The Vault

Advice on Hemp From Benjamin Franklin’s Paper 

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The stoners in Dazed and Confused had one thing right: Colonial Americans, including Virginians Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, did raise hemp (though for practical, not party-at-the-moon-tower, purposes).

This 1729 page from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, shows that hemp production was a topic of concern among northern farmers as well.

Since copyright laws were notoriously weak in the 18th century, the Gazette, like other publications of its time, often reprinted passages from encyclopedias and literature when news was scarce. This front page features an excerpt from the Universal Dictionary (published by Englishman Ephraim Chambers) on the subject of hemp—included, according to an editorial note, “at the Desire of some of our Country Subscribers.”

Chambers lauded the plant as “of great Use in the Arts and Manufactories,” and he outlined its qualities, giving the reader a quick history of its production and role in agriculture during the classical era.

He suggested a couple of medical applications for the crop: “the Seed is said to have the Faculty of abating Venereal Desires; and its Decoction in Milk, is recommended against the Jaundice.” The “Juice” of the plant could help “Deafness.”

Despite these positive applications, Chambers added, the “Powder or Flower, mix’d with any ordinary Liquor, is said to turn those who drink thereof, stupid.”

There’s no mention of smoking anywhere in the entry.

Pennsylvania Gazette front page

GLC 03438.42. Pennsylvania Gazette, Issue 42, page 1. (Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.)