What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing.”
Osborne Straton was not the only schoolmaster who advertised his services in the newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1767. He needed to distinguish his instruction from that provided by W. Adams and William Johnson, both of whom inserted much more extensive notices in the public prints. Rather than going into as much detail about his curriculum and teaching methods, Straton advanced two other reasons “Parents and Guardians” should enroll their children in “the British Academy on the Green, at the West End of BROAD-STREET.”
First, he underscored his experience, implying that the parents of prospective students should choose his academy because his competitors were newcomers who had not yet gained the public trust. Straton had been teaching in Charleston for half a decade; he considered it “his Duty to remind the Public, That A.D. 1762, he first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing, Drawing, &c. &c. in all their Branches.” His methods were particularly designed “to qualify Youth for Business in general,” a goal that Straton identified in an advertisement published several months earlier. He noted his long experience in that notice as well, stating that he had “forty years experience as head book-keeper in some of the first counting-houses in Europe” before migrating to South Carolina and becoming a schoolmaster. According to Straton, his experience, both in business and in teaching local youth, should cause parents to give him precedence over other schoolmasters.
Straton also argued that he served the public good in addition to earning a living by charging tuition of students who could afford it. He pledged to “Instruct six poor Children Gratis, every Thursday and Saturday in the Afternoon.” This was not the first time he made such an offer. Several weeks earlier he announced that “one youth may be qualified for business gratis, on a private benevolence,” an eighteenth-century scholarship of sorts. In making a new commitment to teach several poor children, Straton again played on his ties to the community established over the course of several years. He set a philanthropic example to make his academy more appealing to prospective students and their parents, suggesting that service rather than revenues motivated his instruction.
Compared to his competitors, Straton’s advertisement was relatively short. Despite its length, he included two appeals that made his academy both distinctive and attractive to residents of Charleston as they considered several options. Other schoolmasters might have offered effective instruction, but for Straton the work seemed to be a vocation rather than a mere occupation.