March 30

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette (March 30, 1769).

“WINE To be Sold by ROSANNA MOORE.”

Rosanna Moore advertised wine imported from other places around the Atlantic world, including Madeira, an island that lies about 450 miles off the western coast of Morocco. Wine, like many other goods, was a common import into the colonies. However, when colonists first came to Virgnia, they tried to make wine. According to Charles M. Holloway, “it was tobacco that made a market, but in the beginning wine looked more likely.” This was one of the contributing factors to the colony not doing well when it was first founded; the colonists could not trust the water source.” Holloway states that “settlers [were] often reduced to drinking from the wide muddy tidal stream, and … sometimes paid for the gamble with their lives.” Because of this, colonists relied on imported wines and they tried to make cider to replace wine. Eventually, the vineyards were actually profitable, but that would not be for a long time. Holloway gives a figure from 1768, a year before Moore’s advertisement: “Virginians exported to Britain a little more than thirteen tons of wine while importing 396,580 gallons of rum from overseas, and another 78,264 from other North American colonies.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

On many occasions Rosanna Moore would have been the only female entrepreneur advertising goods and services in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, but that was not the case in the March 30, 1769, edition. Three other women also inserted advertisements in that issue. Elizabeth Clark, Elizabeth Greenleaf, and Anna Johnson each listed the “Assortment of Garden Seeds” they imported from London and offered for sale at their shops in Boston. Their notices appeared in a single column, one after another, forming a block of advertisements placed by women, making their presence in the public prints difficult to overlook.

Throughout the late winter and early spring of 1769, female seed sellers advertised in most of the newspapers published in Boston. It was an annual ritual that contributed to a rhythm of advertising. Just as advertisements for almanacs tapered off, a sign that the new year had come and gone, advertisements for garden seeds, the vast majority placed by women, began filling the pages of Boston’s newspapers. During the last week of March 1769, female seed sellers placed advertisements in all of the city’s newspapers except the Boston Chronicle. (Established within the past couple of years, the Chronicle had not cultivated the same volume of advertising as its competitors. All sorts of advertisers, including seed sellers, apparently preferred to pursue their marketing efforts in other publications.) Advertisements from Elizabeth Clark, Bethiah Oliver, Susanna Renken, and Elizabeth Greenleaf filled the entire final column on the last page of the Boston Evening-Post. Advertisements from Susanna Renken, Rebeckah Walker, Lydia Dyar, and Abigail Davidson appeared one after another in the Boston-Gazette, while Elizabeth Clark’s advertisement ran elsewhere on the same page. In Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (published on the same broadsheet as the Boston Post-Boy), Sarah Winsor, Susanna Renken, Anna Johnson, and Elizabeth Greenleaf occupied almost an entire column with their advertisements for imported seeds.

The merchandise offered by these female seed sellers differed from the “OLD Sterling MADEIRA … and other WINES” hawked by Moore. Renken, who noted in some of her advertisements that she had “a Box of China Ware to sell,” was the only one of those female seed sellers who regularly advertised other sorts of wares throughout the rest of the year. Although female shopkeepers comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in port cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they did not advertise in proportion to their numbers. Female seed sellers appear to have been the exception. Perhaps the occupation became so feminized as to outweigh any concerns about trumpeting their presence in the marketplace as suppliers rather than consumers. Even as competitors, Clark, Davidson, Dyar, Greenleaf, Johnson, Oliver, Renken, and Walker participated in a common venture when they advertised seeds in Boston’s newspapers. Rosanna Moore, the lone female entrepreneur advertising anything other than seeds in late March 1769, remained an outlier.

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