April 4

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Apr 4 - 4:3:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (April 3, 1766).

“Indian Corn, new Rice, Pitch and Tar, – and a great Variety of English Goods.”

My curiosity was caught by this advertisement because of the “Indian Corn.” At first, I thought that the Indian corn could refer to some sort of trade between Native Americans and the English settlers. However, upon further research I found it referred to the type of corn. Indian corn, or maize, was popular in Massachusetts especially because it was easy to grow there. Native Americans farmed and harvested it, using all parts of the corn, not only for food, but for making items such as baskets and hats as well.

Maize was indicative of an earlier relationship between the Massachusetts colonists and Native American tribes. The Indians helped the colonists in growing corn as the English found that their crops, such as wheat, were not very suitable to the new climate. In a sense the Indian corn is still a representation of trade, but it was an exchange of knowledge from the Native Americans to the English settlers.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate how Maia identifies an exchange of knowledge as a precursor to the exchange of goods – “Indian Corn” in particular – envisioned in this advertisement. The evolving foodways of Africans, indigenous Americans, and Europeans that were part of the Columbian Exchange included trading knowledge about cultivation, preparation, and uses of a variety of new foods.

For English colonists, “new Rice” was an equally unfamiliar crop. Along with tobacco and indigo, many people recognize rice as a staple crop grown in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Slaves provided the necessary labor on rice plantations, enriching their masters in the process. Yet enslaved men and women contributed more than just their labor, significant enough in its own right. Africans were much more familiar with rice cultivation than Europeans. Enslaved Africans provided the experience and expertise growing rice that allowed European colonists to establish profitable plantations.

The first two items listed in this advertisement, “Indian Corn” and “new Rice,” both underscore that Europeans who ventured, settled, and traded throughout the Atlantic World depended on indigenous peoples, Africans and Native Americans, to supply knowledge about the foodstuffs that became part of their commerce and cuisine.

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