The Founding Fathers And Hemp
Hemp was extremely important to early Americans. Even Columbus used Hemp extensively in his three ships that reached the new found land for the first time and at the time it is hard to think of another material that would have been strong enough to make the journey across the Atlantic. Jamestown was the first colony in America to cultivate hemp in 1607 and it went on to have a huge impact in early America for everything from clothing, food, rope, sail cloth and even to help with military efforts.
It may come as a surprise to many that the founding fathers of America grew hemp, but grow it they did and in abundance. Many of the founding fathers grew hemp because of its value as a cash crop while others grew it for its use in textiles, medicine and clothing. Benjamin Franklin even operated a hemp paper mill. It’s cultivation and use was well documented in their personal diaries and other correspondence of the time.
So What Exactly Did They Do With The Hemp?
Hemp was a valuable cash crop at the time in early America. The government of many colonies allowed hemp farmers to pay their taxes with the crop and we know that George Washington, ever the businessman, grew it for this purpose. Thomas Jefferson held the first patent in USA and it was a for a hemp processing machine. Benjamin Franklin owned a paper mill that converted hemp into paper. While not a founding father, Henry Ford built his Model T to run on Hemp Seed Oil.
George Washington wrote extensively of his Hemp cultivation on his Vernon mount manner. He was well aware of the differences between the male and female plants which leads to the Stoner community relentlessly claiming that they ‘Smoked Weed’. Thomas Jefferson brought back seeds from a Chinese trip that would blossom into rich THC bearing plants against the Chinese governments wishes while he was ambassador to France.
So, we have established how important Hemp was to the founding fathers and indeed, early America. Let’s take a look at each founding fathers personal history in Hemp.
Common Uses Of Hemp In Early America
- Cash Crop
- Sail Cloth
George Washington And Hemp
George Washington lived on the Mount Vernon plantation where he grew industrial hemp extensively. Mount Vernon has 5 farms and Washington grew hemp on all of them. Since 2018, they have started cultivating hemp again since the farm bill passed making it legal.
Washington spoke about hemp extensively in his diaries, approximately 96 times to be exact.
“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 you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. . . Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where. “
Hemp could be used to pay taxes in America at this time and that was undoubtedly one of the uses that intrigued Washington and it was it’s usefulness that kept him growing it. Hemp was crucial for building rope and sail cloth but it was used to make paper, money, medicine, clothing and oils.
When the United States, gained independence from the British, the British navy relied heavily on Hemp and they offered lucrative bounties for it. Washington wrote back and forth with a friend in Britain about growing high quality industrial hemp for the British but he ended up growing Wheat as the cash crop of choice.
“The Parliament by the Bounty given for American Hemp & Flax seem desirous of encouraging the growth of them in the Plan[tatio]ns but as they are Articles altogether new to us & I believe not much of our Lands well adapted for them, and as the proper kind of Packages, Freight, & accustomd charges, are little known here I shoud be much obligd to you for advising me of the gene[ra]l prices one might expect in your Port for good Hemp, & flax (rough & undressd) Watered, & prepard as directed by the Act”
Did George Washington Smoke Marijuana
There is absolutely no evidence that George Washington smoked marijuana or hemp. However, there is no evidence that he didn’t smoke some of it either.
Washington knew the difference between male and female plants but that certainly doesn’t mean he was growing the hemp to get high. When male plants are left to grow next to females it will pollinate them and they will produce seed instead of flower. The other key difference here is that, the fibre on a pollinated plant is not as strong as a flowering plant and that was Washington’s prime purpose.
In 1785, the difference between hemp and marijuana was known. Industrial Hemp or Cannabis Sativa contained under .3% THC and marijuana or Cannabis Indica contained over .3%. The industrial hemp that George Washington grew was made for fibre, textiles, sacks, sail cloth, lining and for repairing his fishing nets.
The USS Constitution
The worlds oldest surviving battle ship that is still in action today was named and commissioned by George Washington.
It was built in Boston where it is still housed today.
Construction of the ship used up 120lbs of hemp for the sail cloths, ropes and lining.
The USS Constitution never lost a battle at sea and its thick reinforced oak hull was impenetrable to the cannon balls of the time.
You can visit the USS Constitution in Boston, Massachusetts to this day but the current revamped model does not contain any hemp at all.
Washington Hemp Use As President
As President, George Washington’s estate continued to grow hemp in his absence. He advised his gardener of the following via long distance mail.
“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.”
“Presuming you saved all the seed you could from the India hemp, let it be carefully sown agin, for the purpose of getting into a full stock of seed.”
What was done with the Seed saved from the India Hemp last Summer? It ought, all of it, to have been sown again; that not only a stock of seed sufficient for my own purposes might have been raised, but to have disseminated the seed to others; as it is more valuable than the common Hemp.
The quote here “Own purposes” and the fact that he differentiated between strains may suggest some recreational use but it is very difficult to say one way or the other.
Thomas Jefferson And Hemp
Thomas Jefferson, Americas 3rd president grew hemp at his plantation in Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s book, which is still available today is called the Farm Book. Hemp instructions are featured in the book and they are pretty good even by today’s standards:
“plough the ground for it early in the fall & very deep, if possible
plough it again in Feb. before you sow it, 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. f. 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 it is prepared.
seed. to make hemp seed, make hills of the form & size of cucumber hills, from 4. to
6. f. apart, in proportion to the strength of the ground. prick about a dozen
seeds into each hill, in different parts of it. 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
ended will yield a quart of seed. a bushel of good brown seed is enough for an acre.”
Jefferson also complained about how flax depleted the soil and could only be grown once per year while hemp would grow forever, required little water and soil and improved the quality of the soil.
Thomas Jefferson – The Drug Smuggler
There is another famous story about Thomas Jefferson although it is hard to find a quality source, it is widely noted that Jefferson smuggled high quality hemp seeds out of China and smuggled them into the US by way of France. He did this while he was the America ambassador to France. It was said that China had the best Industrial Hemp in the world as they had been cultivating it for many thousands of years and they did not want their secrets getting out. The penalty at the time for smuggling out the hemp seeds was death so it seems Thomas Jefferson was willing to risk his life for Hemp.
Thomas Jefferson’s storied relationship with hemp continues when you consider that he held the first patent granted in the US and it was for a hemp threshing machine. Jefferson loved the fact that hemp would grow on the soil continuously and not deplete it but he hated that fact that it was so hard to break up after growth, requiring a lot of manual work. This lead him to create his improved Hemp Thresher that he would go on to use at his plantations in Monticello and Virginia where he grew it constantly.
Hemp For Clothing:
“… there being scarcely a family in the country which does not clothe itself, as far as coarse woollens, or those of midling quality are required. so also as to hemp, flax, and cotton.”16ls seemed to produce the best clothes including Hemp.”
“An acre of the best ground for hemp, is to be selected, & sown in hemp & to be kept for a permanent hemp patch. … Hemp should be immediately prepared to set them [the spinners] at work, & a supply be kept up”
Jefferson held Hemp in such high regard as you can see from the following quote:
“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”
He was referring the vital role that hemp played in the countries navies of the time. It was the toughest material for sail cloth, ropes and lining.
Benjamin Franklin And Hemp
Benjamin Franklin owned the first cannabis business in America. His paper mill worked with hemp fibre to produce the paper. This hemp paper was used to print Thomas Paine’s infamous “Common Sense” which would help lead to the rebellion by the colonists against the British. This mill also allowed America freedom to write books and letters without depending on the British for paper.
Benjamin Franklin also had a heavy hand in the declaration of independence and the US Constitution, the latter of which was drafted on hemp paper. The official constitution appears not to have been written on hemp.
Outside of his paper mill, Franklin was also a prolific agriculturalist and grew hemp extensively. He also encouraged to incentivisation of farmers to grow hemp such was its usefulness.
James Madison & Hemp
James Madison is the father of the constitution. He was unimpressed by the weak articles of confederation that bound the newly formed United States and he set about the produce a new constitution. The result has been the long lasting pinnacle of Democracy in the world for the next 200 years plus. While there are rumours, that Madison used the creative powers of hemp to draft the constitutions individual parts, but are unable to find an attributable quote.
We do however know that he grew Hemp at his Montpellier estate from the following quote to Thomas Jefferson:
“The price of hemp however has been reduced as much by the peace as that of Tobacco has been raised, being sold I am told as low as 20/. per Ct. beyond the mountains.”
We would come to the conclusion that he grew Hemp at least partly as a cash crop due to this concern over it’s price.
Hemp played a hugely important role in the founding of America for a huge range of reasons and continued to do so until prohibition in 1937. The founding fathers were all certainly well aware of hemp and a few of them actively grew it for a wide range of uses.
With the current comeback of hemp, one can expect that the Hemp industry will reach its full potential. With Hemps excellent medicinal properties become more mainstream, the information can spread information easily online and this has led to a huge boom in the industry.
We are looking forward to following Hemps present and future as well as delving into its storied past.
Aidan Lehane is an entrepreneur who has a lifelong passion for CBD, Hemp and allowing people to find an effective natural remedy to many of their pains and illnesses.
Aidan has been a constant advocate for cbd and hemp legalization for over 2 decades and is often found researching & creating blogs and videos about CBD, on the Great Hemp Youtube channel while testing and reviewing countless products for quality and effectiveness.