The story of hemp in Virginia is an old one

Jack Jacobs' article in Saturday's Gazette should have taken a look at the history of growing Hemp in Virginia. In Virginia history classes, 1619 is called the Red Letter Year because of four events which changed the direction of the colony.

The first was local governance; the second was the arrival of the first female settlers, thereby cementing the colony as a permanent venture.

The third was the arrival of the first black settlers. As I was taught, they were taken from a Spanish slave galley and brought to Virginia, where they became indentured servants and freed at the end of the indenture, given land and tools to improve it and encouraged to become members of the colony.

The fourth was taught in school to be the arrival of flax in Virginia. Truth be told, it was actually India Hemp. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch controlled East India trade and the West's supply of materials from which to produce cordage, rope and sail cloth. They were to the 17th century what OPEC was in the last decades of the 20th century.

In order to sail, you had to buy your materials from the Dutch. To break the monopoly, the Royal Navy sent a raiding party to the Dutch East Indies to capture some India Hemp Seed and transport it to the American colonies to be grown there for the crown. According to Robert Dietch's book on the history of Hemp, the Virginia Legislature passed a law requiring all colonists to grow India Hemp under penalty of jail time for refusing to do so. Up until the early 20th century, India Hemp was grown throughout the United States for fiber to be made into rope, sack cloth and canvas.

Because of the ability of hemp to grow without much chemical fertilizer or water and for its varied uses — from cordage to high quality paper products — there is no reason to keep forbidding its use as a cash crop in the United States. I do not propose that the Virginia House of Delegates jail farmers who do not grow it, but there is no reason that China and India once again have a monopoly on its cultivation. If farmers were allowed to grow hemp, then it would finally be possible for Colonial Williamsburg to finish its dream of building a colonial rope walk, which had to be shelved in 1970 because the feds confiscated their plants.

Lawton Maner

Williamsburg

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