The Forgotten History of Hemp in Colonial Times

HEMP has been an integral part of the United States' history since the mid-17th century. It was used to produce ropes, fabrics, sacks, and paper, and was an important part of the colonial economy in New England and southern Maryland and Virginia. The colonies produced rope, cloth, canvas, sacks, and hemp paper in the years leading up to the War of Independence. Most of the fiber was then destined for British consumption, although some was used domestically.

Interestingly, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. The Second World War led to a brief revival of domestic hemp cultivation. The federal government consulted with Matt and embarked on an ambitious project that involved the construction of many new hemp processing plants. Those settlers would start what would be one of the most enduring important hemp industries in the United States. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), signed into law by President Richard Nixon, classified hemp as a “list I” substance, meaning it was considered illegal because of its alleged high potential for abuse, lack of use for well-being and serious safety concerns. However, the seed and fiber of the hemp plant were exempt from this definition and could be imported and sold in the United States. The Canadian government legalized hemp production in 1998 and farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota began to wonder why their neighbors across the border could grow hemp but they couldn't.

The USDA introduced the Hemp for Victory campaign, which encouraged farmers to grow hemp domestically for rope and canvas since the United States could not obtain it from Asia during the war. Colonial farmers who originally cultivated their crop for the British Crown now began growing their hemp for the newly formed republic. Thomas Jefferson created improved varieties of hemp and invented a special brake for shredding plant stems during fiber processing. Hemp crops spread rapidly and arrived in Kentucky with colonists from Virginia just before the War of Independence. Despite its many daily uses, there is little evidence to suggest that English settlers and early Americans smoked hemp or cannabis. It should also be noted that the oldest material from early men is a piece of hemp cloth dating from around 8000 BC. The forgotten story of this humble ditch herb reveals that hemp was an important crop from colonial times to World War II, when it was last planted throughout the country for war.

By 1942, hemp production was back in full swing with support from the USDA, which launched a program called “Hemp for Victory”.

Claudette Bulkin
Claudette Bulkin

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