What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony.”
Providence, Rhode Island, is now known as the home of Brown University, but that is not where the university has always been located. In 1770, six years after its founding, Providence became the permanent home of what was known as the Rhode Island College in its early years, later Brown University, in 1770. In March 1764, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved the charter for the “College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” The Rhode Island College was only the seventh college founded in the colonies. Founded by Baptists, admission to the college was open to students of other denominations. According to “Brown’s History: A Timeline” on the university’s website, the corporation that would run the new college first met in Newport in September 1764. At that meeting, “Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins (who would be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) was elected Chancellor.” James Manning served as the first president of the college, from 1765 until his death in 1791. He was also the college’s “first (and initially only) professor. He offered classes in the parsonage of the Baptist Church in Warren. The college held its first commencement in Warren in September 1769, not long before moving to Providence.
In preparation, Stephen Hopkins and John Brown, acting “in Behalf of the Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting an edifice for the college in the city placed an advertisement in the January 13, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to request that those who had already pledged funds and others who might be inclined to do so consider donating “such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.” The move to Providence was not a foregone conclusion, but such “Materials fit for the Building” and “Subscriptions” had helped to convince the Corporation. According to the “Brown’s History: A Timeline,” Warren, Newport, and other communities in Rhode Island vied to become the permanent home of the college; the members of the Corporation “heard arguments in favor of the city’s central location, availability of materials and workers, number of libraries, and money pledged to support the effort.” The newspaper notice placed by Hopkins and Brown incorporated two of those factors. A variety of primary sources tell the story of the founding and first years of the Rhode Island College. Among those, newspaper advertisements testify to some of the fundraising efforts undertaken to establish the college in the city that has now been its home for 250 years.