Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remembering Gadsden County Cigars

The news today that the newly approved Federal tobacco tax will increase the tax on hand rolled Florida cigars by 500% brought to mind the days when Gadsden County was a major producer of hand rolled cigars.

Let me say first that I don't smoke and never have, nor do I encourage it, but I am not aware of any problem with kids being addicted to expensive hand-rolled Florida cigars. The new tax was designed to make tobacco products too expensive for kids to buy. Industry executives in South Florida say it will most likely make it too expensive for them to continue to produce any cigars in Florida, driving the 2 billion dollar industry off-shore.

Gadsden County was once a major center, in fact, the center for this Florida industry. It was in Gadsden County that high quality tobacco for cigars was first grown in Florida. The following is excerpted from my 2008 book, The Early History of Gadsden County:


When the Comte de Castelnau visited Gadsden County in 1837 and 1838, he reported seeing many “fine cotton plantations” between Quincy and the Ochlockonee River, but his eye was more captivated by another crop that was producing amazing fortunes in the region – tobacco:

Cuban tobacco succeeds remarkably well in Middle Florida, and particularly in the light and somewhat sandy soils around Quincy. It requires continual care, as it is attacked by many insects. A slave cannot take care of more than two acres. It is recognized that tobacco requires new land, and generally the same ground is planted to it only two years and then it is planted to corn or cotton. It is felt that this manner of cultivation can be followed only in a country where the land is cheap. This product has been considered the most profitable of all and some small planters have made from three to five thousand francs from the work of each slave.

Tobacco was introduced to Florida as an agricultural crop by Governor William P. Duval during the 1820s and was first tried on a commercial scale by John Smith of Gadsden County. Smith experimented with both the “Little Duval” variety introduced by Governor Duval as well as with the “Florida Leaf,” a somewhat larger variety.

The history of tobacco production in Gadsden County was well told by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles H. DuPont in an 1875 address to the Florida Fruit Growers Association:

The first reliable experiment that was made with the Cuba tobacco as a market crop, was inaugurated about the year 1830 by Mr. John Smith, a citizen of Gadsden county, who had recently immigrated from the State of Virginia, and was well acquainted with the culture of the Virginia chewing tobacco. His first experiment was with the, "Little Duval," but the demand for the "Wrapper" leaf becoming urgent, and the product per acre being much larger, he abandoned the former and confined his attention exclusively to the latter. His extraordinary success attracted the attention of the non-slaveholders and other small planters, and with them it soon became a staple market crop, and with the large cotton planters an extra crop, which without curtailing the amount of cotton produced, usually paid all the expenses of the plantation.

The Comte de Castelnau, during his brief visit to Quincy in February of 1838, described how a number of workers had come to Gadsden County from Cuba and were then engaged in the manufacture of cigars. Although they usually hesitated to allow visitors to see the interiors of their shops, they agreed to his request:

…They begin by taking a package of leaves, and they moisten them by sprinkling them with water which they hold in their mouths, and expel a very fine spray. They then take a leaf, place it on a layer of cork, and by means of a very sharp instrument smooth it, and obliquely cut the ends which are put in the center to form the inside of the cigar. It is then rolled and quickly assumes the form in which it is sold.

Castelnau noted that smokers of the day preferred “spotted cigars” and reported that these were created by sprinkling regular cigars with acid.

By 1850, of the 998,614 pounds of tobacco grown in Florida, 776,177 pounds were produced in Gadsden County. By 1860, the total had grown to more than one million pounds. Although he was never a cotton producer, Chief Justice DuPont was a well-placed resident of Gadsden County and had no difficulty recognizing the impact of the leaf on the local economy. He left little doubt that while cotton may have been king in much of the antebellum South, tobacco was most certainly the prince of Gadsden County. DuPont waxed philosophical in his description of its role in advancing civilization in the county:

…While it required no outlay of capital, it gave a return for the labor expended beyond the most sanguine anticipations. It furnished light and pleasant employment for the entire family, embracing wife and children, and by their united efforts they were greeted at the end of the year with a cash surplus over and above the provision necessary to be made for the supply of their physical wants. With this surplus annually accumulating comes the budding of a manly and commend able ambition. The father contemplates himself, and then looks upon his children as they gather around the domestic hearth: he becomes conscious of his own deficiencies, and forthwith registers in his swelling bosom the manly resolve that his children shall realize advantages which he never enjoyed. Soon the little log meeting-house undergoes repairs and enlargement, and others are erected for the more comfortable accommodation of the neighborhood. The preacher, in his visits to his weekly appointments, receives a warmer pressure of the hand that greets him, and a more cordial invitation to partake of the hospitality of the farm-house. The cry goes out, too, for the inauguration of a higher grade of schools than is usually found in the sparsely-populated new country. The cry increases and increases until it reaches to an imperative demand. Then the few educated men of the county meet in council to deliberate on the subject, and the result of that, deliberation is an application to the Legislative Council for a charter of incorporation for the establishment of the "Quincy Academy."

The academy described by DuPont still stands today in Quincy. The idea of an academy originated in the county in 1828 and the Legislative Council approved the incorporation of the Quincy Academy in 1832. Closely associated with the Washington Lodge Number 1, the academy was actually one of several schools established in early Gadsden County and provided educational opportunities for both boys and girls. When the female facility was destroyed by fire (along with the Gadsden County Courthouse) in 1849, the move was begun to build the structure that still stands. It was completed in 1851.

Tobacco by 1844 was producing more in wealth for Gadsden County than cotton and had long outlasted sugar cane as a commercial crop. Its impact on the county and its economy, stimulated by the development of the shade tobacco process, continued well into the 20th century and a number of charming old tobacco barns still stand as reminders of this crop that created thousands of jobs and pumped millions of dollars into Gadsden County for well over 100 years.
- End of Excerpt -

The Early History of Gadsden County is available through the West Gadsden Historical Society and benefits their work to preserve and interpret the history of Gadsden County. It is also available from by clicking here.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

I like the acid cigars by Drew Estate. They never disappointed me and their price is not too high. I prefer the acid kuba kuba the most.