Among the many artifacts in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society is the deed of mortgage to Clementina Rind's deceased husband's printing business in Williamsburg. The document offers a glimpse into an important, but often overlooked, aspect of colonial history and early literary endeavors, the role of female printers.
Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, expressed his gratitude to Elizabeth Timothy of South Carolina, who took over and successfully ran her husband's (and Franklin's partner's) printing business in 1738. Nearly forty years later, in 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore published the official copy of the Declaration of Independence on which the names of the signers were written for distribution to state legislators.
A few years before, in 1774, Virginia's first female printer, Clementina Rind in Williamsburg, printed Thomas Jefferson's A Summary View of the Rights of British America just after Peyton Randolph read it aloud in his home to a gathering of Virginia patriots. George Washington was among the first to purchase a copy, writing in his diary that it cost him three shillings and ninepence. The pamphlet was reprinted in Philadelphia and London, and its importance has been described as "second only to the Declaration of Independence."
We know little about Clementina's early years. She may have been a native of Maryland, but no record of her birth or marriage survives. Her husband, William Rind, was born in Annapolis in 1733 and was an apprentice there to printer Jonas Green. After a seven-year partnership with Green, the two suspended publication of the Maryland Gazette in October 1765 to protest the Stamp Act. Shortly after, Rind accepted the invitation of a group of Virginians, including Jefferson, to publish a paper in Williamsburg.
Clementina Rind and the Virginia Gazette
The first issue of Rind's Virginia Gazette appeared May 16, 1766, under the motto: "Open to ALL PARTIES, but Influenced by NONE." The newspaper and bookshop operated out of the present Ludwell-Paradise House. Shortly after, the assembly chose Rind as public printer to the colony, and in spite of escalating paper costs, the business prospered and its reputation grew.
In August 1773, a week after her husband's death, Clementina Rind took over the editorship and business management of the press without missing a single issue. As editor, she was careful to preserve the integrity pledged in the motto. The paper also began to assume its place as a literary journal of sorts, publishing not only reports of foreign and domestic affairs, shipping news, and advertisements but also essays, articles, and poems. These items revealed her interests in scientific developments and educational opportunities, particularly with regard to the College of William and Mary. It is clear that Rind valued women as readers of her paper, for it included poetic tributes to women in acrostic or rebus form, prose, and news reporting with a feminine slant. She also included vignettes of life in European high society, in rural England, and in the other colonies.
Her bid for public favor was so well received that she expanded her printing program. In May 1774, the House of Burgesses appointed her public printer in her own right, and it continued to give her press all the public business in spite of competing bids from Purdie and Dixon, publishers of a rival Virginia Gazette.
In August of that year, she became ill and found it difficult to collect payments. She died in Williamsburg a month later and was likely buried beside her husband at Bruton Parish Church. Although Clementina Rind lived only about thirty-four years, her brief obituary read, "a Lady of singular Merit, and universally esteemed." A number of poetic eulogies and a formal elegy of 150 lines expressed admiration and respect for her varied interests, literary talent, and sound critical judgment.