Farmington Historic Plantation
3033 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40205
Farmington was once a thriving 550-acre hemp plantation owned by one of the oldest and most prominent families in Louisville, Kentucky: the Speed family. John Speed (1772-1840) moved to Kentucky with his family when he was ten years old. In 1810, he bought land along Beargrass Creek, which he developed into his large hemp growing and processing estate. Construction of the Farmington mansion began in 1815 and was completed by 1816.
The mansion and surrounding property were sustained by nearly 60 enslaved African Americans during the early 18th century. Hemp, as it was produced in Kentucky, was dependent on a slave economy and John Speed owned one of the largest slave holdings in Jefferson County. In 1810, Speed owned 10 slaves; in 1811,12; in 1812, 39; and in 1813, 43. This rapid increase in slave ownership reflects the establishment and development of Speed’s plantation at Farmington. The extensive hemp operation at Farmington would have required a significant amount of slave labor.
The 1840 inventory provides a number of clues about hemp production at Farmington at the time John Speed died. In 1840, $9,154 was made at Farmington from the sale of hemp products. Approximately 90 acres were used for the hemp crop that year, 87 for producing the fiber hemp and about another 3 for growing seed hemp (calculated by Otteson based on the quantity of seed listed). The two sheets for cleaning hemp seed document the use of the typical method of obtaining the seed. The 20 hemp hooks and 21 hemp breaks suggest that about 20 hands were employed in the production of hemp at Farmington. References in the settlement of John Speed's estate document the presence of a rope walk and waving house at Farmington where the hemp was processed for sale. A "jack screw" in the inventory is probably the piece of equipment used at the end of the ropewalk to twist the strands of hemp into rope.
Hemp production continued at Farmington, even after the death of John Speed. In the summer of 1841, Abraham Lincoln visited Farmington for three weeks. During his visit, Lincoln would have likely have seen the slaves harvesting the hemp, and breaking the stalks for the seeds and fiber. However, after his visit, Lincoln described a group of shackled slaves he saw on his steamboat trip home. Later, he called the memory a “continual torment to me.” Perhaps Lincoln’s experience at Farmington and on his way home played a role is his anti-slavery sentiments.
The Farmington mansion and remaining acreage is now owned by the Historic Homes Foundation and is open to the public for tours and special events. In 2016, hemp returned to the historic property as part of the Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program. A small demonstration plot is planted each season to educate guests about the rich hemp history rooted at Farmington and across the Bluegrass region. The hemp plot is facilitated by the Heritage Hemp Trail/ Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance and is funded by the annual hemp dinner hosted at the Farmington estate.
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