Tobacco Farmers Keep Family Tradition Alive

Family of tobacco farmers' collection reflects long heritage

| July 2000

Large collections of old farming items often center on tools, equipment, paper and advertising items used by operators and owners. For instance, dairymen like cream separators and signs for feed and equipment, while grain farmers favor antique tractors and wrenches. 

The same is true of collectors who’ve raised crops in unexpected ways. Take tobacco crops, for instance.

Jesse and Mary Pepper come from a long line of tobacco farmers who grow burley tobacco. Mary’s family farmed a Virginia land grant in the mid-1600s. Later generations of that family farmed tobacco and cotton in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Jesse’s forebears were tobacco farmers in Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri. The Peppers have continued that family tradition ... on the western border of Missouri.

“Tobacco is defined by Webster as an American herb,” Mary says. “With so many of our ancestors proven to be tobacco people, we feel that tobacco truly is our heritage.”

Jesse has been involved in the tobacco industry in Weston, Mo., since 1939. In the 1950s, he bought into the Weston Burley House, and later became full owner. Today, he and his son-in-law, Kenneth Kisker, own the warehouse. The Peppers’ grandchildren represent the ninth generation to raise the tobacco crop in Platte County, Mo.

The two warehouses are also burley tobacco auction houses, hosting large annual sales attended by major tobacco companies. Although it is one of the smallest markets in the country, Weston’s tobacco market – the only one west of the Mississippi – generates millions of dollars for the local economy. The longtime family business forms a backdrop for Mary Pepper’s collection of tobacco-related items.