Pine Nuts: A short history of Jamestown cigars |

Pine Nuts: A short history of Jamestown cigars

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts
McAvoy Layne

We Nevadans are content to celebrate our sesquicentennials, so when I traveled back to Virginia to celebrate Jamestown’s 400th birthday I felt like a child, and I was treated like one.

At a reenactment of John Rolf’s bachelor party, the night before he married Pocahontas, they made me sit with the children and drink warm milk. I was so embarrassed, though they did allow me to make a toast …

“John, if you are going to make a success of this marriage to Pocahontas, may I suggest that you don’t try to run her life, and you don’t try to run yours. The Nevada odds of your making 10 years married are three to one against, but I have every confidence you will beat those odds. Cheerio!” And I raised my glass of warm milk to the both of them.

Back in 1607 John Rolf elicited snickers, even guffaws, when he planted a crop nobody could eat, tobacco. Some did try to eat it, but only succeeded in chewing and chewing for hours on end, and making themselves sick. Albeit, when the tobacco harvest came home to roost, John astounded everybody by rolling a few leaves together, placing them between his lips, lighting them on fire, dragging the resulting smoke down into his lungs, and exploding with half a dozen smoke rings. Some of the onlookers fell to the ground in laughter, then got up begging to try it themselves.

So it happened that the happily married John Rolf became the Elon Musk of Jamestown, and started trading his cigars to Native Americans for beaver skin hats, which he in turn shipped off to Jolly Old England for a small fortune. Then, in an affront to the indigenous population, John Rolf and the English colonists took to calling themselves “Americans,” and calling the Native Americans, “Indians.” This caused no end of confusion for the census takers, as you can only imagine.

But here’s where the story takes a dark turn … Native Americans refused to help plant or harvest Rolf’s tobacco fields, creating a labor shortage. The colonists themselves were too busy hunting foxes with beagles to take an interest in tobacco. Nobody had an answer to this shortage of labor and it looked like tobacco was going to die on the Jamestown vine, until a Dutchman, whose name has been erased by his ancestors, came up with a novel idea. Why not kidnap some unsuspecting Africans, and sell them in Jamestown to tend the tobacco?

Well, when the first African arrived in Jamestown and asked how much he was going to be paid to work those tobacco fields, he got an answer he was not expecting, and to which I have not words to describe, so that subject will have to wait for another day.

In closing you might want to ask, “Did John Rolf and Pocahontas beat the Nevada odds and stay married 10 years?” For an answer I turn to that most reliable steward of truth that maintains the vaults of our treasured history, Metro Goldwyn Mayer. In other words, I don’t know, mainly because I didn’t have any money on the proposition, and well, I am a Nevadan.

So this is where my history of Jamestown cigars comes to an end …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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