US Navy Hemp Purchases – 1846

Synopsis: This report, written in 1846, at the request of the US Congress, holds several conversations between various official entities, as well as hemp farmers, in regards to the preparation of hemp of use in the Navy. The reports hold very specific details to the preparation work that went into hemp during that time period, the areas and amounts of hemp being grown in the US, and the market prices for hemp in the US at that time. Full details of the report are transcribed below. All images can be clicked on to bring up full size pictures of the original documentation.

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29th Congress, 1st Session.                                                                                                   Ho. Of Reps. Navy Dept.

Doc. No. 160.


Hemp and Hemp Agencies



The Secretary of the Navy

Relative To


The purchase of hemp and the establishment of hemp agencies in Kentucky and Missouri, in compliance with a resolution of the House of Representatives of the 16th of February last.


March 10, 1846.

Read, and referred to the Committee on Agriculture.


Navy Department

March 6, 1846.

Sir : In compliance with the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 16th ultimo, directing the Secretary of the Navy to inform the House “how much hemp has been purchased for use of the navy in each year since and including the year 1840; and of what country the growth, and quantity obtained from each country ; the various qualities or classes of hemp, and the price paid for each ; from whom purchased, and the manner of making the purchase ; also, what steps have been taken by the department to carry into effect the law establishing a hemp agency in Kentucky and in Missouri,” I have the honor to submit a report, and a supplementary report from the Bureau of Construction, in which, and in the accompanying documents, all the required information will be found. It will appear that during the past year more than one-half the annual supply has been obtained of American growth, and the purchases of American hemp have exceeded those of any previous year almost tenfold. This affords good ground for believing that it is possible to obtain from American fields the supply of hemp for the American Navy. Some little increase of expense will be the consequence for the first three of four years. I understand the law to warrant the purchase of American water-rotted hemp at or near the places of its production, at the market price of foreign hemp of the same quality in the seaport towns of the United States. No offers having been made under the advertisement of October last, I consider myself as having authority to make open purchases directly of the producers as the price of foreign hemp of the same quality during the time to which that advertisement extends. It might be well to give power to the department to make such open purchases at the rate fixed by the joint resolution of February 18, 1843, for a period of three years. Inconveniences would undoubtedly attend such an arrangement, and it is possible that sometimes unwise purchases would be made ; but the government can well afford to run some little risk in view of the great result of supplying the navy with hemp of our own growth and manufacture. The country may safely rely on the ingenuity and enterprise of American agriculturists to perfect the system of producing and preparing in the best possible manner an article of such absolute necessity to the maritime service. Nothing will be wanting on my part to give the most favorable construction to the directions of Congress on the subject.

The supplementary report of the Bureau of Construction contains an account of a simpler process of water-rotting hemp. I did not hesitate to direct the purchase of a few tons of hemp prepared in this manner. The results of the experiments upon it are also given, and by them it will appear that hemp thus prepared has passed the tests heretofore used in inspection.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

George Bancroft.

Hon. John W. Davis,

Speaker of the House of Representatives



Navy Department,

Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair, March, 1846.

Sir: In compliance with your instructions to furnish information required by the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 16th ultimo, in relation to the hemp which has been purchased for the navy since the commencement of the year 1840, and to the steps which have been taken to carry to carry into effect the law establishing a hemp agency in Kentucky and in Missouri. I have the honor to present an abstract statement which shows the quantities and varieties of hemp purchased in each year, from 1840 to 1845, inclusive, with the prices paid, the names of the persons to whom the payments were made, and the country where the hemp was grown, or from which it was obtained, as reported from the navy yard, Boston, at which place all was received excepting a small quantity purchased for tests by the hemp agents.

It appears that the small quantities of domestic hemp that were purchased in 1842 and 1843 were procured under the instructions given to Mr. A. G. Brown, of the 3d March, 1842. The prices first paid were determined by those instructions; but subsequently to the joint resolution of Congress of February 18, 1843; the prices were regulated as required by that resolution. It would seem that, although the hemp was forwarded by individuals in the western states to Boston, the payments were made to persons in that place who were probably agents for others.

The parcels of hemp purchased from Messrs. Harrison & Billings, prepared in a new manner patented by them, and its purchase, without advertisement, were authorizes after report of its quality and strength, for the purpose of ascertaining its relative value as compared with hemp water rotted in the usual mode.

The hemp from Russia was procured by contracts; and that from the Luzon (or Manilla hemp) was partly procured by open purchase, and partly by contracts after advertisement, as the urgency of the wants on the station required. Under the resolution of the 11th September, 1841, Mr. A. G. Brown was appointed an agent for the department on the 4th February, 1842, and the detailed instructions for his government were issued on the 3d March following, which are annexed. Mr. Brown resigned after a year’s employment.

Under the resolution of the 18th February. 1843, Mr. James Hamilton was appointed hemp agent for Kentucky on the 6th July, 1843, and Mr. Henry King the agent for Missouri on the 5th July, 1843. Mr. L. Sanders was appointed to succeed Mr. Hamilton on the 7th April, 1845, and Mr. John Smith to succeed Mr King on the 11th July, 1845. Previous to the appointments of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. King, Congress had, by their act of the 3d March, 1843, required that all articles for the use of the navy should be purchased by contract with the lowest bidder, when time would permit.

The instructions to Messrs. King and Hamilton (copies of which are annexed) were framed with reference to those provision of law, and advertisements were issued inviting proposals for American hemp, in July, 1844, April 1845, and in October, 1845. Offers were obtained for two hundred tons under the first of the advertisements – for one hundred and fifty tons, out of four hundred, under the second; but no offers were received under the last.

Besides the instructions that have been given to the hemp agencies, copies of other letters which have been written and received by the department are annexed, as the readiest and best mode of answering that part of the resolution which related to the steps which have been taken by the department to carry into effect the laws for establishing hemp agencies in Kentucky and in Missouri, and for showing its action under the kindred resolution of 11th September, 1841.

The comparative want of success which has attended the exertions of the department is much regretted; but there seems to be little prospect of acquiring a supply of domestic hemp for use of the navy under the laws which now regulate its purchase. From the general correspondence on the subject, authority to make open purchases, for a limited period, of domestic hemp of satisfactory quality and at fair prices, without resort to advertisement, might, perhaps, be the best means of securing an adequate supply of this important article.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. Morris.

Hon. George Bancroft,

Secretary of the Navy.



Statement of the quantity of hemp received at the yard at Boston, during the years 1840, 1842, 1842, 1844, and 1845; of what country the growth, from whom received, the manner of making the purchase, and the price paid per ton for each kind.

American Growth.

Statement – Continued.

Russian Growth.

Luzon, or from Philippine Islands.

March 3, 1842

Sir : By the resolution of Congress of the 11th September, 1841, the Secretary of the Navy is “directed to purchase domestic water rotted hemp for the use of the navy, so far as the same shall be found of suitable quality, and can be used beneficially for the service, having regard to the cost, strength, and durability of the article,” and “to cause purchases of such hemp to be made in the different hemp growing regions of the Union.”

The States of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri, produce more hemp, it is believed, than any of the other States; among these, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri produce the greatest quantity.

As agent, you will proceed hence through western Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Missouri, making vigilant inquiries as to the quantities of hemp, of good quality, growing in those and neighboring States, and the prices at which hemp, properly water-rotted and prepared for market, can be obtained, deliverable at point convenient for transportation by water.

With a view to encourage the preparation of hemp by water-rotting, you are authorized to give assurances to the growers that the government is disposed, as early as may be practicable, to adopt the use of hemp, so far as may be required for the navy. We use at this time about 700 tons of clean hemp, and the probability is, that this consumption will be rather increased than diminished. You will ascertain and report the terms upon which water-rotted hemp can be obtained, and the quantities, subject to the inspection of the yard at Boston, where the hemp is to be delivered, and, should it pass inspection, will be made into cordage.

You will make arrangements, as occasion and opportunities may arise, with the growers of hemp, that their hemp, on passing the final inspection at Boston, will be received and paid for at not exceeding $280 per ton of 2,240 pounds. This is $40 per ton more than we give for the best Riga Rein hemp, and is presumed to be a sufficient bounty to encourage the growth and preparation of American. Your own inspection of the hemp will give assurance of the great probability of its passing inspection as Boston, and place the growers upon a safer footing as to its reception than they otherwise would be. It is thought that the government, in incurring the expense of a special agent and giving this bounty, will operate so as to secure ultimately an ample supply of American hemp. You will of course not encourage the sending of any hemp to Boston, on account of the navy, unless you should be entirely satisfied as to its quality and mode of preparation.

Whenever you find a parcel of hemp that you approve and engage, you will report to the board all the particulars, with the place where the hemp is, and the name of the person with whom you make the engagement.

The sample of Riga Rein hemp which you will have, will enable you to give to the growers of hemp correct information as to the quality of that article for navy use. You will give to them every information in your power upon the subject of growing and properly preparing hemp for the navy.

Further instructions will hereafter be given to you as occasions may arise. Let your reports be frequent and minute.

L. Warrington,

For the board of Navy Commissioners.

A. G. Brown, Esquire,

Agent for procuring American hemp, Washington.



April 30, 1844.

Sir : Understanding you were formerly employed by the Navy Department to collect information respecting the culture and preparation of hemp in the western States, and that you are particularly acquainted with the manufacture and use of cordage, I respectfully request you will please inform me whether, in your opinion, there are any such difficulties to be overcome in the hemp growing States of the west, as will be likely to prevent the general adoption of water-rotting the hemp, which may be intended for the Atlantic market. If such should be the case, whether you are aware of any other mode of preparing hemp which shall secure for it the requisite qualities of strength and durability for safe and economical use in rigging and furnishing sea-going vessels; whether such other modes of preparation can be commanded by the generality of the hemp producers, and be used at an expense which shall not enhance the cost of the hemp too much to allow it fairly to enter into competition with hemp imported from other countries; whether you are acquainted with any machinery which is well adapted to save hand labor in the preparation of hemp after it is rotted; and if it is such cast and character as to be generally available to those who raise hemp; whether you are acquainted with any process by which unrotted hemp can be rendered equally durable, and as well adapted for use in cordage as water-rotted hemp, and if so, its comparative cost and facility of use.

Any other information which you may suppose will facilitate the object of securing a supply of good hemp of domestic growth, for the use of our navy and merchant vessels, will be thankfully received.

I am &c.,

C. Morris.

A.G. Brown, Esq., Washington, D.C.

Bureau of Construction and Equipment,

July 9, 1844

Sir: As the most convenient mode of acquiring the information you desire, before commencing your duties as agent for inspecting hemp, you will proceed to the navy yard Boston, and report yourself to the commandant.

That officer has been instructed to furnish you with samples of hemp, which you will send to St. Louis, and with necessary drawing for machinery to test its strength, and generally with every information that may be useful to you in the performance of your duties.

You will please return to this place after collecting the information at Boston, by which time general instructions for you will be prepared.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Dr. Henry King, Washington, D. C.

Bureau of Construction and Equipment,

July 19, 1844

Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith a copy of an advertisement for hemp, and a copy of the instructions to the agents of the department who have been appointed to examine it for contractors, and the furnish information to others in relation to this subject.



Several persons have been desirous that the hemp for the navy should be purchased in the western States by open purchase, after final inspection there. Experience has satisfied the department of the inexpediency of final inspection, excepting at the place where articles are to be used, when it can be avoided. The objections apply with equal if not greater force to hemp than to almost any other article.

The proviso of the act making the naval appropriations for 1843 and 1844, specially enumerates hemp as one of the articles which shall thereafter be procured by contract, upon proposals to be invited by advertisement. The authority in the appropriations for 1844 and 1845 does not repeal or refer to this proviso, which is therefore considered to be still in force.

Besides this legal direction, it is believed to be preferable for all parties, for the government to deal with contractors who will purchase from the farmer, than to purchase from the farmers themselves.

A final inspection at the place of delivery has been deemed indispensable from experience.

By the course proposed, the farmer can make positive sales comparatively near his residence, and the risk of passing the final inspection is transferred to the contractors – a risk which can be much better taken by a large dealer than by a person who merely sells his own crop, even when diminished by the assistance of the agents who are appointed to give the preliminary examinations and tests.

To afford opportunities, however, for the farmers to supply directly if they should prefer, offers for not less than thirty tons have been authorized – a quantity which it is supposed may be supplied by one or a few neighboring farmers, in several parts of the hemp-growing districts.

It was supposed the greater portion of the hemp which might be prepared with reference to use in the Navy, or for sale at New Orleans or the Atlantic ports, would naturally pass by, if not be reshipped at Louisville or St. Louis. These places were therefore selected for the examination by the agents of hemp offered by contractors for naval use, and as the best points for the agents to operate advantageously, by giving information or making examinations for other persons.

The desire of the department is, to afford all the encouragement and assistance which the law may authorize, for securing a full supply of domestic hemp of proper quality. This subject, however, is new, and experience or further information may suggest other and better modes of accomplishing this object.

Any information in relation to it will therefore be thankfully received and carefully considered, and your own views will be particularly acceptable, if you have leisure and inclination to forward them.

Aware of the great interest you have taken on the subject of domestic hemp, the Secretary of the Navy has requested me to communicate with you, and it has afforded me great pleasure to comply with his request, being personally very desirous that all American shipping should be rigged with American hemp.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C Morris.

[Addressed to several persons.]



Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair

July, 1844

Sir: The measures adopted by Congress, in relation to the purchase of American water-rotted hemp, sufficiently indicate the views entertained of the importance of securing a full supply of it for use of the navy.

Your appointment as agent for [Missouri] under the authority of a resolution of Congress, is intended as one of the means for securing this important object.

In preparing instructions for the performance of your duties, it is the desire of the department to secure all practicable information which may be useful to those who are to supply the hemp, and to afford them all the means and advantages for avoiding risk and expense which may be consistent with the safety of our vessels and the provisions of law.

It has been considered necessary, under the provisions of existing laws, that the hemp shall be procured by contract, and advertisements inviting proposals have been issued, of which a copy is herewith enclosed. You will perceive by this advertisement, that one of your first duties will be to inspect and test any hemp which may be at Louisville, when requested by a contractor, and to furnish him with every information in your power, which may be useful to him in relation to the proper preparation, or the strength or other qualities of the hemp which he is to supply for the navy.

The means placed at your disposition for these purposes, and the samples of Riga hemp which you have comparison, will, it is hoped, enable you to furnish such information to contractors as may on the one hand secure them against the loss consequent on sending to the navy yard an article which will not pass the required inspection there, and on the other against any unnecessary difficulty in finding a sufficient quantity of the proper quality.

It is considered not less important to the hemp growers themselves than to the government, that the standard for navy hemp should be kept fully equal to any imported of foreign growth, as the only effectual means of bringing the domestic into successful competition with the foreign article. If this standard is once well established, it is confidently believed that not only will importations cease, but American hemp will soon form an important article of export to other countries.

Besides the foregoing special duties with reference to contractors, it will be expected of you to further the object of government by furnishing other individuals with information in relation to the preparation of hemp, or by examining and testing for them samples which they may send to St. Louis or to other places where you have the means of making tests or other examinations. You will also endeavor to have some of the samples of Riga hemp with which you have been furnished, and any other useful information in your possession, lodged at different places in any of the western States, which will be convenient for examination by persons who are engaged in the cultivation of hemp.

With the knowledge of the general objects of government, and of the more special service required by the Navy Department, useful additions or modifications of these instructions will, no doubt, present themselves to your mind, and you are requested to communicate them freely for the consideration of the department.

In the performance of your duties, the strictest economy is to be practised, and no expense incurred without the previous sanction of the department, unless the expenditure should be necessary before an answer could be received to an application.

With much respect &c.,

C. Morris

One sent to Doct. Henry King,

Agent for hemp for Missouri, now at Washington, D.C.

And another to James Hamilton, Esq.,

Agent for hemp for Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.


Bureau of Construction and Equipment,

July 20, 1844.

Sir: I herewith forward some instructions for your guidance in the performance of duties as agent of the Navy Department for inspecting hemp in the State of Kentucky. These instructions have been submitted to, and sanctioned by, the Secretary of the Navy, and are sent to you by his direction. I also enclose an advertisement inviting proposals for supplying 200 tons of hemp for the use of the navy. You will perceive that your inspection of that which may be collected by contractors is to be made at Louisville, when requested by them. It was deemed necessary to have the inspection made at one specified place, and Louisville was supposed to be the most advantageous.

Arrangements for such inspections at that place will therefore be necessary. If they are not already established there, or are incomplete, you will please give early information of what is still necessary to carry the views of the department into full effect.

It is understood you have already been furnished with samples of Riga hemp for comparison, and with the nature and manner of making the tests of strength of hemp at the navy yard, Charlestown. If this should not be the case, however, they will be forwarded as early as pracitable after hearing from you on the subject.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. Morris.

Mr. James Hamilton, Lexington, Ky.

Bureau of Construction and Equipment,

July 24, 1844

Sir: Your letters of the 23d and 24th inst. Have been received.

You will please repair to St. Louis for the purpose of entering upon your duties at that place.

So soon as necessary information can be obtained, it will be determined whether a testing machine, tackle, &c., shall be made and sent to you, or authority be given to have one made under your directions.

You will please ascertain and report the lowest price at which you can obtain the necessary rooms for inspecting and testing hemp, and the laborers that you think will be necessary to assist you.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

  1. Morris

Dr. Henry King, agent for hemp for Missouri, Washington, D.C.


Bureau of Construction and Equipment,

August 14, 1844.

Sir: Directions have been given to the commandant of the Boston yard to forward to your agency a set of “hemp-proving apparatus,” with instructions for use.

He has also been requested to send you samples of hemp, with a statement of the weights which the rope must bear, to authorize the reception of the hemp from which it was made.

The advertisement of the 18th July, 1844, has been modified, so that proposals may be received for quantities not less than ten tons.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. Morris.

Dr. Henry King,

U.S. hemp agent, St. Louis, Mo.

Same day, same letter sent to

J. Hamilton,

U.S. hemp agent, Louisville, Ky.

Navy Department, July 18, 1845.

Sir: In the instructions which you may have hereafter have occasion to give to the agents for testing, inspecting, and purchasing American water-rotted hemp for the use of the navy, you will authorize the inspection and test that may be made at the several agencies in the hemp-growing regions to be final and conclusive, instead of requiring them to be repeated at Boston.

Whenever it shall become necessary to procure further supplies of hemp, you will direct that contracts be made for its delivery at either of the agencies established ; the department to be at the risk and expense of conveying it thence to the Charlestown yard, or wherever else it may be wanted.

I fully appreciate the considerations which have heretofore induced you to require the final inspection to be made at the place of manufacture, and have not without hesitation adopted a different conclusion. But, from opinions of some of the legislators who assisted in passing them, I cannot resist the conviction that they were designed to encourage the culture of this important staple by opening to its producers a valuable market in their own region. To require them to sell at an inspection twelve hundred miles distant from their homes, must operate, in a great measure, to deprive them of this market, and have a tendency, therefore, to defeat the expressed intentions of Congress in their belief.

Entertaining this opinion, and feeling a deep interest in whatever concerns the agriculture of the country, I am induced to hazard the slight inconvenience and expense which may temporarily result to the government from the proposed change, for the sake of the permanent benefit which it may confer upon it in the increased culture, improved quality, and reduced prices of American hemp.

While our agents at the west are competent and faithful in the discharge of their duties, the department may reasonably rely upon them, or upon such special agents as it may appoint, for a safe and rigid inspection of the supplies which may be offered for their approval ; and the risk of transporting the quantity thus approved to the place where it is required for manufacture, Congress seems to have devolved, by its recent actions, upon the government.

One of the principal reasons which have induced your previous action upon this subject appears to be that provision of Congress which requires all supplies for the navy to be furnished, after public advertisement, by the lowest bidder. You will meet the requirements of this law, and the purposes of the congressional resolves to which I have referred, by advertising in the first instance exclusively for American hemp ; and you will allow foreign hemp to come into competition with our own only when the latter cannot be obtained on the conditions prescribed by law.

Acknowledging the interest which you have uniformly manifested in this important subject, and assuring you of the diffidence with which I direct this change in your accustomed action,

I am, very respectfully, yours,

G. Bancroft.

Commodore C. Morris,

Chief of Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair.

U.S. Hemp Agency,

St. Louis, January 8, 1846.

Sir : I have the honor to receive your letter of the 24th ultimo, acquainting me “that no offers under the advertisement of the department of the 4th October last past, for three hundred tons of American water-rotted hemp, to be delivered and finally inspected at St. Louis, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky, have yet been received at the appropriate bureau, and calling my attention to the subject with the view to ascertain, if it can, what causes have occasioned this failure to bid on the part of our western growers.”

In obedience to your directions, I take leave to state that, shortly after my appointment to this agency, inquiries were directed to me by many of the hemp growers and others in this State, to be informed whether the department “contemplated the purchase of American water-rotted hemp at this agency, and, if so, when’”

The hemp growers particularly expressed, on the occasion of these inquiries, a strong desire that the department would give early instructions to this effect, and if it did, they would water-rot their present crop.

I did not hesitate to reply uniformly, that, from your avowed preference of the home over the foreign article for the use of the American navy, this sentiment would be followed by timely corresponding instructions for the benefit of as many as were disposed to water-rot their present crop.

The present crop of hemp in this State is large; it is generally estimated as high as 12,000 to 14,000 tons. Perhaps this is too wide a margin; I would place it as 10,000 tons, and not consider the figures too large.

From the much higher price supposed that the department would give for the home over the market value of the foreign article, by way of encouragement of the American producer, I did confidently anticipate that a large proportion of the present crop would be water-rotted – much more than sufficient to cover the whole present consumption of the department.

I regret to say I am now disappointed in this reasonable anticipation.

The information I have received from all quarters of the State leaves the melancholy impression that the proportion of water-rotted, compared to the whole season’s crop, will be very small.

I come now to the cause of this apparent apathy with our hemp growers, which I beg may be received as my answer to the inquiry of your letter before referred to.

It has its foundation in the advertisement of the department of the 4th October last past, by inviting proposals under contract, with sureties, and fixing the minimum quantity of offering at not less than thirty tons, &c. These conditions, as alleged, are obnoxious to the farmers of this State in two ways:

First. Instead of advertising for proposals by contract, they expected the department would offer a fixed, liberal price, commensurate to the extra labor and risk of health incurred in the process of water-rotting, by way of bounty or encouragement; such a price over the present market value of the foreign article as is understood to have been heretofore paid by the department.

Second. Fixing the minimum quantity of the offering at thirty tons, coupled with the inconvenience of entering into contract with sureties, and leaving the place of payment, on fulfilment of the contract, open for agreement betwixt the department and contractor, instead of designating this agency for the place of payment.

It is said these conditions deprive the farmer of the proposed bounty or enhanced price over the foreign article, by the interposition of the speculator betwixt him and the department; and more particularly so if the supply should exceed the demand of the department, which is supposed at present to be limited.

In exemplification it is stated that the article is cultivated generally in small quantities, and, as an experiment, but few farmers wish to water-rot their entire crop; and if it is really the object of the government to encourage the culture of water-rotted hemp by paying higher for the domestic than the foreign article, then the farmer ought to realize for himself this enhanced price, which is deemed but a just reward of remuneration in his pioneer efforts for its successful and general cultivation, and not the speculator.

In conclusion, therefore, I respectfully recommend, as the best method to carry into effect the well known wishes of the department on the subject, that authority be given to this agency to purchase water-rotted hemp as it may be offered, in small or large lots, to any given number of tons, as a fixed price, payable at this agency immediately after it has passed inspection and the test; the price to be sufficiently liberal to make it an inducement to the farmer to water-rot his crop.

I must remark, however, if this recommendation is approved and carried into effect, I do not think any large quantity can be obtained in the current year, for the reasons heretofore presented, and that perhaps nearly the entire present crop is now in process of being dew rotted. But the next year and thereafter, I do not hazard too much in saying, the supply of water-rotted hemp in this State will alone more than supply the government demand.

With great respect, your obedient servant,

John Smith, U.S. hemp agent.

Hon. George Bancroft,

Secretary of the Navy.



Hemp Agency for Kentucky,

January 20, 1846.

Sir: Upon receipt of your letter of the 24th of last month, expressing a wish to ascertain the causes of there being no bidders from the west for the supply of hemp advertised for by the department 4th October last, I wrote to several gentlemen who had taken great interest in preparing hemp for the navy.

I have waited until now for replies to my letters. Not having yet received any, I delay no longer in giving to you my individual opinion. I lived the greater part of my life in the centre of the hemp growing district of Kentucky, (Lexington;) was engaged many years there in the manufacture of hemp into yarns, 16’s, 18’s, and 20’s for cordage, and into cotton bagging and bale rope. Until within the last few years, three fourths or more of the Kentucky hemp was used up for bagging and bale rope, very course fabrics requiring little or no skill in the manufacture, and dew or weather rotted hemp answered for this purpose as well as if the hemp had been water-rotted; it is an easy and cheap way for the farmers to get their crop into market, and so long as it would in this mode bring one hundred dollars per ton, they were quite indifferent as to a change; but now the price has fallen to sixty dollars per ton, and many of the farmers are anxious to prepare their hemp for the use of the navy and for foreign commerce by water-rotting.

Since my appointment as hemp agent, I have given the subject my particular attention; I have had correspondence and consultation with numerous persons on the subject.

There is, throughout the hemp-growing interests in Kentucky, a belief of feeling that the department is not in earnest as to their intention to purchase hemp in the west; whether such opinions are ill or well founded, they are made upon these grounds :

1st. Upwards of four years has elapsed since the joint resolutions were passed by Congress, establishing agencies in the west, and yet not a single ton has been ordered to be purchased there.

2d. At first the department sent an agent (Mr. Brown) to pass through the hemp-growing districts, authorized to make conditional contracts, but without authority to buy. This agent, as I am informed, (by Mr. Buford himself,) made a conditional contract with Mr. Charles Buford, a highly respectable farmer of Scott county, Kentucky, for his crop of hemp, to be water rotted, thoroughly clean, to be delivered at Boston, to be there tested and inspected, and if passed accordingly, he was to receive the highest price then paid for the best foreign article. (I believe two hundred and eighty dollars per ton.) Mr. B. forwarded his hemp agreeably to his contract with the agent of the government; it was inspected and tested at Boston, proved to be equal, if not superior, to the foreign article, but it was rejected and not received on the alleged grounds of the staple being too long. This hemp was then, by Mr. Buford’s agent, sold at auction at a considerable loss. Mr. B. thinks his hemp afterwards found its way to the national ropewalk at the highest price.

3d. It ill suits the business habits of farmers to make contracts at a distance from home for the sale of their crop, and to be restricted as to the time of delivery. When they get their crop ready, it is their interest, as it is their wish, to take it to market and sell it for its value in cash.

4th. The minimum is too great for the farmers who water rot their hemp. I know of no one producing thirty tons; from one to fifteen tons would be something like an average.

I have recently received a letter from General Pillow, of Columbia, Tenn., saying he had from 8,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. of hemp, water-rotted, of the very best quality for naval purposes, which he intended to send to Louisville to sell; but if it is just the article the government wants, the agent has no authority to purchase.

In my letter to you of the 21st July last, (to which I beg you to refer,) I took the liberty of making some suggestions to you relative to procuring a regular supply of hemp from the west for the use of the navy. A full knowledge of the subject impels me now to urge the same views, viz: authority to be given to the agents to make contracts with substantial farmers for four or five years for their hemp.

As remarked in my letter referred to, “there will be no difficulty in obtaining the article of the right quality; the first year may not produce as much as may be wanted; but put the system in operation, and subsequent years will secure an abundance.”

I will soon again address you.

Tennessee is a quarter from whence hemp has not heretofore been produced. I enclose you an extract of General Pillow’s letter, but, in attempting to make the extract, I concluded to send you the letter. If you think is best to keep a copy, do so; please send back the letter.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lewis Sanders.

To Mr. Bancroft,

Secretary of the Navy.

Columbia, December 7, 1845.

Dear Sir: I am engaged in the preparation of hemp for the use of the navy, and flatter myself with the belief that my water-rot hemp is equal to any of the foreign or domestic article. I have sent fair samples to the navy yard in Charlestown, which has been so pronounced there, and by the best manufacturers in Philadelphia, and was so considered by the best judges as the agricultural fair near Paris, held in October.

I have no wish by these remarks to draw you from the most rigid and scrutinizing tests and examination of my article, but simply to apprize you of the fact that I have engaged in the preparation of that article with the fixed determination of elevating the character of American water-rot hemp, until it shall be pronounced by our government superior to the Riga hemp.

My present object in writing you is to understand distinctly from yourself whether the government requires the article to be hackled before you purchase or not, or, in other words, whether you pay more for the hemp which is neatly hackled (and if so, how much) than the unhackled hemp. In my correspondence with the officers of the navy yard, I distinctly so understand. But, in a recent letter received from Jefferson Scott, esq., an intelligent hemp grower near Paris, Kentucky, he says to me that the Kentuckians do not hackle their hemp intended for the use of the government. I examined a great deal of water-rot hemp in the eastern cities the past season, and found none of it hackled, but still I thought it should be, to meet the demands of the government. I have now between eight and ten thousand pounds of the best article of neatly bundled and hackled hemp I have yet seen, which I have baled so as to protect perfectly from exposure and dirt, that I design shipping to you at Louisville in a short time, that you may examine, test, and pronounce upon it; and if you will buy it for the use of the government, I am anxious, for the satisfaction and encouragement of other farmers in my country who are hesitating about going into the business, that your opinion of this article should be made public knowledge, if it be favorable. I am now about commencing to break and clean my crop of this year; and if you do not want it hackled, or if you do not pay a higher price for it so prepared, I desire that you will immediately inform me of the fact.

I will thank you to inform me, upon the arrival of my hemp, what it is worth, and what you would take it at.

The terms of the advertisement of the government for water-rot hemp for the ensuing year are such as to put it out of the power of any single hemp grower to submit any proposition for the supply of that article. The government will not receive any proposition for less than thirty tons, and no single hemp grower can prepare such an amount. It is for this reason that shall be compelled to submit my hemp to your examination for purchase, without any previous proposition. I am preparing a most beautiful article of the present year’s growth, which I shall have ready for market early in the ensuing summer.

I am sorry to trouble you with so long a letter; but as it is strictly in the line of your agency, and calls for information you can easily impart, I trust you will cheerfully submit me your views.

Your obedient servant,

Gid. J. Pillow

Hemp Agency for Kentucky,

January 21, 1846.

Sir: Since writing to you on yesterday, (the 20th,) I have received a letter from Mr. Williams, of Bourbon county, Kentucky, where much hemp is grown, and some part is water rotted. Mr. W. is a wealthy and highly respectable farmer, the President of the Bourbon county agricultural society, and is considered as good authority upon subjects pertaining to agriculture.

Wishing that you should be fully informed as to the ability and the disposition of the western farmers to supply hemp of the right quality for the use of the navy, I enclosed to you yesterday a letter from General Pillow, of Tennessee, a quarter from whence, as heretofore, none has been received, as to my knowledge; and I now enclose to you Mr. Williams’ letter, from which you will probably see somewhat into the operation of preparing hemp for the navy. Steps must be taken in the summer, of very early in the fall, to water-rot, as suggested to you in my letter of the 21st July last. The advertisement by the government for one hundred and fifty tons was made too late. After October, no new arrangements can advantageously be made for water-rotting, and unless the farmer intends to keep his crop on hand another year, it is spread out on the fields to take the dew or weather rot. For this purpose, seven-eighths of the hemp in Kentucky was spread out before the government advertisement was known to the farmers.

I differ with Mr. Williams as to his views of the value of hemp. The sum fixed by him is too great, compared with dew-rotted; and unless there is some other demand for the latter than the manufacture of cotton bagging and bale rope, the price for such will not go above fifty or sixty dollars the ton. This low price will induce many of the farmers to put up fixtures for water-rotting.

Mr. Williams speaks of selling now at one hundred and twenty dollars at home, but admits the inferior quality of the article.

I suggest to you the propriety of giving the agent authority to go into the market to purchase, at any suitable place, and any parcel, (no matter how small the quantity,) of the suitable quality. Some may be so secured for the year 1846.

I suggest the policy of giving authority to the agent to make contracts with substantial farmers for the years 1847, 1848, 1848, and 1850, that is, for four crops hemp, to be delivered in Louisville, of the character and quality desired, to be paid for when inspected, tested, and received.

I have no doubt that any quantity (under a thousand tons) may thus be secured annually, not to cost over one hundred and eighty dollars per ton, and probably less.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lewis Sanders.

To Mr. Bancroft,

Secretary of the Navy.


Paris, January 15, 1846.

Dear Sir: Your favor of the 8th instance is now at hand; and in regard to the purchase of water-rotted hemp for naval purposes, it is my opinion that you take the right view of the subject, when you say that “western hemp-growers” have failed to bid for the 150 tons of hemp advertised for by the government, because they are not yet satisfied that the government is in earnest as to the purchase of western hemp; that they have been accustomed to make sales at home, and that the minimum is too great compared with their ability to produce the article.

In answer to your interrogatories, my response will, of course, contain nothing but my opinions, and these opinions can be very erroneous. They are, however, given in all candor. I think that but little water-rotted hemp could be engaged in this county to be delivered between the 1st of March and the 1st of July next, at $150 per ton of 2,240 pounds, at Louisville, because thus far the winter has been so cold that the rotting process has been greatly obstructed, and much cannot be prepared for market in proper time. I took from my pools a few days since, hemp, and it is by no means over-rotted, which was put in in October. Indeed, this is all I have as yet been able to accomplish since my hemp was cut and cured in the fall. Others, I am informed, engaged in the business have had similar difficulties. The fall and fore part of the winter is the proper time to rot, and January and February to break, and whatever is postponed to a later period interferes with spring and summer work. And upon the supposition that they who are engaged in water-rotting had been successful and their crops were now under the brake, I think they would be unwilling to contract to deliver at Louisville at $150 per ton, to be inspected there, because there is now no difficulty in selling here, at $120 per ton, such an article as they can pass from the brake in the common mode of breaking dew-rot, which leaves it not sufficiently clean for inspection, but enough so to make it marketable. I prefer, myself, selling at home such an article as I can make in this way for $120 per ton, to a sale of such as I would have to make for $150 per ton, had I to send it to Louisville for inspections. The truth is, $150 will not pay the farmer for such an article as the government requires. No farmer can make such an article without the exercise of great care, labor, and considerable outlay in fixtures and machinery, and then he will be obliged to class his hemp as to the quality, which would give him not more than one-half, if as much, which he might with safety rely upon as being passable. The best water-rotted hemp that can be made is worth $200 per ton; and if the government will give that sum for it, I think that contracts for hemp to be delivered and inspected at Louisville might be made in this county for a very considerable amount, say from 20 to 50 tons, and contracts of this sort might be made to run through a series of years, and could be relied on with the utmost certainty. At $200 per ton I insure a full supply for naval purposes, of as good an article as can possibly be got elsewhere, would be had without difficulty in the west. I rejoice very much to see the course taken by the Secretary of the Navy. He is in earnest on the subject; and if he is sustained, as he should be, by men of all parties, the time is not far off when every pound of hemp used by the navy of the United States will be of American growth.

Let me hear from you again at your earliest convenience.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. W. Williams.


Navy Department,

Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair, March 5, 1846.

Sir: Since the transmission of papers relating to hemp, on the 3d instant, I have received the accompanying letter from Mr. Billings, which refers to a mode of preparing hemp, for which he has obtained a patent.

Under your authority, about thirteen tons of hemp, prepared by this process, were purchased from Mr. Billings, with a view of testing its quality by use and other means, that its value, as compared with ordinary water-totted hemp, might be well ascertained.

Some of this hemp was prepared ready for spinning, and some with the ordinary care. The master ropemaker reported upon the latter as “about equal to American and Russian hemp that has been recieved at this place, with the exception that it contains about five per cent. more tow than the Riga hemp.”

Upon that prepared for spinning, he reports: “This sample has been properly cleansed of the wood, dust, and tow, for spinning into different sizes of yarns used in this place for making cordage. The complexion bright and strength good.” The following extract from tabular reports shows the percentage of tow, and weights borne by a 1 ¾ inch rope made from yarns of different sizes, and when made without and with tar, for each of these samples, and when made from samples grown and prepared in Virginia; from a sample delivered under contract, believed to have been grown in Indiana; and the mean weights borne, as deduced from one hundred tests of other American water-rotted hemp, and reported by the master ropemaker at Charlestown, Massachusetts. It is to be observed, that nearly all the cordage made in the navy is tarred.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. Morris.

Hon. George Bancroft,

Secretary of the Navy


Washington, March 4, 1846.

Sir: In accordance with your request, I beg leave to lay before you such ideas now occur to me, relative to the culture and preparation of hemp in this country; together with the manner of preparing it upon the systems discovered and invented by myself, for which I have secured patents.

In the first place as to the growing of hemp. The present practice of our farmers is, to sow five pecks of seed to the acre, which is sometimes harrowed, but oftener ploughed into the soil; the unevenness of the latter process, of course, allows much of the seed to vegetate and grow rapidly, while the seed more deeply covered vegetates later, thus the first growth shades the latter growth, and produces the unevenness usual to American hemp, some being very long and coarse, while some has hardly arrived at maturity.

In cutting, the usual practice is, to commence when the seed is fully formed in the head of the stalk, and the blossom has entirely disappeared or dried up, and the stalk itself has assumed a yellowish appearance. After it is cut, it is not unfrequently allowed to remain on the ground for some length of time, as may suit the convenience of the farmer, and when so left it assumes a dark and dingy appearance. For dew-rotting, this is of no consequence, as most of the dew-rotted is used in the west for bagging and bale-rope, and is not approves for purposes of the marine.

The water-rotting is usually performed in small streams, natural ponds, and frequently in artificial ponds made in the earth. The time consumed in this operation must be indefinite and dependent upon circumstances; but from ten days to two months are the usual periods. If the season be warm and sunny, the temperature of the water is higher, and of course rotting or fermenting is produced at a more rapid rate, while, if it be damp and cool, the process is longer. The most favorable time for rotting is considered to be the months of August and September. That rotted in stagnant, shallow pools is more rapidly rotted than in spring ponds, and in these again more rapidly than in running streams; as, to produce fermentation or rotting, a certain degree of heat must of necessity be applied. By either of these modes, fermentation or rotting commences first at the surface or wherever the heat is greatest.

Water-rotting of hemp is a laborious process. The mode usually pursued is, to cart the stalks from the field to the water, then submerge it, and place upon it timber and stones to keep it under; some have racks into which they pack it, and sink the racks by means of heaping upon them stone ballast. When the rotting is perfected, which is ascertained by frequent examinations and drawing from the submerged mass a few stalks, the ballast is taken off, and the wet mass is spread upon the earth, and, if convenient, upon the grass land, to drain and dry. If the weather be favorable, it will be dried in five or six days; if unfavorable, a much longer period is required, and not unfrequently, on account of unfavorable weather, it becomes mildewed and rotten. When dry, it is placed in small shocks, in which position it is left more or less exposed to the action of the atmosphere.

The process of breaking and cleaning is the same, both with dew and water-rotted hemp; and as to the condition of the latter, the Navy Department is already acquainted with it. I will now state my own manner of growing, and the process of preparing which I have patented.

I sow two bushels of seed to the acre, and invariably harrow it in, endeavoring to have it so equally covered that it shall all sprout and vegetate at the same time. The result of this is, a fine uniform stalk, not exceeding seven or eight feet in length, at the same time the diameter of each stalk is more equal from the base to the blossom end; thus making a more uniform length to the fibre, it not running off into segments, as it the case in stalks or ranker and larger growth.

The time of cutting and curing is of importance to be considered. The cutting should be done while the seed is in the milk, and after it is cut, should not be exposed, spread out, upon the field, to the action of the air, more than one day. It should be then bound in small bundles, and fifteen or twenty of these bundles shocked together, their bases apart so as to admit of a free circulation of air, and in this position sufficiently dried to permit of stacking or housing, without the danger of mildew.

The lint of the hemp is covered with a husk or bark. The oxygen of the atmosphere, when it is exposed, combines with the husk or bark, and forms the coloring matter which is seen in all dew-rotted hemp; this is a species of decomposition, and the mode of curing, as last described, is to prevent this.

After it is housed or stacked, the next operation is to rot it.

I have constructed artificial pools of timber, ninety feet long, by ten feet wide and five feet deep. At the base of this pool is a steam pipe passing through and returning. Over this pipe is placed a platform perforated by numerous auger holes. The pool, from the platform to the top, is filled with hemp in the stalk, laying the width way of it; this is confined down at the top by lateral timbers, and the water is then admitted. The water is heated by the steam pipe and kept at a uniform temperature of ninety degrees, till rotting or fermentation is completed, which by this process is, on an average, three days. After the rotting is completed, the water is let off from the pools, and the hemp is taken out and spread on frames or scaffolds to drain; it is then immediately placed under cover. The result of this operation is a uniform, even fermentation or rotting, which cannot be attained by natural means.

The drying is performed in a close room or chamber, through which an endless apron passes, upon which the hemp is spread. This room is kept at a temperature of one hundred and twenty degrees, assisted by a current of rarefied air at a pressure of two atmospheres; this process evaporates the aqueous matter, and the oil which the stalk or wood contains is forced to the surface and is absorbed by the lint.

The brake is operated by steam power. The hemp is fed to it upon an apron; it is carried through a pair of smooth rollers under a pressure of fifteen tons, thence through a pair of fluted rollers, and thence to a cylinder arranged with beaters into spaces in the cylinder, which removes the wood from the lint. The object of the crushing rollers is to split the stalk or wood, so that when it reaches the beaters it may be soft and pliable, and thus be separated from the lint without causing an abrasion.

The next operation is the scotching and hackling. This again is performed by steam power. It consists of a right and left hand screw arranged upon beaters attached to a cylinder, the surface of which revolves at the rate of one thousand feet per minute. By this process the tow with any adhering wood is removed, avoiding the old method of the teeth hackle, which tears and breaks the fibre or lint.

The hemp is now ready for the baling room, where it is taken, screwed, and covered with bagging, ready for shipment.

By my method, the twelve tons already supplied to the Navy Department, and which have passed the inspection of the department, and been received at the Charlestown navy yard, were prepared.

To arrive at these results, I have expended a great deal of time and money. I have systematized this matter far beyond anything in this country or any other, and I respectfully submit it to the consideration of the Navy Department.

Geo. M. Billing,

Of St. Louis, Mo.

To Commodore Charles Morris,

Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair, Washington.