The History of Tobacco

Christopher Colombus arrives in America in 1492, he notes that the Indians use tobacco for its magical and medicinal properties. André Thevet brings back seeds and tobacco cultivation begins in Europe.

Word tobacco, originally designating, for Europeans, both the plant and the cigar made with its leaves, comes from the Spanish tabaco, itself borrowed from an Arawak word designating a kind of pipe, an instrument with two pipes. It is attested in its Spanish form since the first half of the xvie century. The Arawaks, a group of Amerindian peoples from the West Indies and Amazonia, therefore probably had another word to designate the plant that we call tobacco (digo according to archaeologist Benoît Bérard); this word appeared in Spanish by semantic shift, the container (pipe, instrument) ending up by designating the content (dried leaves of the plant) then the plant itself.

The cultivation of tobacco has its origins in America, over 500 years ago. When Christopher Colombus meet them Native Americans, to heal themselves, they roll tobacco leaves until they obtain a sort of large cigar that they call "tabaco". In their pipe also burns a mixture of several herbs including tobacco.

In 1492, during his expedition to America, Christopher Colombus discovers tobacco and brings it back to Europe, to the Spanish and Portuguese courts, where it has long been used as a simple ornamental plant. It was only in the middle of the xvie century that the personal physician of Philip II of Spain begins to promote it as a “universal medicine”. The first written description would be the fact of the Spanish historian from Oviedo.

It was introduced into France in 1556 by a Cordelier monk, André Thevet who on his return from his stay in Brazil, cultivated it in the vicinity of his hometown ofAngouleme. It is then called "grass angoulmoisine" or "grass petun".

In 1560, the French Ambassador (François II) to Portugal, Jean Nicot, attributing curative virtues to tobacco, sends powder of this plant to the Queen Catherine de Medicito treat her son's terrible migraines Francis II. The treatment having been successful, tobacco thus became "queen's weed". Its sale in powder form is reserved for apothecaries. To honor Jean Nicot, the Duke of Guise proposed to call this herb nicotian. This proposal was retained by the botanist Jacques Daléchamps who in his book General history of plants in the chapter "From Petum or Grass to the Queen" illustrates it with an engraving entitled Nicotiane or Tabacum, terminology then taken up by Linné to create his partner. The plant received many names among which we can cite "nicotian", "medicinal", "catherinaire", "herb of Monsieur Le Prieur", "holy herb", "herb for all evils", "antarctic panacea" and finally "ambassador grass".

It is at the end of xvie century that the word "tobacco" appears: the first botanical illustration is given by Nicolas Monardes in 1571. In 1575, André Thevet gives a “petum or Angoulmoisine grass” in its Universal cosmography (t II, book XXI, chap VIII).

At the same time, one of the first treatises on tobacco was published, seen as a medicinal plant: The instruction on the petum grass (1572) through Jacques Gohory.

The cardinal of Richelieu introduced a tax on the sale of tobacco in 1629. Colbert made a royal monopoly of his production and trade and at the time national production was the most developed in Europe, with plantations in the East, the South West, as well as in the 4 most populated islands of the Antilles: St. Kitts, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Santo Domingo.

Tobacco is enjoying great and rapid success in xviie century. So, Moliere open his room Dom Juan or the Feast of Peter by one tirade of SGANARELLE on tobacco:

“Whatever Aristotle may say, and all philosophy, there is nothing equal to tobacco, it is the passion of honest people; and who lives without tobacco, is not worthy to live; not only does he rejoice and purge human brains, but he also instructs souls in virtue, and with him one learns to become an honest man. Don't you see clearly as soon as we take it, in what obliging way we use it with everyone, and how happy we are to give it, to the right and to the left, wherever we are? We do not even wait until we ask for it, and we run to meet people's wishes: it is so true that tobacco inspires feelings of honor, and of virtue, in all those who take it. . "