GUEST CURATOR: Mary Aldrich
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“TO BE SOLD by John Sparhawk, AT KITTERY POINT, Good HEMP-SEED.”
Hemp was a valuable commodity in eighteenth century America because it was used to make the ropes that were on every ship in this period. According to Ben Swenson at Colonial Williamsburg, all of the colonies grew hemp because of its ability to grow virtually anywhere. By the eighteenth century, the colonies of Virginia and Maryland grew the most hemp, but for farmers in New Hampshire it was still a valuable crop.
Farmers were profit driven and the best way to grow hemp to get nice long fibers to be used for ropes was to plant them close together. This limited the amount of female flowers the plants were able to produce, which is location of the greatest concentration of THC. (Colonists did know about the hallucinogenic properties of hemp.) Besides rope, hemp was used to make cloth for clothes and sacks, paper, and bed ticking, which kept the feathers or straw of the mattress from poking through. The cloth made from hemp grown in the colonies was especially valued when the colonists began to boycott goods from England. The growing and processing of hemp was already so well established that colonists were easily able to either grow more hemp or set aside a larger amount for the production of homespun.
The processing of hemp was difficult; after it was cut and rotted the waste had to be removed from the desired long fibers. The hemp needed to be rotted because it would loosen the fibers from the woody interior and the bark. The process of breaking the hemp separated the fibers from much of the waste. Afterward it needed to be beaten and scraped, then combed to remove the rest of the waste from the strands. Only then was the hemp suitable to be processed into its final product.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
At first glance today’s advertisement appears rather bland, but Mary’s analysis demonstrates why it is an appropriate sequel to yesterday’s featured advertisement for Barnabas Clarke’s shop “Near Liberty-Bridge” in Portsmouth. The two appeared on the same page of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Sparhawk’s about two-thirds of the way down the second column and Clarke’s filling the top half of the third and final column.
Clarke explicitly invoked many colonists’ sentiments about their relationship to Parliament when he listed the location of his shop, which would have called to mind the protests against the Stamp Act that occurred quite recently, less than three months earlier. Sparhawk, on the other hand, did not make reference to such difficulties, but, given the ubiquity of hemp in the colonial world, most colonists would have been aware that it was a resource for creating homespun. Sparhawk’s advertisement played off what colonists knew about nonconsumption and nonimportation even as it encouraged consumption of an alternate product. As the article from Colonial Williamsburg cited above explains, in the coming years newspapers increasingly encouraged growing and using hemp as a means of resistance as the imperial crisis intensified.
Given that the advertisements for yesterday and today each had connections to colonists’ understanding of liberty, it is worth noting a third advertisement that appeared on this page of the New-Hampshire Gazette, immediately to the right of Sparkhawk’s advertisement and a bit below Clarke’s. While Clarke peddled his wares “Near Liberty-Bridge” and Sparhawk offered a product that could help colonists reduce commercial ties with an oppressive England, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette could purchase “A Negro Boy, about Fifteen Years of Age.” Once again, slavery and freedom were intertwined in the advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.