Tag Archives: Tobacco

Musings on Nicotiana Tabacum

17th century tobacco smoker

My Jacobean ancestors made me do it.

Some of the Jones’ have “the book gene”, while others among us have “the Wanderlust gene”. Those two are pretty much mutually exclusive as far as I can tell. But there’s at least one more gene that is indiscriminate – it’s an equal opportunity expression of “bad men made worse.”. It can express “on” in any of us, without warning, and with the gravest of consequences.

You know how the American Medical Association says that alcoholism and drug addiction are “diseases”?  What they are really saying is that the predisposition towards getting “addicted” to these substances is genetically predetermined. Once upon a time this was a radically controversial theory. It was once believed that people who had drinking or drug problems were considered of weak moral character; they were just plain bad people. Today we know better. (At least some of us know better.)

I’m no geneticist, but I know a little bit of the biochemistry of the human condition; production of dopamine and how it interacts with receptors in the brain, as well as other chemicals released by our nervous systems to either bring-on or reduce anxiety, hunger, fatigue, you name it. We’re all just a big old bundle of complicated chemical and protein processes going on inside us all the time. From time to time our genetics reveal that some of us are genetically predisposed to chocolate, some to booze, and some to the evil weed… Nicotiana Tabacum.

You know when you go to the doctor they take a family history to assess your risk of every-friggin-disease-imaginable? Well, if you are a Jones or Crews (or a Crew or a Crewe) whose people hail from the general vicinity of Virginia, let me give you a little family history that will show you what your risk is of becoming instantly addicted to tobacco actually are.

The Crews’ History with Nicotiana Tabacum
Your earliest ancestors in America came here in 1607 and almost as soon as they got off the boat they started growing some of the best damned tobacco the world had ever smoked. They sold the stuff all over the planet, addicting poor saps from Australian Aboriginals to Eskimo’s to Queen Elizabeth I. They became exceedingly wealthy off the stuff, but more to the point; they used it themselves to an extreme that today seems outlandish. They smoked constantly! Mostly from pipes, but they also piled it in bowls and lit it and just let the smoke fill the rooms in their homes. Can you imagine?

Yeah, me neither. So… the Crews ancestors all became tobacco farmers (and tobacco addicts.) They kept up that line of work, as well as their smoking habits, right up through the late 20th century. That’s a ridiculous 300+ year, generation-upon-generation, bit of genetic engineering that created offspring ever more susceptible to the addiction. With the exception of my grandmother (a woman of Temperance to the extreme if ever there was one), every single one of my “Crews” relations (as well as their offspring) smoked cigarettes. Including my mother – while she was pregnant with me. (Hey, they just didn’t know…)

Oh – wait – I almost forgot. All those Crew’s line relations? They suffered with and died from some pretty predictable diseases; emphysema, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems. Pretty stuff.

Jonesing for a Smoke
The Jones line was not much smarter. I know this about my immediate Jones lines’ history:
– Thomas Ellis Jones smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 68 years old. Too soon!
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 52 years old. That’s too young.
– His father, F. Ellis Jones, smoked; whether pipe or cigs, I do not know. He died of some serious lung ailment at 35 years old. Sobering.
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked a pipe. He survived getting shot in the Civil War, and then lived to ripe old age of 72 years old. (This guy had the best luck of anyone, ever, in all my family histories. Fate loved this man. His life story is simply amazing. Son-of-a-gun should have passed some of that mojo to me!)
– His father, Thomas Norcliffe Jones, smoked a pipe. He died of unknown causes at 67 years old.

I grew up in a house filled with cigarette smoke. I absolutely reviled the things. Nothing in the world was as unappealing to me as the smell of cigarettes. One of the highlights of getting out on my own was getting away from the cloud that hung over everything – and stank up everything I owned.

In college I was a bit of an athlete; raced bicycles, swam laps, worked out. I took my health quite seriously. Ate really well (as well as a poor kid in college can eat.) I was never tempted by peer pressure to smoke or over-indulge in alcohol, use drugs. It just wasn’t in my plan for my life.

A few years after my first marriage broke up, and when things at my job were going really rough (I was damn near thirty years old!), a friend (who smoked), exasperated at how high-strung I was, lit a cigarette up, put it in my hand, and said “Just try it… it’ll calm you down. You need it.”

He was right of course. It did calm me down. Almost instantly. Made me feel a lot better. (They call that “oxygen deprivation”. It’s a natural chemical thing your brain does – inducing a slight sense of euphoria – because your brain thinks you’re about to suffocate to death and it doesn’t want you to suffer while you die.)

From that moment onward I was addicted. It was just that fast. It wasn’t a choice I made. It isn’t weakness of character. God knows, I have overcome some really hard stuff in my life – but this affair with Nicotiana Tabacum is one nasty affliction I cannot cure. (And I have tried all the so-called cures.)

I got the “book gene”. Happy about that.  Got the “Nicotine gene” too. And it stinks.

Just don’t start. Don’t even think about it. You don’t know what’s in your genetic soup.


Clay Pipe stems from Jamestowne, VirginiaDid You Know? Clay Pipe stems and bowls discarded by Jamestown settlers can help date an archeological site.  Over 50,000 have been found by archeologists at Jamestown.
(That covers the Crews and Beheathland ancestors.)


From Marionethshire in Wales, very near where our Jones ancestors hail from, we have this:

Perhaps the most singular Will was that of a woman named Margaret Thompson who died more than a century ago.  She was a noted snuff-taker, and left behind her a Will, redolent from first to last with the fragrant dust with which the good woman had been accustomed to regale her nose during life.

The following is a copy of it:

“In the name of God Amen, I Margaret Thompson being of sound mind etc. do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following:   I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant Sara Stewart, to be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for the purpose, together with such quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my Deceased body; and this I desire the more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffins of departed friends, and nothing can be so fragrant and refreshing to me as that precious powder.

But I strictly charge that no man may be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and as it is necessary to carry me to my burial which I order in the following manner:  Six men to be my bearers who are known to be the greatest snuff takers in the parish of St. James, Westminster.

Instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff coloured beaver hat which I desire to be bought for the purpose and given to them.  Six maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff to take or their refreshment as they go along.

Before my corpse I desire the Minister may be invited to walk and to take a certain quantity not exceeding one pound to whom I also bequeathe five guineas on condition of him doing so.  And I desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse and to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scotch snuff to the ground and upon the crowd who may possibly follow me to my burial place on which condition I bequeathe her £20.  And I also desire that the least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.”

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