April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 25, 1768).

“John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree.”

In the spring of 1768 Charles Dunbar, a gardener, placed an advertisement in the Newport Mercuryto announce that he sold “a Quantity of choice good Garden Seeds.”  Customers could purchase “Early Charlton Peas,” “fine Madeira Onion,” “double curled Parsley,” and a variety of other seeds directly from Dunbar or from “Gilbert Stewart, the North Corner of Banister’s Row” or “John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree,” and “Caleb Earle at the upper end of the Town.”

Dunbar’s advertisement testifies to colonial understandings of urban geography and how to navigate cities, especially smaller ones.  Residences and businesses did not have standardized street numbers in the 1760s. Some of the largest American cities would institute such a system in the final decade of the century, but on the eve of the Revolution colonists relied on a variety of other means for identifying locations.  Sometimes indicating just the street or an intersection gave sufficient direction, such as “North Corner of Banister’s Row.”  Sometimes the descriptions were even more vague, such as “upper end of the Town.” Especially in towns and smaller cities, neither residents nor visitors needed much more information to locate residences and businesses.  Colonists also noted the proximity of shop signs.  In another advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury, Thomas Green listed his location as “the Sign of the Roe Buck in Banister’s Row.” Advertisements from other newspapers printed throughout the colonies in the 1760s suggest that residents of Newport likely used Green’s sign as a marker to identify other locations next door to his shop or across the street or three doors down.  Although associated with particular businesses, shop signs served a purpose other than merely branding the enterprises of their proprietors.

In that regard, shop signs operated as landmarks, another common method for indicating location … and some landmarks communicated more than just location.  Dunbar indicated that prospective customers could find his associate John Stevens “near Liberty-Tree,” a landmark that could not be separated from its political symbolism even as the advertiser used it to facilitate commerce.  As a result, politics infused Dunbar’s advertisement, prompting readers to consider more than just their gardens as they contemplated which seeds to purchase and plant.  Dunbar’s notice was not an isolated incident.  In the wake of both the Stamp Act and, later, the Townshend Act, colonists designated Liberty Trees and quickly incorporated the symbolism into their understanding of urban landscapes.  Advertisers in Boston most frequently invoked the city’s Liberty Tree as a landmark to aid prospective customers in finding their businesses, but Dunbar’s notice demonstrates that advertisers in other cities adopted the same strategy.  Some advertisers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, took similar steps when they stated their location in relation to “Liberty-Bridge.” Even if advertisers did not actively endorse particular political positions, their use of these landmarks demonstrates how quickly residents of their cities integrated symbols of resistance into their points of reference for navigating urban centers.

Slavery Advertisements Published April 25, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Apr 25 - Boston Chronicle Slavery 1
Boston Chronicle (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - Boston Post-Boy Slavery 1
Boston Post-Boy (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - Boston-Gazette Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Slavery 1
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 1
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 2
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 3
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 4
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 5
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

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Apr 25 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 6
South Carolina Gazette (April 25, 1768).

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:21:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1768).

“NATHANIEL and JOHN TWEEDY, Druggists, near the Court-House, Philadelphia.”

Druggists Nathaniel Tweedy and John Tweedy advertised frequently in the late 1760s.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  They spread their marketing efforts across multiple publications to increase the likelihood that colonists in Philadelphia and its hinterlands would encounter their notices.

The Tweedys also varied the content of their advertisements.  Some listed an extensive assortment of “DRUGGS and MEDICINES” as well as surgical instruments and other medical supplies.  Others focused exclusively on the Baume de Vie, a patent medicine.  The Tweedys proclaimed that they had been “appointed the sole vendors … in America by the patentee.”  To further convince potential customers of the efficacy of the Baume de Vie they sold “a narrative of the extraordinary effects of said medicine, and the book of observations” for one shilling and six pence.  For those who did not wish to make such an investment, the druggists also offered to “lend them to those who will be kind enough to return them after perusal.”  Even though the Baume de Vie was the primary focus of some of their advertisements, they still devoted nearly half of the content in those notices to marketing their shop more generally.  In both newspapers and pamphlets, the Tweedys used print to promote their wares.

Compared to most other advertisers, the Tweedys were particularly savvy when it came to one aspect of newspaper advertising.  Rather than running one advertisement at a time and eventually replacing it with an updated or new advertisement, they simultaneously published several advertisements at the same time.  On occasion they even inserted multiple advertisements into a single issue of a newspaper, perhaps believing that each would enhance the effectiveness of the others.  Vendue masters in Boston frequently adopted this strategy, but their turnover in merchandise at each auction explains their decision to do so.  The Tweedys, on the other hand, operated a shop with a fairly constant inventory. Given the length of many of their advertisements, they certainly could have combined listing their wares and promoting the Baume de Vie into one advertisement.  Yet they chose instead to saturate newspapers with greater numbers of advertisements, increasing the likelihood that readers who perused the notices would encounter and remember their shop and the goods and services they offered.  Readers of the April 24, 1768, edition of thePennsylvania Journal, for instance, would have seen the Tweedys’ advertisement for the Baume de Vie on the second page of the supplement as well as a lengthier advertisement listing their merchandise on the fourth page.  By the end of the eighteenth century inserting multiple advertisements into a single newspaper became common practice, but the Tweedys experimented with the technique decades earlier, demonstrating its potential to other advertisers.

April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 23, 1768).

“SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

The compositor who labored “at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the spring of 1768 experimented with the typography for several advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette.  This notice for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” sold by frequent advertisers Joseph and William Russell incorporated the most significant variations in font size, but several others also featured headlines printed in oversized fonts relative to the remainder of the dense content that appeared throughout the rest of the Providence Gazette.  In the Russells’ advertisement, the word “GOODS” was printed in all capitals in the largest font and spaced to fill an entire line on its own. Their names, also all capitals (except the abbreviation for William) appeared in a slightly smaller font and the word “JUST IMPORTED” in a font still slightly smaller.  Almost every line of their advertisement featured font sizes noticeably larger than those used in the bulk of advertisements and news items in the same issue.  In the late 1760s the Providence Gazetteregularly published some of the most innovative and experimental typography in its advertisements compared to other newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies.  The same advertisement likely would have been condensed to just a few lines in most other publications.

Although the Russells’ notice contained the most variation in font size and spacing, a few other advertisements also had headlines composed in larger font that distinguished them from the rest and drew readers’ eyes.  “THURBER AND CAHOON” occupied three lines, with the names of the partners in the same size font as “GOODS” in the Russells’ advertisement.  The words “A FARM” appeared in all capitals and the same size font in a notice placed by John Lyon and Benjamin Lyon.  In their advertisements, the names of Nathaniel Jacobs and James Arnold also appeared in the largest font, but not in all capitals. Still, the size of the text made their advertisements particularly easy to spot on a page of densely formatted text. Although some of the other advertisements had their own headlines in fonts slightly larger than most of the text, none of the news items had headlines or otherwise distinctive typography to steer readers to them.  Whether the compositor deserves sole credit for the innovative visual elements of those advertisements cannot be determined from examining the advertisements alone. One or more advertisers may have collaborated with the compositor, prompting others to request layouts that imitated what they saw in the notices published their competitors.  Either way, the visual presentation of advertising in the Providence Gazettediffered significantly from the visual presentation of news items.  This suggests that advertising led the way in reconceptualizing the ways in which the appearance of text on the page directed readers to particular content in newspapers.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 22, 1768).

“LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”

Guest curator Zachary Karpowich recently examined an advertisement promoting the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”  David Hall and William Sellers inserted this advertisement for a pamphlet they had published in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet Hall and Sellers were not the only printers to collect the twelve “Letters” together into a single pamphlet, nor was the Pennsylvania Gazette the only newspaper to carry advertisements for those pamphlets.  Just as the “Letters” spread from colony to colony as they were reprinted from newspaper to newspaper in late 1767 and well into the spring of 1768, colonists had access to a variety of pamphlets that collected the series of essays under a single cover for their convenience and continued reference.

The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least four printing houses published their own edition of the “Letters” in pamphlet form in 1768.  According to the imprints, residents of Philadelphia could purchase an edition “Printed by David Hall, and William Sellers” published in the spring and a second edition released later in the year.  That Hall and Sellers printed more than one edition testifies to the popularity of the pamphlet.  Colonists in New York could purchase an edition “Re-printed by John Holt, near the Exchange,” while residents of Boston could choose between competing editions, one “Printed and sold by Edes & Gill, in Queen Street” and another “Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, north-side of King-Street.”  Each of these printers also published newspapers that had reprinted the “Letters” over a series of weeks:  Holt, the New-York Journal; Edes and Gill, the Boston-Gazette; and Mein and Fleeming, the Boston Chronicle.  At least one other edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1769, that one described as a third edition “Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee-House.”  That the Bradfords produced yet another edition for readers in Philadelphia suggests that printers cultivated demand for the pamphlet and successfully disseminated the arguments about Parliament overstepping its authority advanced by John Dickinson.

Colonists beyond the major port cities could also purchase the pamphlet.  Today’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth by Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle.  It specified two locations where readers could purchase the pamphlet:  “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON, and at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”  The Fowles likely stocked the edition printed by Mein and Fleeming, considering that their advertisement reiterated the location listed in the imprint from that edition.  Just as they had reprinted the “Letters” in a series of issues, the Fowles also reprinted significant portions of an advertisement previously published in another newspaper, drawing from the notice for Hall and Sellers’s edition of the pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The Fowles were not the only printers to advertise an edition of this pamphlet on April 22, 1768. John Holt ran an advertisement for his edition in a midweek supplement to his newspaper, the New-York Journal.  He composed his own copy, however, advising potential customers that the pamphlet “fully explains and unanswerably defends the Rights of the British Colonies.”  He reported that he had gathered the essays into a pamphlet “upon the Suggestion of many of the Inhabitants” of New York who recommended “that it ought to be kept in every Family, and be thoroughly consider’d, understood, and taught to the rising Generation.”  Holt stressed that reading the “Letters” would inculcate a particular set of values among youth; studying the pamphlet was not the sole domain of the current generation of colonial leaders.  Yet he also lamented that “the Sale of these useful Pamphlets, has hitherto been very inconsiderable, so that they are like to be a great Loss to the Printer” even though he indicated that they had been “Just published.”  Holt may have exaggerated as a way to jumpstart sales, a strategy that could have been effective once he advertised that he stocked copies of the pamphlet at his printing office.

Throughout the colonies printers encouraged customers to purchase – and read – the “Letters” in order that “the Principles of our happy Constitution may be universally known and established.”  The stakes were too high not to become familiar with Dickinson’s explication of the proper relationship between Parliament and colonies.  Turning a blind eye to such wisdom meant that the colonists would not be prepared “to assert and maintain the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 22, 1768).

Slavery Advertisements Published April 22, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

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Apr 22 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 8
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 22, 1768).

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

Summary of Slavery Advertisements Published April 15-21, 1768

These tables indicate how many advertisements for slaves appeared in colonial American newspapers during the week of April 15-21, 1768.

Note:  These tables are as comprehensive as currently digitized sources permit, but they may not be an exhaustive account.  They includes all newspapers that have been digitized and made available via Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.  There are several reasons some newspapers may not have been consulted:

  • Issues that are no longer extant;
  • Issues that are extant but have not yet been digitized (including the Pennsylvania Journal); and
  • Newspapers published in a language other than English (including the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote).

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Slavery Advertisements Published April 15-21, 1768:  By Date

Slavery Adverts Tables 1768 By Date Apr 15

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Slavery Advertisements Published April 15-21, 1768:  By Region

Slavery Adverts Tables 1768 By Region Apr 15

Slavery Advertisements Published April 21, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Apr 21 - Massachusetts Gazette Slavery 1
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Massachusetts Gazette Slavery 2
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - New-York Journal Slavery 1
New-York Journal (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - New-York Journal Slavery 2
New-York Journal (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - New-York Journal Slavery 3
New-York Journal (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - New-York Journal Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - New-York Journal Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 4
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 5
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 1
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 2
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 3
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 4
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 5
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 1
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 2
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 3
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 21, 1768).

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Apr 21 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 4
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 21, 1768).

April 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Bohane

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 20, 1768).

“Alexander Findlay & James Seyour, A.M. DESIGN TO OPEN SCHOOL.”

Alexander Findlay and James Seymour advertised a school where they taught “BRANCHES of LITERATURE” as well as “several PARTS of the MATHEMATICKS.” Today it seems hard to imagine a world without public schools considering that most students attend public schools rather than private ones. However, throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century, private schools, like the one featured in this advertisement, were often the only option for education outside the home in many places.

According to Robert A. Peterson, education began at the home, typically as the responsibility of the mother, and, as the children grew older, became the father’s task. In Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, E. Jennifer Monaghan explains that “religious motives underlay reading instruction in colonial America, while secular motives led to writing instruction.” The most commonly read books were the Bible, a primer, and a hornbook. As children in southern colonies grew older, their schooling prepared them for their eventual roles in plantation life. Boys advanced further in subjects such as math, Greek, Latin, science, and navigation. Girls learned the duties of the mistress of the plantation, such as basic arithmetic to handle household expenses.

Today many people argue that without public schools the job of educating future generations would simply not get done, but colonists did not have the same access to widespread public education that Americans now take for granted.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Although Alexander Findlay and James Seymour sought children and youth as students at their school “in the lower End of Broughton-Street” in Savannah, they also suggested that they provided adult education as well, at least when it came to writing.  As Mary notes, they taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as some more advanced subjects, promising that their methods would “do all possible justice to those who will please to commit their children to their care.”  However, they concluded their advertisement with a nota benethat reiterated that they offered writing instruction:  “They also design to teach Writing at the same place between the hours of twelve and one.”  Assuming that their young pupils took a break from their studies at midday, Findlay and Seymour had an opportunity to teach adults who wished to learn or further develop a particular skill without enrolling for the entire curriculum.

Even though today most people link the ability to read and the ability to write because they have been taught simultaneously or in quick succession in elementary schools, that was not the case in the colonial period.  Reading and writing were considered different skills utilized for different purposes.  Learning to read granted colonists access to the Bible and other devotional literature, whereas learning to write (and do arithmetic) opened up the world of commerce to them.  Accordingly, colonists considered reading the more vital skill.  Many of those who perused the Georgia Gazettemay well have been able to read Findlay and Seymour’s advertisement and the other content yet did not possess the ability to make notes in the margins, write a note asking for more information, or otherwise use quill and ink in their daily lives.  Like the Latin and Greek that the schoolmasters proposed to teach, writing was not a necessity in colonial society, but it was certainly useful for those who acquired the skill.  For adults who had not previously learned to write as part of their education, Findlay and Seymour offered a chance to obtain that skill in brief lessons without pursuing the rest of the relatively extensive curriculum at their day school.