Columbus and Tobacco

Yesterday was Columbus Day in the United States.  In grade school it was a day to learn about the man who set sail from Spain on the Pinta, the Santa Clara (nicknamed the Niña) and the Santa Maria, hoping to find a route by sea to China.  Now it seems to just be a bank and postal holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October instead of it’s original date of October 12.   

Four trips were made by Columbus as he looked for a route from Europe to Asia.  While he never discovered the route, he did land in the Bahamas and established a Spanish colony in Hispaniola which is now Haiti.  Up to this time the Americas had been unknown to the Europeans. 

Columbus not only opened up ocean routes between Europe and the Americas, it seems he may have discovered tobacco.  Upon landing in the Bahamas, Columbus and his men were given gifts by the indigenous people: “fruit, wooden spears and certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance” according to his journal.  The fruit was eaten and the “dried leaves” were thrown away.   Days later he was again given tobacco leaves, and realizing their value among the locals, kept them. 

Columbus had it right the first time when he threw away the tobacco, but it was only a matter of time before other explorers observed smoking by the locals and repeated the practice. 

Read more on The Tobacco Timeline

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