1˝p
1649         3p
1655         2p
1656         2p
1657         3p
1658         2p
1659         2p
1660         2p
1661         2p
1662         2p
1664      1˝p
1665         1p
1666   1-1/5p
1667        ˝p
1676      1˝p
1682      1˝p
1683         2p

p = pence



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