This study deals with the introduction and economic development of tobacco growing in the 17th and 18th Centuries in the Netherlands. It tries to explain how and why tobacco became firmly established as a cash crop among small peasants in the Dutch provinces of Utrecht and Guelderland. The aim is not primarily to describe the origin and economic changes in tobacco cropping, but to interpret the expansion and contraction of inland tobacco by relating agricultural, social and economic phenomena and by linking tobacco growing with developments in the manufacture and trade of tobacco. To this end I have considered the expansion and contraction from two different angles:
1. The production
of Dutch leaf as source of income in agriculture.
2. The demand
for inland tobacco leaf as raw material for tobacco manufacture in the United Provinces (especially in Amsterdam) and elsewhere.
An introduction on the biohistory of tobacco deals in general with the history of tobacco and tobacco smoking and its social implications. The object of this chapter is to place in a broader international and cultural-historical framework the introduction of tobacco in the Netherlands, the beginning of its cultivation, and its manufacture and trade.
Commercial production in the Netherlands started between 1610 and 1620. Tobacco growing was an innovation in Dutch agriculture. Initially cultivation was stimulated by Amsterdam tobacco merchants and tobacco manufacturers who saw in inland production a source for the stockpiles which they needed in order to influence the price of the overseas tobacco leaf on the Amsterdam market. Others - such as the ruling urban upper class, rich citizens and the gentry who had ties with trade as well as with agriculture - initiated tobacco growing around several small towns in the middle and east of the Netherlands. Prominent farmers with some education and a commercial bent were quick to adopt tobacco as a crop and small farmers followed their lead.
In other West European countries we also see the spread of tobacco growing from merchants and other urban people or the gentry to farmers and peasants. The available data show that this adoption and diffusion took place quickly (more quickly than usually is supposed for peasants in the pre-industrial period). This spread can be explained in part by the specific attributes of the innovation itself, but of equal importance was the structure of society in the regions where the adoption and diffusion succeeded.
The Dutch were already skilled in a sophisticated, commercial horticulture. Hence, in the 17th Century Dutch farmers were able to introduce several innovations to the newly adopted crop. Most important were the adoption, after 1635, of hotbeds for raising the young plants; the use of live hedges or fences of bean poles around the tobacco plots as windbreaks; and, after 1660, the introduction of the wooden drying house or tobacco barn with movable boards in the walls to control the ventilation during air curing. It is possible to associate these innovations with the expansion of tobacco cultivation in the 17th Century.
In the first decades of the 18th Century, the 'Dutch' method of cultivation was seen as the best one for successful tobacco growing in northern countries. After 1724 when the Swedish mercantile policy was to stimulate domestic tobacco growing, the Swedish government issued an advisory pamphlet propagating the 'Dutch' method.
As we know from the work of Van der Woude (1972) and Faber (1972), the maritime provinces of Holland and Friesland showed a noteworthy stagnation in population or even a strong decline after about 1650. But, in the same period the growth of the rural population in the middle and east of the United Provinces was actually faster than before and exceeded the agricultural resources and means of subsistence. The already existing pressure of population was aggravated. The small farms suffered from a chronic excess of labour. The labour-intensive tobacco crop could help to solve this problem and the new crop was able to spread, because cheap family labour was available on the small farms. Tobacco growing did not ask for expensive investments, and much work could be done very well by young children and women. The whole family could participate during a great part of the year in the cultivation and the operations after harvest and this was highly consistent with existing socio-cultural values about family and family-farming. For these reasons tobacco growing suited small farms very well.
In the long term, tobacco cultivation developed and expanded in the period of agricultural regression after about the middle of the 17th Century. When the prices of wheat, rye and buckwheat dropped more than did the prices of industrial products and wages, taxes, rents and so on, many small peasants fell into an economically dangerous situation. There was a growing shortage of hard cash for paying rent, taxes and shopping. Scarcity of money and population pressure in agriculture, favoured the switch to a labour-intensive and profitable cash crop like tobacco. Because of the failing grain prices, the available manure yielded a greater return when used on tobacco than on cereal crops. Share cropping in tobacco cultivation was usual, so it was less risky for the small peasants. The risk was shared with the landowning partner, who paid the costs for manure, advanced money and arranged sales of the crop.
After 1650, the number of small tobacco farms in eastern Utrecht and in Guelderland increased rapidly. Tobacco cultivation was a solution for that part of the rural population that otherwise would have been reduced to poverty. But also for the bigger farmers, the growing of some tobacco was attractive because of the price ratio between tobacco and grain.
In the long term, the rise in tobacco cultivation may be interpreted as an accompaniment of the prolonged agricultural recession in the period from about 1650 to about 1750. The price ratio of inland tobacco to cereals shifted in favour of tobacco and the growers reacted to these economic changes by increasing the tobacco area.
In the second half of the 18th Century, when grain prices went up again, many farmers gave up tobacco growing, because the prospects for cereals became more favourable. Moreover, potatoes then appeared as a crop, offering not only a cheap food for the peasants household but also an entirely new prospect for the small farmer. There was a marked recession of tobacco cultivation; its cultivation tended to concentrate around certain towns and in the areas where production was economically most favourable.
In the 17th Century, Amsterdam had become the biggest staple market for Virginia and Maryland tobacco leaf and also for the several European tobaccos. The world market for tobacco was in Amsterdam and here merchants from all over Europe could place their orders. Given the incoming and outgoing stream of overseas tobacco, a significant tobacco-manufacturing industry could develop in Holland and specially in Amsterdam.
Because Amsterdam was the staple market for overseas tobacco, Amsterdam tobacco spinners and cutters had ample opportunity to mix the imported English colonial tobacco with the much cheaper inland leaves. In rolling or spinning, inferior grades of tobacco were used for the insides while the better Virginia leaf was used as exterior 'wrapper', and this product was sometimes sold for 'Spanish' or real 'Virginia'. Interesting Dutch commercial methods! On the foreign markets for tobacco products, these Dutch mixtures could compete with the English pure Virginia spun, or cut tobacco, and with the Spanish tobacco, which - though better - was much more expensive. Especially in the Baltic, there was a great demand for the strong and heavy Dutch smoking and chewing tobacco, which was cheap.
At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century, the development of the. price ratios between Dutch and British colonial tobacco leaf benefitted Dutch tobacco manufacture. The prices of Virginia leaf nearly doubled during the long and vehement naval wars from 1688 till 1714 and remained high till about 1720. In contrast, the prices of Dutch tobacco leaf rose only slightly. The profitable and increasing price difference made the mixing of cheap Dutch and expensive Virginia leaf more and more attractive. The cheapest product consisted of one-third inland leaf and stalk cut up, plus two-thirds Virginia stalks (midribs). Amsterdam tobacco manufacturers demanded more and more inland leaf and this heavy demand greatly stimulated the inland crop. In this way, the Dutch could sweep their English rivals from the Baltic before a wave of cheap tobacco, both manufactured and leaf.
To sum up: in the United Provinces, a close connexion existed between the development of the tobacco trade, the manufacturing industry and the expansion of inland cultivation. From its beginnings, the crop was stimulated by Amsterdam merchants. The great demand for cheap material from tobacco- spinning and tobacco-cutting houses resulted in an expanding cultivation at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century. At the same time, falling grain prices and increasing tobacco prices made tobacco growing attractive to small peasants, cottagers, agricultural labourers and villagers with access to garden plots. Consequently, an increasing amount of cheap inland tobacco leaf could be offered to the manufacturers.
After 1720 but especially from the 1750s, the trend was reversed:
1. Because of the changing price ratio of inland tobacco to cereals, the growing of tobacco became less attractive to the farmers.
2. The general expansion of the British colonial trade during the 18th Century caused the Virginia leaf tobacco to be marketed in increasing amounts at steadily decreasing prices on the world market. Therefore Dutch tobacco leaf became less attractive to the Amsterdam tobacco spinners and cutters.
3. The mercantile policy of many West European governments and the high customs tariffs worsened the market position of Dutch industrial products. An industrial decline, including one in tobacco manufacture, was inevitable in the United Provinces. During the 18th Century the Dutch tobacco export changed its character. Before 1720 the main export consisted of manufactured tobacco, but gradually the Dutch became primarily exporters of the raw material, the tobacco leaf, to the foreign factories.
Despite the decline in the Amsterdam spinning and cutting houses during the 18th Century, the Dutch tobacco crop was able to almost maintain its position for some time. This was due to:
1. The growing popularity of snuff all over Europe and the rising snuff prices. The Dutch leaf was specially suitable for snuff production and the growers changed the methods of cultivation to produce this kind of leaf, for instance by using much more manure.
2. The increased export of leaf tobacco as a raw material for foreign manufacture.
But in other European countries too, tobacco growing was encouraged. So, apart from the Virginia leaf, the competition with other cheap European tobacco leaf became increasingly severe.
In the second half of the 18th Century, Virginia leaf tobacco started to dominate the Dutch and other European leaf tobacco, both by low prices and by increasing supply. Competition on the old terms was ended. Dutch tobacco farming recovered temporarily in times of war when seaborn supply from Virginia and Maryland stagnated, and prices rose, as during the American War of Independence and Napoleonic wars. In these periods of high tobacco prices we see a remarkably quick reaction by the farmers and cottagers, who temporarily expand their tobacco business.
Dutch inland tobacco growing in the 17th and 18th Century demonstrates the interdependency between the rural sector and the town-centered manufacture and trade of the United Provinces. The growth of the Amsterdam tobacco manufacture and tobacco trade at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century mainly depended on the leaf produced by small farmers and peasants in the provinces of Utrecht and Guelderland.
Within the producing regions tobacco growing gave new prospects to small peasants and poor labourers during a period of agricultural depression and provided additional employment in related crafts and trades.
In some villages share cropping in tobacco had a far-reaching consequence for the social stratification: i.e. ' the rise of a group of small tobacco-cottagers between the labourers and small peasants. When tobacco growing decreased or ceased this group turned to other labour-intensive crops. On these small farms the potato was easily accepted as a new crop in the second half of the 18th Century. Later on some went over to horticulture. So tobacco promoted in a way the continuing intensification of husbandry on the small farm. Generally speaking tobacco cultivation with its side effects worked as a regional differentiator and can help to explain still existing regional or local differences.