“There were at least 60 tons of Hemp on the U.S.S. Constitution alone.” ~ Jack Herer
America has long loved one of nature’s most prized treasures, Cannabis Sativa L., which also goes by the names, hemp, cannabis hemp, Indian or India hemp, muggles, weed, pot, marijuana, reefer, grass, ganja, bhang, “the kind,” dagga, herb, or, in Spanish, “mota.”
Hemp is a dioecious (having male, female, and sometimes hermaphroditic), woody, herbal annual plant that makes efficient use of sunlight to produce fiber and medicine. During climate change periods, it readily adapts, and can quickly evolve to suit different soil conditions or geo-locations.
Russian hemp, perhaps the world’s finest hemp, was the main reason for the War of 1812, which was fought between Great Britain and The Americans. The goal was to gain access to Russian hemp. Russian hemp was also what lured Napoleon and his allies to erroneously invade Russia in 1812.
Did you know that when Japan invaded the Philippines in 1942, they cut off the supply of Abaca hemp from Manila? So, in response, The United States government issued 400,000 pounds of cannabis seeds to American farmers from Wisconsin to Kentucky. These hemp farmers produced 42,000 tons of fiber derived from hemp every year until 1946 when the war was over.
So, how come cannabis hemp has become so crucial to history?
Hemp is the strongest and most-durable natural soft fiber on the planet. For at least 3000 years, its flower tops, depending on the culture, are the first, second, or third most used medicines for two thirds of world’s population. It’s also a sustainable resource.
The United States of America has a long history of hemp farming. Many parts of the country even derive their local city and county names from old families that were traditionally cultivating this ancient cash crop.
Diverse ancient American agricultural geo-regions from Hempstead, Long Island to Hempstead County, Arkansas…from Hempstead, Texas, to Hemphill, North Carolina… and even Hempfield, Pennsylvania, as well as many, many, others, have all served as potent historical reminders that hemp is at the very core of the molecular DNA of our very motherland, of which we are so proud.
Hemp is truly the lifeblood of early America. Hemp is in the very fiber of our founding historical documents, and hemp was the material of choice for the fine clothing that comforted our honorable ancestors who wore hemp clothing through much of the brave young country’s awesome history.
In his famous book, “Against The Grain,” Sterling Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, James C. Scott, brings light to the erroneous narratives most people grow up believing that plant and animal domestication somehow allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, and states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, and presumably a secure way of living.
James C. Scott argues quite eloquently against this very notion, and for good reason because historic and archaeological evidence actually allude to the contrary. Similar to Marshal Sahlin’s classic book on anthropological economics, published in 1974, “Stone Age Economics,” James C. Scott also portrays early man in a state that is basically “already rich.”
After all, back then there wasn’t much wealth to get to begin with, and for this particular reason, the more modern state, known as “poverty,” did not exist in the way you and I, as moderns, have now come to know it. Rather than stereotyping early cave men as “all poor,” we have to re-frame the situation and contextualize it, NOT in accord with our own modern times, rather in relation to what people actually experienced back then.
Both Sahlins and Scott paint a much happier picture of man during primitive times, in which basically everyone was essentially “rich.” Of course, status still existed, though it was premised on other factors, rather than money. For this reason, there was very little reason to leave the conveniences and benefits of the mobile life of a caveman, or plainsman, behind.
So, there must have been a reason for the well adapted, and well-adjusted proto-peoples to adopt the practices of farming, right? This topic is still debated today.
Scott argues that, in fact, it is the plants themselves that are domesticating the human populations. He proposes that early hunter-gatherer societies formed “proto-nation states,” and these “proto-nation states,” (gangs), acquired capital, mainly in the form land and people (mostly slaves and cheap labor).
After getting land, and slaves, these “proto-states” forced the enslaved people to grow on the land, and that is what actually led to the subsequent rise of agriculture. This same archetypal type of narrative, that happened over and over, everywhere agriculture took root, basically also played out in the early Americas.
The first American law enacted, with regards to marijuana, was in 1619, forcing all farmers to grow Indian hemp-seed. Laws that forced farmers to grow this cash crop were passed in Massachusetts, in 1631, in Connecticut in 1632 and throughout the Chesapeake Colonies well into the mid-1700s.
Between 1631-to the early 1800’s cannabis was “legal tender,” in the Americas, meaning that it was used as money, to buy and sell other things. For over 200 years, in America, you could pay your taxes in cannabis hemp.
During many shortages, it became illegal to not grow hemp, and people were jailed for failing to grow hemp, for example in Virginia between 1763 and 1767.
The British were a bit nicer about the situation and would offer full citizenship to immigrants who grew cannabis while levying fines against those that refused.
United States’ Presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both grew cannabis on their respective plantations. While on an envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson went to great lengths to procure genetically superior hemp-seeds that had been illegally smuggled from China into Turkey.
Chinese rulers at the time valued their coveted hemp genetics so much that exporting their hemp cultivars’ hemp-seed was a crime punishable by death, so Thomas Jefferson was very lucky to become an owner of such a prized investment.
According to the United States Census of 1850, there were 8,327 hemp plantations, all growing more than a minimum of 2000 acres of hemp. The American grown hemp was utilized for manufacturing cloth, canvas, and many other products.
Hemp cultivation is labor intensive, so most of these hemp plantations were located in the south, or in border states, where there was greater access to free and or cheap labor.
The man who was famously known as “the first American,” Benjamin Franklin, used cannabis to start one of America’s first paper mills, so Americans could buy domestic paper rather than importing paper from England.
Between 1842 and the 1890s marijuana and hashish extracts were the first, second, or third most prescribed medicines in the United States. Veterinary and medicinal use continued unabated through the 1930’s.
Cannabis extract makers of the time included Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis, Tildens, Smith Brothers (Brothers Smith), Squibb and many other American and European manufacturers.
During this time, there is no historical record of anyone ever dying, abusing, or having a mental disorder related to cannabis, except first-time novice users occasionally becoming introverted or disoriented.