A History of Hemp
Robert A. NELSON
Hemp in America
(1) Natives, Explorers & Colonists
(2) Geo. Washington
(3) Tho. Jefferson
(4) Early Congress & Hemp
(5) The American Hemp Industry
(6) Cannabism in America
(1) Natives, Explorers & Colonists
In his study of Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States (1891), Smithsonian Institute ethnologist W. H. Holmes showed that the ancient Mound-Builders utilized cannabis hemp. Hundreds of clay pipes, some containing cannabis residues and wrapped in hemp cloth, were found in the so-called Death Mask Mound of the Hopewell Mound Builders who lived circa 400 BC in modern Ohio. At one site in Morgan County, Tennessee, Holmes recovered large pieces of hemp fabric:
"As if to convey to the curious investigator of modern times a complete knowledge of their weavers' art, the friends of the dead deposited with the body not only the fabrics worn during life but a number of skeins of the fiber from which the fabrics were probably made. This fiber has been identified as that of cannabis sativa, or wild hemp..." (1)
The Vikings depended on hemp for their rope and sails, and they probably carried the seed with them and planted it when they visited North America about a thousand years ago. Sailors usually carried supplies of seeds with them to provide the necessities of life in case of shipwreck. Perhaps Christopher Columbus also did the good deed when he arrived in 1492, with the aid of over 80 tons of hemp rigging. Certainly, however, cannabis arrived in prehistoric times, possibly brought from China by explorers, and birds crossing the Bering Strait to the left coast of America. (2, 3)
The Florentine John De Verrazzano made the first reported sighting of wild hemp in North America during a French expedition to Virginia in 1524:
"We found those folkes to be more white than those that we found before, being clad with certain leaves that hang on boughs of trees, which they sewe together with threds of wilde hemp..." (4)
The French explorer Jacques Cartier also reported seeing wild hemp during each of his three journeys to Canada in 1535, 1536, and 1541. In his last report, he wrote:
"The land groweth fulle of Hempe which groweth of it selfe, which is as good as possibly may be seen, and as strong."
When Thomas Hariot described his visit to Virginia in 1585, he observed:
"The trueth is, that of Hempe and Flaxe there is no great store in any one place together, by reason it is not planted but as the soile doth yielde of itself."
Some authorities have identified "wild hemp" as wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) or Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum). True hemp (Cannabis sativa) did not become a formally recognized member of North American flora until 1606, when it was imported from Europe and introduced at Port Royal, Nova Scotia by Louis Hebert, who was Samuel Champlain's apothecary and botanist.
Champlain mentioned in 1605 that the natives used "wild hemp" to tie their bone fishhooks. Indians used hemp baskets in the harvesting of corn, according to the description by Henry Spelman in 1609, when he visited Virginia with Thomas Hariot:
"Sum [baskets] are made of the barkes of trees, sum of hempe which naturally groweth..." (6)
John Adair mentioned the use of hemp by the Cherokees and other tribes in his History of the American Indians (1775).
The first European colonists also used wild hemp when they arrived in America, but there was not enough of it. Food crops were the first priority, but the colonists were not eager to grow hemp even though the seed is an excellent meal. The Quebec colony minister Jean Talon simply confiscated all the thread the colonists possessed and forced them to buy it back from him with hemp. He loaned the necessary seed to the farmers, who were required to reimburse Talon with fresh seed from their harvest. (5)
In William Wood's Description of New England (1634), he noted:
"This land likewise affords hempe and flax, some naturally, and some planted by the English with rapes if they be well managed." (4,7)
Another report of a visit to Canada, recorded in Colonial Papers of Virginia (1662), gives this accordance:
"Account of the commodities of the Plantation of Quebec: 1. The soil very good to produce hemp. 2. Great store of hemp growing naturally in the Huron's country..." (8)
A Dutch farmer named Le Page Du Pratz, who came to America to oversee French plantations near the present site of New Orleans, and who was familiar with true hemp, wrote in his journal (1719):
"I ought not to omit to take notice, that hemp grows naturally on the lands adjoining to the lakes on the west of the Mississippi. The stalks are as thick as one's finger, and about six feet long. They are quite like ours in the wood, the leaf and the rind." (9)
Hemp was so important to the colonists that it was deemed mandatory to cultivate the crop. The Puritans grew hemp at Jamestown in keeping with their contract with the Virginia Company in 1607. The first governor, Lord Delaware, reported about hemp upon his arrival in 1609:
"The countrey is wonderful fertile and very rich, Hempe better than English growing wilde in abundance." (10)
The second governor, Sir Thomas Dale, brought with him instructions to plant a communal garden in which to experiment with hemp and flax. By 1616 the Puritans were able to claim of their hemp that there was "none better in England or Holland". Yet however vital they were to the economy, hemp and flax were not able to compete with tobacco. Hemp sold for 10-22 shillings/100 pounds, while tobacco fetched over 3 shillings/pound in Virginia. The Virginia Company therefore issued a directive to the Jamestown colonists in 1619, to "set 100 plants and the governor to set 5000" hemp plants. In the same year, the Virginia General Assembly also required the colonists to grow "both English and Indian hemp" -- Cannabis sativa and indica. Gabriel Wisher was assigned a budget of 100 pounds to hire several skilled Swedish and Polish hemp dressers and entice them (with 10 pounds each) to emigrate to America. (11, 12)
The town of Salem received its first shipment of hempseed in 1629, and Samuel Cornhill was given the charge of cultivating an acre of proper ground with it. The Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Colony were urged to grow hemp to provide clothing for winter. The General Court directed in June 1641 that "wild hemp" be gathered, grown and employed as they had learned to do from the native Americans. The Court further "desired and expected that... all hands may be implied for the working of hemp and flaxe and other needful things..."
Some of the Massachusetts colonists, led by Thomas Morton, established the Merry Mount trading settlement, where they smoked hemp in the peace pipe with natives. They held bonfire parties that eventually enraged the Puritans, who burned down the outpost and sent Morton to an English prison, where he wrote of his experiences in New England Canaan.
In 1637 the General Court at Hartford ordered all families to plant one teaspoonful of hempseed. Massachusetts did likewise in 1639. The General Assembly of Connecticut repeated its order in 1640, insisting that the colonists sow hemp, "that we might in time have supply of linen cloth among ourselves".
In writing about New England's First Fruits (1642), Mr. Hutchinson gave thanks to Divine Providence for "prospering hempe and flax so well that it is frequently sowen, spun, and woven into linen cloth, (and in short time may serve for cordage).."
In his first report for 1644, Governor Winthrop stated:
"Our supplies from England failing much, men began to look about them, and fell to a manufacture... of hemp and flax, wherein Rowley, to their great commendation, exceeded all other towns."
The first American ropewalk for manufacturing hemp rope was built in Salem in 1635. Boston merchants organized to invite ropemaker John Harrison to migrate from England in 1642, and gave him a lifelong monopoly. By 1770 there were 14 ropewalks in Boston, and at least one in almost every coastal town. Benedict Arnold destroyed the strategic Public Rope Walk in Warwick, Virginia when he led British troops up the Jones River in April 1781.
The spectacle of a large rope factory inspired Henry W. Longfellow to write The Ropewalk (1854):
"In that building, long and low,
With its windows all a-row
Like the port-holes of a hulk,
Human spiders spin and spin,
Backwards down their thread so thin
Dropping, each a hempen thread..."
Several colonies passed legal-tender laws by which certain manufactures could be used to pay debts and taxes. For example, in 1682 the Virginia "Act for the Advancement of Manufactures" made hemp, flax, wool, tar and lumber legal tender. Pennsylvania followed suit; in order "to encourage flax and hemp", declared hemp to be worth 4 pence/pound. The Crown abrogated the law in 1693, but it was renewed in 1700, and the exchange rate was not fixed but bartered. Maryland enacted similar legislation in 1706, making hemp worth 6 p/lb for a quarter of any financial or tobacco debt. Rhode Island paid a bounty of 8 p/lb in 1721 and accepted tax payments at the same rate. Massachusetts and New Hampshire also accepted hemp for taxes.
In A Perfect Description of Virginia (1649), Peter Force praised Capt. Matthews, an exemplary Virginia planter "and a most deserving Common-wealths-man" whose virtues included hemp husbandry:
"He hath a fine house, and all thinges answerable to it; he sowes yearly store of Hempe and Flax, and causes it to be spun... and in a word, keeps a good house, lives bravely, and a true lover of Virginia; he is worthy of much honour..."
Hemp was so valuable to the British economy that in 1662, Parliament authorized Virginia Governor William Berkely to offer a bounty of two pounds of tobacco per pound of finished hemp. In order to stimulate its production, the Maryland law of 1671 granted a bounty of a pound of tobacco for each pound of hemp. The law was passed again in 1682, 1688, and 1698.
Hemp imports were equally vital to early American industry and home life. The Calendar of State Papers for Colonial Virginia published a notice to this effect in 1665, stating that, "Hemp is so useful that a tariff may well be dispensed with..." (14)
In the crisis of 1681, the British Committee for Trade and Plantations advised the Crown to send hemp and flax seed to the Virginia colony. In yet another attempt to encourage hemp farming, Virginia made hemp acceptable in payment for a quarter of farmers' debts in 1682. Maryland followed suit in 1683, and Pennsylvania in 1706. (15)
By 1690 there was enough hemp, flax and cotton available to supply the paper industry, and the first paper mill in America was established in Pennsylvania by the firm of Rittenhouse.
In June 1693 the governor of the Hudson Bay Company issued instructions to the governor of York Fort, including a memo:
"We have sent you some flax and hemp seeds which we will also have sowed upon ground most suitable, and for directions we refer you to the printed book now sent you." (16)
The General Court of Massachusetts in 1701 passed a law to subsidize the purchase of hemp by a petitioning company for a farthing per pound on condition that the company bought all of the "bright, well-cured, water-retted hemp, 4 feet long" that was raised in the colony for 12 p/lb.
England could not get enough hemp to meet he demands. Therefore, an act was passed in 1704 granting a bounty of 6 pounds sterling/ton water-retted hemp, and it continued in effect for 50 years. Maryland offered another pound-for-pound bounty of tobacco for hemp in 1727 in order to provide England with the commodity.
The 1720-22 sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly approved a bounty of 4 shillings/100 lb of retted hemp . Virginia continued to pass laws to compel farmers to produce the crop, and in 1762 began to fine farmers who did not comply.
Rhode Island granted a petition in 1722 to William Borden of Newport to pay him a bounty of 20 shillings per bolt of hemp cloth, equal in quality to good Dutch duck. The subsidy lasted ten years. His services were so valuable that when he later petitioned the public treasury, "if there be so much to spare", to grant him 500 pounds for three years, he received it. He applied again in 1728, and the appreciative General Court loaned him 3000 pounds without interest. He was obliged to manufacture 150 bolts annually but was unable to do so. The legislature was determined to sustain the effort and so confirmed another grant to relieve Borden from the obligatory quota while it continued to pay the bounty for what he did make.
In 1726, John Powell of Boston presented a memorial to the General Court, claiming that he had found the local hemp to be well adapted to the manufacture of sailcloth. He proposed to set 20 looms to work within 18 months. Borden was paid a subsidy of 30 shillings per bolt of duck he produced.
In a good effort to educate the public about the benefits of hemp and the need for its cultivation, South Carolina legislators voted in 1733 to pay a salary to Richard Hall to write a book on the subject and to promote the industry for three years. Hall traveled to Holland to procure good hempseed. In 1735, Boston bookseller Daniel Henchman printed Lionel Slator's Instructions for the Cultivating and Raising of Flax and Hemp. In 1737, the Massachusetts public treasury began receiving hemp in payment for taxes at 4 sh/lb.
In his Essays Upon Field Husbandry in New England (1739), Jared Eliot stressed the importance of hemp:
"What I have principally in view is hemp. New England doth not, I suppose, Expend less than several hundred Thousand Pounds worth of Foreign Hemp yearly. If we can raise more than to supply our own Occasions, we may send it Home...
"It is not a meer Conjecture that the dreined Lands will produce Hemp. I am informed by my worthy Friend Benjamin Franklin Esq of Pennsylvania that they raise Hemp upon their dreined Lands..." (17)
Benjamin Franklin had written to Eliot on 16 July 1747:
"In your last, you enquir'd about the kind of Land from which our Hemp is rais'd. I am told that it must be very rich land; sometimes they use drain'd swamps and bank'd Meadows; But the greatest part of our Hemp is brought from Canistogo which is a large and very rich tract 70 miles from this city on the banks of the Susquehannah a large fresh water River. It is brought down in Waggons..."
In his Report on Laws to the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee (15 February 1754), Franklin pointed out a growing problem with the hemp industry:
"That great Frauds are complained of in the Making up of Hemp for Sale in this Province... and as nothing is more to the Reputation of a People, and the Advantage of Commerce, than Faithfulness in making up their Wares and Merchandize, we think a Law to remedy the above Evils will be very useful."
In a letter to Alexander Small (5 July 1763), he mentioned a "Hemp Machine" invented by a Mr. Mures:
"His Proposal is that when the Hemp is thoroughly dry, (perhaps laid for some time in an Oven or in a Kiln) it shall be pressed between two Cylinders, a little fluted, so as not only to crush the bun or reed, but also break it in Pieces, so that it may be the more easily separated from the Hemp..." (18)
In his marginalia to a British pamphlet entitled Another Letter (1770), Franklin wrote:
"Did ever any North American bring his Hemp to England for this Bounty. We have not yet enough for our own Consumption. We began to make our own Cordage. You want to suppress that Manufacture, and would do it by getting the raw Material from us; You want to be supply'd with hemp for your Manufactures, and Russia demands Money. These were the motives for giving what you are pleased to call a Bounty to us. We thank you for your Bounties. We love you and therefore must be oblig'd to you for being good to yourselves..."
The production of the prosaic commodity was so limited that in 1751, for example, New Jersey exported only 7 tons of hemp. A group of professional spinners and weavers from Ireland arrived in Boston in 1718, and soon they taught many women how to improve their skills. Another group of Irish immigrants arrived in Massachusetts in 1745, and introduced improved modes of spinning-work. Thereafter, thousands of New England women held gatherings called "spinning bees" to produce hemp and flax cloth. Thus they were able to boycott English fabric goods and became more self-sufficient. The early American paper industry also benefited greatly from this increased production.
In his Abstract of the Most Useful Parts of a Late Treatise on Hemp (1766) by M. Marcandier, editor Timothy Painne urged his fellow Americans to make trials of hemp:
"Great part of the soils of the North American Colonies, are so well known, to be peculiarly suitable for the growth of hemp, and the mutual interest of Great Britain and those Colonies, to be evidently much dependent upon the increase of this universally useful vegetable, that we persuade ourselves, that every sincere attempt for the encouragement thereof, must be met with the approbation of the public...
"Hemp may be said... to be the most necessary produce of all others, save that of bread corn, in the new settlements of America, where sheep cannot safely be kept, as it may be applied so as to provide for one half of the clothing of the inhabitants...
"The principal advantage that Hemp, intended for these uses, will have over wool, grogram yarn, and cotton, is, that it may be used without spinning, or even combing. It will be in no danger from those worms, which commonly eat woolen cloth; and the beauty, as well as the lasting nature and low price of it, will render it preferable to any other material...
"After the particular account we have given of the nature and properties of Hemp, we doubt not but that the people of the country will avail themselves of all the advantages that they may attain by the practice of these new methods.
"It is presumed none will be at a loss to determine, that the two most important materials which the Inhabitants of these Colonies should be principally encouraged in the growth of, are Flax and Hemp, being the most extensively useful of any which can be so easily and generally produced in North America..
"These weighty considerations with many others which are very obvious, will necessarily excite all those who have a regard to the interest of the Mother-Country, as well as the peculiar benefit of these Colonies, to promote the growth of the said Commodities, to the utmost of their ability and influence."
The introduction to Observations on the Raising and Dressing of Hemp (1777), addressed "the inhabitants of North America" with more good advice and information that holds true today in the wake of NAFTA and GATT agreements:
"As it has been thought requisite, by a continental association, to put a stop to the importation of manufactures into America, it is absolutely necessary to fall speedily on some effectual method to furnish, at least, the coarsest articles of our clothing.
"Our country produces wool, cotton, hemp and flax, materials amply sufficient to answer every demand of necessity and convenience. The quantity may be increased by attention and diligence, and wrought up with a degree of skill easily attainable...
"By beginning with coarse manufactures we shall begin at the right end, we shall, every succeeding year, improve upon the past, and, after a fair exertion of the means in our power, we shall look back, with wonder and astonishment, at our present apprehension.
"We must now exert ourselves in manufactures, or, from an unconquerable indolence, be driven to the basest and most humiliating concessions that others may dispose of our lives, liberties and properties, at their pleasure.
"When everything valuable to men is thus at stake, the author claims the privilege of a citizen, and entreats the attention to the public, to a subject of so great consequences to this country as that which is now submitted to their consideration. It is no less than a certain and easy method of supplying, internally, the most necessary and considerable parts of our clothing."
The prominent Virginia landowner and politician Robert "King" Carter anticipated the Revolution and decided in 1774 that tobacco was not a worthwhile crop. He told his foreman, "I apprehend that tobacco which may be here, next summer will be in little demand... in place of tobacco -- hemp and flax will be grown". Mandatory cultivation laws were passed "as a preparation for war". Every farmer had to deliver one pound of dressed hemp annually, "under oath that it was of his own growth." (21)
When Thomas Paine exhorted his fellows to fight for freedom with Common Sense, he mentioned hemp:
"In almost every article of defence we abound. Hemp flourishes even to rankness, so that we need not want cordage..."
The first and second drafts (28 June and 2 July 1776) of the Declaration of Independence were written on Dutch hemp paper. The second draft was submitted and agreed upon, then copied onto animal parchment and signed on 2 August 1776.
(2) George Washington
George Washington was a hemp farmer, and he mentioned the plant several times in his writings. Washington made these entries in his farm diary in 1765:
"Sowed Hemp at Muddy hole by Swamp. Sowed Ditto above the Meadow at Doeg Run... [12/13 May]
"Sowed Do. at head of the Muddy H.... [15 May]
"Sowed Hemp at head of the Meadow at Doeg Run and Southwards Houses with the Barel.... [16 May]
"Began to Sow the old Dg. next the Orchard at Muddy hole with the Drill and finished 25 Rows then stopd sowing two fast... [18 May]
"Sowed 14 Rows more ¾ the drill beg. altered with 1 bushel of seed... [20 July]
"Began to separate the Male from the Female hemp at Muddy hole ¾ rather too late... [7 Aug.]
"Abt. 6 Oclock put some Hemp in the Rvr. to Rot... [9 Aug.]
"The English Hemp i.e. the Hemp from the English seed was picked at Muddy hole this day 7 was ripe. Began to separate Hemp in the Neck... [15 Aug.]
"Put some Hemp into the Water about 6 Oclock in the afternoon ¾ note this Hemp had been pulled the 8th Instt. & was well dryed, & took it out again the 26th... [22 Aug.]
"Pulling up the [male] hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month... [29 Aug.]
"Hempseed seems to be in good order for getting ¾ that is of a proper ripeness ¾ but obliged to desist to pull my fodder... [25 Sept.]
"Finished pulling Seed Hemp at River Plantation... [10 Oct.]
"Finished pulling Do. Do. at Doeg Run. Not much, if any, too late for the seed... [12 Oct.]
"Finished sowing Wheat in Hemp Ground at River Plantation & plowed in a good deal of Shattered Hemp seed -- 27 bushels in all..." [31 Oct.]. (22)
In Calendar1: 457, he noted that the quality of the fiber from virgin female hemp "may arise from their being coarser, and the stalks longer."
George Washington may well have cultivated some cannabis for medicinal and occasional recreational purposes. Both he and Thomas Jefferson (who quite disliked tobacco) are known to have exchanged gifts of smoking mixtures. In the 1790's, Washington also began to cultivate "India Hemp", the resinous variety developed in India. Cannabis at that time had several names, such as "common hemp" (C. sativa, cultivated for fiber and seeds), and "India hemp" (C. indica, grown for fiber and resin). The latter is not to be confused with "Indian hemp"(Apocynum cannabinum, dogbane), used by native Americans. The modern term "Indian hemp" is applied to jute, which is not related to Cannabis sativa. Jute was not introduced to America until much later.
Washington's concern about India Hemp is illustrated in these excerpts from letters his overseer Pearce:
"I also gave the Gardener a few Seed of East India hemp to raise from, enquire for the seed which has been saved, and make the most of it at the proper season for sowing..." [6 Jan. 1794].
"Let the most that can, be made of the pint of Oats which the Gardener raisd last year, and of the Hemp seed..." [19 Jan. 1794].
"You have never informed me how much St. foin and India Hemp seed he has saved..." [9 Feb. 1794].
"I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most of both, by sowing them again in drill... The Hemp may be sown anywhere..." [24 Feb. 1794].
"The St.foin and India hemp may be sown in the lot which you have mentioned, as more secure perhaps than the other, against Hares; but how they will be annoyed by fowls you can judge better of than I. I wish to have the most that can be made of them..." [9 Mar. 1794].
"Make the most... of the Hemp..." [30 Mar. 1794].
"Presuming you saved all you could from the India hemp, let it be carefully sown again, for the purpose of getting into a full stock of seed..." [15 March 1795].
"Let particular care be taken of the India Hempseed, and as much good grd. allotted for its reception next year as is competent to Sow..." [5 Nov. 1796].
"Have you succeeded, or are you likely to succeed, in procuring the Hemp seed I required?" [3 Dec. 1799 to Thomas Peter].
Washington also mentioned hemp in a letter to Dr. James Anderson (26 May 1794). He was referring to a hempseed soup stock made in Silesia:
"I thank you as well for the Seeds as for the Pamphlets which you had the goodness to send me. The artificial preparation of Hemp, from Silesia [an area between Germany and Poland], is really a curiosity; and I shall think myself much favored in the continuance of your correspondence..."
When Washington wrote to Robert Cary & Co. in London, he requested a quotation for American hemp (20 Sept. 1765):
"In order thereto you would do me a singular favour in advising of the general price one might expect for good Hemp in your Port watered and prepared according to Act of Parliament..."
In a letter to James Gildart (21 July 1766), Washington wrote:
"I am much oblig'd to you for your enquiry in the prices of Hemp and Flax..."
In a query to the Secretary of the Treasury (14 Oct. 1791), Washington recommended increasing hemp production for national security:
"How far, in addition to the several matters mentioned in that letter, would there be propriety do you conceive in suggesting the policy of encouraging the growth of Cotton, and Hemp in such parts of the United States as are adapted to the culture of these articles? The advantages which could result to this Country from the produce of articles, which ought to be manufactured at home is apparent... The establishment of Arsenals in convenient and proper places is, in my opinion, a measure of high national importance meriting the serious attention of Congress..."
Writing to Arthur Young in 1795, Washington offered his considered opinion:
"Much hemp might be raised in these countries were there the proper encouragement. the foreign hemp gluts the market and there is not sufficient protecting duty to spur the farmer to raise this useful article. Our hemp lands would average a 700 weight to the acre... Rich fresh bottom lands yield 500 or 600 and highly manured land 6, 8 or 900 pounds to the acre."
(3) Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson also grew hemp, and he kept a record of his enterprises and thoughts on the matter in his account book, Notes on Tobacco, and other writings:
"Hemp. Plough the ground for it early and very deep, which should be in March. A hand can tend 3 acres of hemp a year. Tolerable ground yields 500 lb. to the acre. You may generally count on 100 lb. for every foot the hemp is over 4 ft. high. A hand will break 60 or 70 lb. a day, and even to 150 lb. if it is divided with an overseer, divide it as prepared.
"Seed. To make hemp seed, make hills of the form & size of cucumber hills, from 4 to 6 ft. apart, in proportion to the strength of the ground. Prick about a dozen seeds into each hill, in different parts of them. When they come up thin them to two. As soon as the male plants have shed their farina, cut them up that the whole nourishment may go to the female plants. Every plant thus tended will yield a quart of seed. A bushel of good brown seed is enough for an acre." (23, 24)
Jefferson recognize the value of hemp, and in 1781, during his term as Governor of Virginia, he kept reserves of "the hemp in the back country" for use as payment for military supplies.
In May 1781, David Ross notified Jefferson that the Virginia Delegates had "no encouragement from Congress... in money matters. Tobacco will not do there [in Philadelphia] and we have nothing to depend upon but our hemp." On June 1781 the Virginia General Assembly requested the Governor to help its impoverished delegates by sending them hemp or tobacco to sell.
Jefferson disliked tobacco, as he explained in his Farm Journal (16 March 1791):
"The culture [of tobacco] is pernicious. This plant greatly exhausts the soil. Of course, it requires much manure, therefore other productions are deprived of manure, yielding no nourishment for cattle, there is no return for the manure expended... It is impolitic... The fact well established in the system of agriculture is that the best hemp and the best tobacco grow on the same kind of soil. The former article is of the first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country. The latter, never useful and sometimes pernicious, derives its estimation from caprice, and its best value from the taxes to which it was formerly exposed..."
Jefferson was not fond of flax either, as he explained in a letter to George Fleming (29 Dec. 2825):
"Flax is so injurious to our lands and of so scanty produce that I have never attempted it. Hemp, on the other hand, is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot, but the breaking and beating it is so slow, so laborious and so much complained of by our laborers, that I have given it up... But recently a method of removing the difficulty of preparing hemp occurred to me, so simple and so cheap. I modified a threshing machine to turn a very strong hemp-break, much stronger and heavier than those for the hand. By this the cross arm lifts and lets fall the break twice in every revolution of the wallower. A man feeds the break with the hemp stalks... where it is more perfectly beaten than I have ever seen done by hand... I expect that a single horse will do the breaking and beating of ten men."
Jefferson described the machine in greater detail in another letter of 1815, and he noted:
"Something of this kind has been so long wanted by the cultivators of hemp, that as soon as I can speak of its effect with certainty, I shall probably describe it anonymously in the public papers, in order to forestall the prevention of its use by some interloping patentee." (25)
Thomas Jefferson received U.S. Patent #1 for his invention.
(4) Early Congress & Hemp
The papers of Alexander Hamilton contain many mentions of hemp. While he served as the first Secretary of the U.S Treasury, Hamilton wrote of it in his Report on Manufactures (1791):
"In respect to hemp, something has already been done by the high duty on foreign hemp. If the facilities for domestic production were not unusually great, the policy of the duty, on the foreign raw material, would be highly questionable, as interfering with the growth of manufactures of it... This is an article of importance enough to warrant the employment of extraordinary means in its favor."
David Ross addressed the Virginia Delegates in a letter (May 1781) concerning hemp:
"I am sorry to be informed by Mr Nicholson that the present Invasion of Virginia puts it out of his power to Negotiate the Sale of any Tobacco in Philadelphia, that he has no chance of procuring supplys unless he is furnished with Specie or hemp -- the former cannot be procured -- of the latter I hope to send on 40 tons in the Course of this summer..."
Tench Coxe, the Assistant Secretary of the treasury, informed Hamilton of the invention of a new hemp mill and its economic potential in February 1790:
"The duty on hemp, wh. is not produced in sufficient quantity for our present demand and which demand will be very much increased by the time the duty will be in operation is menacing circumstance to the makers of those indispensable Articles, Cordage & Sailcloth. If the new invention of the hemp & flax spinning Mill does not prove a deception this duty will be a very unfortunate thing..." (27)
By 1810 Russia had become one of the most important markets for American products, particularly tobacco, furs, and tropical merchandise from the West Indies. The USA sent 10% of its exports to Russia in trade for iron, hemp and flax. Russia produced the most and the best hemp, flax and iron in the world at that time. Russian hemp was treated with great care and patience. The entire process of growing, retting, breaking and hackling hemp required up to two years to complete and deliver to port. This was possible only because serf labor was so cheap. (28)
As a young man, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the 6th President of the United States, lived in Moscow. In 1810 he wrote a report On the Culture & Preparing of Hemp in Russia, which was included in A Compilation of Articles Relating to the Culture and Manufacture of Hemp in the US (1829). (29)
Dr. Burke, the President of the American Historical Reference Society, researched the correspondence of the first several presidents, and in 1975 confirmed that seven of them smoked cannabis. George Washington preferred to smoke "the leaves of hemp" rather than to drink alcohol. James Madison was once heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to found a new nation on democratic principles. James Monroe, the 5th US President, was introduced to hashish when he was serving as Ambassador to France, and he continued to enjoy the smoke until he was 73 years old. When Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce served as military commanders, they each smoked hemp with their soldiers. In one letter to his family, Pierce complained that hemp was "about the only good thing" about the Mexican War. (30)
American hemp was produced by dew-retting, which produces an inferior product unsuitable for marine use. Tests were conducted aboard the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") in the 1820s demonstrating that rigging made with American hemp was at best as good as rope made of Russian hemp. The USS Constitution carried over 60 tons of hemp rigging, including an anchor cable nearly two feet in circumference and 720 feet long. The total length of running rigging was over 4 miles of laid hemp.
Other tests aboard the USS North Carolina showed, however, that American hemp cables lost about 80% of their strength after 18 months of exposure to seawater. Most American hemp was used to make cheap rope to bind cotton bales. Dew-retted fiber was sufficient for the purpose, but only a desperate and foolhardy sailor would leave port without water-retted Russian rigging.
(5) The American Hemp Industry
The first hemp crop in Kentucky was planted in 1775 the Bluegrass land for subsequent grain crops. By 1840, Kentucky farmers were producing about 6,000 tons of fiber annually. There were 38 ropewalks in the state in 1810. In 1828, Lexington was home to ten bagging factories and rope walks. Also in 1828, President Buchanan praised Kentucky hemp in an address to Congress. By 1839 there were more than 3,500 hemp plantations in the state, yielding over 18,000 tons of fiber. About 1/3 was water-retted. Prices varied from $90-$180/ton. After the Civil War, production dropped to only 2,500 tons by 1869. The Kentucky hemp industry depended on slaves, who were no longer available. The work of breaking hemp was so dirty and laborious that few white men would do it. None but strong Negro men were capable of the work and experienced at it, and they too usually declined the job after they were emancipated. It was estimated that three slaves could cultivate about 50 acres averaging 700 pound of fiber/acre.
The task system required a slave to produce a daily quota of about 100 pounds of fiber. They received one cent per pound above the quota. This allowed some of them to earn up to $2/day, and a few slaves were thus able to buy their freedom. The same system was used in the rope-walks. William Hayden, who was "acknowledged to be the best spinner in the country", saved enough money to buy his freedom in 1824.
Slaves were often hired out as laborers, mechanics, and miners, usually with the slave's consent. Hemp manufacturer John Coleman (Woodford Cty, KY) paid the slaves $5/years as a bonus for good behavior in addition to the $50 he paid the owner. He made this stipulation in his contract with John McQuiddie (29 Dec. 1831):
"I am to treat said men well, feed, and clothe them, and pay taxes and physicians' bills, etc, and return them well clothed."
Despite the prevalence of hemp cultivation in America, there was no known use of the flowers for intoxication except among field hands. In his address to a scientific meeting in 1943, Dr. J. Reichard said:
"Old persons in Kentucky report seeing colored field hands break up and load their pipes with dried flowering tops of the plants and smoke them." (34)
An article published in 1859 pointed out the essential role of blacks in the hemp industry:
"Quite a variety of machinery has been tried for hemp breaking, together with Dutch, Irish and Native [Indian] workers, but a stout Negro man, with a good hand brake, a fair task before him, and prompt pay for his overwork, now has a decided preference, if not a complete monopoly."
In 1841, Congress was induced to order the Navy to buy American hemp at every opportunity, and in 1843 appropriated $50,000 for the purpose. The Navy sent purchasing agents to Kentucky and Missouri to buy water-retted hemp, but they required that samples be sent to the Charleston Navy Yard (Massachusetts) for testing before authorizing a purchase. The delay was not worthwhile to growers, and some complained that their product had been unfairly rejected by the inspectors. Little Kentucky hemp, therefore, was bought by the Navy. The Kentucky General Assembly appealed to Congress in 1842 to construct a hemp-retting facility as a national security measure. Congress did establish a rope factory in Memphis in 1852 and equipped it with the best available machinery, but so little southern hemp was delivered that the project was abandoned after two years. (14)
During the Civil War, Congress ordered the Commissioner of Agriculture to investigate hemp as a substitute for cotton. The war had initially generated an increased demand for hemp, but the industry was ultimately ruined and never recovered. After the war, cotton dominated southern agriculture, and cheap jute came to replace hemp for cotton bagging. At the same time, wood pulp paper became widely available and reduced the demand for hemp as a paper-making material. Moreover, the loss of the slave labor force and the lack of mechanical harvesters and processors doomed the industry.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), the militant "Quaker Poet", wrote The Hashish as a metaphor for cotton and slavery:
"Of all that Orient lands can vaunt
Of marvels with our own competing,
The strangest is the Haschish plant,
And what will follow on its eating...
O potent plant! so rare a taste
Has never Turk nor Gentoo gotten;
The hempen Haschish of the East
Is powerless to our Western Cotton!" (35)
In "The Ballad of John Murrel", written in the wake of the Civil War, the singer bemoaned his hempen fate:
" ...But I had left my soul behind me!
Why'd I listen to him tempt
And coax till one sad day would find me,
Like him, a-sowin' seeds of hemp?
Hemp for rope to bind a nation,
Rope to toll its funeral knell..." (36)
American ingenuity produced hundreds of hemp-processing machines have been patented since Thomas Jefferson recorded his improvements of the hemp break. For examples, L. Chichester patented his improvements of the device in 1852 and 1854. G. Schaffer patented the Cylinder Flax and hemp Dresser in 1861, and G. Sanford and J. Mallory patented 10 improvements in hemp fiber processing at the same time.
A brief resurgence of hemp cultivation occurred in the 1870s and 80s, when it was widely grown especially in Illinois, Nebraska and California. The American Flax and Hemp Spinners' and Growers' association was organized in New York by a dozen manufacturers and merchants in 1882 and lobbied the government the crippled industry. The increasing use of wire cables on ships, and the introduction of steamships and metal hulls greatly reduced the demand for hemp rope, sails and caulking. By the turn of the century the market was limited to cordage, twine and thread. (15, 37)
In February 1937, George Lower reported on the promising prospects for hemp in a professional paper entitled "Flax and Hemp: From the Seed to the Loom". It was presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and published simultaneously in Mechanical Engineering Magazine. The article concluded:
"Paint and lacquer manufacturers are interested in hempseed oil which is a good drying agent. When markets have been developed for the products now being wasted, seed and hurds, hemp will prove, both for the farmer and the public, the most profitable crop that can be grown, and one that can make American mills independent of importations.
"Recent floods and dust storms have given warnings against the destruction of timber. Possibly, the hitherto waste products of flax and hemp may yet meet a good part of that need, especially in the plastic field..." (39)
(6) Cannabism in America
In the second half of the 19th century, many thousands of Americans rediscovered the ancient pleasures of cannabis in the form of hashish and ganja imported from India and Egypt. The American diplomat Bayard Taylor wrote an account of his experience with hashish in the Land of the Saracens. In the chapter on "The Vision of Hashish", Taylor asserted that it "revealed to me deeps of rapture and suffering which my natural faculties never could have sounded."
In 1854, at age 18, Fitz Hugh Ludlow read a magazine article by Bayard Taylor describing his experience with hashish while in Damascus. Ludlow was moved "powerfully to curiosity and admiration". After educating himself with the description of "Extract of Hemp" in The Dispensatory of the United States, he proceeded to experiment with the substance for two years until 1857 before quitting his trials, which he later described in his memoirs, The Hashish Eater. (40, 41)
Ludlow's account captured the attention and imagination of many curious people, some of whom began to indulge in cannabism. One such person was 18-year old John Hay, who found it to be "a marvelous stimulant to the imagination". At age 22 he became an aide to President Lincoln, and went on to distinguish himself as an author, poet, and Secretary of State.
Ludlow also inspired Thomas B. Aldrich, who was not known to use hashish, to abuse his poetic license in a fantasy called Hascheesh, which he called "Honey of Paradise, black dew of Hell!" (42)
The Gunjah Wallah Company of New York began marketing "Hasheesh Candy" in the 1860s, and sold the very popular product for 40 years:
"The Arabian Gunje of Enchantment confectionized -- A most pleasurable and harmless stimulant ¾ Cures Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, &c. Inspires all classes with new life and energy. A complete mental and physical invigorator... Beware of imitations..."
In the 1880s and later, hundreds of secret "hasheesh houses" were established to cater to upper class sophisticates in major cities. Secrecy was necessary because the police had already closed many opium dens after 1875. The Illustrated Police News (2 Dec. 1876) printed a drawing captioned "Secret Dissipation of New York Belles: Interior of a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue", showing several intoxicated beauties in languorous repose on divans, puffing on "hookahs" (water-pipe). Harper's Monthly Magazine published an article in November 1883 about a hashish-house in New York City, where smokers "indulge their morbid appetites". Whoever wrote such twaddle evidently knew nothing of the immensely popular Turkish Smoking concessions at the World Fairs and International Expositions of the period. The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia featured a fashionable Turkish Hashish Exposition that was enjoyed by a great many attendees. (43)
Several women's temperance societies of the 1890s actually recommended the recreational use of hashish rather than alcohol, because liquor led to wife-beating, whereas hashish did not. Cannabis also as considered to be an aphrodisiac, and was touted for the purpose in several marriage manuals. In his Marriage Guide (1850), the quack doctor Frederick Hollick of Philadelphia advised troubled couples to use hashish to stimulate their libido, and he advertised a preparation for that purpose:
"The true aphrodisiac, as I compound it, acts upon the brain and nervous system, not as a stimulant, but as a tonic and nutritive agent, thus sustaining its power and the power of the sexual organs also..." (43)
Its popularity was such that the famed author Louis May Alcott (1832-1888) wrote a short story called "Perilous Play" about a party of bored young socialites who ate hashish. The tale was published anonymously in Frank Leslie's Chimney Corner (13 Feb. 1869). Two of the party (Mr. Done and Rose) subsequently get lost in each other and in a sailboat, but they found true love and their way back. The story ends with their blissful return to the party:
"Oh, Mr. Done, screen me from their eyes and questions as much as you can! I'm so worn out and nervous, I shall shall betray myself. You will help me?" And she turned to him with a confiding look, strangely at variance with her usual calm self-possession.
"I'll shield you with my life, if you will tell me why you took the hashish," he said, bent on knowing his fate.
"I hoped it would make me soft and lovable, like other women. I'm tired of being a lonely statue," she faltered, as if the truth was wrung from her by a power stronger than her will.
"And I took it to gain courage to tell my love. Rose, we have been near death together; let us share life together, and neither of us be any more lonely or afraid?"
"He stretched his hand to her with his heart in his face, and she gave him hers with a look of tender submission, as he said ardently, "Heaven bless hashish, if its dreams end like this!" (44)
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