Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mount Vernon Tobacco Plantation

"If you can't send money, send tobacco."
~ George Washington to the Continental Congress, 1776

If you are visiting the Washington, D.C. area, all fellow Pipe Smokers should make it a point to take a day trip to Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is located near Alexandria, Virginia and was the plantation home of the first President of the United States, George Washington. The mansion is built of wood in neoclassical Georgian architectural style, and the estate is located on the banks of the Potomac River. Mount Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned and maintained in trust by The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and is open every day of the year, including holidays and Christmas.

Mount Vernon has a rich history, but more importantly, I want to emphasis George Washington's tobacco plantation. For more than 40 years, George Washington had embraced the life of a Virginia tobacco planter, producing a significant cash crop for export to England. Although tobacco production was labor intensive, it also required alot of people to cultivate and process the crop. Tobacco needs rich fertile soil, as it is a nutrient dense plant. Unfortunately, Mount Vernon's soil was not rich at all and they were incapable of growing high quality tobacco plants. In the mid-1760's, Washington did not receive sufficient revenue for his tobacco and this caused him to turn towards other crops, such as wheat.

In a letter dated September 20, 1765, Washington writes about receiving poor returns for his tobacco production:

"Can it be otherwise than a little mortifying then to find, that we, who raise none but Sweet scented Tobacco, an endeavor I may venture to add, to be careful in the management of it, however we fail in the execution, and who by a close and fixed correspondence with you, contribute so largely to the dispatch of your Ships in this Country should meet with such unprofitable returns?"

During the 45 years Washington owned Mount Vernon and he expanded the property from 2000 to 8000 acres comprised of five farms. Washington tirelessly sought out new ideas to improve the efficiency and profitability of his plantation. In his late twenties, Washington made a pivotal decision to turn away from the cultivation of tobacco in favor of wheat. Tobacco threatened to waste his lands and left him vulnerable to the British tobacco trade. Wheat enabled him to exercise total control over its distribution and to sell his wheat in markets as far away as the West Indies.

George Washington is often credited within history books as the most innovative, tobacco farmer. So next time you fill your bowl with Virginia's finest tobacco, contemplate on the trials and tribulations of this great man, the first President of the United States, George Washington.