Owner: New York Public Library
Source Type: Images
Along with diseases, crops, people, and ideas, drugs were frequently transported across the Atlantic in both directions in the years following 1492. The most devastating substance brought to Native American populations was alcohol, while American tobacco quickly became a huge part of European pharmacology and counterculture. Many of the earliest European commentators considered tobacco to be a new wonder drug, an herbal remedy that could be used in medicinal philters to cure a wide variety of ailments, including headaches, kidney pain, toothaches, parasites, scabies, burns, and wounds.
Yet botanists and others who experimented with tobacco were quick to note its effects as a psychotropic drug, especially when smoked. Along with chewing the leaves, Indians smoked tobacco through cigars and pipes and this practice was taken up in Europe by people (usually men) who were considered to be of inferior moral fiber. As seen in this broadside, tobacco use was readily associated with drinking, gambling, and foppery, and those who "drank" the smoke (to use the parlance of the times) were regarded as sinners. Several people, as early as the seventeenth century, noted that tobacco users had difficulty abstaining from the drug and that it seemed to have deleterious effects on one's humoral balance.
Tobacco did not take very long to make its way into polite society, and Europeans' demand for tobacco created yet another economic incentive (along with mining and sugar) to employ slave labor in American colonies. Tobacco plantations arose throughout the Americas and Caribbean, spreading slavery as well as monocrop agriculture. Entire ecosystems and economies were and are based around this herb, a narcotic that had long fascinated Indians and is now used recreationally throughout the entire world.
Reference: Grafton, Anthony, with April Shelford and Nancy Siraisi. New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
CITATION: Grafton, Anthony, with April Shelford and Nancy Siraisi. New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992, pp. 174, fig. 4.7. The Sucklington Faction, Broadside, 1641. From The New York Public Library, Arents Tobacco Collection.
DIGITAL ID: 13024