Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets


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On the twenty-seventh of July, 1586, [says Laufer] the colonists settled in Virginia by Ralph Lane returned to England and disembarked at Plymouth. They offered their astounded countrymen the queer spectacle of smoking tobacco from pipes, which caused a general sensation. William Camden (1551–1623), the historiographer of Queen Elizabeth and a contemporary witness, reports this event as follows. . . .

"And these men who were thus brought back were the first that I know of that brought into England that Indian plant which they call Tabacca and Nicotia, or Tobacco, which they used against crudities being taught it by the Indians. Certainly from that time forward it began to grow into great request, and to be sold at an high rate, whilst in a short time many men every-where, some for wantonness, some for health sake, with insatiable desire and greediness sucked in the stinking smoak thereof through an earthen pipe, which presently they blew out again at their nostrils: insomuch as tobacco-shops are now as ordinary in most towns as tap-houses and taverns. So that the Englishmens bodies, (as one said wittily,) which are so delighted with this plant, seem as it were to be degenerated into the nature of Barbarians, since they are delighted, and think they may be cured, with the same things which the Barbarians use."

From what has been said above it is clear that the band returning from Virginia was not instrumental in introducing tobacco cultivation into England, for this was an established fact long before that time, neither were they the first smokers on British soil. It is solely popular imagination which has vividly retained this very event and which glorified Ralph Lane, Richard Grenville, or Walter Raleigh as the first smokers. . . . It is to Raleigh’s merit that he made smoking fashionable and a gentlemanly art; his name became identified with the new national habit so thoroughly that later generations looked upon him as a kind of patron saint of the smokers. . . . The tradition that Raleigh smoked a pipe or two on the morning before his execution (October 29, 1618) appears to be well founded. The Dean of Westminster, who attended him on this morning, testifies that "he eate his breakfast hertily and tooke tobacco." Aubrey thus defends his action: "He took a pipe of tobacco a little before he went to the scaffolde, which some female (other reading: formal) persons were scandalized at; but I think ’twas well and properly donne to settle his spirits." No mention of tobacco has been discovered in any of Raleigh’s printed works. His first testamentary note made shortly before his execution contains, as far as is yet known, his sole mention of tobacco and relates to that which remained on his ship after his ill-fated voyage: "Sir Lewis Stukeley sold all the tobacco at Plimouth of which, for the most part of it, I gave him a rift part of it, as also a roll for my Lord Admirall and a roll for himself. I desire that hee give his account for the tobacco."

Raleigh’s tobacco box was preserved at Leeds in Yorkshire, in the museum of Ralph Thoresby, an antiquary, who died in 1725. Soon afterwards, William Oldys saw it there, and in his life of Raleigh prefixed to "The History of the World" (1736), describes it thus: "From the best of my memory, I can resemble its outward appearance to nothing more nearly than one of our modern Muff-cases; about the same height and width, cover’d with red leather, and open’d at top (but with a hinge, I think) like one of those. In the inside, there was a cavity for a receiver of glass or metal, which might hold half a pound or a pound of tobacco; and from the edge of the receiver at top, to the edge of the box, a circular stay or collar, with holes in it, to plant the tobacco about, with six or eight pipes to smoke it in." R. Thoresby himself . . . gives the following, slightly different description: "Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco-box, as it is called, but is rather the case for the glass wherein it was preserved, which was surrounded with small wax candles of various colours. This is of gilded leather, like a muff-case, about half a foot broad and thirteen inches high, and hath cases for sixteen pipes within it."1

1Laufer, B.n/an/an/an/an/a, "Introduction of Tobacco into Europe," , 19: 7–14, passim.


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Chicago: "Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets," Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 8, 2023,

MLA: . "Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets." Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets, Vol. 19, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 8 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets' in Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Anth. Leaflets. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 8 December 2023, from