How HEMP Built America


Early this morning, on my routine act of browsing the net, I came across a link about a new 3-episode show hosted by (my favorite!) Mike Rowe – yes, he’s the Dirty Jobs host – and the title of the show is, “How Booze Built America.”  It appears to be very interesting, with lots of historical content. Here is a blurb about the show:

“Did you know that the Puritans landed the Mayflower early on Plymouth Rock … because they ran out of beer? Or that Johnny Appleseed was actually creating farms to sell hard apple cider? Mike Rowe does, and he’ll walk you through all of this and more. He’s proven that dirty jobs can be fun. He’s ready to do the same for history.” ~ Discovery.com

Now, this caused me to fire off some neurons…booze was only ONE aspect in the history of our fine country. What about HEMP?

Hemp was a critical component of our history, agriculture, economy, and environment.  It was used for food, clothing, shelter, fuel, and so on.

Let’s look again at this phrase: “Did you know the Puritans landed the Mayflower early on Plymouth Rock … because they ran out of beer?”

Do you know HOW they were able to sail to Plymouth Rock? HEMP! It was used for the ship’s rigging and sails, because hemp was stronger and more hardy than other materials.  AND….how did hemp arrive in America?

Hemp arrived in Colonial America with the Puritans in the form of seed for planting and as fiber in the lines, sails and caulking of the Mayflower. British sailing vessels were never without a store of hemp seed, and Britain’s colonies were compelled by law to grow hemp.

Hemp was the fiber of choice for maritime uses because of its natural decay resistance and its adaptability to cultivation. Each warship and merchant vessel required miles of hempen line and tons of hempen canvas, which meant the Crown’s hunger for the commodity was great. Ship captains were ordered to disseminate hemp seed widely to provide fiber wherever repairs might be needed in distant lands.” ~ farmcollector.com

An interesting side note: Some of the early colonists came to American in the hopes of finding their wealth with silver and gold, then returning home with their riches. They did not arrive with the intent of growing hemp. However, English rule served a proclamation that they were to farm hemp.

By the mid-1600s, hemp had become an important part of the economy in New England, and south to Maryland and Virginia. The Colonies produced cordage, cloth, canvas, sacks and paper from hemp during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Most of the fiber was then destined for British consumption, although at least some was used for domestic purposes. Ironically, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were penned on hemp paper.

Hemp fiber was so important to the young Republic that farmers were compelled by patriotic duty to grow it, and were allowed to pay taxes with it. George Washington grew hemp and encouraged all citizens to sow hemp widely. Thomas Jefferson bred improved hemp varieties, and invented a special brake for crushing the plant’s stems during fiber processing.” ~ farmcollector.com

Later on in our history hemp was used for fuel, as well as in automobile components, thanks to the genius of Henry Ford (who also grew his own hemp).
Today we see hemp in many more applications – plastics, paper products, construction, shoes, infant clothing…the list is almost unlimited as to how hemp can be used.
So you see, this wonderful plant was an integral part of our colorful history, and continues to be an important component for industry, health, environment, and economy.

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