Built for John and Lucy Speed, Farmington was completed in 1816. The Historic Home was the center of a thriving 550 acre hemp plantation that was sustained by nearly 60 enslaved African Americans who lived in cabins on the property. 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. The "jack screw" in the inventory is probably the piece of equipment used at the end of the rope walk to twist the strands of hemp into rope. Why no looms are listed in the inventory is somewhat confusing.
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 inspired his anti-slavery views.
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. Tax lists and census records, beginning in 1800, show that John Speed owned varying numbers of enslaved African Americans. 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. Click here to learn more about Farmington Historic Plantation.