By Nicole Trifone
William Rind’s death did not stop his press from running. His wife made sure of it.
Though half its normal length, an edition of the Virginia Gazette was published on Aug. 19, 1773, the day William Rind died. Seven days later — right on schedule for the four-page weekly newspaper — Clementina Rind was listed as printer for the first time. It was the same edition in which her husband’s obituary appeared.
Sustained by her faith and with assistance for her children from Bruton Parish Church and the local Masonic lodge, Rind announced her plans to continue her husband’s newspaper in the Sept. 2 edition: “Being now unhappily forced to enter upon Business on my own Account.”
She bought her husband’s press equipment when his property was auctioned to settle his debts. She made the purchase on six months’ credit with the backing of one of Williamsburg’s most prominent residents and a member of the House of Burgesses, Robert Carter Nicholas.
“Printed by Clementina Rind” appeared on every edition of the Gazette until her death 13 months later.
Her story of strength, intellect and business acumen is now regularly told in the Historic Area. Actor-interpreter Emma Cross’ portrayal provides a window into Rind’s life as a mother, widow and tradeswoman in 18th-century Williamsburg, joining the roster of historical figures known as Nation Builders from the Revolutionary era who helped shape America.
“In my mind, Clementina really isn’t that different from other 18th-century women or even women today,” Cross said. “She is a typical woman in a typical situation at an atypical time in history: the eve of Revolution.”
Rind’s husband had been the public printer for the Virginia House of Burgesses, a status that she inherited after his death. She was the first female in Virginia to fulfill the role, which included responsibility for printing the journals for each session of the General Assembly, as well as the acts and laws passed by each assembly and other public business. She petitioned the burgesses to keep the post, which she secured through a formal vote in May 1774.
With the help of relative John Pinkney and an enslaved man, Dick, she operated the business from the stately brick house she rented on Duke of Gloucester Street, now called the Ludwell-Paradise House, where the Rinds also lived.
In Rind’s 13 months as a printer, the Gazette published coverage of the Boston Tea Party, the dissolution of the Virginia General Assembly and the start of the First Continental Congress. The motto displayed on the newspaper’s masthead guided Rind’s editorial decisions on articles, letters, essays and even advertisements: “Open to ALL PARTIES, but influenced by NONE.”
Though largely neutral in tone, her newspaper tended to favor the patriot cause. Rind could have limited or even eliminated criticism of Parliament’s tightening grip on the Colonies.
Yet, not only did she print letters critical of Great Britain, but she also took on a provocative print project in the summer of 1774 that would be reproduced throughout the Colonies. A Summary View of the Rights of British America denounced Britain’s response to the Boston Tea Party and argued in favor of self-governance. The writer initially was anonymous — Rind may not even have known who penned the piece — but Thomas Jefferson was eventually revealed as the author.
“I wish she had lived even just a few years longer,” Cross said. “A point of view regarding the American Revolution was becoming clearer, and I would love to know what she would have written when it became nearly impossible not to pick a side.”
Rind’s inclination to side with the Colonies would have come as no surprise. She and her family moved from Maryland to Williamsburg under purely political circumstances. House of Burgesses members persuaded William Rind to start a competing newspaper in Williamsburg because they thought public printer Joseph Royle was too partial to the Crown.
Rind had strong points of view on freedom of the press and editorial standards. She once wrote it would not “be justifiable to publish, indiscriminately, every piece that may be offered.” She studied the content of letters and judged whether statements in those submitted anonymously could be verified. Through those editorial judgments, Rind became an influential member of the community.
Knowledge of those views fuels Cross’ portrayal and discussions with guests in the Historic Area.
Cross sees Rind’s life story as an intersection of themes ripe for discussion with Historic Area guests. Rind believed in freedom of the press but had to rely on the business of politics to succeed. She was not part of the gentry, but many of the people who were reading her newspaper — and sometimes offering letters, essays and other submissions — were the elite. She likely never completed a formal apprenticeship but probably helped her husband run the business, allowing her to transition smoothly into the job after his death. She was a widowed mother responsible for her children and a tradeswoman responsible for a quality product.
It was Rind’s role as tradeswoman that most appealed to Cross when she heard Colonial Williamsburg wanted to add Clementina Rind to its Nation Builder programming.
Cross, at age 27, is already a veteran interpreter with a background in Historic Trades. She has either volunteered or worked for Colonial Williamsburg since 2002, when she began as a junior interpreter.
During those years, she learned first-person interpretation and the millinery trade from the professionals who had spent years honing their crafts. Her character interpretations included Betsy Pelham, the daughter of jailer Peter Pelham, and Lady Catherine Murray, Lord Dunmore’s eldest child. She enjoyed acting so much that she continued to work on her skills outside of her junior interpreter hours through local theater troupes and Colonial Williamsburg’s evening programs.
When she turned 18, she continued with Colonial Williamsburg as a volunteer and then as an intern in the millinery, tailor and apothecary shops, as well as the Public Leather Works.
Though she grew up in a world in which tradespeople build products from scratch and Founding Fathers converse in the middle of Duke of Gloucester Street, Cross still marvels at what the guests will experience.
“The people I work with and the rest of the Foundation, they are so remarkable,” Cross said. “I’m constantly in awe of what they do and their commitment to making sure it’s done well, and I strive to maintain that level of work. It is an honor to represent her and the hundreds of 18th-century women like her.”
The addition of Clementina Rind to Colonial Williamsburg’s Nation Builders program is generously funded by anonymous donors in honor of Ted Maris-Wolf.
Emma Cross, who has either worked or volunteered in the Historic Area since she was 11 years old, began portraying Clementina Rind in Spring 2018. (Tom Green/Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Clementina Rind, as portrayed by Emma Cross, debuted as a Nation Builder this spring. Her story will be told in the Historic Area through programs such as Visit a Nation Builder.
Americans today are the heirs of the raucous political speech of the founding era and are expanding the sphere of political expression in new ways.
Buttons decoratively wrapped in silk or mohair threads commonly adorned men’s garments throughout the 18th century. Make one for yourself.