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John Read discusses the cultivation of hemp

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Source Name Image(s)
CollectionPierpont Morgan Library: Henry Knox Papers view image
Document Information
Date January 3, 1789
Author Name John Read (primary) Location: Boston
Recipient Name Henry Knox (primary) Location: New York
Summary Letter, describes growing hemp and cultivating seed.
Document Format Autograph Letter Signed
Document Notes [not available]
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups Henry Knox; John Read; ;
Related Places New York; Boston; Europe; America; ;
Keywords polite and obliging letter; observe your desire; informed of the whole process of raising and fitting hemp for use; inform; method in the cultivation of this useful plant; person benefitted; soil; raising hemp; light rich mould as free from stones or gravel as possible; impregnated with clay; care is taken; manured; ploughed in the fall of the year; spring; harrowed with an iron toothed harrow; separate the particles of earth; leave it as light as possible; light brush harrow is drawn by one horse over the ground; leveled; receive the seed; marked out for sowing; barley & oats are generally sown; calculating if the soil is very good; middling good; bushels per acre; fine iron toothed harrow; treading; injured; last years growth; benefitted by laying in the cellar a few weeks previous to its being sowed; sow my seed; middle of May; governed by the season; fit to pull; male hemp; Farina passes off; discovered by its smoking when agitated by the wind; jared by a stick; spread on the ground where it grew; inch thick; carried off to other ground; turned with a small pole; days more sun; bound into bundles; inches in circumference; rotting; small stream of water that runs through my farm; erected a dam; hemp is laid; flax; covering it with straw; plant; Dam gate is shut down; overflowed; properly rotted; weather being generally warm at that season of the year; attending to the heat or cold; proper rot; practise; weight; well draned; dry piece of ground; handled; week; taken up tyed in bundles & removed into the barn; leisure time; break; clear cold weather; first breaking; coarse trough; teeth; fit for use; raising seed; best grown; female; width; men; reach in their hands and pull up; process is performed; stand till the seed is fully ripe; turning brown; wet weather; fence; striking it lightly; expose the other side to the sun; thickness of the bark; quantity of glutinous substance; what manner is best; pfrefer's the old to the new; horse; cow; dung; ploughed in; the fall; acre of ground; quality of the soil; manner of preparing; piece of dyked marsh; salt water; small part dug carefully; old dung; well mixt with sand; full height; further tryal; enquire the expence of cultivating; power at present to ascertain; price; state; encourage the culture; growth; experience; branch of agriculture; land is found suitable; advantae; farmers; truth of this observation; enriches the soil; weight; cleaning; advantage accrues; communicating; ;
Key Phrases [not available]

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The Honble
Henry Knox Esquire
Secretary at War
New York
[Editor's Note: The following is written upside down in the lower right hand corner of the document, underneath a stamped letter "A"]
In the cultivation of
Hemp - [Editor's Note: The "H" in Hemp is scribbled out and an undecipherable symbol is written underneath it]
from John Read Esqr
3d January 1789
answered by a letter of
Thanks the 11th Jany
XXIII - 54 2998L
Boston January 3d1789
Jno Read Esq
Your polite and obliging letter of the 9th Ulto is now before me; I observe your desire is, to be inform'd of the whole process of raising and fitting Hemp for use: I shall readily inform you of my own method in the cultivation of this usefull plant, and shall be happy if you are gratified, and any person benefited thereby.—
The soil I choose for raising Hemp, is a light rich mould, as free from stones or gravel as possible, and not any way impregnated with Clay; Care is taken to have the soil thoroughly manured & once well ploughed in the fall of the year. In the Spring the soil is ploughed two or three times more, and as often harrowed with an Iron toothed harrow, in order to separate the particles of Earth, and leave it as light as possible; Then a light Brush harrow is drawn by one horse over the ground, by which means is is leveled so as to receive the seed equally; after which it is marked out for sowing in the same manner that Barley & oats are generally sown, Calculating if the soil is very good at three bushels pr acre, if but middling good at two & an half bushels pr acre; the seed is always
harrowed in (immediately after harrowing[?]) [undecipherable]
with a fine Iron toothed harrow, and nothing is suffered to pass over it afterwards, last by treading or otherways it might be injured — The seed must be of the last years growth, and will be benefitted by laying in the Cellar a few weeks previous to its being sowed. —
In general I sow my seed about the middle of May (being governed by the season I a little sooner or later will do — my Hemp is commonly fit to pull by the 8th or 10th of August, which is known by the male hemp turning whitish just at the time when the Farina passes off, this is easily discover'd by its smoaking when agitated by the wind, or jared by a stick—
After the Hemp is pulled, it is spread on the ground where it grew, about one Inch thick, and what that will not receive is carried off to other ground, and after laying two or three days, is turned with a small pole about six feet long; then receiving one or two days more sun, it is bound into Bundles of about fifteen or eighteen inches in circumference, and immediately housed from soil[?] untill convenient time offers to put it into theater for retting, which is done as soon as other business will admitt. — There being a small stream of water that runs through my farm, I have erected a Dam which enables me to flow a pond about five or six feet high, wherein the Hemp is Laid (much in the same manner that flax is laid for retting) and after covering it with straw to [Undecipherable] its [Undecipherable] the plant & stems being placed
placed thereon, the Dam gate is shut down, and
the Hemp being overflowed remains till it is properly
retted, which is done in six or seven days, if put
in the latter end of August or begining of September —
The weather being generally warm at that season of the
year. If put into the water, the latter end of September
or begining of October, I have lat it lay Twelve days,
If the latter end of October or begining of November
Twenty days, unless the weather should be uncommon
warm for the season. In that case I have found
it necessary to be removed sooner — but have made a point
of attending to the heat or cold of the weather,
as when the water is warm the Hemp will get a
proper ret much sooner then when it is otherways.
My practise has been to draw the water from
the Hemp Twenty four hours before the taking it up,
leaving the weight on the Hemp, in order that it
may be well draned, as in that case it is much
better handled; then it is removed to a dry piece of
ground and spread about two inches thick, and
after remaining a week or ten days in that
situation, it is turned over: and in eight or ten
days after taken up, tyed in bundles & removed
into the Barn; where it remains 'till I have
leisure time to treat & swingle it out, for which
purpose have found clear cold weather
to be the best. — My Hemp is broke & swingled
much in the same manner that Flax is done,
excepting that the first breaking is done in a coarse break
the teethe or flatts being nearly four Inches apart; then
a common flax break answers well, & being carefully
Swingled is fit for use. A man that understands
the breaking & swingling Hemp, will clean me 50lbs
pr. day — My practice for raising seed hath
been to set apart some of my best grown hemp
for that purpose, then pull up the male & female
Hemp for about 18 Inches in width so that a man
may pass through, leaving the other Hemp in beds
about six feet in width, that two men (one on each
side) may reach on their hands and pull up all
the male, without injuring the seed bearing Hemp.
This process is performed when the general pulling is
done in August — the female Hemp must stand till
the seed is fully ripe, which is known by its turning
brown: in wet weather I have been obliged to let
it stand till the middle of October before it was fit
to pull — after it is pulled it must be tied up in
Bundles like the other Hemp, and carefully layed up
against a fence, or if that is not convenient it
may be layed on the ground and after one or two
days sun it may be beat out in the same manner
that flax seed is beat out, striking it lightly, then
expose the other side to the sun one or two days,
after which give it a thorough beating, and spred the
seed with all the leaves &cc in a dry place for some
days, then thrash it with a light flail, or rest[?] it
XXIII -54 Boston Jany 2 1789 John Read
by hand, either way till the seed is all out, and
after winnowing, put it in a dry place for sowing
the next year — The seed bearing Hemp requires
a few days longer to rot then the other, owing to
the thickness of the Bark and the greater quantity
of glutinous substance occasioned by its longer standing.
You wish to know what manure is best, I
have always prefer'd the old to the new, more
especially if horse of cow Dung, but new will do,
and much the better if ploughed in, in the fall.
With regard to the quantity of Hemp
raised on an acre of ground — it varies from six
to twelve Hundred weight, mush depending on the
quality of the soil and the manner of preparing
it — I have this last season tryed the experiment
of raising Hemp on a peice of dyked Marsh, the
salt water having been kept out better than one
year, I had a small part dug carefully, & manured
with some old Dung that was well mixt with
sand, the Hemp grew to full height and proved to be
of the best kind: this encouragement has occasioned
my preparing a larger peice for further tryal the
next year. — You enquire the expense of
cultivating an Acre of Hemp &cc This is not in my
power at present to ascertain, great part of the
business being done at leisure & when the time could
be best spared, I would just observe that I can raise
two or three acres yearly on my small farm without
interfering much with other Business. — The price
of Hemp her is Fifty five pounds pr. Ton, the Bounty
given by the State to encourage the culture of this
usefull plant is Twelve pounds, making in the whole
better than Two Hundred & Twenty Dollars per Ton —
the high price of hemp together with the bounty, bids
fair to establish its growth here; and I am fully
Satisfied from my own experience, that at the present
day no branch of agriculture (where land is found
suitable) can be carried on to so great advantage as
that of raising Hemp, and I have no doubt that our
farmers will soon be convinced of the truth of this
observation — it having been found by experience
both in Europe and America that the growing of
Hemp rather enriches the soil then otherways, this
also will have its weight. — Several experiments
will be made on cultivating and cleaning Hemp the
next year; if any advantage accrues therefrom, I shall
do myself the honor of communicating it to you as
early as possible. In the mean time beleive me to
be with great esteem —
Your mo. obt. huml. Sert.
John Read

The Honble General Know Esqr —