Nineteenth Century Hemp Culture in the Missouri River Valley

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Texas A & M University, 1982 - Hemp - 628 pages
This dissertation describes the evolution of hemp culture and related economic activities in Missouri during the nineteenth century. Cultivation of hemp as a cash crop was centered in the western valley of the Missouri River and was of major economic importance to the state from the earliest settlement of the interior until the Civil War. The origins of hemp culture in the Upper South are discussed, as are the natural, social, and economic conditions that enabled large-scale, slave-based, commercial agriculture to develop in this region. Nineteenth-century techniques of hemp cultivation and the process for extracting fiber from hemp plants are described in detail, and estimates of acreages and labor requirements for crops of various yields and sizes are presented. Based on agricultural censuses, comparisons are made between hemp plantations and other types of agricultural enterprises. Several case studies allow a closer look at the commitment to this staple in the western Missouri Valley. A compilation of statistics--percent of farmers engaged in fiber production and estimated acreage per farmer--by township permits delineation of the Missouri Hemplands as an agricultural region. The growth of specialized fiber manufactures (i.e., baling rope and bagging for the southern cotton market) in the western Missouri Valley and St. Louis is examined, along with the characteristics and distribution of these industries. Also investigated are the growth of trade in raw fiber and fiber products and the marketing problems encountered in the antebellum era, including quality control, fluctuation demands, and competition with cheaper imported fiber. The possibilities that existed for producing hemp fiber for the maritime market are discussed briefly. The demise of hemp culture is viewed as the result of several factors, the most immediate being the impact of the Civil War, with the loss of slave labor and southern markets. Foreign competition was another major contributing cause. The underlying problem, however, was the failure, despite persistent attempts, to mechanize fiber production on the farm. Faced with these difficulties, hemp growers converted to corn and livestock production in the post-war decades, and the Missouri Hemplands disappeared.

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