The Founding Fathers grew hemp before America was a nation.
Early colonists needed to grow hemp and the Founding Fathers helped make it easier. Hemp was used to make a multitude of essential gear for early Americans so importing it was impossibly expensive. Presidents like Washington, Jefferson and even Lincoln are well documented hemp farmers but their personal consumption remains a historical mystery.
While hemp and weed are both cannabis, there’s a big difference between the 16-1800’s and now. Similar to how humans grow larger when more specialized nutrition and scientific knowledge advances, so too does cannabis. Most Founding Fathers grew hemp specifically for fiber and seed instead of high THC seedless flowers.
They planted in dense patches and prioritized harvesting long, thin stalks. The Fathers allowed their plants to go to seed but removed the males after they pollinated the females. Any female cannabis plants that produce seeds have very little THC, just like modern day ones.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin all grew hemp on their plantations. Hemp was essential to naval vessels and travel in general, so every Founding Father needed more. In previous centuries, all ships navigating the western seas were rigged with hempen rope and sails.
It takes a lot of hemp to make ships, so everyone grew hemp.
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A 44-gun frigate like the USS Constitution took over 60 tons of hemp for rigging. This included sails, ropes and an anchor cable 25 inches in circumference. The Conestoga wagons of the pioneer days were covered with hemp canvas as well. In fact, the very word canvas comes from the Arabic word for hemp.
The founding fathers were well acquainted with the industrial version of cannabis but how they consume it. Many doubt that Washington and Jefferson grew hemp for recreational enjoyment but John Adams has a mysterious quote of his in several Boston newspapers.
In 1763, under the pen name Humphrey Ploughjogger, Adams wrote in the Boston Evening-Post about the advantages of growing hemp. Adams claimed that “… if grate Men dont leeve off writing Pollyticks, breaking Heads, boxing Ears, ringing Noses and kicking Breeches, we shall by and by want a world of Hemp more for our own consumshon,”. This is likely a reference to the hemp rope a hangman used and not a sweet bowl of some Purple Urkle.
The Digital Age has made a liar of Honest Abe.
The internet is overrun with people claiming that Honest Abe claimed to enjoy “a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.” There are only a few issues with the timing of quote though. Hohner didn’t make harmonicas until years later and didn’t even start exporting them to America from Germany until 1868. That’s four years after Abe’s assassination, meaning the whole thing is made up.
But that isn’t the only popular Lincoln quote that was entirely false. The oft-cited “Prohibition… goes beyond the bound of reason…”? Claimed to be from an 1840 speech to the Illinois House of Representatives. In fact, it was written by a former mayor of Atlanta in 1922. The fake quote was used to court black voters into opposing alcohol prohibition. That doesn’t prove Lincoln didn’t partake, just that there is no proof he did.
Washington was into the Sticky Icky.
George Washington did make concerted attempts to cultivate high THC cannabis. He kept meticulous diaries throughout his life. Within his notes he wrote “Sowed hemp at muddy hole by swamp” This was far removed from the area he would have normally cultivated cannabis. This remote location improved the likelihood that the cannabis flowers would remain seedless or ‘sensimilla’.
Washington further reinforces the idea that he was growing for some sweet smoke by writing “Began to separate the male from female plants” and he specifically references the desire for flower by dismaying that he “Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month” One theory for Washington’s interest in potent cannabis flower was to treat his toothaches.
Thomas Jefferson was known to farm hemp just as all the other Founding Fathers.
He has the unique distinction of being an international and intercontinental strain hound. During his time as Ambassador to France, hashish was a big deal. During his encounters with the court, it would have been disastrously unfashionable for him to refuse consuming.
The time with the French court must have left a lasting impression on him. Jefferson later sought out high potency cannabis seeds from China while he was searching for better versions of rice. At great risk of imprisonment, Jefferson smuggled many types of seeds back to the colonies for American production.
The president employed many hirelings to do the brunt of the work. He specifically employed Turkish smugglers to bring seeds back from China. No records prove that Jefferson himself transported the seeds, only that he arranged for and ensured the delivery of many restricted cultivars from across the globe to American farmers.
People have taken the stoner Founding Fathers idea and run with it.
Even without direct evidence of the Founding Fathers smoking weed, modern stoners have embraced the idea. Artists like Trevor Moore and groups like The Whitest Kids You Know have brought the mythology of the Founding Fathers into the modern day.
The historical accuracy of these interpretations remains hazy at best. Yet the performances are likely closer to reality than the stories and legends that people have grown up with. Regardless, they add a bit of spice and real world flavor to stories about wealthy young rebels.
This 4th of July, light up a joint, load a bong and hit a pipe for the Founding Fathers.
America wouldn’t be here without cannabis, so roast a bowl this Independence Day to honor our complex history. Greats like Andrew Jackson grew it for seed and fiber while Jefferson smuggled it out of China and likely France. And just think about how Ben Franklin would feel about a great summertime strain.
Be like Ben and grow a female plant or two, or take a page from Lincolns book and get some sweet hemp to enjoy. Don’t smuggle genetics from China like Jefferson though. Better to get a clone or seed from a reputable source like SeedsHereNow.com or a local dispensary.