Tobacco is related to garden vegetables, flowers, weeds, and poisonous
herbs such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, petunias, jimson wood,
ground cherries, and nightshade. The family of plants is Solanaceae;
the genus Nicotiana contains about 100 species, only two of which
have been extensively cultivated. Nicotiana tabacam is used in cigarettes
and tobacco and is the predominant type of crop tobacco.
Originally, Native Americans
in the eastern United States grew Nicotiana rustica, which was the
first form of tobacco introduced in England and Portugal. N. Tabacam,
first introduced to the Spanish, was obtained from Mexico and South
America. It has been the preferred tobacco since settlers in Jamestown,
Virginia, began growing it.
Because planters believed
that tobacco had to be grown on virgin soil, tobacco gradually made
its way to the eastern part of what is now North Carolina. Consumer
preferences for tobacco products changed decidedly from the early
Carl Linnaeus describes
tobacco in this 1762 edition of Caroli Linnaei Species plantarum,
exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad general relatas, cum differentiis
specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus,
secundum system a sexuale digestas.
In 1839, bright leaf
tobacco was discovered by a slave named Stephen (headman on the
farm of Abisha Slade, a successful planter in Caswell County). Stephen
fell asleep owing to the heat from the wood fires in the tobacco
barn, and when he awoke the fire was almost out. He rushed to a
charcoal pit and found some charred logs on the dying embers. He
threw these on the fire, which created a sudden drying heat, which
resulted in the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.
The eighteenth century
became the "Age of Snuff." Tobacco from North Carolina
was used for snuff and pipe smoking, because the cigarette was not
widely known outside of Spain. By the 1840's cigarettes had become
popular with French women. Much to the chagrin of anti-tobacco societies,
cigarettes caught on in the United States as well. Dr. Russell Thacher
Trall, an anti- tobacco campaigner, said:
Some of the ladies of
this refined and fashion-forming metropolis [New York] are aping
the silly ways of some pseudo-accomplished foreigners, in smoking
Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article, which has been
most delicately denominated cigarette. Despite such opposition to
tobacco, the twentieth century saw a rise in its use.
Consumer demand established
tobacco farming as an important part of North Carolina farm life.
NC State, through its College of Agriculture and the Agricultural
Extension program, researched tobacco and aided farmers around the
world. Farmers received important information from NC State. Blue
mold probably existed in the western United States for many years
as a minor disease on wild species of tobacco. It came east in 1921
but disappeared for ten years before resurfacing in 1931. It is
caused by a fungus that attacks tobacco.