jamestown heading

I. Native Women

II. First Women

III. More Women

IV. Cash Crop

V. Women's Lives

VI. Indentured Servant

VII. Wives

VIII. Living Condition

IX. Family Life

X. Women's Work

XI. Fate of Jamestown


IV. The Cash Crop of the Colony

Seventeenth Century Tobacco Field
Seventeenth Century Tobacco Field

Credit: National Park Service Archives


Life is a smoke! -- If this be true,
Tobacco will thy Life renew;
Then fear not Death, nor killing care
Whilst we have best Virginia here.
- early Tobacco label

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.



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