Though hemp and it's legalization are still hot topics for discussion today, many people do not realize just how integral hemp was in the early history of the United States, and even humanity itself. The cultivation of hemp stretches back ten millennia and is filled with intrigue and controversy.
In this video, Kirk Goble discusses the early history of hemp. Kirk is a hemp industry expert and land broker in Colorado, and was one of our featured speakers at the 2020 Lay of the Land Conference. He notes that historians can use archaeological evidence to trace the cultivation of hemp back ten thousand years, to ancient China and Egypt. The plant was used to produce essential goods such as medicine and fibers.
The cultivation of hemp is also sewn into the fabric of American History. With the establishment of Jamestown in 1619, each colonist was required by order of King James to cultivate a certain amount of hemp to be sent back to England. Following the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson stated that "hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country." Hemp was even grown on President George Washington's estate on Mt. Vernon.
Hemp, like most crops in the early history of our nation, was largely grown by the labor of African slaves. Most paper produced in the United States until the late 1800s was hemp-based. The cultivation of hemp was labor intensive, and when slavery was outlawed in 1865 there was a decline in hemp cultivation, as producers turned to timber for paper production.
While hemp was no longer the primary crop used for paper production, it was still widely grown and used for medicinal purposes. In 1917, the invention of a hemp processor brought a resurgence in hemp cultivation.
The resurgence of hemp cultivation was seen as a threat by wealthy industrialists that produced rival crops that could be replaced by hemp. these industrialists used their political influence to mount a campaign known as "Reefer Madness" that sought to demonize hemp. This campaign too advantage of racism and classism in order to change public opinion on cannabis. With the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the cultivation of cannabis was practically illegal.
For more information on the early history of hemp, watch the video below and check out these other hemp articles by The Land Journal.