Anna Margaretha Donner ran what was the largest trading company on Gotland in the mid-1700s.
Anna Margaretha Donner was born in Visby on 11 February 1726. Her father, Mathias Lythberg, was a merchant and an alderman in Visby. Her mother, Johanna Wilhadi, was the daughter of the pastor of Garda parish in Gotland. Anna Margaretha Donner thus grew up in a family which belonged to the elite in the town.
Aged 18 Anna Margaretha Donner married Jürgen Hindrich Donner, in 1744. He was a merchant from Lübeck who traded with Visby. Anna Margaretha Donner had five children with Jürgen Hindrich. Only two of these children survived infancy, namely Georg Mathias and Jacob Niclas.
Following their marriage Anna Margaretha Donner moved to Lübeck with her husband. His family was well-established within the merchant sphere there. Two years later they moved to Visby, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Jürgen Hindrich became a burgess of Visby in 1746 and set up the Donner trading company. The enterprise was run from the so-called Donner trading house, which had been acquired in 1750 and lay near Visby harbour. Anna Margaretha Donner owned shares in the company from the outset and part of her duties involved book-keeping.
After her husband died in 1751 Anna Margaretha Donner, who was then 25 years old, took over the running of the enterprise. Under her management the business expanded markedly and investments were made in several new areas. The Donner trading company was primarily focused on export and shipping. Its main goods included grain, pitch and timber. The majority of their exports went to Lübeck but also to other German towns. Their shipping business was one of the largest within Sweden: at its peak the trading company owned 20 vessels as well as shares in other ships at the same time.
Anna Margaretha Donner’s business activities also involved limekilns and lime production, tobacco factories and tobacco-spinning, soap-manufacturing and market-trade in Visby. Further, Anna Margaretha Donner acquired large tracts of land on Gotland, including Eskeskog and Hallfreda farms in Follinbo parish.
Anna Margaretha Donner was a German-speaker and maintained correspondence with German merchants. She was referred to as Greta and was sometimes addressed as ‘Madame Herr Donner’ (Mrs Mr Donner).
Anna Margaretha Donner died on 24 September 1774. The cause of death was given as consumption. The Donner trading company continued to trade even after her death as her sons took over the running of the enterprise under the name of G.M. & J. N. Donner. The business which Anna Margaretha Donner had built up came to influence Gotland trade for a very long time.