What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has room … for ten day and three evening scholars more.”
In recent weeks the guest curators of the Adverts 250 Project have examined advertisements placed by some of Savannah’s schoolmasters in the Georgia Gazette. Both schoolmasters promoted the subjects they taught, which were limited mostly to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic (though one also provided instruction in Latin). Meanwhile, Osborne Straton, a schoolmaster in Charleston, took a different approach in advertising his school. He did not discuss his curriculum at all, but instead noted the location – “on the Green” – and described the surroundings as a “pleasant, healthy situation.”
Most schoolmasters and schoolmistresses placed advertisements to attract pupils they expected to pay tuition. Such was the case with Straton, who indicated that he had slots to accommodate ten more “scholars” in the classes he offered during the day and three more for evening classes. One fortunate student, however, might have qualified to attend Straton’s classes on a scholarship: “one youth may be qualified for business gratis, on a private benevolence.”
Straton did not reveal the identity of the benefactor, but it might have been a civic organization mentioned earlier in his advertisement. He implied that moving his school to a new location “on the Green” had been done “by the consent and approbation of the South-Carolina Society.” Perhaps the members sponsored his school, formally or informally. The society or one of its members may have provided for the “private benevolence” as a means of bolstering the futures of the student, the city, and the colony. Alternately, someone else may have provided the funds to offer an education to a youth who otherwise might not have afforded it. The schoolmaster himself may have opted not to charge tuition of one of his charges, leveraging the decision into a public relations opportunity.
Regardless of the source of the “private benevolence,” Straton possessed a means to distinguish his school from others when he advertised for students. His association with a philanthropic venture positioned him as an instructor capable of overseeing the moral development of his students as well as their academic work.