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Merlin, Mark D [1].

Kentucky Hemp: Entwined in Slavery, Sharecropping and Profits for the Elite (1775-1937).

As the American Revolutionary War (1771-1781) progressed, imported hemp (Cannabis sativa) became costly. This encouraged domestic production of this fiber crop in the colonies. In 1775, Cannabis seeds for fiber cultivation were introduced into Kentucky, which would develop into the center of the U.S. hemp industry. However, Russian hemp continued to supply the majority of hemp fiber for America’s needs. As Kentucky hemp eventually achieved commercial success, it contributed to the cotton industry. Kentucky produced only small amounts of cotton, but its antebellum economy depended upon sales of hempen baling twine, sacks and ropes to cotton growers. Labor and health issues surrounding malodourous Cannabis pond retting limited the quality of hemp fiber production. Immersion of the fibrous stalks in standing water was a dangerous, loathsome task because of the supposedly infectious air generated from the putrefying stalks. Consequently, American-made hemp was characterized as low-strength, dew-retted fiber that was inferior to Russian hemp. Slave labor in Kentucky provided the repugnant economic means by which the hemp farmers could compete with cheaper and superior quality Russian hemp. Emancipation of the slaves in the U.S., along with changing technology and the end of U.S. government subsidization of hemp farming, turned the tide of the Kentucky hemp business. Nationwide, this agricultural fiber industry, including the large contingent of hemp farmers in Kentucky, generally shifted to other crops such as tobacco. As a result, hemp cultivation dwindled in Kentucky, with only sharecroppers and poor independent farmers continuing to grow hemp for sale until full prohibition of Cannabis ensued by 1937. Ethnobotanical, ecological, economic and social issues related to this historic phase of hemp cultivation in the New World are discussed in this paper.


1 - University of Hawaii at Manoa, Botany, Department of Botany, 3190 Maile Way, Honolulu, HI, 96822, USA

Keywords:
Kentucky
hemp
Cannabis
slavery.

Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Number:
Abstract ID:42
Candidate for Awards:None