The Great Port of Baltimore - page 10

he small island of Britain had, at the time, emerged as the
world’s greatest nation using an empire-building strategy de-
pendent on getting what it wanted from nations it colonized, and
what it wanted from Maryland was “sotte weed,” as colonists called
the leafy tobacco plant. The British developed a taste for tobacco
from earlier explorations to the Caribbean. But America was closer,
and the wealthy British investors who bankrolled the trans-Atlantic
voyage of America’s settlers did so convinced they would profit from
the sale of Colonial tobacco to consumers in Europe, where the weed
was worth its weight in silver — so precious it was smoked in narrow-
stemmed pipes restricting its intake, and kept in blue Delft jars
depicting Europeans’ vision of “that innocente land” called America.
Britain ruled the world through sea power: While its navy played
enforcer, the British merchant fleet freely hollowed out ripe stock-
piles from far-flung ports — a system of economic imperialism
which embodied none of the principles of free trade or fair trade.
Britain’s first probe into the Americas came in 1608, when
Captain John Smith and a crew of perhaps a dozen, with an herb
doctor aboard, explored the Chesapeake Bay. In another quarter-
century, settlers established Maryland’s first colony in what is
now St. Mary’s County.
Sotte Weed
Davey Jones was among the first settlers to drift north; in
1661, he opened a store in what is now the Old Town section of
Baltimore. Others soon followed, and a smattering of small ports
sprang up — Coles Harbor, where Harborplace now sits, and Joppa
Town, the Baltimore County seat on the Susquehanna River.
These five infant ports — Baltimore Town, Coles Harbor, Joppa
Town, Whetstone Point and Humphrey’s Creek — loosely strung
like beads along the basin rim where the Patapsco makes land,
would eventually meld into the Port of Baltimore.
Colonial Marylanders called it
“sotte weed.” We call it tobacco.
These barrels full of tobacco are
being loaded for shipping to
Switzerland in 1947.
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