When England's favorite pirate, Sir Francis Drake, returned home from the West Indies in 1586, after years of antagonizing and plundering Spanish galleons, he brought back a shipload of captured tobacco. Smoking suddenly became the rage of England. Sir Walter Raleigh, the flamboyant and colorful rogue of Queen Elizabeth's court, made smoking fashionable among the nobility in the late 1500's. Spain's New World colonies filled the orders for tobacco to appease England's newly-acquired habit.
But upon Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603, James I came to the throne. James found Sir Walter Raleigh's tobacco smoking as disgusting as his politics, and had him beheaded. Raleigh could be considered the first martyr for smokers.
James I launched a passionate anti-smoking campaign, declaring tobacco unhealthy, unholy, and a totally unsuitable habit for a civilized society. The general public heeded not King James'declarations, and smoking became even more extensive.
Colonists soon discovered tobacco to be the highest paying crop per acre. Colonial agriculture was primitive but exceedingly profitable. The annual tobacco crop brought in as much money as all the other American exports totaled. Family farms grew into plantations. Indentured servants were slowly replaced by slaves from Africa and the Caribbean.
Upon their arrival in 1634 the Marylanders quickly hopped onto the tobacco bandwagon which the Virginians had started. Borrowing seeds from John Rolfe's now famous sweet-scented variety, they busily cultivated the tidewater area. Even though the tobacco market went through a series of depressions until after the Revolutionary War, it maintained and stimulated the growth of Maryland and other states throughout the colonial period. Tobacco farming became Calvert County's main cash crop and the family farms grew rich through the generations.
In August and September, you could see pick-up trucks loaded high with "hands" of tobacco being hauled to the tobacco barn for curing.
After a couple of months of hanging in the barn, when the tobacco was completely dried, it is hauled to a nearby warehouse for auction.
The Maryland government allocated a portion of the $4.4 billion share of the tobacco company's settlement to pay tobacco farmers to stop growing their crop. Now, you rarely see a field of tobacco in Calvert County now. Farms are being replaced by subdivisions and what farmland that remains is being used for other purposes. But the tobacco leaf still appears on the Calvert County flag.