What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I shall leave a List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions.”
In late March 1770 Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes continued their efforts to raise funds and acquire materials to erect a building for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence. On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work,” they placed a notice in the Providence Gazette that thanked the “many Gentlemen [who] have been so generous to this very useful Institution, as to become Benefactors to it” while simultaneously calling on both current supporters and “those whose beneficient Minds may incline them to become such” to send updates about their intended donations.
Yet advocates for the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to the Providence Gazette alone. Hezekian Smith inserted a similar notice in the March 27, 1770 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He visited the colony to promote the college and the building it needed once its sponsors made a determination to move its location from Warren, Rhode Island, to Providence. Smith extended his “humble and hearty Thanks to the Benefactors of RHODE-ISLAND COLLEGE, whom he has met since his first Arrival in this Province.” He also announced that he planned to depart soon, prompting him to encourage “those Gentlemen who were so Kind as to promise to send their Benefactions for the College to him” to do so.
In a nota bene, Smith declared that he would leave behind a “List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions” that each supporter could consult in order to confirm “that his Donation goes towards making up the Sum I have collected since my Arrival here.” Smith likely had an additional motive for drawing up such a list for “Subscribers” to consult. As they perused the list to find their own names and “Benefactions” they would also see who else had donated and how much. They could congratulate themselves on their civic responsibility and the company they kept, but also compare their donations to those made by others. Benefactors could judge for themselves whether they appeared generous or miserly in comparison to others on the list. Did an unexpectedly large donation enhance their status or an unaccountably small donation diminish it?
Today, colleges and nonprofit organizations regularly publish lists of benefactors, often classifying them according to how much they donated and organizing the lists to give preeminence to the most generous. This is both an expression of appreciation and a challenge to current and prospective donors to secure their positions on subsequent lists of benefactors. In his efforts to raise funds for Rhode Island College, Hezekiah Smith similarly extended an acknowledgment and a challenge to benefactors in South Carolina. In promising to leave behind a list of donors and the sums they donated, he encouraged benefactors to increase their pledges.