What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AN ACADEMY … for the Instruction of YOUTH in the ENGLISH LANGUAGE.”
In an advertisement in the July 20, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, William Walton announced that he would open an academy “as soon as a CLASS of SIX YOUNG GENTLEMEN can be formed.” He stated that the curriculum emphasized instruction in the English Language, including how to write grammatically and how to read and speak properly, as well as the “first Principles” if arithmetic, geometry, history, and moral philosophy. Walton concluded his advertisement by inviting “Any Person desirous of … perusing the PLAN OF EDUCATION” to contact him for more information.
Parents of prospective students and others may have been especially interested in learning more about Walton’s methods due to his explanation for excluding Latin and Greek from his curriculum. Many schoolmasters, especially those who referred to their schools as academies, proudly announced that they instructed students in Latin and Greek. Doing so gave attendance at their schools greater cachet and conferred greater status on their students. Some schoolmasters appealed to prospective students and their parents by portraying the education they provided as a stepping stone to gentility, yet Walton did not target the elite or those with aspirations to upward mobility. Instead, he explained the value of studying at his academy for boys and young men who would “spend their Days in rural, mercantile, or mechanical Employments” rather than “one or other of the learned Professions.”
The students that Walton proposed to teach did not need to “pass away six or seven years in the study of the DEAD LANGUAGES” in order to become “more useful Members of civil Society.” He argued that learning those languages was only a means to an end: acquiring knowledge. Yet students could achieve that end, they could acquire knowledge, through the study of the English language and the study of geography, history, and moral philosophy in English. At Walton’s academy, they were introduced to “the best modern as well [as] ancient Authors,” allowing for a robust education that incorporated ideas as well as skills. “[T]he Mind can be stored with a Set of useful Ideas,” Walton proclaimed, “without the dry and tedious Process of learning the Latin and Greek Languages.”
Walton described a school that melded what he considered – and what he hoped prospective students, their parents, and the community considered – the best aspects of English schools for the middling and lower sorts and academies for the elite and those who wanted to join their ranks. He named it “AN ACADEMY” although it did not include instruction in Latin and Greek nor enroll the scions of the most affluent families in the colony. Yet the curriculum was not completely utilitarian. Students grappled with ideas through an “Acquaintance with the best classick Writers.” Walton promised that students destined for “rural, mercantile, or mechanical Employment” would become “more useful Members of civil Society” through this instruction, a benefit to themselves and their families as well as the rest of the colony. Many schoolmasters promoted instruction in Latin and Greek as distinguishing features of their curricula; Walton, on the other hand, presented the absence of those languages at his academy as a virtue. His students bypassed years of tedious study of “DEAD LANGUAGES” while still benefitting from the most important lessons as they acquired knowledge through the study of ideas presented in the English language.
 Carl Robert Keyes, “Selling Gentility and Pretending Morality: Education and Newspaper Advertisements in Philadelphia, 1765-1775,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 141, no. 3 (October 2017): 245-274.