What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“New Garden SEEDS, JUST IMPORTED By Elizabeth Greenleaf.”
It was a sign of spring approaching. Each year in the late 1760s and early 1770s women who sold seeds placed advertisements in the several newspapers published in Boston, starting in early March and continuing for the next couple of months. Although printers and compositors usually did not arrange advertisements according to any particular classification, they did often place together the notices from these female seed sellers when they made their annual appearances in the public prints. Most did not advertise other goods at other times of the year.
The appropriately named Elizabeth Greenleaf was the first to advertise in 1771. On March 7, she placed an advertisement about “New Garden SEEDS,” including “Early Pease, Beans, and Garden Seeds of all Sorts” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Her advertisement ran alone, but soon other women would place their own in the Weekly News-Letter and the other newspapers published in Boston. Their numbers increased as the weather changed and colonists, especially women, anticipated planting gardens.
Two kinds of advertisements in colonial newspapers helped mark the passage of time and the transition from one season to another. Advertisements placed by female seed sellers harkened the arrival of spring, while advertisements for almanacs signaled the end of one year and the beginning of another. Advertisements for almanacs ran in newspapers from New Hampshire to Georgia, but notices about seeds sold by a coterie of female retailers were unique to Boston’s newspapers.
This is the sixth year that the Adverts 250 Project traces the appearance of these advertisements. Each year they have been a welcome herald of spring’s imminent arrival, a harbinger of the end of winter and the beginning of a new season with warmer weather and more hours of sunlight each day. In that regard, these advertisements certainly resonate in the twenty-first century, as much now as in the eighteenth century when colonial readers in Boston and its hinterlands first encountered them.