Hemp Returns to George Washington’s Mount Vernon

The hemp plant is returning to its original home at Mount Vernon, Virginia where America’s first President George Washington cultivated it for its fiber and general usefulness. It was recently announced that hemp crops planted at Mount Vernon on June 13 are ready for harvest.

Dean Norton is director of horticulture at Mount Vernon. “You have different strains for different things,” Norton told The Washington Post. “They’ve really been able to come up with .?.?. really strong fiber plants, really strong oil plants and really strong recreational plants. But that’s not what we’re doing here. This is totally for interpretation purposes .?.?. You could a build bonfire with this, sit around it, breathe it, nothing’s going to happen.”

Industrial hemp is making a comeback as a cash crop that America’s economy once heavily depended on for making rope, sacks, canvas and fishing nets. Many founding fathers grew hemp for various reasons. Hemp became more popular thanks to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, patented in 1794, which spawned the Industrial Revolution. With the cotton gin, the hemp hurds could be separated more quickly.

Washington grew hemp at all five farms at Mount Vernon including Mansion House, River Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm and Union Farm. Though often slightly misquoted, George Washington frequently discussed hemp horticulture in his letters, such as in this Feb. 24 1794 letter to William Pierce, as confirmed by Mount Vernon’s official website. “I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp,” Washington wrote. “Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. . . Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where.”

It was at Muddy Hole that Washington germinated, planted and separated the male from female cannabis plants for scientific purposes. I “began to seperate [sic] the Male from the Female hemp at Do.&—rather too late,” Washington wrote to Arthur Young, a well-known agriculturalist at the time. “This may arise from their [the male] hemp being coarser, and the stalks larger.” For medical purposes, however, Washington preferred laudanum, an opium-based tincture that was commonly prescribed for pain.

Now that hemp has returned to Mount Vernon, we can get a better glimpse at what George Washington’s life was like in the 18th century.

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