September 25, 1878: Dr. Charles Drysdale writes an article for the London Times. At the time of publication, he was the senior physician at the Metropolitan Free Hospital and already a proponent of the evils of smoking. He estimated that Britons were spending £15 million annually for tobacco products. He had published in Med. Circular fourteen years earlier the deleterious effects tobacco use had in otherwise healthy men. He noted that young men smoking just ¾ ounce daily exhibited jaundice while those smoking just ½ ounce daily had heart palpitations. He wrote Tobacco and the Diseases it Produces in 1875. He also published books about syphilis, the evils of prostitution and was the first president of The Malthusian League and wrote a biography about Thomas Malthus.
Tobacco was discovered and used by natives in the Americas long before any Europeans arrived. The new visitors brought it back to Europe and the use of tobacco spread from there around the world. At high enough doses, tobacco can become hallucinogenic and in these doses it was used by experienced shamans or medicine men. It was also used recreationally and many Eastern North American tribes carried tobacco in large pouches as a trade item and to smoke in pipes. This could be done during a proscribed sacred ceremony or to seal a deal. Children were even permitted to participate. Tobacco was a gift from the Creator and the smoke exhaled could convey one’s thoughts and prayers to heaven.
The Spanish crewman Rodrigo de Jerez is credited with being the first to smoke in Europe. It was not seen as a good omen and he was imprisoned by the Inquisition. Smoking became a more common sight and by 1571, Nicolas Monardes wrote a book about medicinal plants in which he claimed tobacco could cure 36 health problems. King James I of England did not agree and in 1604 wrote A Counterblaste to Tobacco, a diatribe against its use. In the Ottoman Empire where it arrived in the late 16th century, it was first described as a medicine, but it was soon found to cause many health problems, not the least of which was bad breath.
Regardless of the bad press, John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1609 and became the first settler to establish a successful tobacco plantation, at the time referred to as “brown gold”. The tobacco native to the region did not suit British taste and so Rolfe tried a different variety from seeds he had brought back from Bermuda. Tobacco was used as currency by many colonials. His plantation was so successful that in 1620 he was able to ship 40,000 pounds of tobacco to England. The total export of tobacco from Jamestown in 1620 was 119,000 pounds. Not only did the product produce health consequences, but it also increased the use of slave labor used to grow the crop.
The use of tobacco is one of the most evident of all the retrograde influences of our time. – Charles Drysdale
A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse. – King James I
Neither do thou lust after that tawny weed tobacco. – Ben Jonson
Under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our mortal condition, men have at all times, and in all countries, called in some physical aid to their moral consolations — wine, beer, opium, brandy, or tobacco. – Edmund Burke
Also on this day: The Supremes – In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court.
Fasssssst – In 1997, a new land speed record was set.
Lots of Water – In 1513, Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean.
Spread the News – In 1690, the American colonies got their first locally printed multi-page newspaper.
Off Course – In 1866, the Alexander Nevsky sunk.