There were 8,000+ hemp plantations , of at least 2000 acres in the U. S. in 1850. It was thought no one had as much skill with hemp than the Negro. For this reason, hemp was sometimes referred to as a “n***** crop”. The hemp duties were dirty and so labor – intensive that few white men would work on it, leaving tasks entirely to slave labor.
The cultivation dominance stayed largely in the south, where higher numbers of enslaved African-Americans were forced to plant, cultivate, reap, and process hemp.
Planting and Harvesting Hemp
The planting season was 120 days long. Hemp was planted 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.
Just past Christmas, After considerable 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. All these things were carried out by enslaved African Americans who worked on their owner’s plantation or were leased out for hemp cultivation.
Though slaves endured arduous labor, there were daily quotas for the amount of harvest and the quantity of lint processed. There were different quotas depending on the age of the workers. A small sum above the required quota was compensated to the slaves. Some earning enough money to purchase their freedom.
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