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Hemp Throughout American History

Published June 28, 2022

Hemp Throughout American History

On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, and thus a new nation emerged.

About 242 years later, the 115th United States Congress enacted the 2018 Farm Bill (sometimes called the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018), which legalized hemp on a federal level.

Or, more accurately, it "re-legalized hemp." Yes. Hemp, and just cannabis in general, has been legal in America for far longer than it has been prohibited. In fact, hemp had played a pivotal role in American society even before we became an independent nation.

So in honor of Independence Day, we'll explore hemp throughout American history.

"Grow Hemp...Or Else."

Prosecuting the cultivation and possession of hemp is pretty "recent" in American history.

And at one point in time, if you were a farmer, you'd be breaking the law if you didn't grow it.

You read that right.

In 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed legislation that required all farmers to grow hemp.


Simply put, hemp was vital to the economy. It was needed to make clothes, sacks for agriculture, rope, and canvas sails for ships.

In fact, the word "canvas" derives from the Latin word "cannabis."

And as we all know, cannabis is excellent for making a medium...of course. 

A Vital Crop For The Founding Fathers

George Washington, as you know, was the first president of the United States and served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

He also had hemp grown on his plantation of Mount Vernon. Of course, hemp was used for clothes, ropes, and sails. But Washington also used hemp to repair seine nets for his fishing operations along the Potomac River.

Yup. You can fish with hemp.

And since the spring of 2018, hemp farming has returned to Mount Vernon.

But Washington was not the only founding father familiar with hemp.

Thomas Jefferson, the second president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, had hemp cultivated on Monticello and Poplar Forest.

He also mentioned hemp quite a bit in many of his writings.

The Battle of the Hemp Bales

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, hemp has numerous uses.

Throughout the Civil War, hemp was used to make items such as ropes, uniforms, bandages, and tents.

However, hemp played a pivotal role in the First Battle of Lexington (also known as the Battle of the Hemp Bales), which lasted from September 13-20, 1861.

In the battle, the Missouri State Guard used hemp bales soaked in water as a type of "rolling fortification" to encircle Union forces.

The bales were so heavy from the water that they were impervious to both small arms and cannon fire.

Cannon-proof hemp...let that set in for a bit.

Hemp For Victory

After the Civil War, hemp fell out of favor with other industrial fibers.

Making matters worse, due to prohibitionist attitudes fueled by xenophobia and racism, all cannabis production in the United States was greatly hindered by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

However, industrial fibers, often imported, were in short supply when World War II broke out. So in response to this, the Marihuana Act of 1937 was temporarily lifted to allow for hemp production.

The purpose was to create ropes for the U.S. Navy, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a film called "Hemp For Victory," encouraging farmers to grow hemp.

For decades, the Department of Agriculture and the Library of Congress denied the existence of such a film. However, two VHS copies were donated to the Library of Congress in 1989 by Jack Herer and other cannabis activists.

Happy 4th of July From Hometown Hero!

So that wraps up this blog post about the history of hemp throughout the United States.

We hope you came out of this blog post with more knowledge about hemp's role in America's history.

And perhaps you can impress your friends with some of your newfound American hemp knowledge this 4th of July (preferably after a gummy).

From all of us at Hometown Hero, have a happy and safe Independence Day!

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