New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Early Attempts to Introduce the Cultivation of Hemp in Eastern British America

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There are many references in British pre-Loyalist land grants to the necessity for grantees to grow hemp. This was because hemp was used to make rope and could also be used to make sails. It was therefore as important to Britain’s naval power as were masts. Masts, hemp, tar and other materials could be obtained from many places, but supplies could sometimes be jeopardized by international politics and British colonial suppliers were usually preferred.

Efforts were made for New Brunswick to become a supplier of hemp, but it was never a major crop and the history of this was reviewed by Jonas Howe in the following paper written in 1892. Notwithstanding these efforts, “There was not sufficient hemp raised in Nova Scotia for criminal purposes.”


The Eleanor, built in 1854 at Quaco, N.B.

From the New Brunswick Museum

Early Attempts to Introduce the Cultivation of Hemp in Eastern British America

A Paper Read before the New Brunswick Historical Society in 1892, by Jonas Howe, Corresponding Secretary of the Society

The cultivation of hemp was early attempted or suggested by the first colonizers of this portion of the American continent, and in nearly all of the old works relating to the early settlement of northeastern America, reference is frequently made to the importance of its cultivation and the benefits that would in consequence result to a maritime people. Richard Hakluyt, the industrious and enthusiastic compiler of early voyages, in his Discourse Concerning Westerne Planting, written and presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1584, mentions among the probable important products of “New founde lande,” hemp for making cables and cordage. And in another chapter of his discourse, he recommends that the “multitude of loyterers and idle vagabonds” then infesting England be transported and “condemned for certain years in the western partes, especially in Newefounde lande, in sawinge and fellinge of tymber for mastes of shippes and deale boordes; in burninge of the firres and pine trees to make pitche, tarr and rosen and sope ashes; in beatinge and workinge of hempe for cordage.”

Hemp was raised and spun in Virginia previous to 1648, and in 1651 its cultivation was encouraged in that colony by bounties offered by government.

In the Plymouth colony the cultivation of hemp was also attempted, as hemp seed was ordered for that colony as early as 1620.

But a species of native hemp may have been grown in the northern parts of this continent, for it is related that Jacques Cartier, on his first voyage to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in 1534, met native Indians in the Bay of Chaleur fishing with nets made of a kind of hemp. [Rev. B.F. DaCosta in Narrative and Critical History of America.]

The early French explorers attached great importance to the lands visited by Cartier and his successors, and justly formed a high estimate of the vast resources of our Acadia. Sieur Borgier of Rochelle, one of the early grantees of Acadia, on a visit to our coast in 1684, planted at Chedabucto Bay, on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, wheat, rye and barley, and in the autumn reaped the harvest and carried the produce to France for exhibition. Flax, hemp, peas, beans and all kinds of vegetables, Sieur Borgier asserted, grew there as well as they did in the neighborhood of Paris.

M. de la Ronde Denys, a captain of infantry in the French army, and grandson of Nicholas Denys, the first historian of Acadia, writing from Cape Breton in 1713, says: “We are deficient in nothing required, for we have the wood, the tar, the coal, and the masting, and eventually the hemp will be common there to make cordage and sails.”

The fall and capture of Port Royal by the English under Nicholson in 1710 made Nova Scotia a part of the British empire, the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, having confirmed the conquest. In 1718 Sir Alexander Cairnes, James Douglas and Joshua Gee petitioned the crown for a grant of land on the sea coast, five leagues southwest and five leagues northeast of Chebucto, now Halifax, harbor. These gentlemen proposed to build a town, and improve the country round it in raising hemp and in making pitch, tar and turpentine. The petition was not granted; and no attempt at settlement was made at Chebucto until 1749, when Halifax was founded by English settlers under Cornwallis. Three years previous to this event, in the autumn of 1746, the duke d’Anville, on his ill-fated expedition against the English settlements on the Atlantic coast, rendezvoused at Chebucto with the remainder of his fleet, where the unfortunate duke and many of his soldiers died.

During this period the English lords of trade were continually urging on the colonies the importance of producing hemp in such quantities as to render England independent of the northern countries of Europe for a supply of that material so necessary to a naval power, and Dr. Douglas, the author of a work entitled, A Summary, Historical and Political, of the First Planting of the British Settlements in America, mentions hemp among other articles, the product of the colonies, on which all enumerations, or duties, be taken off to encourage trade and navigation.

On the 8th of April, 1752, three years after the settlement of Halifax, the governor and council of Nova Scotia, who were vested with the powers of legislation, among other bounties granted to stimulate and encourage agriculture among the settlers, offered 3d. per pound for hemp produced in that province.

Vigorous efforts were made during these years to people the province, particularly the lands from which the Acadian French were so ruthlessly driven. The fall of Quebec and the conquest of Canada brought peace to Nova Scotia, as well as to all the possessions of the English on this continent, and among the inducements offered to settlers to come and possess the rich lands near the Bay of Fundy, they were assured that those lands had produced “wheat, rye, barley, oats, hemp, flax, etc., for more than 100 years past, never failing of crops nor needing to be manured.” [Murdock’s History of Nova Scotia.]

We find no record, for some years after the conquest, of efforts made or suggestions offered in reference to the cultivation of hemp in these provinces. The revolutionary controversy and the struggle for independence involved the scant population of Acadia to some extent in that contest, and the influx of the Loyalists at its close gave great impetus and growth to our industries and added vastly to our commercial importance, and efforts were again made by the British government to extend the cultivation of hemp in the remaining loyal colonies. Scattered through the Haldimand papers (Dominion archives) will be found frequent reference to the cultivation of this important article, and the anxiety evinced by British statesmen at the close of the last century to render the empire independent of foreign powers for its supply of this necessary and important naval requisite is apparent in all of these communications. And it was even suggested by some of the writers that persons conversant with the cultivation and preparation of hemp be selected in Russia and Poland and sent to these provinces to teach the inhabitants the best methods then in use in northern Europe. England, as mistress of the seas, was soon to be engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain her supremacy against powerful enemies, and it was only natural she should look to her own loyal kith and kin in these provinces for support in the day of trial.

In 1788 premiums were offered in Nova Scotia for the cultivation of hemp, but little progress was apparently made, as the quantity produced does not appear to have been large, and in 1801 Sir John Wentworth, by direction of the British secretary of state for the colonies, again recommended its cultivation, and the sum of £200 was voted by the Nova Scotia legislature to buy hemp seed for distribution among the farmers of that province, but we have no knowledge of the progress made or quantity produced during those years.

No attempt of which we have any record seems to have been made in New Brunswick to introduce the cultivation of hemp until the year 1803—twenty years after the landing of the loyalists. On the 11th of March, 1803, during the session of the general assembly at Fredericton, the following message from Governor Thomas Carleton was communicated to the house of assembly:

“The lieutenant-governor informs the house that his majesty’s ministers have, in their communications to him, pointed out the importance of giving all practical encouragement to the raising of hemp in this province; he therefore recommends to the consideration of the house the making of some provision tor granting bounties for this purpose, being confident of their zeal to contribute, as far as may be in their power, to an object so interesting to the national welfare.”

The suggestion contained in Governor Carleton’s message was acted on, and on Tuesday, March 15th, 1803, the following resolutions were passed by the house of assembly, and afterwards concurred in by the legislative council:

Whereas, the growth and culture of hemp in this province would be of great national advantage;

Resolved, that a bounty of thirty pounds be granted to the person who within four years shall in any one year raise the greatest quantity of merchantable hemp in this province, provided the same exceed one ton.

That a bounty of twenty pounds be granted to the person who within the same period as aforesaid, shall raise the next greatest quantity of the same article in this province, provided the same exceed half a ton.

That a bounty of ten pounds be granted to the person who within the same period as aforesaid, shall raise the next greatest quantity of the same article in this province, provided the same exceed a quarter of a ton.

That a further bounty of ten pounds per ton be granted for every ton of merchantable hemp raised within the same period as aforesaid in this province.

That a bounty of twenty pounds be granted to such person as shall import into this province forty bushels of good new, clean hemp seed and distribute the same to the inhabitants of this province in his discretion as the same may be called for.

Resolved, that this house will make provision for payment of the bounties aforesaid, when the same may be required, and proper vouchers and certificates from the justices of the common pleas in the respective counties in favor of the person claiming the same, shall be produced.

We are unable now to state to what extent the cultivation of hemp was encouraged by the bounties offered, as we have not had an opportunity to search the records of our province to ascertain, but in the published proceedings of the legislative council—the only record to which we have had access—there is no mention of further action on the part of our provincial authorities relative to the subject.

On the 29th of July, 1808, Colonel Edward Goldstone Lutwyche was appointed agent for New Brunswick in Great Britain, and the Hon. George Leonard and the Hon. Ward Chipman appointed a committee to correspond with Colonel Lutwyche. Among the subjects that early claimed the attention of the committee of correspondence was the cultivation and preparation of hemp in this province. On the 5th of September, 1808, the committee wrote Colonel Lutwyche the following letter, marked No. 2, on this important subject, and which has not heretofore been printed:

St. John, N.B., 5th Sepr., 1808.

Dear Sir—From the royal instructions that have been from time to time given respecting grants of land, and from the intimations of government on other occasions, it appears to be an object of great magnitude to encourage the culture of hemp in these provinces; and the late interruption of the friendly intercourse between Great Britain and Russia must have increased the importance of having a resource within his majesty’s dominions for the supply of an article so essential to the maritime interests of the nation. From the experiments that have been already made, it has been ascertained beyond a doubt that a great proportion of the land in this country is peculiarly adapted to the growth of this article, but the difficulty of producing it in any considerable quantity fit for market arises from a want of sufficient knowledge of the mode of dressing it, and a sufficient capital to procure the necessary hands and implements for this purpose, no individual having it in his power to engage in so expensive a speculation without public aid. If the government, therefore, is desirous of availing itself of this country for a supply of hemp, some method must be fallen upon to procure and send out at the public expence a number of settlers from the north of Germany acquainted with the best manner of raising, curing and dressing it, and to furnish them with seed and proper implements for the purpose.

There is no doubt that land already fit for its cultivation might be procured on which to make a fair experiment, and the produce would probably in the course of a few years repay all the expense that the government would be at; and in case of success, the example would stimulate others to engage in a similar undertaking, so as gradually to make this article one of the most valuable staple commodities of this and the neighboring provinces. If these suggestions should be thought worthy of attention, the commander-in-chief of the province might be instructed to look out for and provide a proper place whereon to fix a company of settlers of this description; and the business, while in such a course of experiment, might be managed under the direction of such an overseer as he might think fit to employ, government sustaining the loss or reaping the profits that might be derived from a speculation so much beyond the abilities of any person here to engage in at his own risk.

After considerable discussion of the subject here, the result of the opinions seems to be that in some such way as this only can a measure of so much importance be tried with any probability of success. We have, therefore, thought it our duty to make it the subject of a letter to you that it may be fairly brought before his majesty’s ministers for their consideration, if no material objection should arise in your mind after due deliberation and inquiry, to make the requisite communications on the subject.

We have the honor to be, etc., etc.,

(Signed) George Leonard, and Ward Chipman

E.G. Lutwyche.

To this letter Colonel Lutwyche made the following reply:

The Hon’bles George Leonard and Ward Chipman:

Gentlemen—I have the pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No. 2, and the duplicate, and having several times conversed with Lord Sheffield on the subject of cultivating hemp in the British colonies, I communicated it to his lordship as a probable means of furthering your views, in answer to which he says:

“I have repeatedly endeavored to promote the encouragement of the growth of hemp in the British colonies, I have recommended the culture on various occasions by several applications, and particularly when I was president of the board of agriculture; but I observed among men in office a grave distrust of the opinion that hemp could be raised to advantage, or in any material quantity, in our colonies. It appears to me from the many papers I have read on the subject, that the great desideratum would be to procure persons from hence and from Germany who understand the dressing of hemp. Ministers will object to the expense, unless they were convinced of the advantage to be derived from it. I shall not probably settle in London till the first week in February, when I shall be ready to assist in a measure that may prove beneficial not only to the British colonies, but to the empire at large.”

Under the circumstance of his lordship having failed in his representations, and his readiness to co-operate with me, I have thought it most prudent to postpone the application until his return, when it there is a chance of succeeding, it will be much increased. Ministers must now be convinced of the necessity, as well as policy, of being independent of foreign states, for an article of the first necessity to a maritime country like this, and therefore they will require to be convinced of the probability of deriving a supply from the colonies to induce them to afford proper encouragement.

I understand the matter will be referred to the board of trade, and their decision will most probably regulate the conduct of the ministers.

Perhaps before the sailing of the next packet I may be enabled to give you some further information on the subject.

I have the honour to be, gent’s,

Your most h’ble serv’t,

E.G. Lutwyche

Kensington, 10th Jan’y., 1809.

The correspondence on the subject seems to have ended with this letter, but the discussion continued in England. Nathaniel Atcheson, F.A.S., the eminent writer on colonial affairs, that year (1808) published his celebrated book, American Encroachments on British Rights, or observations on the importance of the British North American colonies, and thus refers to the efforts made to encourage the culture of hemp in these provinces:

“It has long been an object of the government of this country to promote and encourage the cultivation of hemp and flax in the British colonies in America, and for that purpose bounties have been given and various means adopted to attain an object of such importance as that of raising, within the British empire, these two valuable materials; and there can be no doubt that if measures are now adopted to secure the home market to the growers of them for a reasonable period, such extended cultivation and improved management will take place as will render Great Britain in a few years independent of foreign countries for these raw materials of her manufactures.”

“Within the last two years proper persons have been appointed by government to superintend and aid the exertions of the colonists who might be induced to cultivate this article in Canada; but the encouragement hitherto afforded has not been considered adequate or likely to induce the generality of landholders to engage extensively in the cultivation of hemp. It has unfortunately happened that of the hemp seed sent out to this colony a considerable part turned out to be kiln-dried. The soil for hemp should be rich, deep, light and moderately dry. Of this description much can be found on the banks of the creeks and rivers in Canada, Upper Canada, from the nature of its soil and climate, has been thought to be peculiarly well adapted to the cultivation of hemp, and some good samples have been produced and brought from thence. Whether it will ever become an article of general cultivation in this province is dubious from the high price of labor and the loss it is supposed a farmer would sustain by the cultivation of hemp instead of wheat and other grain. This apprehension, however, does not apply to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, where the lands are equally good and calculated for the cultivation of this valuable article, and where it appears experiments have been made with success and profit.”

Nothing further was done in New Brunswick relative to this matter of hemp culture, and as trouble was even then brewing with our neighbors—the United States—the subject it seems was not again referred to, as matters of more vital importance to our provincial rulers soon engrossed their attention at home. In 1812 war was declared against England by the United States, and enterprises of this nature had to be abandoned, and when peace was restored the subject of hemp culture does not appear to have been again brought prominently before our people. In the meantime the march of maritime progress and enterprise brought other materials into active competition, and the fine manila hemp from the Philippine Isles superseded that grown in northern climes, and its cultivation no longer became a matter of national importance to our naval authorities.

In seeking information on this interesting subject, the writer addressed a communication to Julius L. Inches, Esq., secretary of agriculture for New Brunswick, probably the best authority in this province, and was favored with the following information relative to the cultivation of hemp in New Brunswick during recent years:

Office for Agriculture, Fredericton, N. B., March 21, 1892

In regard to the cultivation of hemp in New Brunswick there is very little information to be had; in recent times it has not been cultivated to any extent except in the French settlements bordering on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in Madawaska county, and they raise it for their own use only. There is no effort to make a business of it. There is no difficulty about its growing in this province, but I do not look upon it as an industry that can be made profitable, or indeed prosecuted to any great extent under present circumstances. Labor is too dear with us to make it remunerative, and it is not probable it will be more plenty in the near future. The French settlers cultivate the plant in small patches for their own use without any effort to make it pay by selling a portion of the crop. The labor is principally done by the females, who do not think of trying any of the new modes of working land or harvesting crops. I do not know of any published articles that can be got from which you might obtain any information. I remember, a long time back, that it was proposed to stimulate the production of hemp, but without any satisfactory results, and in recent years it is never mentioned or named as one of the subjects for consideration.

Note.—The writer has quoted freely from Beamish Murdock’s History of Nova Scotia.

The writer is indebted to Anthony Atcheson Esq., of the customs department, grandson of Nathaniel Atcheson, F.A.S., for the use of the copy of American Encroachments on British Rights, from which the quotations inserted in this paper were taken. The volume was the author’s private copy, and contains notes and corrections in the handwriting of that distinguished writer, and is marked with his book-plate and autograph.

To I. DeLancey Robinson, Esq., of Fredericton, the writer is also indebted for valuable information.

Before closing this portion of the paper we must refer to a phase of the question heretofore omitted. After the peace of 1763 a number of grants were given to prominent persons in the other colonies of large areas of land in Nova Scotia. Among the conditions imposed on the grantees of these early grants by government, “they were to plant, within ten years from the date of the grant, one rood [¼ acre] to every 1,000 acres with hemp, and to keep a like quantity of land planted during the successive years.” (Patterson’s History of the County of Pictou.) But this condition was not complied with, and a witty member of the Nova Scotia legislature—Lawrence Doyle—publicly stated before that body, three quarters of a century after these grants were given, that there was not sufficient hemp raised in Nova Scotia for criminal purposes.

(The remainder of Jonas Howe’s paper is an appendix, with biographical notes for some of the people named in the foregoing. —J.W.)


Written by johnwood1946

December 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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