Les Stark’s Speech at LVC Town Hall
There is an inscription on the National Archives that reads, “The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future”. So it is that we look to our past and our rich traditions of history. Not to dwell nostalgically on the past, but to chart a more informed, purposeful course for the future based on a more firm foundation of knowledge with the combined wisdom of centuries of experience to guide us.
On Sept. 2, 1749, my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Johann Leonard German arrived in this country with his brother Adam German. He came at the age of 25 and died in 1813 at the age of 88 years old.
They had left Odenwald, Germany together and traveled up the Rhine River to the Port of Rotterdam where they set sail for the new world. Shortly after arrival in Philadelphia they moved into large farms in Lancaster County’s Earl Twp. in the approximate area we now call Red Run. They were joined by other members of the German family, had large families, lived long lives and fathered sons who served in local militia units during the Revolutionary War.
For the better part of 200 years, virtually all of my ancestors farmed the fertile soils of Lancaster County. As was common of this area’s early settlers they were largely self-sufficient in almost all areas of life. They grew the common crops of their time – corn, wheat, rye, oats, potatoes, hay, flax and hemp. They raised bees and made honey. They also raised cows, pigs, geese and sheep. They did their own carpentry work and made everything they could with their bare hands. Even the clothes on their backs was made with the homespun hemp, flax and wool raised on their farms.
I took the name of my step father. The Starks came here in 1767 from Germany. They also grew hemp. My mother’s maiden name is Kilhefner and the Kilhefners also grew hemp in Lancaster County. On the maternal side all of my grandmothers to all of my grandfathers came from families that grew hemp. They lived in a time and place where everyone grew hemp for self-sustainability and for profit.
In 1994 I read a book by Jack Herer called the Emperor Wears No Clothes. It was a fascinating book that detailed the history of hemp from it’s ancient beginnings in India, it’s spread through China and Europe, America and throughout the world.
In the beginning of the book it said that wherever there were major hemp producing regions there were towns named after hemp. It mentioned the original Hempfield Twp. In Lancaster County, Pa.
It was an epiphany! A light bulb went on over my head. I knew it must be true but there was a bit of doubt. I wondered, that if this was true, then why have I not ever heard of this? Why had I not even heard of hemp before enough to even take notice of the word?
I posited the theory that if hemp was once an important industry here then there must be evidence to back it up. So on March 3, 1997 I set out on an odyssey of discovery that continues to this day.
All I can say is WOW! In all honesty I did not expect the rabbit hole to go so deep. I didn’t expect the story to be of such epic and heroic proportions!
Who could number the fields of hemp in early Pennsylvania? Acres and acres of hemp, wherever you looked, in all directions, on every farm, from one end of the state to the other and in every corner.
The culture of hemp was nearly universal.
First grown in the vicinity of the Delaware by the Swedes in the 1650’s, William Penn recognized the enormous potential of this crop and founded Pennsylvania in 1681 specifically intending for the Commonwealth to produce hemp.
In 1683 one of the very first laws enacted by the General Assembly was An Act for the Encouragement of Raising Hemp. Two years later a law was proposed by Thomas Budd that compelled every farmer to plant one acre of flax and two acres of hemp. While it never became mandatory it was widely adopted and encouraged and in that same year Penn noted great quantities of hemp already being grown in his province and proposed that hemp would be among of the 4 staples of trade here.
By the 1690’s the hemp industry was already well established here, with ships being built, rope manufactures making rope, the manufacture of sail cloth extensively carrying on, and hemp hecklers and weavers and farmers in every early settlement growing the crop.
The first permanent settlers of what is now Lancaster County started farming around the year of 1710 and immediately planted hemp. In 1720, John Gardner erected the first documented hemp mill in the not yet formed territory of Lancaster at the mouth of the Chickies Creek, right above Columbia, just in time for the big push that came in the 1720’s where the General Assembly encouraged all Pennsylvania farmers to grow hemp, by granting them a series of ever increasing bounties paid to them for every pound of hemp they could produce fit for market.
The farmers of the new settlements responded to the calls for hemp so much so that when the new county of Lancaster was formed in 1729 it included the original Hempfield Township named for the “Vast Quantities of hemp raised there”.
At that time, Lebanon and Dauphin counties were both a part of Lancaster County. ALL of the early settlements in this area grew hemp, including Annville.
John Gardner’s hemp mill may have been the first hemp mill here that we know about but it surely was not the last. I dug through the old tax records and was able to document that between the years of 1720-1870 there were over 100 water-powered mills for processing hemp fiber in Lancaster County alone with dozens of more hemp mills in the surrounding counties, hundreds throughout the state.
That hemp fiber was used for everything from coarse cloth to fine linen. It was used for rugs, immense quantities of rugs were manufactured in Pennsylvania factories, it covered a vast fleet of Conestoga wagons, it made grain bags for millions of bushels of wheat, thousands of miles of rope and twine for canal and farm use, sail cloth for vast fleets of ships, curtains in every home, as well as tablecloths, handkerchiefs, napkins, pillow cases, sheets, towels, bedding, trousers, belts, shirts, suspenders, shoes, hats, dresses and all sorts of fabrics. Indeed it was the number one fiber in Pennsylvania for homespun clothing
The Pennsylvania Dutch people were said to grow some of the best hemp in the world and make the finest hemp products.
When the old hemp clothing was worn out it was collected and recycled in the old paper mills, of which there were many. The paper mill in Ephrata owned by the Cloisters was the third in Pennsylvania and just the seventh in the country. The Cloisters printed the famous 1,000 plus page book called the Martyr’s Mirror and many other books on hemp paper.
A byproduct of the enormous hemp crop grown for fiber was many tons of excess hemp seed. There were just as many mills for expressing oil from the hemp seed (as well as flax seed) as there were mills for processing the fiber. That hempseed oil was used in paints, varnishes, lacquers, lubricants, soap, lamp oil and printer’s ink. The remaining seed cake was fed to the livestock.
In Philadelphia there existed a large ship building industry. Each ship took up to 60 tons of hemp fiber for all the big thick anchor cables, all the rope rigging and canvass sails – all that was made out of hemp – and all that hemp had to be replaced every few years so that ensured an enormous and insatiable demand for hemp from the interior of Pennsylvania.
Hemp was grown in great abundance in the Lebanon Valley for more than a century after it’s founding. Alexander Schaefer, the founder of Schaeferstown grew hemp on his farm. An old hemp mill was located not far from there and today a hemp millstone from the old mill still stands guard in a nearby yard, not far from the field it was taken from.
There was another hemp mill in the area of Millbach and in the front yard, nearly half sunken into the soil is the hempstone that once did duty in the mill. In fact, I have found 30 of these hempstones in all so far in museums and private collections. The evidence was all around us for a century yet no one saw it and it the story was forgotten, faded into the misty memory of time.
I could tell you so much more. Like how George Washington visited a hemp mill in Paradise in 1794. Or how James Buchanan fought hard for the hemp farmers of Lancaster County and ordered the secretary of the Navy to rig a half a warship with Lancaster grown hemp canvass and ropes and half with Russian hemp and how our hemp was considered the best in the world. I could go on and on. There’s so much there.
But I will add, if our ancestors in an intelligent, civilized but more primitive condition could raise this tremendous industry from the soil of the fields they toiled with horse and plough, then think of the possibilities NOW! The possibilities for jobs, for agriculture, for the environment.
It would be a shame and a cruel ironic twist of history if the former hemp producing strongholds in the state of Pennsylvania opposed hemp farming. Of course, that is not the case. Our farmers are ready to go.
We intend to bring hemp back to fertile soils of Pennsylvania. We will create jobs. We will help save the family farm. And we will put the Hemp back in Hempfield.
I fully and wholeheartedly endorse and support Senate Bill 50 (as well as SB 3) and I hope you all do as well and join us in getting these bills passed.