Interest in the possibility of growing hemp in America revived at the end of the Seven Years’ War, when a number of London merchants petitioned for a renewal of the bounty system. Moved by arguments that acquisitions of territory under the Treaty of Paris had opened new areas suitable for hemp production, that new crops should be encouraged because tobacco and rice had been “pushed to their utmost limits,” and that bounties on raw fiber would discourage the colonists from competing with English manufacturers.
Parliament in 1764 provided that colonial hemp imported into England should receive a subsidy of eight pounds a ton for seven years, six pounds a ton for the next seven years, and four pounds a ton for the third like period. Even when the bounty was highest only a small amount of hemp was sent to England, and at the same time fiber was imported into America from Europe to supply the cordage makers on the seaboard.
Interest in the possibility of growing hemp in America
Like the English, the French and Spanish were interested in developing hemp producing areas in their possessions in America. In the Mississippi Valley it is true that France at first forbade the development of the hemp industry, but by 1736 colonial officials were being urged to encourage the production of hemp. Though some of the fiber was sold to the Spaniards shortly before the Seven Years’ War, most of it went to supply domestic needs.
Spanish officials in America as early as 1545 were instructed to encourage the production of hemp, but it was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that a serious effort was made toward that end, the objective being by that time to supply the naval base at San Blas with fiber more satisfactory than that obtained from the native agave plant. Finally, after years of experimentation, the Spanish officials in 1805 decided to offer a subsidy as an incentive to production.
From that time until the outbreak of the independence movement in Mexico, production gradually increased, reaching almost 220,000 pounds in 1810. Withdrawal of the subsidy in the next year brought an end to the commercial production of hemp during the Spanish regime, although small crops were grown for local use.
In the English colonies the troubled years preceding the Revolution brought an increase in the growing of hemp. Nonimportation agreements fostered the production of that commodity, as well as flax and wool, and led to the formation of societies whose objective was encouragement of manufactures of these fibers. The outbreak of war further stimulated the production of hemp and other necessary articles which could not be imported in adequate quantities, and the increased output continued for some time after the return of peace.
The seaboard states continued to grow hemp, but as increasing number of settlers crossed the mountains into the Mississippi Valley and opened new lands to cultivation, Kentucky soon became foremost among the hemp producing areas in the United States.