Given the nation’s current legislative aversion to cannabis, it’s difficult to imagine an America where cannabis cultivation was encouraged. Years ago, America was just that: a nation where hemp thrived and settlers began early recreational and medical experiments with cannabis.
Cannabis, particularly Hemp, became such a staple, that it was cultivated by some of America’s famous founding fathers. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be examining Hemp’s early roots, its ascendance to popularity in colonial America and founding fathers who encouraged its growth.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of Hemp
England viewed the idea of American colonization through rose-colored glasses. The journey to the New World carried heavy promises. Hoping to strike gold like previous Spanish settlers, Englishmen set their sights on the rich supply of gold that the colonies promised to provide.
Only, when settlers arrived in Jamestown, there was a distinct lack of gold. When gold wasn’t an option, settlers had to roll up their sleeves and find a route to make settlement feasible. The first few years were difficult – with harsh, foreign climates and dwindling supplies – and they were desperate for a versatile, sustainable resource.
For colonists, Hemp had (2) main benefits:
1. Versatility. Hemp was used for clothing, building materials, rope and other household items.
2. Sustainability. Hemp produced a large yield; larger than most of the popular cash crops at the time.
These attributes were so desirable, the Crown ordered colonists to grow it. In 1619, the first cannabis legislation in the New World was passed. It stated that all settlers were forced to grow hemp, or face serious penalties. Later, it was even used as currency.
Fast forward, the American colonies were expanding. By the time the 18th century rolled around, hemp was growing in popularity, and with it came the early discovery of cannabis’ psychoactive and healing effects. However, they were largely unexplored. Colonists still grew hemp and marijuana alike, particularly a few of the nation’s founding fathers.
1. George Washington
Before he was a general, the nation’s inaugural president was a farmer. One of the many crops he grew was Hemp. This was largely industrial, and used for repairing ropes and making clothing. However, this founding father was more than just a farmer: he was an industrious one. Known for his innovative farming experiments, he began tinkering with cannabis. According to his diary entry in 1765, Washington “began to separate the Male from the Female hemp at Do – rather too late.” What happens when you separate male plants from female plants? Smokable flower. So, it’s highly likely that the founding father experimented with recreational cannabis use.
2. Thomas Jefferson
History has it, Jefferson was so eager to grow hemp, he smuggled new strains into the states. Taken from China, to France, and into America, he was eager to cultivate it. Throughout his life, he frequently wrote about the benefits of hemp. He also adapted the threshing machine – used to separate wheat from chaff – for harvesting hemp.
3. Benjamin Franklin
Franklin was one of the nation’s most renown early publishers. Famous for his writing, Franklin actually endorsed and provided supportive commentary on hemp in his newspapers. Not to mention, his paper mill was one of the first in America to use hemp paper. Rumor has it, early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
4. James Madison
Soft spoken though he was, Madison had a big voice when it came to Hemp. Like Jefferson, he grew. The two founding fathers often shared cultivation notes, and praised the crop’s versatility.