There were 8,000+ hemp plantations of at least 2000 acres in the U. S. in 1850. No one had as much skill with hemp as the African-American man. For that reason, hemp was known as the “n* crop.” The hemp duties were dirty and so intensive that white men would work on it, leaving tasks entirely to slave labor.
The cultivation dominance stayed in the south, where slaves planted, cultivated, reaped, and processed hemp.
Planting and Harvesting Hemp
The planting season was 120 days long. Hemp plants grew in soil that had been plowed and rotated in the Spring. At the beginning of September, plants were cut down with hemp hooks and dried in the fields.
Past Christmas and rotting, stalks were grouped into stacks to dry and undergo the breaking process. “Hemp breaks” were dragged to the stacks in the fields, then fistfuls of stalks on the two sides of the break were beaten. Slaves who worked on their owner’s plantation or leased out for hemp cultivation looked after the workload.
Though slaves endured arduous labor, there were daily quotas for the amount of harvest and the quantity of lint processed. Allotments were dependent on the age of the workers. A small sum over what was required was balanced. Some slaves earned enough money to purchase their freedom.
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