Historical Marker #1279 in Danville notes the first recorded hemp crop in Kentucky, which was grown on Clark's Run Creek in 1775.
Hemp has a long history in the state. From its first recorded planting near Danville to its reemergence during World War Two, hemp has figured prominently in the economic, social, and political life of the commonwealth. Early settlers brought hemp into Kentucky in order to have a resource for textile production. Hemp--along with flax and wool--was one of the best options for fabric in regions where cotton did not grow well.
The particular climate and soil of central and northern Kentucky was ideal for growing hemp. The counties that produced the most hemp were located in the "bluegrass region" and were either near or along the Kentucky River. Fayette, Woodford, Shelby, Clark, Scott, Bourbon, Jessamine, Mason, Franklin, Boyle and Lincoln were the largest hemp-producing counties during the nineteenth century.
It is not a coincidence that these counties were also home to the largest populations of enslaved individuals. Hemp, like tobacco and cotton, was a labor-intensive crop. Although hemp did not require the year-round attention that cotton and tobacco demanded, the planting, harvesting, and processing of the crop demanded significant amounts of manual labor, especially in "breaking" the stalks and "hackling" the fibers.
Kentuckians also manufactured hemp into marketable products. The largest use of hemp was in making rope and the woven bagging that bundled cotton bales. Ropewalks turned out thousands of yards of hemp cordage, and factory looms in Lexington, Danville, and Frankfort wove the bagging. Another significant consumer of Kentucky hemp was the United States Navy, which used the rope for ships' rigging.
Hemp production declined during the Civil War. Although some hemp was still grown in Kentucky at that time, the cotton market in the deep South, and, therefore, the market for cordage and bagging, was cut off. Farmers instead looked to other crops that were more marketable. After the war, the hemp market fluctuated with the cotton market. With slavery abolished, finding labor proved difficult.
Hemp made a strong comeback during the Spanish-American War and again during World War One and World War Two. Hemp production was effectively outlawed by federal drug policies, which classified it as a schedule 1 drug. With the passage of the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, hemp is not considered an agricultural commodity and can again be grown in the United States, under strict regulations. Kentuckians continue to invest in hemp, as new industries spring up across the commonwealth.
The historical marker was erected in December 1969. It reads:
Kentucky’s first recorded hemp
crop, 1775, on Clark’s Run Creek,
near Danville. Grown by Archibald
McNeill, who brought the first
seed with him when he located
here. Hemp production spread
slowly throughout the area, but
Boyle County later became one
of ten Bluegrass counties which
together produced over 90 per cent
of entire US yield in 1889. OVER.
HEMP IN KENTUCKY
First crop grown, 1775. From 1840
to 1860, Ky. Production largest in
U.S. Peak in 1850 was 40,000 tons,
value of $5,000,000. Scores of
factories made twine, rope, gunny
sacks, bags for cotton picking and
marketing. State’s largest cash
crop until 1915. Market lost to
imported jute, freed of tariff.
As war measure, hemp grown again
during World War II. See over.