What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College.”
In March 1770 Hezekiah Smith prepared to depart Charleston after a successful stay in the city. He visited to raise funds for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and met many benefactors during his time in South Carolina. In advance of leaving, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to express his appreciation as well as offer instructions for anyone who still desired to make contributions but had not yet done so.
Smith did not collect the funds and immediately return to Providence, the site of a new building and a new location for the college. Instead, he headed further south to Savannah to continue seeking contributions. In an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, he outlined a strategy similar to the one he deployed in South Carolina. He commenced by offering his “sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College” that he had encountered so far, alerting others who had not yet donated that others in the community considered the college a worthy cause. He also drew attention to the “subscription paper” that listed all of the benefactors and the amount they pledged. Smith invited benefactors and others to visit Benjamin Stirk, a local agent and counterpart to David Williams in Charleston, to examine the list and confirm “that his donation goes towards making up the sum to be collected and got subscribed” in Georgia. In the process, benefactors and prospective benefactors would also observe who else had donated and how much, spurring them on to make sure that their own contribution reflected well on themselves. Smith implicitly relied on raising funds by placing donors in competition with each other as they participated in this sort of philanthropy as a means of asserting status and enhancing reputations.
Advertisements calling on local residents to contribute to Rhode Island College regularly appeared in the Providence Gazette in 1770, but representatives of the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to Rhode Island. Advertisements that Smith placed in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina demonstrate that the college sought benefactors near and far.