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A Proclamation Concerning Tobacco, 1630


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


After John Rolfe's successful experimentation with the West Indies tobacco plant, Nicotaiana tabacum, the Virginia Company of London realized that it had found a profitable product to export from the colony. Tobacco cultivation spread widely through the colony, but the practice of planting multiple tobacco crops on the same plots of land rapidly depleted the soil. After Virginia became a royal colony in 1625, King Charles I sought to regulate the tobacco trade to ensure greater income for the crown and to benefit the economy of Great Britain. In this royal proclamation, issued on January 6, 1630, the king ordered that the colonies had exclusive rights to grow and export tobacco to England. He also provided for the regulation of the quality of imported tobacco so that British citizens did not receive an inferior product.

The actions of King Charles I were in stark contrast to his father's position on tobacco. King James I had heavily criticized tobacco in his 1604 pamphlet, Counterblast to Tobacco, authorized steep taxes, and imposed tariffs on imported tobacco in an attempt to dissuade its consumption. Less than thirty years later, tobacco had become such a valuable import that any concerns King Charles I may have held about tobacco were swept to the side in order to maximize its economic benefit. The result was production of large amounts of tobacco, which had detrimental and long term effects on the local ecology. About two years after the king issued this proclamation, the Virginia Assembly had to pass a law reducing the amount of tobacco that individual settlers could grow.

This proclamation one of the oldest documents of its kind in the Library of Virginia's collections. The printing, which includes the elongated letter s (resembling the letter f), the use of the letter u in place of v and of the letter i instead of j, reflects the antiquity of the document.

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

Related document: King James I, His Counterblast to Tobacco.


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

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Scan it: Scan the transcribed version of the document, what words or phrases stand out to you? What do these words or phrases indicate about the context of the document?

Post Activities

Current Connections: Tobacco is still considered a cash crop in Virginia. Have people’s attitudes about tobacco changed? To what do you attribute this change?

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

STEM STAT: Tobacco is known to deplete the nutrients in soil, leads to deforestation, uses massive quantities of water, and may contaminate air and water systems. Write a brief environmental impact statement in which you attempt to persuade tobacco farmers to take an environmental approach to growing their crops