IV. The Cash Crop of the Colony
In 1612, John Rolfe introduced a new kind of tobacco plant to Jamestown. Virginia’s Native Americans also cultivated tobacco, but theirs was considered too bitter and unpalatable to the English. Rolfe’s strain, from Trinidad, was much more popular and immediately became the main cash crop, extremely profitable to those who grew it. Tobacco changed the colony’s reason for being: Jamestown originally was intended to be a temporary, get-rich-quick scheme, but with tobacco, the emphasis shifted from exploration to agriculture. Soon, in fact, the economy was so dominated by tobacco that laws had to be passed requiring colonists to grow food.
Because tobacco was so profitable, men flooded to Virginia to become planters. The need for women in a permanent agricultural economy was obvious, and the Virginia Company began actively recruiting unmarried women. Often, however, little recruitment was needed because English men and women were so desperate for new lives that they volunteered to sail to Virginia.