Hemp in Early America


Hemp became an indispensable crop to early America after the First Continental Congress created the Continental Association on October 20th, 1774. In part, the document creating that association read;

  • 1. That from and after the first day of December next, we will not import, into British America, from Great-Britain or Ireland, any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever, or from any other place, any such goods, wares, or merchandise, as shall have been exported from Great-Britain or Ireland; nor will we, after that day, import any East-India tea from any part of the world; nor any molasses, syrups, paneles [brown unpurified sugar], coffee, or pimento, from the British plantations or from Dominica; nor wines from Madeira, or the Western Islands; nor foreign indigo. ( Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 ) The Colonists simply decided to cease trade with the British and become self-sustaining.

Early Writings

— An anonymous farmer, in 1775, made reference to that Continental Association as he addressed the necessity of Hemp Cultivation in “This Essay“. Following is an excerpt from that essay;


AS it has been thought requisite, by a continental associa∣tion, 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 cloathing.

OUR country produces wool, cotton, hemp and flax, mate∣rials 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.

WE see already many families, scattered throughout these provinces, almost entirely cloathed in their own home-spun manufactures; why therefore should any of us despair of ac∣complishing that which is actually practised, before our eyes, by so many?

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 apprehensions.

This Essay goes on to explain how to plant, husband and reap cannabis. It describes projected yields, compares Hemp with other crops and makes recommendations for rotation.

— An Edward Antill wrote “OBSERVATIONS on the raising and dressing of HEMP”. This link is to an Antill Family page. In it, this Essay is claimed to be referenced in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 2nd Edition, 1789, pp267-273. The opening statement in this essay is:

“HEMP is one of the most profitable productions the earth furnishes in northern climates; as it employs a great number of poor people in a very advantageous manner, if its manufacture be carried on properly: It may also furnish a ready remittance to the mother country, and become a reciprocal advantage to both; and therefore it becomes worthy of the serious attention of the different legislatures of the northern colonies, of every trading man, and of every man, who truly loves his country.

Hemp Helped Build America

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others produced Hemp as a staple crop. Hemp, just as cotton, tobacco and corn, helped get early America through the Revolutionary War and others that followed. Our early Navy sailed with Hemp rope for rigging. Some of the sails were even made of Hemp.

Hemp is interwoven into the fabric of America, yet is has been criminalized and demonized. What other, staple agricultural crop in America’s history can that be said about?

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