0603 GMT March 04, 2021
The English, looking to colonize and find riches in the New World, took up the habit, found it very satisfying and brought pipe smoking back to the homeland, pilotonline.com reported.
The discovery set off the pipe-making industry and proliferated tobacco use in England so much that export of the crop was instrumental in saving Jamestown, Virginia, more than two decades later.
The clay pipes, found at most dig sites where colonial communities once existed, are key artifacts for archeologists researching Jamestown and other early settlements. Because the pipes evolved over time, researchers use them to identify who lived at the settlements and when.
“They’re ubiquitous on all colonial sites,” said Nick Luccketti, principal archeologist and partner for the James River Institute for Archaeology. “They’re one of the major dating tools we have.”
By the late 16th century, tobacco smoking was a very popular pastime in England among the upper classes. Smoking was believed to help cure people of plagues. Skeletons of the 17th century have little gaps in their teeth, worn down by pipe stems.
“Men, women, and children smoked,” said Bly Straube, senior curator with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and the First Colony Foundation.
Colonial researchers have found thousands of pipes at Jamestown and at archeological dig sites along the East Coast. “They are like cigarette butts of the 20th century,” Straube said.
Before discovering the New World smoking style, the English smoked tobacco rolled like cigars. They learned it from the Spanish, who picked it up from cigar-smoking Indians.
After they brought the smoking style back to Europe, it caught fire. Pipe making became a thriving industry in England after the 1580s.
Craftsmen made pipes from “white-ball clay” mined from the southern coast of England. The name comes from the miners forming the clay into large balls that were rolled onto wagons for shipment. The finished, fired clay pipe remained white, according to the Jamestown website.
“Pipes were inexpensive but, luckily for the pipemaker, also easily breakable so they were produced and sold in great quantities,” Straube said.
The rise of the tobacco industry also helped save Jamestown, which had been struggling financially after unsuccessful attempts at making other products, according to the Historic Jamestown website. By 1617, Jamestown colonists were exporting tens of thousands of pounds of tobacco to England.
The appearance of the pipes evolved as time passed: The hole in the stems became smaller, stems became longer and bowls became larger. Makers left their marks on them and imprinted identifiers such as coats of arms, Straube said.
Archeologists use a formula in which they use the diameter of white-ball clay pipe stems to determine when a site was populated.
Robert Cotton arrived in Jamestown in 1608 and could have been the first English pipe maker in the colonies. His pipes were handmade and decorated with diamond and floral designs. Some were marked with names of prominent people such as Sir Walter Raleigh and sea captains such as Frances Nelson, who led a Jamestown supply ship, Straube said.
The English company that founded Jamestown likely sent Cotton to the New World to assess native clays for their potential in pipe making and pottery production, Straube said.
Three types of tobacco pipes are found on early colonial sites — those made from local red clay by the Indians, those made from local clay by colonists and those manufactured by English and Dutch using white-ball clay.
Indians smoked pipes in ceremonies, rituals and as acts of friendship where the pipe would be offered to everyone present, Straube said.
Pipes have helped interpret dig sites related to the Lost Colony, the group of English settlers who disappeared from Roanoke Island after 1587.
English scientist Thomas Harriot, who came to Roanoke Island before the Lost Colony, died in 1621 of cancer on his lip and nose attributed to his tobacco use, said Luccketti, also an archeologist for the First Colony Foundation.