Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Mary Todd Lincoln, A Hemp Farmer's Daughter

Last week, the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky celebrated the 200th birthday of our former first lady. It's fitting that the celebration came as Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell signed off on language for a farm bill that will legalize hemp cultivation in the US, should President Trump choose to sign it.

Mary Todd was a Southern Belle from a prominent, founding family of Fayette county, Kentucky. According to the Kentucky Office in Lexington:

Hemp was introduced at an early date [in Fayette]. Nathan Burrowes, a county resident, invented a machine for cleaning it [in 1796]. The soil produced fine hemp and in 1870 the county grew 4.3 million pounds. The crop declined in the 1890s because of increased demand for tobacco and competition from imported hemp from the Philippines. In 1941, when the federal government saw a possible shortage of manila rope from the Philippines, farmers were encouraged to grow hemp once again for use in World War II. The crop declined again in 1945.

After their marriage in 1842, the Lincolns visited Lexington several times and stayed at the family home on Main street, which is open to the public today. Nearby is the Hunt-Morgan house, built in 1814 for the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies, a hemp merchant named John Wesley Hunt. Among Hunt’s descendants was Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the flamboyant leader of the guerrilla fighters known as "Morgan’s Raiders." Morgan’s nephew, Thomas Hunt Morgan, born in Lexington in 1866, would become the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize, for his work in genetics.

On November 5, 1849, President Lincoln wrote a letter to William B. Preston, Secretary of the Navy, recommending Mary Todd's uncle, Dr. John T. Parker, for the Hemp Agency of Kentucky. He wrote,

Dear Sir: Being here in Kentucky on private business, I have learned that the name of Dr. John T. Parker is before you as an applicant for the Hemp Agency of the State. I understand that his name has been presented in accordance with the wish of the hemp-growers, rather than his own. I personally know him to be a gentleman of high character, of excellent general information, and, withal, an experienced hemp grower himself. 

Lincoln with her sons Willie and Tad in 1860.
It has been reported that after the death of her husband and two of her three sons, Mary, whose own mother died when she was six, was institutionalized at a sanitarium where hashish was prescribed. She was confined for four months in 1875 at Bellevue Place in Illinois, where patients "were routinely given popular drugs of the era." Typical treatments for her mental symptoms included chloral hydrate, bromide of potassium, opium, and cannabis, or various combinations of these.

Thus as with her contemporary Queen Victoria, we know that doctors who treated her prescribed cannabis, but don't have specific proof that she was given the treatment. The oft-repeated quote supposedly from Abraham Lincoln saying he liked to sit on his porch, smoke a hemp pipe, and play a harmonica has largely been debunked, although Lincoln did play a harmonica.

No comments: