Hemp History – Happy 4th of July

Posted by on Jul 4, 2015 in Blog

On July 4th, 1776, in consideration of his own mortality, John Witmer dipped his feather quill pen into a fountain of ink, thought carefully, and then penned his last will and testament. Sixty-odd miles to the east in Philadelphia – the signing of the Declaration of Independence – but here in Warwick Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the homespun document would be of great personal importance to the Witmer family.

Like many people of the time who wrote wills, Mr. Witmer gave specific instructions that his wife was to be well taken care of and provided with the basic necessities of life that she would need to survive. Among other things, his son Michael was to provide his mother with twelve pound of hackled hemp every year for the rest of her life, provided of course, that she remain a widow.

2952My book, Hempstone Heritage, contains hundreds of wills from old Lancaster County citizens who made sure that their children grew hemp for their mothers or handed their hemp mills down to their sons.

So much hemp was grown in Lancaster County that when it was formed in 1729 it contained the original Hempfield Township, named for the “Vast quantities of hemp raised there”.

By the 1760’s hemp was booming here but it was during the period of the Revolutionary war that hemp entered it’s truly Golden Age in Lancaster County and throughout Pennsylvania.

An article in Pennsylvania History entitled Pennsylvania German Agriculture says:

“Mention should also be made of flax and hemp, both of which were cultivated rather extensively. Flax was of course important for the home manufacture of clothing; Flax seed and hemp found a ready market. While flax was common on all German farms in all areas, the greatest production of hemp was found in the valleys of the Susquehanna, the Conestoga, the Pequea and adjacent regions. The growing of hemp was such an extensive industry in Lancaster County that representatives from that district urged a tariff in the First Federal Congress; and on July 4, 1789 such a tariff was passed.”

Five years later, in 1794, George Washington stopped in to visit and inspect a hemp mill in Paradise owned by a man named David Witmer.

Happy Independence Day everyone!