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Report from the Navy Department on American Water-Rotted Hemp


Pubdate: January 18, 1828 Source: 20th Congress, 1st Session. Doc. No. 68. House of Reps. American water-rotted hemp, &c. &c. Reports from the Navy Department, in relation to experiments on American water-rotted hemp, when made into canvass, cables, and cordage Author: John Rodgers Pages: 3-5

SIR: The Commissioners of the Navy duly received your letter enclosing a resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 2d of March last, requiring a report of the result of any experiments to ascertain the quality of American water-rotted hemp compared with Russia hemp; and, in reply, they have the honor to state, that all the experiments heretofore made of these different descriptions of hemp, have uniformly tended to establish the opinion, that the American hemp loses nothing in the comparison, whether we refer to its strength or its durability, when made up into cordage.

Experiments have been made of these hemps in their hatchelled state, before they were spun into yarns; and, in that state, the American hemp was found to be the strongest; and, after being made up into cordage, and tested on board of a ship under the command of one of the present Commissioners, its strength and durability were ascertained to be fully equal to cordage made of the best Russia hemp, similarly exposed. If there be a difference between the best American and the best Russia water-rotted hemp, when brought to our market, the Commissioners would unhesitatingly say it is in favor of the former. Admitting their staples, in their original state, to be equally good, the Russia hemp is certainly liable to greater injury from transportation; and that it does sustain more or less injury in its transportation from Russia to our ports, is believed to be an unquestionable fact.

At the instance of a gentleman from Pennsylvania, the Commissioners, in the year 1824, agreed to purchase two tons of American water-rotted hemp, with a view of having it made into cordage of various sizes, and tested on board of one of our national ships with the best Russia: under this agreement between 7 and 8 cwt. only was delivered. This hemp was pronounced by competent judges to be fully equal to the best Russia then in market, and the growers were accordingly paid the full price of the latter for it. It was then made into cordage and sent to Norfolk, to be used in the equipment of one of our national ships; but before it arrived the ship had sailed. A subsequent order was given to use it in reeving the main and main-top, fore and fore-topsail braces of a ship on one side: the other side of the ship to be fitted with cordage made of the best Russia hemp; and the experiment is now in progress: of the result no doubt is entertained by the Commissioners.

The Commissioners are sensible that, in the preceding remarks, they are only reiterating the opinion heretofore frequently expressed by them. They have never entertained a doubt of American water-rotted hemp being equal to Russia, but the great difficulty has been to procure a sufficient quantity of American water-rotted hemp to answer the demands of the Navy. The habit of dew-rotting has become so fixed, that it is apprehended a considerable time will elapse before the American community can be persuaded to change it, and resort to the preferable system of water-rotting; indeed, a disposition has been manifested to experiment upon new theories, rather than adopt the system successfully practised and confirmed in other countries by long experience. Accordingly, we find that attempts have been made to prepare the hemp, by suffering it to remain twelve months in stack, and then exposing it to the action of dews; by breaking it with a machine in its natural state, without any previous rotting; by subjecting it to the operation of pyroligneous acid, after being dew-rotted.

The Commissioners have, from time to time, received hemp prepared in these various modes, and have directed experiments to be made of it. The results of such experiments, although not called for by the resolution, will not, it is presumed, be unacceptable, since their tendency is to establish the opinion entertained as to the properties of American hemp in its original state.

Cordage made of American hemp, stacked one year, and then dew-rotted, was fitted on one side of the Frigate Constellation as main, main-top, and fore-topsail braces, main clue-garnet, davits, and stern boat falls. The other side of the ship, in corresponding situations, was fitted with cordage of Russia hemp; and, after being thus worn for nearly a year, it was found, on examination, that the Russia rope, in every instance, after being much worn, looked better, and wore more equally and evenly than the American; that the yarns of the former were rather stronger, and the number of broken yarns not so great as in the American. But, although it thus appeared that the Russia rope was rather preferable, both as to strength and durability, yet, in the opinion of the commander, "the difference between them was not so great as to warrant a declaration that the proof was conclusive in favor of the Russia;" and he recommended further experiments as necessary to decide the question.

Of the same cordage, after being worn nearly two years on board the Constellation, her commander observes, "I have given a fair trial to the Kentucky hemp for rigging. If there is any preference, I would give it in favor of the Russia;" thus making it almost a matter of doubt whether cordage made of American hemp, stacked one year, and then exposed to dews, was not equal to cordage made of Russia hemp, when used as rigging.

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