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Help and advice for Gloucestershire: Tobacco growing in the Cotswolds

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Tobacco Growing in the Vale of Evesham,
Winchcombe and District,
and John Stratford.
By Gerald H. Stratford.

CHAPTER 2.

At the same time that John Stratford's tobacco growing venture had taken place, and probably due in some part to the Government Legislation banning the crops, the Virginia Company and the Virginia Colony was in the process of developing the trade. Maybe because local residents in and around Winchcombe had experience of the cultivation of tobacco, they saw their chance in the New World, to make a living, and to make a success of a new life there, although it was initially tried by men from other parts of the County of Gloucestershire.

The men involved were, Richard Berkley, of Stoke Gifford, John Smith of Nibley, and Sir William Throgmorton, to whom the Stratfords were related, of Clearwell, and George Thorpe of Wansell Court, in Berkley. They were responsible for the ship called ' The Margaret ', containing thirty six men, to sail to Virginia in September of 1619. You may note that this is also the same year in which John Stratford harvested his crop of Cotswold tobacco.

The initial intention was to settle in Virginia, and the creation of a New Town or Area to be known as Berkley, and, in 1620, George Thorpe himself, had set sail to direct the operation in the Colony, but, to the despair of the other Partners, Sir William Throgmorton, withdrew from the venture, and William Tracy was seconded to the project. As stated the Throgmortons, Tracys and Stratfords, were all related by marriage, and William Tracy's father, Sir Thomas Tracy, was a member of the Virginia Company, and had attended a Quarter Court of the Company in the May of 1620, which now further increased the Gentry of Winchcombe's involvement in the project.

There is no record to hand, or other evidence that John Stratford was invited to join these people, although it is safe to say that he would have known about it. Whether he would have liked to be involved would have been another matter. I would say he was happy enough with what the Family owned at the time in the Country, and maybe he thought that going to Virginia was to much of a risk. On the other hand the way things turned out he maybe felt afterwards that he had taken the risk, if invited in the first place. The Tracys were settled at Toddington in the area of Winchcombe, and Sir John Tracy had been involved with John Stratford in his tobacco growing. William Tracy was living at Hailes, and the Abbots's House at the old Hailes Abbey was leased at a later date to the Stratfords. During excavations at Hailes, seventeenth century Clay pipes have been found, which must have belonged to the Hobbys, again related to the Stratfords, and Tracys.

William Tracy was enthusiastic to take his wife and two children to Virginia, which he indicated in a letter to John Smith, and planned, along with his own household, of between sixteen and thirty people, to take a total of sixty five settlers, and of which he would be appointed Governor.

Sir Edward Sandys, the Treasurer and Governors of the Virginia Company, promised to lend livestock on the party's arrival, and other people promised contributions. The passages of a further twenty men and women were paid for from Hailes and Bristol. Amongst them was Giles and Alexander Broadway, from Postlip, who again were related to the Stratfords, and on more than one occasion. On the eve of William Tracys departure, he was thrown into jail for debt, and one of his financial helpers was Timothy Gates, from whom John Stratford had been involved in with own tobacco growing venture. Gates called William Tracy his good cousin, and also referred to John Brydges as his cousin, once again related to the Stratfords. John Brydges was related to Grey Brydges, Lord Chandos of Sudeley Castle at Winchcombe. Later the Duke of Chandos was a very good friend of Edward Stratford, Earl of Alborough, and they visited each other on a regular basis.

Most of the crops and enterprises covered in Gloucestershire were also to be the subject of development in Virginia, such as tobacco cultivation, woad, flax, and hemp growing.

William Tracy's ship was becalmed at Bristol for some time, and he wrote on the 24th of September 1620, that he was not now all that enthusiastic of the prospects before him, and said in his letter 'This is purgatory that we shall live in till landing after.' The response had been more than expected, and some people had to be turned off of the ship because of the overcrowding. The time spent waiting at Bristol was using up Tracy's money. which caused him concern, and when the ship eventually did sail it sprang a leak in the Irish Channel, and had to dock at Kingsale, in Ireland for repairs.

They eventually arrived in Virginia in the January of 1621, and by the July of the same year, the ship was back in an English Port with a cargo of Virginian tobacco, and the crew still asking for part of the money due for taking Tracy's Party there in the first place. This was eventually paid off by John Smith, and Richard Berkley. John Smith had ordered Virginian tobacco seed, and in October 1621, sold it to John Stratford, along with the crop, which John Stratford was not allowed to grow himself.

Governor, now Sir William Tracy, was probably born at Hailes, near Winchcombe, or certainly in that area in about the year 1580. He had married Mary Conway, and as already stated went to Virginia with his wife and two children, Joyce and Thomas. Sir William Tracy died in the Indian Massacre of 1622 there, which almost wiped out the Jamestown Colony.

Sir William Tracy's son Lieutenant Thomas Tracy, was born in 1610, and died in Norwich, Connecticut, on November the 7th 1685, having married at Wetherfield in 1641, and then, married a further twice. He had by his first wife Mary the widow of Edward Mason, seven children.

Sir William Tracy's daughter, Joyce married Nathaniel Powell, in 1620. Powell had emigrated to Virginia in 1607, and served as Acting Governor from April the 9th to April the 19th, 1619, and was appointed to the Virginian Council, and served until he was killed on the 22nd of March 1622, also in the Indian Massacre at Jamestown.

Severe Duties had been levied on tobacco growing in 1604, but this failed to stop the cultivation, and many were said to have made fortunes by growing at later dates, illegally. Proclamations were read out in Gloucestershire in 1631, and fights were rife with Parliamentary Agents, who were sent to uproot the crops. A fresh Act in 1652, prohibiting the growing was passed, and it was said that it was still forming competition with the Virginian Trade, A Petition was sent to Oliver Cromwell, stating that the ban was causing hardship to the poor of the area, and he allowed just one years crop to be sown and reaped. Colonel Wakefield, the Governor of Gloucester sent a Troop of Horse to uproot the crops. It is quoted 'The Country did rise on them, about five or six hundred people threatening to kill them, horse and man, so they were constrained to depart' After the Restoration in 1662, it was once again directed that the crops should be banned, and Sir Humphrey Hooke, who was formerly the Mayor of Bristol, and Sheriff of Gloucestershire, was ordered in the May of that year to resist anybody who tried to stop him from destroying the crops.

A letter written on the 10th of September 1667 states, 'My Cozen Kate, Joyce tells me how the Life Guards, which we thought a little while since was sent down into the Country, about some insurrection, was sent to Winchcombe, to spoil the tobacco there, which it seems the people there do plant, contrary to law, and have always done, and still been under force, and danger of having it spoiled, as it hath many times, and yet they will continue to plant it. The place she says is a miserable place.'

Planting is recorded as still taking place in 1675, and I am informed that there were still the remains of some wooden huts and sheds between Farmcote and Hailes as late as 1900. There is a place on the south side of Winchcombe, now built over called 'Tobacco Close.'

It is interesting to note here that in the summer of 1998 I was on the track which leads from Farmcote to Hailes with a Cousin of mine, and in the hedge bottom we observed a tobacco plant in full growth, I wonder how long those seed have been germinating?

All the above happened of course after John Stratford's time, as said before, he complied with the legislation straight away, and so I will continue with John Stratford himself, and all the Court Cases and Bills of Complaints, and where available any such answers given.

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Data transcribed by Colin Hinson from:
A document written by
Gerald H. Stratford in 1988.
Reproduced here by permission
© Gerald H. Stratford.