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Tobacco in Colonial Virginia by G. Melvin Herndon

The warehouse movement kept pace


One of the most significant features of the 1730 inspection system was first introduced in 1713. Primarily through the efforts of Governor Spotswood, an act was passed providing for licensed inspectors at the various warehouses already established. To provide a convenient circulating medium, and one that would not meet with opposition from the English government, these inspectors were authorized to issue negotiable receipts for tobacco inspected and stored at these warehouses. Like many new and untried ideas, this law seemed somewhat radical and met a great deal of opposition. With Colonel William Byrd as their leader, the opposition was able to convince certain British officials that the added expense required by the act imposed an undue hardship on the tobacco trade. This local opposition combined with the pressure of the conservative London merchants caused the act to be vetoed by the Privy Council in 1716.

The act of 1712, providing for the regulation of public warehouses, remained in force and became a part of the rather effective inspection system established in 1730. The act was amended in 1720 giving the county courts the authority to order warehouses inconvenient to the landings discontinued. These two pieces of legislation brought all of the public warehouses near convenient landings and made the warehouse movement flexible. From this point on, as the tobacco industry shifted from one area to another, the warehouse movement kept pace. From time to time established warehouses were ordered discontinued, or new ones erected; and occasionally warehouses ordered discontinued were revived. However, it appears that inspection warehouses were not permitted above the Fall Line until after the Revolution.

In 1730 the most comprehensive inspection bill ever introduced, passed the General Assembly. The common knowledge that the past and present inspection laws had failed to prevent the importation of unmarketable tobacco, plus a long depression, had changed the attitude of many of the influential planters and merchants. Nevertheless, the act did meet with opposition from some of the English customs officials and a few of the large planters. Soon after the passage of this new inspection law a prominent planter wrote complainingly to a London merchant, "This Tobo hath passed the Inspection of our new law, every hogshead was cased and viewed by which means the tobacco was very much tumbled and made something less sightly than it was before and it causes a great deal of extraordinary trouble". There were complaints that the new law destroyed tobacco that used to bring good money. Still another planter complained that the planter's name and evidence on the hogshead had much more effect on the price of the tobacco than the inspector's brand. While some of the planters expressed their disapproval of the new inspection law verbally, others resorted to violence. During the first year some villains burned two inspection houses, one in Lancaster County and another in Northumberland.

The inspection law passed in 1730 was frequently amended during the colonial period, but there were no changes in its essential features. The act provided that no tobacco was to be shipped except in hogsheads, cases, or casks, without having first passed an inspection at one of the legally established inspection warehouses; thus the shipment of bulk tobacco was prohibited. Two inspectors were employed at each warehouse, and a third was summoned in case of a dispute between the two regular inspectors. These officials were bonded and were forbidden under heavy penalties to pass bad tobacco, engage in the tobacco trade, or to take rewards. Tobacco offered in payment of debts, public or private, had to be inspected under the same conditions as that to be exported. The inspectors were required to open the hogshead, extract and carefully examine two samplings; all trash and unsound tobacco was to be burned in the warehouse kiln in the presence and with the consent of the owner. If the owner refused consent the entire hogshead was to be destroyed. After the tobacco was sorted, the good tobacco was repacked in the hogshead and the planter's distinguishing mark, net weight, tare (weight of the hogshead), and name of inspection warehouse were stamped on the hogshead.


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