Land of The Weed: Founding Fathers and Cannabis
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.
Read our latest blog to discover the first cannabis legislation at Jamestown, and our founding fathers' early cultivation of Hemp.
How Our Founding Fathers Used Cannabis in Colonial America
Nov 19, 2019 · 3 min read
Indulging in cannabis is an American pastime. It is also a growing trend in the world of alternative and natural medicine. Legalization is happening across the states. Perceptions-once of a negative sort-are shifting towards acceptance, compassion, and understanding. And from budding support to the positive portrayal in American culture, cannabis is fast becoming a part of daily life for many in the United States.
But many do wonder, on a fine warm d a y with plumes of blue-grey smoke twirling around: is there a historical component to America’s fascination with the beautiful green plant? Did any famous colonial icons-from the Founding Fathers to the early Presidents-smoke bud?
The answer is not what you’d expect.
Cannabis In Early America
Early reports of cannabis in America date back to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. However, the settlers were not bunkered up in their wooden homes toking up and daydreaming of warmer days and more food. Rather, the settlers grew hemp to be used in manufacturing.
The folks at Jamestown found many uses for hemp. For starters, Jamestown was a waterside colony. Sailing was a part of the day to day life. Fish were of great importance to the settlers as food from the land could get rather scarce during the harsh winters in those early, formative years of English colonization of what would become the United States of America. Many ships of that era needed sails, and those sails needed to be sturdy.
Thankfully for the colonists at Jamestown, hemp was found to be of great use in crafting sails. Hemp yields a strong fiber that is ideal for the rough winds and waters that sailing ships endure. And not only did hemp provide the sailors with firm sails, but it also offered a strong rope. Rope, of course, has plenty of uses, and in those days one could not simply head off to a hardware store if said rope split or came unwound while working. Early settlers relied on hemp rope for a plethora of reasons, but the number one reason was that hemp rope was strong, reliable, and relatively easy to produce.
Hemp rope itself dates back nearly 5,000 years ago to early Chinese pottery on which hemp rope was depicted. This early adoption of hemp is indicative of the plant’s vast uses and power as a crop, a tool, and a step toward quality manufacturing. It should also be noted that the oldest dated material of early man is a piece of hemp fabric that dates back to around 8,000 BCE. Hemp has been around nearly forever (in a history-of-civilization kind of way) and will continue to stick around for as long as humans find uses for it. And uses are plenty.
Aside from hemp rope and sails, early colonial folk used hemp for threads for sewing, cloth for clothing and bags, and paper. The latter, hemp paper, holds especially high regard in United States history, for it was on hemp paper that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed by the Founding Fathers. Without a passion and need for hemp, perhaps the Declaration would’ve been more of a verbal shout toward the general direction of Great Britain.
Despite the many daily uses that hemp found, there is little evidence to suggest that hemp or cannabis was smoked by English colonists and early Americans. Perhaps they did, as records date back centuries of cannabis being used both as a recreational substance and a medicinal tool, and knowledge of these uses were sure to have passed along through time and continental distances. However, the plant found a much more necessary use in crafts, manufacturing, and farming than it did as a way to self-inebriate.
Did Any Founding Fathers Smoke Cannabis?
The question as to whether the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin smoked cannabis or not is iffy at best and unknown at worst.
Thomas Jefferson, for example, was known to have…
Indulging in cannabis is an American pastime. It is also a growing trend in the world of alternative and natural medicine. Legalization is happening across the states. Perceptions-once of a negative…