Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Matthew Pembleton, a lecturer at American University and a history consultant at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He and I traveled to Mt. Vernon in September of this year to see how the plantation and living museum is recreating Washington’s drug-related history. A second post from our visit, about the farm’s cultivation of hemp, will run in January. Text by Pembleton, photos by me. Enjoy!
The turn of the seasons brings many changes to George Washington’s former estate at Mt. Vernon. Visitation winds down, the grounds crew prepares for winter and for the spring planting, and then the crowds return. But one change stands out: late autumn and early spring is whiskey-making time.
On a drizzly fall morning, intrepid Points editors Emily Dufton and Matthew Pembleton ventured to George Washington’s former estate at Mt. Vernon to learn about the site’s first hemp crop in 200 years and the former plantation’s historic whiskey distillery. Both products were important to the operations of Mt. Vernon at different points in Washington’s life and each reveals a new side of the nation’s first president—a savvy businessman and entrepreneur with an eye toward innovation, rather than a figure from American legend.
And not surprise to readers of Points, both whiskey and hemp continue to draw visitors and the curious today.
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Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. This summer she visited the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum in Munich and has provided us with a review of its collections. All photos are courtesy of her as well. Enjoy!
During a two-month sojourn in Germany this summer, I eagerly anticipated a visit to Munich’s famed Beer and Octoberfest Museum—in the name of “research,” naturally. Less renowned than this hotspot and its many sister institutions, but equally relevant to historians of intoxicants, is the country’s sole attempt to reconstruct its pharmaceutical history: the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum (hereafter referred to as DAM), located since 1958 in the breathtaking Heidelberg Castle.
The exterior of the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum
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Myth: Napoleon Bonaparte created the first anti-marijuana law in modern history during his military campaign to Egypt around 1800.
For nearly a century, scholars and amateur historians have told their readers, quite incorrectly it turns out, that in October of 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte passed an official ban on hashish across Egypt after personally observing rampant use of the drug among Egyptians and his rank and file. For most historians of drugs and prohibition, the hashish ban of October 1800 marks the first anti-drug law in modern history and thus the starting point for histories of drugs and prohibition in the Western world. But in October of 1800, Napoleon was neither in Egypt nor was he the ranking General in Chief of the French Army of the Orient attempting to colonize the country.
Frustrated by his repeated setbacks in Egypt, Napoleon abandoned the Army of the Orient in August of 1799 and departed for France to begin his meteoric rise to power. Command in Egypt passed to Jean-Baptiste Kléber, one of the most celebrated generals in French history, who controlled the colony until a Kurdish student from Aleppo called Suliman El-Halebi assassinated him in June of 1800. After Kléber’s assassination, Jacques-François “Abdallah” Menou, the divisional commander of Rosetta, took over as General in Chief. When Abdallah Menou passed the hashish ban in Egypt in early October of 1800, First Consul Napoleon was nearly 3200 kilometers away in Paris fending off the famous “dagger plot” and preoccupied with a growing war in Europe against Austria and the Second Coalition. And a close reading of official correspondence between Paris and Alexandria throughout 1800 reveals that Napoleon had no involvement in or even knowledge of the hashish ban in Egypt passed by Menou in October. Why, then, has this myth of Napoleon banning hashish in Egypt appeared and reappeared as an historical fact for so long, and what has this myth hidden from us about the real historical circumstances that produced the first drug prohibition measure in modern Western history?
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