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Tobacco was one of the most important crops in colonial America, and was the main reason that Jamestown and North Carolina remained viable in the 1600s and 1700s. 


The American tobacco industry was started by John Rolfe, the eventual husband of Pocahontas. Rolfe brought tobacco seeds to Jamestown from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. In 1612, he harvested his first tobacco crop, which was well-received in England, and which, became the colony's cash crop! Rolfe's tobacco was said to taste milder and less bitter than previous tobaccos. As Jamestown tobacco became more popular in England, more tobacco plantations were planted in Jamestown and surrounding areas. Tobacco became so important, that it was used as currency, to pay taxes, and even to purchase slaves and indentured servants. Because of its burgeoning tobacco industry, African slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619 to work the plantations. Others worked as indentured servants. Indentured servants came to America to work for seven years. After seven years, they were free to pursue their own interests and were sometimes given parcels of land. Soon, tobacco crops covered most of southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina. This led to competition, falling prices, and harsher treatment of slaves and servants. 


Those who planted tobacco considered it a form of art and a distinct tobacco culture formed. Planters took great pride in the quality of their tobacco and even developed their own unique seals and signatures to identify their brands. The reputation of each planter was tied to the quality of his product, and those who produced what was considered high-quality tobacco were held in high esteem by those in the community, and often gained political authority and social esteem. Successful planters would often flaunt their prosperity by importing expensive clothing and furniture from England.