Thunderstorms break for tobacco education at Henricus

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Despite the drizzles, plenty of sunshine fell over the James and on to the Henricus Historical Park last weekend as dozens of living history interpreters filled in visitors on the commercial impact of tobacco 400 years ago.

For Dan Pagano, the historical interpretation supervisor at Henricus, knowing who we are, our identity as a community, is based upon our history.

“The responsibility is to learn it [history],” he said, “and those that learn more can assume more of an identity, perhaps, than those that do not.”

Named “Colonial Trade & Tobacco – America’s First Successful Export,” the program was the fifth major event in a series commemorating the 400th year of the Citie of Henricus “The Year of Henricus”, the name of second permanent British settlement behind that of Jamestown.

According to Charles Grant, acting executive director of Henricus Historical Park, the event emphasized that, despite modern-day controversies over tobacco, it played a major role in colonists becoming self-sufficient from England during the Seventeenth Century. The crop ultimately assisted in our independence as a country.

“People need to realize that it was a cash crop,” said Grant. “It was something we could sell, that we could barter with.”

Just inside the walls of the palisade were various living exhibits comparing the Native American’s method of growing tobacco to that of the colonist. On opposite corners of the site, each met in the middle ground where various trading items were scattered 10 feet between native and settler: trade furs, beads, other jewelry, copper kettles and various tools, among others.

Each year the site hosts over 20,000 Virginia students traveling on SOL-based field trips.  In many ways, Grant said, historical sites like Henricus give students learning about our nation a better understanding of history by seeing it and hearing it all at once.

“We’re the story book come to life,” said living history interpreter Lyndsay Gray, a tobacco laborer at the park. His job is maintaining the tobacco grown on the colonists’ area of the compound.

Pagano said the weekend also focused on the native component, how the Powhatan people did business, either interacting with themselves or with the English. Regardless of the infamous bouts of warfare among the Indians and the colonists, some early relations among the two, at times, were relatively peaceful due to their established commercial exchanges.

That is until the demand for tobacco emerged.

“The problem really degenerates when tobacco is introduced,” said Pagano, conveying the issue from a past-tense perspective. “And instead of this being a trading colony, this becomes an agricultural colony. Agriculture needs land, so you use the land. Then, tribes in eastern Virginia disagree with the English with what it means to own the land; so you’re going to have warfare again.”

Next in the line of annual events commemorating the 400th year since founding of the Citie of Henricus is the Saturday, Aug. 6, Dauber Dash, a five-mile race through the site’s muddy terrain. Then on Sept. 11 the Richmond Symphony makes its second appearance of the year. And on Sept. 17-18, Publick Days, Henricus’ signature annual event, takes place, offering people the rare opportunity to see Jamestown’s Godspeed dock at Henricus.

For more information on the Henricus Historical Park, visit www.henricus.org or call 748-1613.

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