The History of Caroline County, Maryland, From Its Beginning, 1920, pp. 123-125
WHEN TOBACCO WAS KING
Tobacco played an important part in the early business transactions of our state. During the Colonial period no other crop is so often mentioned in Maryland history. Scharf says, “The processes of government, society, and domestic life began and ended with tobacco. Laws were made more or less with reference to this staple—to protect it, maintain its value in price, and to enhance its each exchangeableness.”
In our county, as elsewhere, tobacco came to be used in place of money. Salaries and wages of every kind were paid in this currency, and if it were refused in payment of any obligation, the debt was absolved. It is interesting to know that one pound of tobacco would buy three pounds of beef, two pounds of fat pullet, and a hogshead, when shipped to England, would provide a family with luxuries for a year.
The culture of this crop was largely responsible for Maryland becoming a slave state. As the wealth of a man was estimated in his annual acreage of tobacco, it naturally became advantageous for the planters to have plenty of cheap labor. One slave could till with ease 6000 hills of tobacco and five acres of corn. Under pressure this amount was sometimes doubled, but it is generally recognized that the Maryland planters were not hard task-masters and usually owned sufficient slaves to prevent the necessity for extreme overwork.
The early settlers were extravagant in everything they did and in nothing more so than in their abuse of the soil for the cultivation of tobacco. New lands proved to be best adapted for this crop and each season virgin soil was broken for its culture. Upon the used land other crops were planted but with no thought for the increase of its fertility. Gradually the land “wore out” and cereals took the place of “weed” in the field, but never in commercial importance.
During this period tobacco warehouses naturally became places of considerable importance in the county. The one belonging to David Melvill became the most prominent because of its use as a temporary court house. Others were Hughlett’s at Bridgetown (Greensboro); Richardson’s at Gilpin Point; North West Fork at Federalsburg; and Hunting Creek, near Linchester. The act authorizing the erection of the Bridgetown Warehouse is typical of those which provided for the others in the county. It is interesting to note the articles necessary for inspecting the tobacco:BE IT ENACTED by the General Assembly of Maryland, That William Hughlett, of Caroline County, be and he is hereby authorized to build at Bridgetown a warehouse, for containing and securing tobacco offered for inspection, if in the judgment of the levy court of Caroline County, the erecting of such warehouse would promote the public interest and convenience, and he, the said William Hughlett, or those claiming to hold under him, shall provide and keep constantly in repair, beams, screws, scales, weights, brands and marking irons, and all other things necessary for inspecting tobacco brought into the said warehouse for inspection; and the said warehouse, when erected and finished, shall be deemed a public warehouse, and the proprietor or proprietors thereof may demand, and shall be entitled to receive, one dollar for each hogshead of tobacco inspected at the said warehouse, before such hogshead shall be removed, as a full compensation for the expense of erecting the said warehouse, and keeping the same in repair, and for the providing of proper scales, weights, brands and marking irons, and all other things necessary for inspecting tobacco and for the payment of the salary or salaries to the inspector or inspectors of the said warehouse, as the proprietor or proprietors of the said warehouse shall agree to pay; and if any tobacco shall remain in the said warehouse above one year after inspection, the proprietor or proprietors of the said warehouse may demand, and shall be entitled to receive for each hogshead the further sum of twelve and one-half cents for every month thereafter.”Of such value were the contents of these warehouses that persons convicted of setting fire to one of them were condemned to suffer the penalty of death without benefit of clergy.
The vestrymen and church wardens of each parish were required to meet at their respective churches between the first and tenth of September each year to nominate and recommend to the Governor two or four able and efficient planters well skilled in tobacco to act as inspectors for the warehouses within their parish. The certificates of recommendation thus made were forwarded to the Governor who then made the appointments. The salaries for inspectors ranged from four to then thousand pounds of tobacco annually. Each year these men filed with the court their accounts. The following is a copy from one of Hughlett’s Warehouse at Bridgetown:
Filed Novmeber Term of Court 1774. The account of James Ginn inspector at Bridgetown, 1774, Caroline County, Bridgetown, Warehouse, Dr.To inspectors salary in tobacco ----------------------------------------------------- 4800 lbs.1774 Caroline County
To 6 lb. Lead at 6p. 3s. To 2 lb. Rope 9p 1/6 ---------------------------------------- 36
To a new scale gallows and post 5 lbs. To 2 new prises at 15 farthings --- 302
To 2 new sweeps 2 crutches 2 new tongues and putting in 15 farthings --- 120
To cutting 7 letters in the Warehouse Branding Iron 7/6 ------------------------- 60
By 145 crop Hogshead of Tobacco at 20 lbs per hogshead, 4060
By 15 Transfer Hogshead at 56 lbs per, 840
By 43 lb. Gained by P.C.P. shrinkage at 16 per hundred, 56
Errors excepted James Ginn, 4956
By balance due me 362 lbs. tobacco, 362
December 14, 1774, then came James Ginn before me, one of his lordship justices of the peace, for the said county, and made oath on the Holy Evangels of Almighty God that this account is just and true as it stand. Stated Sworn before me.
STRANGE MONEY OF LONG AGO
Tobacco money! How strange it seems! Still for many years colonial people of our county used tobacco almost entirely as money. A man used tobacco to pay his taxes, to pay his doctor’s bill, to buy his marriage license, to buy his lumber, to pay his workers, to purchase his slaves, to pay the governor of the province and even to pay the preacher’s salary. Just a little above Denton stood a tobacco warehouse belonging to David Melvill. The inspector’s salary paid in tobacco equaled about $265, as tobacco was valued at 3 or 4 cents a pound. English ships called at Melvill’s Landing, where the warehouse stood and exchanged their goods for tobacco. No doubt many hogsheads of tobacco have been rolled down our streets to the Great Choptank in colonial days.Arthur Lee Rairigh
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