Tobacco Warehouses 1730-1800

In most instances the warehouses were private property, but they were always subject to the control of the legislature. Regulations regarding the location, erection, maintenance and operation as official places of inspection were set forth by special legislation. Owners of the land sites selected were ordered to build the warehouses and rent them to the inspectors. If the land owner refused to build, then the court could order the warehouse built at public expense. Just how many warehouses were built at public expense is difficult to determine, probably only a few, if any, were built in this manner.

The rent which the proprietor received usually depended upon the number of hogsheads inspected at his warehouse, though the rates were regulated by the General Assembly. In 1712 the proprietors received twelve pence for the first day or the first three months and six pence every month thereafter per hogshead. In 1755 the owners received eight pence per hogshead. During the Revolution the rate was raised to four shillings, but was lowered to one shilling six pence after the cessation of hostilities. At the beginning of the nineteenth century rent per hogshead, including a year’s storage, was twenty-five cents.

To keep pace with the movement of the tobacco industry, new warehouses were built and others discontinued from time to time. And by observing the warehouse movement it is possible to grasp a general picture of the decline of the tobacco industry in Tidewater Virginia. The expansion of the industry into Piedmont is more difficult to follow during this period owing to the fact that inspection houses were not permitted above the Falls until after the Revolution.

In 1730 seventy-two warehouses located in thirty counties were ordered erected and maintained for the purpose of inspection and storage by the General Assembly. Twelve years later warehouses were erected in only one additional county, Fairfax. A few of those established in 1730 were discontinued, but twenty-six new ones had been erected by 1742, making a total of ninety-three in operation at that time. From 1742 to 1765 the total number of inspection houses increased by about six, but this does not reveal a complete picture of the warehouse movement. A closer examination shows a much greater shift in the movement. Sixteen new inspection warehouses were erected during this period, twelve of them near the Fall Line; in the meantime, ten of the old established warehouses far below the Falls were discontinued.

After a year without an official inspection system the lapsed inspection law was revived in October, 1776; seventy-six of the warehouses were re-established as official inspection stations. Soon after the end of the war the number of inspections began to increase again, and it was chiefly through the efforts of a David Ross that inspection warehouses were permitted above the Falls. The first inspections seem to have appeared above the Falls in Virginia in 1785: one at Crow’s Ferry, Botetourt County; one at Lynch’s Ferry, Campbell County; and a third at Point of Fork on the Rivanna River, Fluvanna County. Tobacco inspected in the warehouses above the Falls could not be legally delivered for exportation without first being delivered to a lower warehouse for transportation and reinspection upon demand by the purchaser.

There were a number of reasons why the inspection warehouses were restricted to Tidewater Virginia until after the Revolution. It was not until after the Revolution that a strong need and demand for them was felt above the Falls. Inadequate transportation facilities in the interior made exportation from upland inspections less feasible. It is also probable that the Legislature was opposed to upland inspections as it would be more difficult to control the inspections, spread out over a larger area, as rigidly as those concentrated in a smaller area. And no doubt Tidewater Virginia recognized the economic value of having all of the inspections located in its own section. However, the sharp decline in tobacco production in the Tidewater followed by an equal increase in the Piedmont made inspections above the Falls inevitable.

Of the ninety-three inspection warehouses in operation in 1792, only about twenty were above the Fall Line; but by 1820 at least half of the 137 legal inspections were above the Falls. Of the forty-two new inspections established in the period 1800-1820 only three were in Tidewater Virginia; one in Prince George County in 1807, one in Essex County in 1810, and the third in Norfolk County in 1818, owing to the opening of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Herndon, Melvin. Tobacco in Colonial Virginia. Williamsburg, Virginia. 1957.

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