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A Proclamation Concerning Tobacco, 1630

Context

This document is a proclamation written by King Charles I on January 6, 1630 (1631 by the New Style Calendar), in the hopes of regulating the tobacco trade between England and the British colonies.

As the British presence in America grew, it swiftly became apparent that tobacco was going to become one of the colonies’ most valuable exports – something that ensured more profit for King Charles, as he was able to tax any goods that Britain imported. However, in order to protect the income received by the tobacco, King Charles had to first ensure that the colonies had the exclusive rights to grow and import tobacco into England. He also had to make sure that the tobacco would be of good quality, otherwise the authority of his decrees could be undermined by citizens angry over receiving tobacco inferior to that grown in other locations.

King Charles’s actions were in stark contrast to his father King James I’s position on tobacco. He heavily criticized tobacco in his 1604 pamphlet "A Counterblaste to Tobacco" and also authorized steep taxes and tariffs on imported tobacco, in an attempt to dissuade its consumption. Less than thirty years later tobacco became such a valuable import that any ill feelings King Charles may have inherited from his father towards tobacco were swept to the side in order to maximize its economic benefit. This caused a drive to produce large amounts of tobacco, which had detrimental effects on the local ecology. Repeated attempts to grow crops in the same fields too close together caused the soil to become depleted and prompted farmers to spread into the surrounding areas.

About two years after King Charles wrote his proclamation the General Assembly had to pass a law reducing the amount of tobacco that individual settlers could grow.

Citation: “By the King: A Proclamation Concerning Tobacco,” London: Printed by Robert Barker et al., 1630, Special Collections, Broadside 1631 .E58 F, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

USI.1, VS.1, VS.4, WHII.5

Suggested Questions

Current Connections: Are there any crops or other goods that receive similar treatment in modern America?

Analyze: What impact could this have had on farmers in England, Scotland and Ireland? What crops could they have turned to instead?

Analyze: Do you think it was necessary for King Charles to regulate the quality of tobacco?

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