What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds.”
It was a sign that spring was approaching. The first advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” than ran in the Boston newspapers in 1772 appeared in the February 24 edition of the Boston-Gazette. Lydia Dyar informed the public that she stocked seeds for “Collyflower, Cucumber, Onion, Carrot, Turnip, Raddish, and Lettice of all sorts,” an “assortment of Flower Seeds,” and “a Variety of other Seeds not mentioned.” She pledged that her inventory, obtained “from the Seeds men in LONDON,” consisted of seeds “warranted to be fresh and good, and of the last Year’s Produce.”
Dyar was one of several “Seeds women” in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s. More than half a dozen female entrepreneurs annually took the pages of newspapers published in the busy port city to draw attention to the imported seeds they offered for sale. Most did not advertise at any time of the year except spring, nor did most advertise other sorts of goods. That does not mean that they did not keep shop throughout the rest of the year, only that they exclusively advertised seeds in the spring.
Although Dyar was the first to insert an advertisement in the public prints in 1772, readers likely expected other “Seeds women” would soon join her. In past years, compositors tended to cluster advertisements from Dyar and her competitors together, one after another in the lengthy columns in standard issues or occupying an entire page on smaller sheets distributed as supplements. Compositors rarely resorted to placing advertisements with similar purposes together in eighteenth-century newspapers, making it all the more notable when they seemed to recognize a distinct classification for advertisements for seeds. The “Seeds women” of Boston comprised a unique cohort of advertisers. In no other American city or town did so many female entrepreneurs place so many advertisements promoting seeds. It was indeed a sign that spring was approaching, but one witnessed solely by readers of Boston’s newspapers.