PA Hemp – The Untold Story

Posted by on Dec 30, 2015 in Blog

10482577_727127870743070_7555340961000142276_nAs many of you know, I am the official and probably the only hemp historian for Pennsylvania. Before my research almost nothing was known about the historic Pennsylvania hemp industry. If you looked hard enough you could find a paragraph here and a paragraph there but nothing extensive had ever been written.

In 1997 I immersed myself into a five year research project. Within my first year I documented over 100 water-powered hemp mills in Lancaster County. I found out how they worked, who owned them, the years they were in operation, in many cases the exact dimensions of the mills and for most of them, their exact locations.

Funny thing is, I have never published my work on the hemp mills. No one ever said that there were 100 hemp mills in Lancaster County until I came along, discovered it and started telling everyone. And yet no one has ever challenged me on it. No one has ever asked to see the proof. Now you can find that fact all over the internet. It has been accepted as fact. I am so looking forward to publishing that information that proves it and fills in all the details.

Of course, I didn’t just find out about hemp mills in Lancaster County. Also in that first year I found dozens of hemp mills in neighboring York County and extending into Adams County. Then I found dozens of hemp mills in Berks County and more in other nearby counties.

I found all sorts of great information in that first year and starting in 1998 I started speaking wherever I could about the historic Pennsylvania hemp industry even as I was continually uncovering the whole story.

battles-willis-in-tax-book-at-boston-city-archives-022814I kept up the intensive research for another four years and by the time I was finished I had amassed a huge stack of important historical data with tons of great stories to go along with it all. All of this was done before I had a computer, the old fashioned way – by looking at the old tax assessment records on microfiche, census of agriculture, census of manufacturing, census of agriculture, estate inventories, wills, account books, law books, etc.

I hand-wrote a huge manuscript of over 600 pages. Then when I finally got a computer I looked at this handwritten manuscript and wondered how long it would take me to whip this thing into a professional looking book. I felt that it would take me years. So I decided to publish all of my information in a series of books.

2952I self-published Hempstone Heritage I in April of 2005. It had taken me two years to save enough money to print 3,000 copies. In the first book I concentrated on information regarding hemp gleaned from the wills written by our ancestors in Lancaster County. I put a lot of information in there to put the wills in context and included a chapter on the present and the future situation. Many people have told me that it was a powerful book and it opened the eyes of many.

Over the years I have had a burning desire to share all of my information but unfortunately my first book was not successful in the standard way. After ten years I still have two thousand copies of Hempstone Heritage I in storage and of the thousand that are missing it turns out that I probably gave away almost as many books as I have sold – hundreds of them.

Financially it was a bust. I put around $20,000 into the printing and promotion of the book, not to mention the thousands of dollars put into the research and the many thousands of dollars I lost while researching and writing it. I still have thousands of dollars to go before I break even.

In other ways though, my book was a huge success. Hundreds of copies of my books got to the people that needed to know the information the most – college professors, museum curators, historical societies and historians, newspaper editors, spinners and weavers, historical re-enactors, politicians, farmers and people in the ag industry, etc. Hempstone Heritage I has in a way, revolutionized our understanding. It gave me a strong platform to launch the campaign for hemp in Pennsylvania.

State Senator Mike Folmer said that it was Hempstone Heritage I that convinced him to introduce hemp legislation to Pennsylvania and State Senator Judy Schwank agreed to be the prime sponsor of SB50 after receiving a copy. All of the members of the Pa. State Senate and House Agricultural and Rural Affairs committees received a copy before agreeing to a joint hearing on the legislation and many more in the Pa. General Assembly have received a copy.

The point is, I am really proud of Hempstone Heritage I but I still have that burning desire to get the whole story out to the world because when the entirety of my work is revealed it will truly blow people’s minds.

Officially, I ended my research phase in about 2002 with a massive amount of information, stories, anecdotes and historical data. I thought I knew it all. But, from 2002 until 2013 I continued to find more and more information about the Pennsylvania hemp industry.

At the beginning of 2014 I marveled with how much more information I had gathered since my official research phase “ended”.  But then something incredible happen – I found incredibly rich veins of information that have allowed me to amass almost as much information in the last two years as I had gathered in the previous 16 years!

I can’t take sitting on all of this information. I finally decided that it is time for Hempstone Heritage II and then Hempstone Heritage III and possibly IV. I want to publish all of this information as soon as possible. Hemp legislation is likely to pass soon in Pennsylvania and I want to help with the great hemp awakening by making the entire state aware of our deep connection with hemp and the great potential for the future.

10625122_590263341096191_9086065072119710320_nI really want to tell about the hemp mills. I found over 200 of them throughout the state. Hemp mills existed in virtually every township in every county throughout the state. There are probably a hundred more waiting to be discovered but as of now I can prove over two hundred of them in Lancaster, York, Adams, Fulton, Berks, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Northampton, Lehigh, Northumberland, Cumberland, Perry, Juniata, Lebanon, Dauphin and basically counties throughout the state.

As much as I want to tell that story though, first thing will be to publish Hempstone Heritage II: Hemp in the Old House. I don’t expect it to be a huge seller. This is serious information for scholars, researchers, genealogist and people like me who really have a burning desire to know intricate details about the historical hemp industry.

Hemp in the Old House is the result of one intense phase of my research – a five month period where I spent 4 seven hour days a week looking through over 12,000 old estate inventories of Lancaster County covering the years of 1729-1840. I came away with a list of thousands of people with hemp in all forms and studied the information to fully realize how hemp was used in the households of early Pennsylvania. The book will be around 300 pages. Many people will discover that like me, their ancestors were hemp farmers for generations.

I think I can have Hempstone Heritage II ready in a month or two at most. Then, it will be a matter of getting it published. I took a big hit by self publishing so I have no desire to try it again. I am confident that I will find a publisher but if not I will make the information available for free.

Then after Hempstone Heritage II is published I will have a big decision to make. I could make Hempstone Heritage III all about the hemp mills of Pennsylvania. With photographs and stories it will contain a couple hundred pages. Problem is, even if I do that I still have about 300 pages more to publish. So I will decide if I will make it a four book series or publish the hemp mill info in context of the whole story and call it something like The Great Book of Pennsylvania Hemp History.

44848-keanu-reeves-whoa-gif-nOupWhen the whole story is told it will contain about 1,000 pages of hemp history in either three or four books that basically nobody ever knew before. I guarantee it will blow people’s minds and change everything.

All that’s pretty amazing but you’ll never believe this…after I publish all of that information, hopefully over the next year, I intend to publish over 300 pages about the history of medical and recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania! I think people will love it but you first have to understand the hemp industry and how the cannabis situation evolved here. Then it will be time to show how medical cannabis took hold here followed by recreational cannabis and the reefer madness campaign that led to the outlaw of its use here in 1933 and the campaign and debate that has raged in the state for the past 83 years.

100_0907I have a lot of work cut out for me but the hardest part has already been done. Thousands of hours of research has been done over a period of nearly 20 years and I am so anxious to tell the world the whole story – a story that has never been told before, meticulously uncovered and unveiled in all it’s glory – a story that when told and fully understood will change everything.

If you are interested in my first book, Hempstone Heritage I, you can purchase it here.  Your purchase will give me some income as I work to make the fullness of my research known to the world.

~Les Stark