This historical marker is a short distance south of Edgerton on highway 51 and tells the story of the rise of tobacco as a cash crop in Wisconsin. Growing tobacco is nothing new. People have been raising and using this plant for personal and spiritual purposes for thousands of years. The indigenous people of our state grew it for ceremonial use. For a time, remnants of their tobacco fields could be seen around Lake Koshkonong. Growing it as a cash crop rather than for personal use would be something entirely new to Wisconsin.
The first exchange of money for tobacco was in 1851. H. C. Russel attended the first meeting of the Agricultural Society & Mechanics Institute held in Janesville and brought with him a sample of his crop. For this he was awarded a prize of .50 cents. It wasn’t until a couple of years later and the arrival of the Pomeroy family that tobacco would be raised as a cash crop.
Ralph, Orrin and William Pomeroy were sons of Thaddeus and Margaret Pomeroy of Suffield Connecticut. The Pomeroy family came to the United States from England in 1630 where they made their living by blacksmithing and gun manufacturing. Thaddeus raised tobacco and passed the knowledge of raising this crop to his sons.
In 1838 at the age of 24 Ralph set out on his own and moved to Montgomery County Ohio where he introduced tobacco to the area. Orrin and WT followed and the three stayed in Ohio for 15 years. This is where the story gets a little smokey. Some of my research states that it was Ralph that first came to Wisconsin, other sources said that it was Orrin. Ultimately it boils down to a family issue because the fact remains that it was a Pomeroy, with decades of tobacco growing experience that moved to Dane County. While there he, with J.J. Heistad, rented a 10 acre plot of land south of Madison and planted a crop of Connecticut Seed tobacco. This produced an excellent crop with a yield of about 1 ton per acre.
Mr. Pomeroy built a two-tier barn and borrowed some fencing to hang the tobacco for drying. After curing and stripping he sold his crop to the Dewey and Chapin Company in Janesville for 3.5 cents per pound. Making this the first commercially grown tobacco in the state of Wisconsin.
After the sale of this crop Pomeroy contacted his brothers with the news of his success and bought a farm near Fulton. By 1860 they also moved to Fulton and tobacco became something of a family business.
The story of this family and their contribution to Rock County is quite interesting. I’ll share more of their story with you later.