Acquisition of Ashland in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky gave Clay an opportunity to engage his interest in practical farming. The money crop of the Bluegrass in Clay’s time was not tobacco as it is today, but hemp, with which rope and bags were made. Clay was the hemp crop’s strongest advocate,...
Acquisition of Ashland in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky gave Clay an opportunity to engage his interest in practical farming. The money crop of the Bluegrass in Clay’s time was not tobacco as it is today, but hemp, with which rope and bags were made. Clay was the hemp crop’s strongest advocate, as he planned to rig the entire U.S. Navy with ropes made from Kentuchy hemp. The slender hemp stalks were cut with a hemp knife in the middle of August and allowed to lie in the fields for a period to be rotted by the dew. Then in the winter the slaves broke the stalks with a crude hand-operated machine called a hemp brake, which separated the fiber from the stalk. Dew-rotted Kentucky hemp was inferior to Russian hemp rotted in vats and pools, and it was necessary to protect it from competition with foreign fibers—a fact that partly explains why Clay was such an ardent advocate of a high protective tariff.
After he retired from office as secretary of state in 1829, he returned to Ashland to give to the plantation his personal attention. He became expert in the art of growing hemp and preparing it for market, and had been active in farming only a year when he wrote: “My attachment to rural occupation every day acquires more strength…My farm is in fine order, and my preparations for the crop of the present year are in advance of all my neighbors. I shall make a better farmer than Statesman.”
Autograph Letter Signed, Ashland, April 8, 1837, to O.A. Hall, scientist and author of “A brief oratorical treatise on astronomy, and natural philosophy”. Hall had sent Clay some seeds of a new variety of hemp, and Clay was enthusiastic about experimenting to determine its quality. ”I received your obliging letter of the 31 ult. with the paper of hemp seed to which it refers, and for which I request your acceptance of my cordial thanks. It has reached me in good time to have it sowed at the best period (which is from the 20th April to the 10th May), and which I will have carefully done. I hope that the result of the experiment may be the naturalization of a new and valuable variety of hemp in our country.”
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