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Throughout his lifetime, George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial uses.

Why Grow Hemp?

The fibers from hemp hold excellent properties for making rope and sail canvas. In addition, hemp fibers can be spun into thread for clothing or, as indicated in Mount Vernon records, used in repairing the large seine nets Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac.

Hemp fibers could be spun into thread and used in repairing the large seine nets. (MVLA)

At one point in the 1760s, Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined wheat was a better alternative.

Learn More about Washington's Farms

George Washington Hemp Farmer, by Aia Leu, 2013

Yes, George Washington did grow hemp...

...but not the kind you're thinking of.

Growing Hemp Today

Since the spring of 2018, Mount Vernon has planted an industrial cultivar of hemp on the four-acre Farm site. Under the 2015 Industrial Hemp Law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and working with the industrial hemp research program of the University of Virginia, Mount Vernon planted hemp to expand its interpretation of George Washington’s role as an enterprising farmer. As the first historic home of the founding fathers to plant hemp, Mount Vernon uses the plant as an interpretative tool to help better tell the story of Washington’s role as a farmer.

Harvesting of the industrial hemp takes place each summer. After the industrial hemp is dried, it is used in fiber-making demonstrations onsite.

Visit Mount Vernon's Hemp Plot

Dean Norton, director of horticulture at Mount Vernon, plants industrial hemp at the four-acre Farm site. (MVLA)

"I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills ... Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. foin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where."

- George Washington to William Pearce, 24 February 1794

Read the Full Letter

Hemp History

Hemp, Cannabis sativa, is a plant originally from central Asia. It was cultivated with, and sometimes in place of, flax because the stem fibers are similar.

By the 17th century, Russia, Latvia, and other countries around the Baltic Sea were the major producers of hemp. It was from these areas Britain obtained its supply. However, during periods of military hostilities, the English had trouble acquiring enough hemp.

  • Rope made from hemp was vital to navies worldwide.
  • Hemp was used to make a coarse linen cloth, sacking, and other rough materials.
  • The oil extra of hemp seeds, like those of flax, was used in paints, varnishes, and soaps.

Hemp rope. (The American encyclopædia of commerce, manufactures, commercial law, and finance et. 1886)

Washington's Use of Hemp

George Washington’s initial interest in hemp was as a cash crop. After deciding not to cultivate it as a cash crop, Washington grew it to meet the needs of his own plantation.

Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas, and for repairing the seine nets used at the fisheries. Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp grew at all five farms which made up Mount Vernon (Mansion House, River Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm, and Union Farm).

Five Farms Map

Hemp was a critical component of Washington's fishing operation—the most lucrative enterprise at Mount Vernon.

Cannabis sativa vs. Cannabis indica

The type of industrial hemp grown at Mount Vernon is not the same cultivar of Cannabis used for recreational or medicinal purposes. Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and therefore has no physical or psychological effects. Cannabis grown for recreational or medicinal purposes (Cannabis indica) can contain 6% to 20% THC.

There is no truth to the statement that George Washington grew marijuana. His hemp crop was strictly the industrial strain needed for the production of rope, thread, canvas, and other industrial applications.