What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Large Marrowfats, early Charlston.”
Susanna Renken and Abigail Davidson were the first in 1770. Spring was on the way. Newspaper advertisements for garden seeds were among the many signs of the changing seasons that greeted colonists in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution. Every year a cohort of women took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to promote the seeds they offered for sale. Renken and Davidson both placed advertisements in the March 5, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, conveniently placed one after the other. Readers could expect that soon advertisements placed by other female entrepreneurs would join them. Although printers and compositors usually did not impose any sort of classification system on newspaper notices, they did tend to cluster advertisements by women selling seeds together, a nod toward the possibility of organizing the information in advertisements for the convenience of subscribers and other readers. Renken, usually one of the most prolific and aggressive of the female seed sellers when it came to advertising, also placed a notice (with identical copy) in the March 5 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.
Renken concluded her advertisement with a brief note about other merchandise available at her shop, “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.” That brief reference to a commercial strategy for protesting the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts belied how the imperial crisis would intensify by the end of the day. That evening a crowd outside the Boston Custom House on King Street (now State Street), harassing British soldiers. The encounter culminated in the Boston Massacre or what Paul Revere termed the “BLOODY MASSACRE” in an engraving intended to stoke patriotic sentiment among the colonists. Three men died instantly; two others who were wounded died soon after. Collectively, they have been considered the first casualties of the American Revolution, along with Christopher Seider who had died less than two weeks earlier. A week after Renken and Davidson placed their first advertisements of the season, other women joined them in advertising seeds in the Boston-Gazette. Their advertisements, however, were enclosed in thick borders that denoted mourning. Many of them appeared on the same page as coverage of the Boston Massacre.