January 9

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 9, 1767).

“He … proposes opening his school after the holidays.”

Osborne Straton planned to start a new session at his school “after the holidays,” to commence three days after this advertisement appeared in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. In his attempt to attract students, he noted that he already had four years of teaching experience under his belt. For the past two years, he “had the honour of being intrusted with the tuition of the youth” from many households within the colony. He suggested that parents of prospective new students should “refer to the opinion of those that have employed him.” Straton was confident that he had earned a positive reputation as a teacher during his relatively short time in South Carolina.

In addition to relying on the endorsements from others, the schoolmaster presented further qualifications that were rather unique. Straton explained that he had been “regularly bred a merchant at London” and possessed “forty years experience as head book-keeper in some of the first counting-houses in Europe.” Straton taught what he knew from experience, arguing that he had many “opportunities of ratifying theory by practice.” Teaching was not an abstract occupation for him. He did not rely solely on so-called book learning passed down from the tutors who had educated him. Instead, he incorporated his own experiences from an earlier (yet extensive) career into his classroom and his curriculum in his efforts “to qualify youth for business.”

Straton identified two outcomes parents could expect after enrolling their children in his school. One was a lofty goal – “to open and enlarge the human understanding” – but the other had a purpose many parents might have found might more practical – “to qualify youth for business.” In his advertisement 250 years ago, Osborne Straton did the same dance that many liberal arts colleges, programs, and departments are doing in their marketing efforts today, striking a balance between exhorting the personal benefits of a liberal arts education and demonstrating the preparation for a profession derived from the training undertaken in the process of earning an undergraduate degree.

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