My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
Hemp has been a crop in Kentucky since 1775 — 17 years before Kentucky became the first state west of the Appalachian Mountains.
This area became the nation's leading hemp-producing state in the mid-19th century with peak production of 40,000 tons in 1950, according to the state Department of Agriculture website.
Hemp production declined after the Civil War and almost all of the nation's hemp was grown in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky.
Federal legislation passed in 1938 outlawed production of hemp. The U.S. production began again during World War II as part of the war efforts, but fell again after the war and ended in 1958.
First crop raised in Danville
Archibald McNeil, one of the first settlers here, has been credited with raising the first crop on the banks of Clark's Creek in Danville, according to an article in The Kentucky Advocate's 100th edition in June 1965.
As more settlers arrived, hemp became an important crop wherever the pioneers could clear enough of the rich Bluegrass land to plant it.
Due to the scarcity of seed, each year's crop was limited. It was not until 1800 that Kentucky hemp was raised on a major basis as it had been done by early settlers in Virginia and North Carolina.
The crop became important as barter for trading and for course material for men's suits. By 1840, Kentucky hemp was an important crop practically to every farmer in Central Kentucky.
However, its decline in industry was faster than its growth. By the outbreak of the War between the States, many farmers had abandoned the crop. From 1900 to 1925, hemp crops became fewer each year and most plants using twine were closed.
The late Banks Hudson, extensive land owner in Boyle County, gained much publicity with the bumper crop he raised in 1937. The crop is thought to be the last big stand in Kentucky until December 7, 1941, when its importance was again realized after the Japanese attack in the Far East meant a temporary halt to shipping of Manila rope to the United States.
Hudson operated a hemp hackling factory, a process of cleaning, resembling the cord of wood.
Federal authorities had foreseen a possibility and brought about a revival in the hemp industry after 40 years, during which its production amounted to little more than a hobby.
A processing plant was set up in Versailles under the supervision of the United States Navy Department to raise hemp for national defense and 2,000 acres were contracted the first year.
After the war ended farmers again abandoned the production of hemp. Its place in the nation's markets was filled by metals and other fibrous substances such as jute which was shipped in from India at a lower cost. Further lessing the need was the construction of modern ships which no longer needed rope for caulking.
During the hemp raising era in Boyle County, George Cogar and John C. Davis operated a hemp and grain establishment near the freight depot, according to The Advocate. The company hired 35 men and the establishment had a reputation of furnishing the best prepared hemp send from Kentucky due to their careful hackling before shipping.
The business handled 2 million pounds annually. Brown Y. Cogar was head of the elevator handling grain.
A drought in August 1911 had an affect on hemp and other crops. The ground at the time was “as hard as a rock and as dry at the temperance lecture,” according to a newspaper article.
Hemp 100-day crop
Hemp is called a 100-day crop. Sown in March or April and harvested in July or August.
The crop grows tall and thick, sometimes as high as 14 feet and yields up to 1,400 pounds per acre.
It is a haven for quail, doves and rabbits. It caused forests to be felled in early Kentucky to make way for its cultivation and created a necessity for early roads to haul the crop to factories. Its only enemy was the cutworm.
The crop was left for a week after it has been cut to wait for the sap to drain out of the stalk and leaves and blossoms have fallen to the ground.
Stalks were tied and shocked and left in the field for two months. Then workers began to tear down and spread out again then left it to freeze and rot.
It is shocked again and breaking continued on warm days through the winter months. It is then carted off to the factory and young folks make merry by burning the “hempherds” and watching flames and sparks leap upward.
Leaves are the part sometimes consumed as a narcotic.
Hemp is two shades of green. The male plant is paler, smaller and matures earlier. The female plant is darker, taller, lives longer and bears larger foliage and blooms. It also bears a balsamic odor.
James Lane Allen, described as “Kentucky's first important novelist”, refers to hemp when it was a profitable Kentucky crop, as “the thickest gold-dust of the golden acres.”
He also stated: “It takes a body that can bend and twist to handle a hemp crop.”