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If only high school history had been like this

America: The Story of Us serves notice from its very first scene that it's no ordinary documentary. It begins America not with the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the first shots fired at Lexington or even the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Instead, it marks the seminal moment in American history as the 1610 arrival of Virginia colonist James Rolfe with ``a cargo that will change America forever'' -- tobacco seed.

Rolfe's seed (clandestinely obtained from Spain's New World colonies, where its sale to a foreigner was a capital offense) produced a crop that brought in $1 million and overnight turned the half-finished Jamestown settlement from a festering pit of disease, violence and cannibalism into an economic powerhouse. Within a century, Americans would have the highest living standards in the world.

That the most powerful nation in the entire history of the world is built on an economic foundation created by a perfectly idiotic habit -- sticking a poisonous weed in your mouth and lighting it on fire -- is just one of the many piquant paradoxes and ironies in America: The Story of Us, the epically watchable 12-week series debuting Sunday on the History Channel. Read my full review in Sunday's Miami Herald.

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Tom Patton

It is more likley that Rolfe used seed from Bermuda. The English survivors, including Rolfe, of the Sea Venture wreck on Bermuda in 1609, discoverd tobacco growing on the island. It probably had been planted by Spanish who had visited the island a number of times before the English were ran a ground on their way to Jamestown.

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