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1780 | Hemp fiber makes pioneer necessities

As settlements sprang up in Central Kentucky, pioneers planted hemp crops wherever enough of the rich Bluegrass land could be cleared (The Advocate-Messenger, 1965). Early settlers had little access to seed, and most of what could be acquired was grown for fiber to make basic needs such as rope, twine, and chord for ship rigging and textiles for clothing, blankets, wagon covering, sail cloth, etc.

Settlers at Bryan’s Station, Boone Creek, and Lexington Station in Fayette County were growing hemp as early as 1780. A man by the name of William Clinkenbeard also claimed to be growing hemp at Strode’s Station in Clark County around the same time (Wharton, 1991).

The first hemp seed I got was while I was in the station after I was married. Saved the stocks and broke it up and my wife made me a shirt out of it. Raised a right smart patch next year. I was at Strode’s yet then. A hole in the creek down below the spring where I used to rot it. Only place, and there only one layer thick at a time. Kill every fish in the hole to water rot hemp in it.

Clinkenbeard also recalled memories at the station in which hemp was grown and turned into linens for the settlers by the women at the fort. In one instance, a group of women had joined together after a local’s death and sewed him thirty yards of hempen material for comfort. Unfortunately, he recalled the material being stolen by Indians in the middle of the night.

“Old Mr. Thomas [Kennedy] had last his wife, and the women in the station had made him thirty years of hemp linen and washed it up, and it was out. Women’s washday in the fort. Hung it all out and the Indians got it all” (Enoch, 2012).

Illustrations of Bryan Station from 1782 describe the fort as having been equipped with “tanning vats, rude contrivances for making rope, and other absolutely necessary articles,” located near a “heavy growth of hemp.”

“It then included about forty cabins with clapboard roofs, all of which sloped inwardly, and like all the larger pioneer forts in Kentucky, was a parallelogram shape, with a block house at each angle, and every space not occupied by the back or outside wall of a cabin was filled in with pointed log pickets twelve feet high. Commencing a little distance form the northeastern brow of the hill overlooking the creek, it ran back two hundred yards in length by fifth parts in width, and was provided with two big gates that swung on enormous wooden hinges. On the outside and close to the palisades were several cabins, in one of which lived James Morgan, his wife and one infant child, and there were other structures that sheltered tanning vats, rude contrivances for making rope, and other absolutely necessary articles…….here was a heavy growth of hemp west and north of the present old brick residence which stands on the ground, then clear of everything but stumps and tall weeds.”



The Advocate-Messenger, 1965

Enoch, H. G. (2012). Pioneer voices: interviews with early settlers of Clark County, Kentucky.

Wharton, M. E. (1991). Bluegrass land and life. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

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