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George Washington Grew Hemp, Probably Didn't Smoke It and Had Slaves Work His Fields

"George Washington Hemp Farmer" - painting by Aia Leu (2013)

It's commonly known George Washington grew hemp. On this President's Day, we dig a little deeper into the first U.S.' president's alleged affinity for cannabis.

Washington cultivated hemp on his plantation in Mount Vernon, Virginia as early as 1765. He was president from 1789-1797. According to the offical Mount Vernon website:

"Throughout his lifetime, George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial uses. The fibers from hemp held excellent properties for making rope and sail canvas. In addition, hemp fibers could be spun into thread for clothing or, as indicated in Mount Vernon records, used in repairing the large seine nets Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac. At one point in the 1760s, Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined wheat was a better alternative.

"After deciding not to cultivate it as a cash crop, Washington grew it to meet the needs of his own plantation. Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas and for repairing the seine nets used at the fisheries. Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp grew at all five farms which made up Mount Vernon (Mansion House, River Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm and Union Farm)."

"GW became seriously interested in the cultivation of hemp in 1765."

An agreement involving the purchase of four slaves by Washington includes this footnote:

"GW became seriously interested in the cultivation of hemp in 1765 as one of the crops to replace the cultivation of tobacco at Mount Vernon, which he became determined to do."

In 1765. Washington wrote to James Gildart:

"The Parliament, by the Bounty given for American Hemp and Flax seem desirous of encouraging the growth of them in the Plantations; but as they are Articles altogether new to us, and I believe not much of our Lands well adapted for them; and as the proper kind of Packages, Freight and accustomd charges are little known here, I shoud be much obliged to you for advising me of the general prices one might expect in your port for good Hemp and (rough & undressd) Flax."

A ledger reads:

"GW records on 6 Feb. 1766 the sale of 86 pounds of hemp to John Snowden for £2.3. In a later undated entry, GW credits Snowden £7 for “netting me a Sein & Rigging D[itt]o—Hemp &ca found him—he spun it” (Ledger A, 94)."

In 1794, Washington wrote to William Pierce:

"I cannot with certainty recollect, whether I saw the India hemp growing when I was last at Mount Vernon; but think it was in the Vineyard; somewhere I hope it was sown, and therefore desire that the Seed may be saved in due season & with as little loss as possible: that, if it be valuable, I may make the most of it."

This is where the famous line attributed to Washington - "Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere" - comes from.

In a 1799 letter to Thomas Peter, Washington inquired:

"Have you succeeded, or are you likely to succeed, in procuring the Hemp seed I required?"

In 2018, an industrial hemp cultivar was planted on four acres at Mount Vernon. The website explains:

"Mount Vernon will use the plant as an interpretative tool to help better tell the story of Washington’s role as a farmer. Harvesting of the industrial hemp takes place each summer. After the industrial hemp is dried it is used in fiber-making demonstrations onsite."

So, Washington did indeed grow hemp - and his slaves did the work. Thomas Jefferson would do this as well.

 

But Did George Washington Smoke Pot?

That's a matter for conjecture. In Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993) - one of CelebStoner's top stoner movies of all time - Slater (Rory Cochrane) builds a great case that George was a stoner. 

"George toked weed," someone says at the Moontower party.

"Absolutely George toked weed, you kidding?" Slater chimes in. "He grew fields of that stuff."

"He grew that shit up in Mount Vernon," the dude says.

"Mount Vernon?" Slater adds with conviction. "He grew that all over the country, man. He had people growing it all over the country. The whole country then was getting high. Let me tell you, man - 'cause he knew. He was onto something, man. He knew that it wouid be a good cash crop for the Southern states, man. So he grew fields of it, man. But you know what?"

Slater leans in and delivers his best line:

"Behind every good man there's a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and everyday George would come home, she'd have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he come in the door, man. She was a hip, hip, hip lady, man."

Stamping dollar bills with I GREW HEMP became popular in the ’90s.

Very funny, but did Washington actually inhale burning hemp flower? An 1971 article in the Ann Arbor Sun quoted Dr. Frank Burke, an archivist, president of the American Historical Reference Society and Smithsonian consultant, saying: "Early letters from our founding fathers often refer to the pleasures of hemp smoking." He noted that "Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson all cultivated weed on their plantations and that Washington preferred a good pipeful of the 'leaves of hemp' to any alcoholic drink."

Other 19th Century presidents who used cannabis included James Monore, Andrew Jackson, Zacherly Taylor and Franklin Pierce. The latter three, "all military men, smoked with their troops," Burke asserted.

The Growth Op considers this article to be a hoax.

Abraham Lincoln wore clothing made from hemp and allegedly said, "Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp and playing my Hohner harmonica."

 

Modern Presidential Tokers

From John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, most modern presidents have toked, even if several never admitted it. Kennedy allegedly smoked pot with his mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer. Bill Clinton said didn't inhale and Obama admitted he did. Jimmy Carter was supportive of the cause. The Bushes kept a distance, and G.W. dodged the question. And President Biden has said he's never used cannabis in any form.

 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.