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^28 hjiapter in America's Industrial Growth
i. 1. Itll Sitbrara
Nnrtli (Earaltna ^taU Unitierflitg |
ne importance to the
3ssee. Second only to
percent of the total
'.rs. In 1971 an esti-
nilies produced 105.6
60 acres and sold the
ng 75.7 cents a pound,
etail market for con-
rettes, the majority of
million in retail sales
intributed heavily to
ies. More than half
\arettes goes into the
rage retail price of a
te is 41.6 cents. Ten-
lost 420 million packs
ke more than $2.2 bil-
hnal Revenue Service
From the colonial peridd through the "Black Patch
Wars' to todatj, tobacco has played a prime role in
sJuiping tJic cconomif of Tennessee. This booklet traces
that histonj and describes the importance of tobacco to
Tobacco Histonj Series
THE TOBACCO INSTITUTE
1776 K St., NA\ ., Washington, D. C. 20006
Tobacco production and marketing methods
Tennessee and Kentucky. Tobacco history
many in.stances is parallel. Kcuturhtj ana
able for readers.
these states» in
NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
he hardy Tennessee frontier was long
explored and settled by the time the territory was ad-
mitted to the Union in 1796. Indians were thought to
be the first inhabitants of the Tennessee region-the
Chickasaw, Cherokee and Shawnee were among the
tribes living there when the first Europeans, the Spanish,
explored the area in search of gold around 1540.
There was later a long period of French-British
contention over the land area which Tennessee now
occupies. By 1763, the British were in control and,
eventually, North Carolina annexed the area into its
own administration. After the Revolution, in 1790,
Congress organized the area into "The Territory of the
United States South of the River Ohio," or, as it was
commonly called, Southwest Territory before it was
annexed as the state of Tennessee.
During this colonial period, waves of ambitious mi-
grants crossed the Appalachian Mountains from the
East and moved into Tennessee through the Cumber-
land Gap and the Tennessee Valley. With them, the
settlers brought their various trades and agricultural
Throughout its history and growth, tobacco has
played an important part in the development of the
state. Its seeds arrived with the first settlers. Its culti-
vation spread rapidly throughout the area and has since
become the livelihood for thousands of Tennessee farm
families. Tobacco culture has created jobs in manu-
facturing, processing and myriad other industries re-
lated to the tobacco industry. Tobacco sales over retail
counters have added millions of dollars in excise taxes
to both state and federal treasuries.
The importance of tobacco to Tennessee is enormous.
Its history and development have had a definite eco-
nomic and political impact upon the state. The follow-
ing pages offer a contemporary and historical montage
of tobacco's importance to the state; outlining how and
why the impact of tobacco there has been so important.
TOBACCO AGRICULTURE AND INDUSTRY
IN TENNESSEE TODAY
Where Tobacco is grown in Tennessee
Burley (Type 31)
Dark Air-Cured (Type 35)
Eastern Dark-Fired (Type 22)
Western Dark-Fired (Type 23)
urley is king
The development of tobacco in Tennessee closely
parallels that of Kentucky. Both states share the growth
of the four main types of tobacco cultivated in that part
of the country. But of these types, Burley, though rela-
tively new to the industry, is the most widely cultivated
in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Burley was originally a dark air-cured type known as
"Red Burley." Today, it is referred to as "White Burley."
The latter type made its first appearance in 1864 near
the village of Higginsport in Brown County, Ohio. In
the spring of that year, a farmer procured from a neigh-
boring, Bracken County farmer a small portion of to-
bacco seed known as "Little Burley." He sowed part
of the seed and when it was ready for transplanting he
noticed some white and yellow colored plants. The
farmer took these to be diseased or dwarfed and got
rid of them.
The following year, being short of seed, the farmer
sowed the same "Little Burley" seed and found a portion
of "mutant" plants. In 1866, two hogsheads of this type
tobacco were shipped to Cincinnati and sold at a pre-
mium price, $58 for a hundred pounds. Burley, as we
know it, gained in popularity and spread throughout
Kentucky and down to Tennessee. Its position has
Prior to 1924 Burley production was largely confined
to East Tennessee and the total acreage for the state
Plant beds must be carefully maintained during
initial stages of Burleij growth
Courtesy, the Tobacco Experiment Station, Greeneville, Te:
that year was 31,500 acres. Burley farmers in 1924
harvested just over 27 milHon pounds.
Production of Burley has increased considerably since
that time as it is grown today in most of Tennessee's
95 counties. In 1971 Tennessee Burley farmers har-
vested 82,593,000 pounds on 39,900 acres, averaging
2,070 pounds per acre. The crop was sold through some
20 markets at a total crop value of $66,240,000, averag-
ing approximately 80.2 cents per pound.
Smokers have found that the taste of cigarettes im-
proves considerably with the addition of Burley tobacco.
On an average, 35 percent of the tobacco in cigarettes
is Burley. The leaf is also used in domestic pipe and
chewing tobaccos; a little goes into some varieties of
In addition to Burley, or type 31 as it is classified
by the United States Department of Agriculture, there
are three other tvpes of tobacco grown on Tennessee
farms. The collective area in which they are grown,
including sections of south-central and south-western
Kentucky, was long known as the Black Patch.
• Eastern Dark Fired, type 22, unlike Burley is
fire-cured. It is grown in Montgomery, Robertson
and adjoining counties and in neighboring Ken-
tucky counties. The location of the Eastern district
is also known as the Hopkinsville-Clarksyille Belt.
In 1971, Tennessee farmers in the ten counties
where type 22 is grown harvested 19,453,000 pounds
of this type on 9,800 acres with an average yield of
1,985 pounds per acre. They sold their tobacco for
$11,905,000 at an average 61.2 cents per pound.
Type 22 is mainly used in the production of snufi^.
• Western Dark Fired, type 23, also a fire-cured
Type, is grown west of the Tennessee River in
Tennessee and Kentucky. This tobacco is grown
and cured like Eastern Dark Fired but it is some-
what different because it is grown on different
kinds of soil. In 1971 three Tennessee counties
grew and harvested 983,000 pounds of this type
on 660 acres averaging 1,490 pounds per acre. They
sold the crop for $571,000 at an average price of
58.1 cents per pound. Like type 22, type 23 is also
mainly used for snuff manufacture.
• Dark Air Cured, type 35 or One Sucker, is an
air cured tobacco grown mostly in Robertson, Sum-
ner and Macon counties. There is some type 35
production in surrounding counties. The plant is
called One Sucker because removal of the suckers
which sprout from the axil is necessary only once
during the season. Tennessee farmers harvested
2,576,000 pounds of this type on 1,400 acres in 1971
at an average 1,840 pounds per acre. They sold
their crop for $1,267,000 at an average of 49.2 cents
per pound. The principal use of One Sucker has
been in the manufacture of chewing tobacco and
for the export trade. Selected grades are subjected
to special processing methods which are treated
as trade secrets under such names as "Black Fat,"
"Water Baler" and "Dark African." This tobacco
is used largely for export and is consumed by pipe
long days and hard work
In all, Tennessee tobacco farmers make a hefty con-
tribution to the national tobacco economy. Tliere are
an estimated 97,000 farm families involved in raising
tobacco in the state. All types of tobacco, representing
almost 10 percent of all crops grown in the state, are
cultivated on 51,760 Tennessee acres on 96,800 farms.
In 1971, the total tobacco poundage produced came to
more than 105.6 million pounds averaging about 2,040
pounds per acre. The entire crop was sold for about
$80 million averaging about 75.7 cents per pound. This
ranks Tennessee sixth in total crop value for 1971 of
the 16 major tobacco producing states.
Tobacco farming is no easy business. During the
ten-month growing season, the farmer puts in an aver-
age 339 hours of labor per acre to produce a Burley
crop in Tennessee.
The art of hand labor is retained in most phases
of cultivating, harvesting and curing. Equipment for
accelerating the chore of transplanting has largely elimi-
nated that general occupational backache, but the hu-
man element is still a controlling factor in the operation.
he start of the season
"Making" a tobacco crop involves more hand labor
than any other major agricultural activity. Fertilized
soil, well drained and high in organic matter is most
Initially, tobacco seeds are planted in a treated seed
bed during March. The seed bed is normally about
75 to 100 feet long and about nine feet wide. This size
bed provides sufficient plants to set a full acre of
tobacco. Immediately after seeding, the bed is covered
with a cloth to protect the seedlings from cold winds,
insects and to keep the soil surface from drving out.
After the temperature remains at a minimum of at least
50 degrees, the seeds begin to germinate.
rom bed to field
The seedlings are usually transplanted when weather
conditions are most favorable, generally between May 10
and June 1. After they have been transplanted and
when the plants reach the bloom stage, the flowers are
removed. "Suckers," small shoot-like growths, used to
be removed by hand. Today, most farmers can elimi-
nate this tedious chore by applying a special chemical
that inhibits the growth of suckers so that full-bodied,
Burletj seedlings being transplanted into the field
Courtesy, the Tobacco Experiment Station, Greeneville, Tenn
highly aromatic Burley can be produced. This will
result in uniform ripening of the plant.
Some farmers prime the leaves when they begin to
mature; that is, they pull off the first lemon-yellowed
leaves before cutting off the entire plant. Generally
though, common practice is to cut off the whole plant
at the lower part of the stalk. The plants are then
speared onto sticks and taken to curing barns where a
four to six week "airing out" will literally starve the
plant and cause the leaf to turn tan to reddish brown
There has been some experimentation with bulk cur-
ing. By this method some thousand pounds of leaves,
stripped from stalks, are placed in a specially designed
unit. Heat, conducted by flues, is provided by an oil
furnace. Curing by this process can be completed in
a week or less.
rom barn to buyer
After the tobacco has been thoroughly cured and
dried, it is removed from the barn and bulked. This
involves stripping tlie leaves from the stalk and sorting
them into tlie different leaf types according to their
position on the plant. Leaves on the stalk, from the
bottom of the stem up, are called flyings, lugs, leaf and
tips. They are separated and tied into small bundles
or "hands" for market.
id and take
Cured tobacco is a commodity that must be marketed
promptly. It is a delicate article of commerce, liable to
spoilage under unfavorable weather conditions. Usually
the "hands" are trucked to auction warehouses. A small
percent of dark tobacco is not sold at auction, but
instead is marketed directly by the farmers at their' barn
doors. The vast majority of Tennessee tobacco, though,
is auctioned off at 20 markets in more than 100 ware-
houses throughout the state beginning in late fall and
continuing through the early part of winter.
A good deal of the tobacco grown in Tennessee i:
exported to foreign buyers. It is shipped as unmanufac
Tennessee Burley on the way to maturity.
Courtesy, the Tobacco Experiment Station, Greeneville, Tenn.
tured, leaf tobacco, and as a manufactured product in
the form of cigars, cigarettes, smoking and chewing
Since Kentucky and Tennessee are the major pro-
ducers of Burley, most of type 31 shipped overseas
comes from fields in those two states. In 1971 West
Germany, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, The
Netherlands, Japan and Thailand were the major
buyers. These countries and a few others purchased
36,535,000 pounds of Burley valued at $38,540,000 in
1971. In addition, both Kentucky and Tennessee ex-
ported 19,622,000 pounds of fire-cured tobaccos valued
at $13,402,000 and more than a half million pounds of
One Sucker at $312,000.
aniifacturing is big business
In 1971, Americans consumed more than 555 billion
cigarettes, about 7.8 billion cigars, 70 million pounds
of smoking tobacco, over 71.8 million pounds of chew-
inging tobacco and almost 27 million pounds of snuff.
The retail value of these products is estimated at more
than $12.5 billion. Although the tobacco grown in
Tennessee is not used extensively for manufacture there,
it represents a major contribution to the manufacturing
plants in Kentucky and other states. Machines in Louis-
ville alone turn out about 107 billion cigarettes yearly
and Tennessee Burley is among the various blends used
in their manufacture.
There are several major corporations in Tennessee
involved in the manufacture of cigars, snuff, smoking
and chewing tobacco. Also, there are 16 leaf merchants
in the state. These concerns, with offices in Tennessee
and throughout "tobaccoland," send buyers to the mar-
kets to purchase leaf for their clients, many of whom
are overseas and cannot afford to keep a full time
office in the U.S. to represent them. Many of these
leaf dealers also maintain large facilities to process
the purchased leaf. It is cut, dried and prepared for
the client and is then "prized" or packed into large,
1,000-pound hogsheads and shipped to the client for
The entire process, from farm to package, requires
great skill, time, patience, money and labor. The great
number of trades and services generated by the social
uses of tobacco have long added to the economic
importance of the tobacco industry.
Xhe consumer market
Tennesseans are no different in tlieir tobacco-buying
pattern from otlier Americans— the largest consumers
of cigarettes in the world. In 1971, through 32,413
retail outlets, thev bought 417.9 million packages of
cigarettes with an estimated wholesale value of $91
million and a retail value of almost $175 million.
Tennessee consumers also purchased cigars, smoking
and chewing tobaccos, snuff, pipes and other smokers'
articles, and while total retail expenditures for these
items are not known, their wholesale value came to
about $106,915,250 in 1971.
JLhe ever-bulging treasuries
Ever since a federal tax was established on manu-
factured tobacco, the various tobacco products have
been hea\'ily taxed. The tax on finished commodities
was first applied in 1862. Cigarettes were included in
the tax in 1864. Since the inception of the tobacco
excise the total yield to the United States Treasury
through June 1971 has been over $61 billion.
The current federal rate on each package of 20
cigarettes is eight cents. It was "temporarily" raised
from seven cents in 1952. Tennessee consumers made
a substantial contribution to the over $2.2 billion col-
lected on tobacco products by the Internal Revenue
Service in 1971.
The cigarette excise tax in Tennessee is an additional
13 cents per pack. The original tax on cigarettes in
Tennessee, four cents, became effective in 1925. It was
dropped to three cents in 1937 and increased four times
Ripe Burlcij tobacco just prior to harvesting
over the years to its present 13-cent rate. In addition
to the state excise, Tennessee imposes a 4/2 percent
sales tax, including state-collected local taxes. This
adds an additional two-cents-per-pack cost to the Ten-
nessee cigarette smoker. Also, as of June 1, 1972, the
state imposes a six percent tax at the wholesale level
on all tobacco products. The total yield to the state
from taxes on all tobacco products since the inception
of the first tobacco tax in 1925 through June 1972 is
The average retail price of a package of cigarettes
in Tennessee is 41.6 cents. A full 21 cents, or 50.5
percent of the retail price, is destined to terminate in
federal and state treasuries; not including local taxes
and the state sales tax. Funds from cigarette and other
tobacco revenues benefit all— smokers or not— and their
effect is visible through construction and maintenance
of schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and in community
services, just to name a few.
Much more could be said about the composite to-
bacco industry based in Tennessee. But the essential
facts presented will serve to indicate the significance of
tobacco in the state's economy. The history of that
achievement is a dramatic one.
THE HISTORY OF TOBACCO
Indians similar to the Mound Builders are thought
to have been the first inhabitants of the Tennessee
region. The Chickasaw, Cherokee and Shawnee were
among the tribes living there when the first Europeans,
led by the Spanish explorer De Soto, arrived in 1540.
De Soto was followed bv countryman Juan Pardo, but
the Spaniards were seeking gold and did not settle.
A long period of British-French contention over the
Tennessee region was foreshadowed by the arrival of
the French explorers Marquette and Joliet and English-
men James Deedham and Gabriel Arthur in the same
year, 1673. In 1682, Robert Cavalier de La Salle, while
exploring the Mississippi River, stopped at the mouth
of the Hatchie River and built the first European forti-
fication on Tennessee soil— Fort Proudhomme.
Spurred by reports from scouts such as Daniel Boone,
a steady stream of settlers from Virginia and the Caro-
linas soon began to enter the region. French influence
waned and by 1763, following the termination of the
Anglo-French wars with the Treaty of Paris, the British
were in complete control.
Settlers continued to flow westward despite a Royal
proclamation in 1763 that forbade any colonial move-
ment west of the Appalachian Mountains. The fertile
lands of East Tennessee, the eastern river valleys of
West Virginia and the lands of the Kentucky "Blue
Grass" and middle Tennessee attracted many settlers
and new establishments continually appeared through-
out this region.
irst attempt at government
In 1772, the Tennessee settlers formed wliat they
called the Watauga Association to govern the region.
Meanwhile, Kentucky was experiencing a greater influx
of settlers than was Tennessee. With good fortifications
to the North, Kentucky proved an excellent protective
barrier for Tennessee from hostile Indians. With condi-
tions being more favorable than ever for continued
settlement, Tennessee thrived and, in 1779, Nashville
was established as a colony. During its first years of
existence though, Indian troubles plagued the small
colony— settlers were being slain at the rate of one
every ten days. But as the population grew, the Indians
were pushed west.
rom revolution to statehood.
Although the heart of the American Revolution was
located on the Eastern seaboard, Tennessee made her
contribution to America's independence. The settlers
formed a committee of public safety and reorganized
their government as the "Washington District." In
1776 they were faced with Indian trouble and appealed
to North Carolina for help. Following this assistance,
North Carolina annexed the territory and it became
Washington County— part of the "Tar Heel" state.
During the Revolution, the first organized settlement
in the Cumberland Valley occurred. Settlers cleared
their new land and saved the best soils for tobacco.
The virgin soils, rich in limestone and nitrogen com-
pounds, proved excellent for tobacco growth.
At the Revolution's end, the Eastern portion of Ten-
nessee almost became another state to be called
Franklin. But in 1784, North Carolina ceded her Ten-
nessee county to the United States. Franklin remained
in a state of political limbo for a short while; then in
1796, Southwest Territory, as it was then called, became
the 16th state to be admitted to the Union. Tennessee
was the first state to be created out of national territory.
he "Spanish Intrigue"
Inspection warehouses for tobacco were in full oper-
ation by 1780 in Tennessee. Most of the tobacco
however, was used purely for domestic purposes. It
was extremely difficult to export the Tennessee crop
to major ports in the country. It could have been
shipped to New Orleans via the Mississippi River, but
the Spanish controlled New Orleans and did not allow
the tobacco to enter that port. Roading the hogsheads
of tobacco over the Appalachians was virtually im-
Nevertheless, in 1787, an American general, James
Wilkinson, loaded two flatboats in the vicinity of Frank-
fort, Kentucky, with many consumer items on board
including bacon, flour and a good quantity of tobacco
valued at two dollars per hundred pounds.
Wilkinson intended his shipment for New Orleans,
but he was well aware that his two flatboats would be
seized by the authorities when they reached the Nat-
chez area. This happened, but the confiscated cargo
was released, and Wilkinson was asked to meet with
Don Esteban Miro, then governor of Louisiana. Good
relations were established between these two men, and
thus the "Spanish Intrigue," which has since puzzled
historians, had its start.
Many beheved that Wilkinson, a famous American
general who had served with Benedict Arnold in the
Quebec campaign, was involved in a plot to separate
the western territories from the United States and place
them under the protection of Spain. Whether or not
this was true, when Wilkinson returned to Frankfort
in February of 1788, New Orleans was opened to
American trade. The Spanish authorities, already large
buyers of Mississippi and Louisiana tobacco, now of-
fered to buy the commodity from both Kentucky and
he Mississippi opens to tobacco
In December, 1788, a royal order issued in Seville
permitted Americans to enter goods at Mississippi River
ports on payment of the Spanish entry duty. Initially,
Wilkinson was shocked at hearing of the Spanish order.
He had planned to monopolize trade with the Spanish
at New Orleans. He was now competing with the rest
of the country. But though the river was open to those
who dared risk its passage, Wilkinson had the advan-
tage of precedence, the right political connections and
a developing organization.
All shipments were at the owners' risk— and the risks
were there. Apart from the physical hazards of river
traffic that caused boats to capsize, sink or run aground,
there were river pirates and Indians to contend with.
For awhile too, outlaws and white renegades infested
the long route. They were dangerous, for a call for
help, afloat or ashore, when sympathetically answered,
too frequently resulted in the seizure of a boat and
the massacre of her crew.
Much of the tobacco used during this period was
manufactured at home in the form of "twists" for
chewing and cigars. Practically all country stores sold
"sticks" of twists which were commonly used by the
average working man. The elite used only James River
tobacco and smoked Spanish cigars.
By the turn of the 19th century, tobacco figured
more profitably in proportion to total income to the
farmers of the Cumberland vallev. One of the first
warehouses in the area was built in Pulaski County, Ky.,
on the Cumberland River and was known as Stigall's
Warehouse. Crude as these tobacco warehouses were,
they still sold a good deal of tobacco down the Mis-
sissippi. Stigall's reported, on the average, annual
inspection of 217 hogsheads and nearby Montgomery
Warehouse reported inspection of 294. Each hogshead
weighed around 1,000 pounds, proving the inspection
totals to be far from insignificant.
Wilkinson's boast that he had opened the Mississippi
was justified. Customs records at New Orleans for
1790 showed that more than a quarter of a million
pounds of tobacco had been registered in that port
alone. An incalculable amount was smuggled in or
went to sea without benefit of customs permits.
Western tobacco shipments increased to the point
where much more of it was flowing down the river than
could be sold. In 1790 the Spanish authorities were
forced to limit the amount of tobacco traded at New
Orleans and set the maximum intake at 40,000 pounds
annually. In late 1791, Wilkinson, "disgusted by dis-
appointment and misfortunes, the effect of my igno-
rance of commerce," abandoned his export trade and
reentered the United States Army.
merican expansion and more troubles
with the British
A prevalent form of settlement in the Tennessee
frontier was the "station." It was a small group of log
cabins arranged so they formed part of an enclosure
supplemented by a stockade of posts for defense pur-
poses. The number of cabins usually totaled around
two or three dozen, but some "stations," like Nashville,
could have well over a hundred inhabitants. Farming
and hunting represented the livelihoods of these settlers
who often entered a thriving fur trade with the local
As these "stations" spread throughout Tennessee so
did America's desire to increase her land area. In
1802, Spain withdrew the right of deposit in New
Orleans to Americans. But Napoleon, who had pur-
chased the entire Louisiana territory from Spain, sold
it to tlie United States in April of 1803 for $11,250,000.
The Tennessee tobacco trade was stepped up again.
An American merchant marine took shape and western
tobacco began competing in markets all over the world.
But international troubles were already brewing.
President Jefferson, in an attempt to deplete French
and British supphes of American tobacco, cotton and
other commodities, declared an embargo on these
products in 1807 and instead of being traded overseas,
the tobacco rotted at the wharves, never to be sold.
Meanwhile, American seamen were being impressed
by the British navy and both Great Britain and France
were ])lockading American ports. American neiitralitv
was violated as tobacco and other commodities were
seized at sea. The President, in 1808 and after much
controversy, ended the embargo while his countrymen
jeered that embargo spelled backwards read: "O grab
The troubles with England led to the War of 1812.
The Capitol in Washington was burned to the ground,
but in the end the British were defeated. The "Long
RiHes" of Kentucky and Tennessee played an important
part in defeating the British, especially at the Battle of
New Orleans in January of 1815.
Tennesseans have had a long history of volunteering
to assist and doing more than their share in American
conflicts. It is for this reason that the state has long
been referred to as the "Volunteer State." Even though
this famous encounter took place two weeks after the
signing of the peace treaty at Ghent, their victory,
under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, saved the
entire Mississippi Valley from invasion.
tie "Era of Good Feeling"
By 1815, with the seas cleared and open to American
shipping, leaf exports snapped back to 90 million
pounds annually from well below 60 million during the
In 1816, tobacco production around the Nashville-
Clarksville areas was estimated at 10,000 hogsheads.
With tobacco as a well established, staple crop, the
business of shipping leaf down the Mississippi to New
Orleans was becoming more lucrative with each passing
day. The postwar era was truly that of good feeling.
Commerce and trade flourished as it never had before.
In 1830, the western tobacco fields of Kentucky and
Tennessee were turning out one-third of the nation's
crop. The Tennessee tobacco industry, for the first time,
was making the transition from a supplier of tobacco
for export and home use to a supplier of raw material
for domestic manufacture. During that same year, one-
fifth of the crop was not sent out of the country. It
stayed in the United States instead for domestic manu-
facture, an ever-growing industry. Twenty-one Ten-
nessee counties were each producing more than a
million pounds of tobacco and of these, eight produced
almost two million pounds. Both Clarksville and
Springfield were becoming popular as the largest dark-
fired tobacco markets in the world, as more farmers
were marketing their leaf on "home ground," and
fewer were "prizing" it for shipment to New Orleans.
n expanded, market
In 1834, the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad
was completed to Knoxville, supplying, for the first
time, rail transport to the Atlantic ports and opening
middle Tennessee to more trade.
upon completion of new railroad systems and better
river travel, including the steamboat, commerce from
Tennessee flowed south down the Mississippi and as
far east as New York. Tennessee corn, potatoes, whis-
key, bacon, cider, apples, hemp, tobacco, beef, butter,
cheese, beeswax, lard, feathers and cornmeal went
to the markets of northern Alabama and the lower
Mississippi. Although not luxurious, life for many
Tennessee farmers was quite comfortable.
The increased production of cotton and wheat in
Tennessee inhibited the growth of tobacco for awhile.
Shortly before the Civil War, Tennessee wheat com-
manded a premium price on the New York market. But
according to the Census of 1840, Tennessee ranked
Memphis was a busy commercial port as pictured
here circa 1851. Millions of pounds of tobacco flowed down
the Mississippi River annually.
third in tobacco production behind Virginia and Ken-
tucky. In that year she produced 29,550,432 pounds.
The total amount produced in the country that year
came to more than 200 milhon pounds.
The Mexican War of 1846 caused a temporary reduc-
tion in the production of A-fifierican tobacco. At the
dawn of the Civil War, Tennessee tobacco production
was still limited to the northwestern and north central
parts of the state. "White Burley" was relatively un-
heard of until after the War. Tennessee farmers were
still producing the dark tobacco which was especially
in great demand on foreign markets. In 1859, Virginia
still led the country in total tobacco production, but
Kentucky followed a close second. Tennessee ranked
third again, recording almost 43.5 million pounds.
armers go to war
In 1860, nine-tenths of all the tobacco grown in the
United States came from slave states. Virginia, North
Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee accounted for about
four-fifths of tlie nation's total. The South was also
a great tobacco manufacturing area. Just before the
War, other than New York the principal manufacturing
centers of tobacco were: Richmond, Petersburg, Lynch-
burg and Danville, Virginia; Clarksville, Tennessee;
Henderson, Kentucky; Fayette, and St. Louis, Missouri;
and xMilton, North Carolina.
When the War began. President Lincoln called on
Tennessee to provide troops. A referendum proved
Tennessee's sympathies to lie with the Confederate
States of America— she seceded from the Union and
The railroad bridge over the Ciimherland River, Nashville, 1862
pledged allegiance to the South. East Tennessee, how-
ever, provided large numbers of troops to the Union
Next to Virginia, Tennessee was the leading battle-
ground during the War. About 454 battles or skirmishes
were fought in Tennessee— she also furnished the largest
military contingent from the South— 145,000 men,
30,000 of whom fought with the North.
The War proved disastrous to the tobacco industry
of the South. For all intents and purposes, it virtually
ceased to function and it was not until the Reconstruc-
tion period that tobacco production and manufacture
began to rebound.
The dark-fired areas prospered again and, with the
development of Burley, tobacco production started to
spread throughout the state.
amafacturing makes the scene
Tobacco factories in the state became almost as
numerous as textile factories and grain mills. Licorice
and sugar were imported in large amounts for use in
special chewing tobaccos. Before the end of the 19th
century, a variety of plugs with enticing brand names
such as "U Jo's, Five-Cent Pocket Piece," "Peach and
Honey," "Old Time," "The Old Tennessee Twist," "Half
Bushel," "Select Brazil Smoking" and "All Southerners"
represented one of the major, stable sources of income
for almost any country store.
Tobacco products did not escape the attention of
the revenue collectors, even a hundred years ago. In
1874, while writing a treatise on Tennessee's resources,
state Commissioner of Agriculture Killebrew said:
We have dwelt long on tobacco because it is
the only great product of the state that is sub-
ject to a burdensome tax, and every effort of
our people should he made to reduce or
lighten the load upon their industry.
In 1875, the Tennessee tobacco crop came to 35
million pounds. Commissioner Killebrew, in a letter
to the governor on February 18, 1875, stressed the
importance of continued support and expansion of
Tennessee tobacco when he said:
Tobacco, unlike cotton, does not interfere in
any considerable degree with the cultivation
of the grasses or bread grains, because the
quality of tobacco planted is not limited, as
cotton, by the number of acres which can be
plowed, but by the ability to worm, sucker
and house the crop. Consequently the saving
in the amount of plowing, as compared with
cotton, is so great that a tobacco planter may
always make abundant supplies of corn, hay,
wheat and other crops . . . The tobacco crop is,
therefore, in a degree an extra crop, which,
while it supplies the planter with ready
money, does not interfere with his raising
By the 1880's domestic manufacturers, with some
consistency, began to purchase more of the crop than
did exporters. Manufacturing facihties moved from
farm areas to urban areas. Chewing tobacco was
extremely popular, and Tennessee tobacco was a major
source of American plug.
eginnings of Burley
It was after the Civil War that Burley production
seeped south from Ohio, through Kentucky and down
to Tennessee— especially in the eastern portion of the
In 1887, two farmers, Clisbie Austin and Silas Ber-
nard, procured some of the new seed and brought it
to the Greeneville area. They convinced many of the
local farmers to plant Burley rather than attempting
to compete with the flue-cured tobacco growers to the
east. Up to 1916, Greene and Washington Counties
were about the only ones producing Burley. After that
its growth spread throughout most of the state. But
before discussing Burley 's important impact upon the
state, it is necessary to delve into the formation of a
controversial group, hated by many, revered by many,
that changed the entire face of the industry in the
state. The "Night Riders" of Kentucky and Tennessee
left a trail that is not likely to be forgotten.
lack patch blues
Dark tobacco in Tennessee has been grown, over the
years, in an area commonly referred to as the Black
Patch. It is located in the north central and northwest-
ern part of Tennessee and in the south central and south-
western part of Kentucky. The four basic tobacco
districts in the Black Patch include: The Northern
Dark-Fired or Stemming District, the Eastern Dark-
Fired District, the Western Dark-Fired District and the
Bowling Green Dark Air-Cured or One Sucker District.
Pioneer tobacco farmers in the Black Patch, gener-
ally, migrated from Virginia and North Carolina. Ini-
tially, they grew tobacco for home consumption, but
with the development of commercial river traffic and
trade with Natchez and New Orleans, the Black Patch
farmers became principal exporters of dark tobacco
in the country.
In 1900, Tennessee grew about 53.5 million pounds
of dark tobacco. One historian described tobacco cul-
tivation there and in Kentucky as "the Hfe of the Black
Patch. The breath of agriculture and business, the
money crop of the entire area."
The latter part of the 19th century and the early
1900's saw a downward trend in the prices of dark
tobaccos. This was due, in part, to overproduction, a
federal leaf tax, some poor leaf quality and a shift by
consumers to tobacco products not utilizing dark types.
But as time went on, a more important factor was
From an 1883 lithograph of Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga
ill Billies" and "Night Riders"
As in other industries, manufacturing was becoming
more centralized, and in the case of tobacco fewer
buyers were purchasing increasingly larger shares of
available leaf. As the number of competitive buyers
diminished, so did prices offered to growers. By
1901-02, typical Black Patch tobacco was selling for
two cents per pound— less than it cost to grow. A group
of Eastern District tobaccomen sought relief from Con-
gress in 1904, without success.
As a consequence, some 5,000 farmers met that fall
in Guthrie, Kentucky, forming The Dark Tobacco Dis-
trict Planter's Protective Association of Kentucky and
Tennessee. They agreed that the organization would
serve as their sales agent. Growers who chose not to
join became known as "hill billies," connoting a resem-
blance to a goat.
At first, major buyers tried dealing with the "hill
billies" but soon had to turn to Association sources for
leaf supplies. In 1905, Felix Ewing, secretary-treasurer
of the Association, was able to tell more than 18,000
members and sympathizers in a rousing speech that:
Now, we are ahead. The tobacco world ex-
pects us to win, and that we must do so upon
an honest, conservative basis shoidd be the one
thought in the mind of every honest tobacco
To some Association members, however, price re-
covery was disappointingly slow, and late in 1905 a
"Committee of 32" began taking action, sometimes
violent, against growers who dealt outside the Associa-
tion. A "Night Riders" organization began a series of
forays during the next several years, burning barns
and destroying crops, occasionally inflicting beatings
in an effort to discourage independent growers over a
12,000-square mile area of the Black Patch.
Relief came by 1909, when the U.S. Supreme Court
broke up the so-called tobacco buying "trust," and
Congress repealed the leaf tax. By 1915, its usefulness
gone, the Association was dissolved.
Meanwhile, the expanding Burley crops brought im-
proving prices, reaching 40 cents a pound by 1916.
In 1921, the East Tennessee Tobacco Association and
the state department of agriculture launched a cam-
paign which led to Burley planting in more than 20
counties. They produced a total crop of more than 18
million pounds. A market was opened in Knoxville
around 1923 and Burley planting spread throughout the
middle part of the state. The tobacco economy was
hurt, but only temporarily, by the post-World War I
deflation— with overproduction came bad prices.
Throughout the 1900's, tobacco production in Ten-
nessee has steadily increased. Although the total acre-
age liarvested has been a good deal more in the past
than now, technology and science have afforded the
tobacco farmer an opportunity to produce a lot more
tobacco per acre than in the past.
In 1920, for example, the average yield of tobacco
per acre in Tennessee was 760 pounds. In the latest
year of record, 1971, Tennessee tobacco farmers pro-
duced an average of 2,040 pounds per acre.
Tobacco production has come a long way in Ten-
nessee since the pioneer days. Tobacco farming is big
business and with the cooperation of state tobacco
associations and both the state and federal governments,
the science of tobacco farming and marketing has
evolved more and more into a united effort to produce
a more refined crop much more efficiently.
Tennessee's fine tobaccos make a strong contribution
to the U.S. tobacco industry. From tobacco for cigarette
manufacture to tobacco for snuff, chewing and smoking,
to that exported, helping our balance of trade, the
industry in Tennessee has long been, and for a long time
to come will be, a strong part of the commerce, agri-
culture and industry that make up the "Volunteer
Data on the current tobacco industry in Tennessee have been
supplied by the Economic Research Service and Agriculture Marketing
Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Other data
on the current industry are derived from publications of the Tennessee
Crop Reporting Service and the Agriculture Extension Service of the
University of Tennessee.
Special notes of thanks are due to Mr. Beryl C. Nichols, research
agronomist with the tobacco experiment station at Greeneville; Mr.
Robert Hobson, Tennessee Crop Reporting Service, Nashville; Miss
Lissa Brandon, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Nashville; Mrs.
Dorothy Glasser and other staff members at the Tennessee State
Library and Archives, Nashville; Mr. Luther H. Keller, University of
Tennessee, Department of Agriculture Economics and Rural Sociology,
Knoxville; and to Mr. Johnny D. Braden of U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Economic Research Service, Washington, D. C.
Material on the history of tobacco in Tennessee came from Tobacco:
Its Culture in Tennessee by J. B. Killebrew, Commissioner of Agri-
culture, Statistics and Mines (1876); The Country Store in Post Civil
War Tennessee by Thomas D. Clark, East Tennessee Historical So-
ciety, Volume 17, Knoxville (1945); History of Agriculture in the
Southern United States To 1860 by LeviMs Cecil Gray, volumes I and
II (1958); The Story of Tobacco in America by Joseph C. Robert
(1952); Tobacco and Americans by Robert K. Heimann (1960);
Introduction to the Resources of Tennessee by J. B. Killebrew, assisted
by J. M. Safford, Ph.D., M.D., Nashville (1874); Tennessee, A
History 1673-1932 by Philip M. Hammer, Ph.D., Vol. II, American
Historical Society, Inc. ( 1933); The Pioneer Farmer and His Crops in
the Cumberland Region by Harriet Simpson Amow, Tennessee His-
torical Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 4 (1960); Tennessee Earth Factors
in Settlement and Land Use by S. R. Whitaker, Tennessee Historical
Quarterly, Vol. V, No. 3 (1946); The Tobacco Night Riders of
Kentucky and Teimessee, 1905-1909 by James O. Nail, Louisville
The Killebrew quotations on page 29 and 30 are from Tobacco:
Its Culture in Tennessee; the Felix Ewing quote on page 33 is from
The Tobacco Night Riders of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Permission to quote directly from this booklet is granted.
Additional copies will be made available without charge
upon request to The Tobacco Institute
1776 K St., N.W., Washington, D. C. 20006