June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 7, 1768).

“Mr. STRATON will begin a Course of LECTURES.”

Schoolmaster Osborne Straton frequently advertised his “British Academy on the Green” in the newspapers published in Charleston in the late 1760s. Although he usually sought students who would enroll in his academy, on occasion he offered other opportunities for instruction to the residents of the city. For instance, during the summer of 1768 he delivered “a Course of LECTURES” that took place on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Straton established a theme for his lecture series, proposing to explicate “a compleat System of Arithmetic, Geometry and Architecture” and promising that each “shall be fully explained, from their first Principles to their Present happy Improvement.”

Compared to the many other schoolmasters and –mistresses that advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers, Straton positioned his British Academy as one of the most elite options available to prospective pupils in the colony. He even concluded his advertisement for the lecture series by noting that he taught Latin and French, reminding regular readers of the extensive curriculum they had encountered in his previous advertisements. For this particular “Course of LECTURES,” however, Straton underscored that he intended to engage general audiences: “The whole to be laid down in a plain Manner so as to be understood even by the unexperienced, for whose Sake this Undertaking is chiefly proposed.” Whether they sought entertainment or elucidation or a combination of the two, Straton invited members of the general public who might not otherwise enroll in his school to benefit from a series of lessons pitched specifically to their level of prior knowledge and experience with the subjects he covered.

Yet he did not throw wide the doors to the British Academy. He expected those who attended the lectures to pay for the experience. He carefully regulated who entered via a system of tickets, sold both by Charles Crouch at the printing office and Straton at the academy. Each ticket “entitle[d] the Bearer to hear eight Lectures.” Straton’s current students who “study any Branch of the Mathematicks” gained free admission, a perquisite of enrolling in his more extensive courses.

The schoolmaster’s verbose advertisements gave readers a sense of the curriculum and teaching style adopted at “the British Academy on the Green.” Even though he oversaw an elite academy, Straton also advertised scholarship opportunities for students who otherwise would not have had the means to enroll in his classes. This lecture series, designed for the benefit of “the unexperienced,” served as another form of outreach to audiences beyond the local gentry. Despite the stuffy persona he frequently cultivated in his advertisements, Starton also managed to communicate an interest in providing educational opportunities for the general public and not just the scions of the elite who could afford to enroll in his academy.

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.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:10:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 10, 1767).

“Hughes’s Night School, Commences on the 14th Instant.”

In early September 1767, Hughes turned to the New-York Journal to advertise the opening of his night school in the middle of the month. His entire notice consisted of only eight words: “Hughes’s Night School, Commences on the 14th Instant.” Given the brevity of this advertisement, especially in comparison to those placed by other schoolmasters throughout the colonies, Hughes must have assumed that the general public was already aware of all the important details, everything from the curriculum to the hours of instruction to the location.

What Hughes’s advertisement lacked in relaying information it made up for in experimenting with layout designed to attract the attention of potential students. John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, and the compositor had developed a fairly standard visual appearance for advertisements inserted in that newspaper. They used a single font size for news items and most of the text included in advertisements, but headlines for advertisements (most often an advertiser’s name) appeared in a significantly larger font, regardless of the length of the advertisement. The first line of the body of the advertisement often featured a font only slightly larger than that used for the remainder. Advertisements by Philip Livingston and Peter Remsen that appeared in the same column as Hughes’s advertisement fit the general pattern when it came to the graphic design of paid notices in the New-York Journal.

Sep 13 - Extra Adverts from New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 10, 1767).

Every word and every line of Hughes’s advertisement appeared in larger font sizes. The size of “Commences on the 14th instant,” the smallest in this advertisement, paralleled that of headlines in other advertisements throughout the standard issue and the supplement. The size of “Night School” rivaled the size of the newspaper’s title in the masthead. The size of the schoolmaster’s name far exceeded anything else printed in the issue or the supplement. Hughes’s message to potential students was short and straightforward, but the visual aspects had been designed to distinguish it from everything else on the page.

Newspapers published in colonial America’s largest cities in the 1760s often had a surplus of advertising, so much that they often had to print supplements to accommodate all of them. Space was limited, causing printers and compositors to standardize some of the visual aspects, including limiting the size of most text in advertisements. On occasion, however, they experimented with other formats that would have had a much different effect on readers accustomed to a particular style. Hughes’s relatively short advertisement for his “Night School” certainly stood out on the page.

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (August 10, 1767).

“Various Branches of the Mathematicks taught by WILLIAM CORLETT.”

In the summer of 1767 William Corlett placed an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy to announce that he had commenced teaching “ARITHMETICK, And various Branches of the Mathematicks.” He indicated that his pupils could learn “the first five Rules of Arithmatick,” navigation, surveying, and bookkeeping “after the Italian Method.” This curriculum suggests that Corlett worked as a tutor for youths and adult learners rather than as a schoolmaster for children. He taught specialized skills of particular value to those who pursued (or wished to pursue) occupations that depended on numeracy. Unlike schoolmasters who advertised their lessons, he also indicated specific outcomes so potential students could anticipate the time and total fees they could expect to invest. They learned the basics, “the first five Rules,” in forty hours. They became competent in navigation and surveying in forty-eight hours, each. Double-entry bookkeeping, “the Italian Method,” required additional study; Corlett’s students devoted an entire month to learning this skill.

What were the first five rules of arithmetic? Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division accounted for four of them, but the final rule creates some confusion among historians of mathematics education. It may have been basic numeration, simple counting and the ability to identify and express numbers set down in numerals. Given the rest of his curriculum, however, Corlett may have included the Rule of Three (also known as the Golden Rule) in his introductory course of study. In “Numeracy in Early Modern England,” Keith Harris describes the Rule of Three as “a rule of proportion whose aim was to find a fourth number when three were known.” He offers this example: “if the wages of three carpenters are 24d, what would the wages of seven carpenters be?”[1] Solving this problem requires multiplication and division; students needed to master those skills before attempting proportions.

Some prospective students likely found the “various Branches of Mathematicks” intimidating, but Corlett assured them that “any one of a moderate Capacity” could fairly quickly learn the skills he taught. By specifying how many hours of instruction were necessary to attain each skill, he signaled that he would not prolong the process or attempt to wring as much tuition as possible out of his pupils.

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[1] Keith Thomas, “Numeracy in Early Modern England: The Prothero Lecture,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 37 (1987): 114-115.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 25, 1767).

“I informed you of my Design of establishing a Boarding School in this City.”

As spring gave way to summer in 1767, Mary McCallister published proposals for opening a boarding school for young women in Philadelphia. She addressed her announcement to “the LADIES of PENNSYLVANIA, and the adjacent Provinces.” Although she may have been addressing prospective students, it was equally likely that she also intended for their mothers to peruse her advertisement and contemplate sending their daughters to her boarding school. Notably, she confined her audience exclusively to women, suggesting she believed that if she could convince daughters and wives to choose her school that would be sufficient to sway fathers and husbands concerinf “the many Advantages arising from a Boarding School Education.”

The curriculum she outlined in her advertisement likely played a role in excluding men from McCallister’s efforts to market her academy. It differed significantly from the course of study described in notices about boarding schools for male scholars. McCallister supplemented instruction in “the English and French Languages” with “Needle Work in Silks, Worsted and Linens.” Her pupils could expect to become proficient in embroidery on several fabrics. Once a week, McCallister also assisted her students to cultivate their baking skills, focusing on “Pastry” in particular. In addition, she planned to rotate through lessons “in the Arts of Painting on Glass, Japanning with Prints, [and] Wax and Shell Work, in the newest and most elegant Taste.” McCallister taught all of these subjects herself, but she indicated that the curriculum could be supplemented with “Writing, Arithmetic, Music, or Dancing,” taught by “proper Masters” who would visit the boarding school at appointed times.

McCallister envisioned a school for the local gentry and middling sorts who aspired to join their ranks. Accordingly, this was not a school devoted to general education in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic with some sewing thrown in for good measure. Instead, it was an academy for young ladies of a certain status to learn skills in the decorative arts and other genteel pursuits that would allow them to demonstrate their affluence, leisure, and, especially, refinement to other colonists.

April 22

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 22, 1767).

“HAVING OPENED A SCHOOL … TEACHING READING, WRITING, and ARITHMETICK.”

I chose this advertisement because I plan on being an educator – a teacher, professor, or a public historian – so this advertisement is quite close to heart. It is important to note that this advertisement comes from a newspaper printed in the southern colonies, the Georgia Gazette. This education offered in this advertisement differs from the schooling some children in the region received. “The sons of a planter typically would be taught the basics at home,” state the curators at Stratford Hall. Discussions in “Schools in American Society,” an Education course taught by Professor Casey Handfield at Assumption College, confirmed that this was typical in southern colonies. On the other hand, in Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, E. Jennifer Monaghan argues the northern colonies had significantly more extensive schooling, including pubic schooling in New England, due to the religious focus on education dating back to the seventeenth century.

Also it should not be overlooked that the advertisement included the subjects to be taught. Due to the nature of these subjects it appears as though the school was for younger children who needed the basics but not a “genteel” education. When it came to children of the elite, according to historians at Stratford Hall, “The boys studied higher math, Greek, Latin, science, celestial navigation (navigatin[g] ships by the stars), geography, history, fencing, social etiquette, and plantation management.” In addition, “The school days for girls were somewhat different. Girls learned enough reading, writing, and arithmetic to read their Bibles and be able to record household expenses.” This distinction is important because it separates the typical roles that men and women would play in life from an early start. This is important because it gives modern historians a view of gender roles in colonial society.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Jonathan notes, John Francklin taught the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. James Whitefield, a competitor who also advertised in the Georgia Gazette, offered only a slightly more extensive curriculum. He listed Latin among the subjects taught at his school. Neither schoolmaster advertised additional subjects often promoted as “genteel education” in newspapers printed in other cities, the sorts of subjects Jonathan already listed.

In addition to the north-south divide that distinguished educational opportunities in the different colonial regions, urban culture also played a role in determining which subjects were offered (or, at least, advertised) to potential students. Schoolmasters and schoolmistresses in both Philadelphia and Charleston, both large and bustling port cities, advertised day and boarding schools where students learned a variety of advanced academic subjects as well as ancillary skills (like dancing and personal comportment) in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In colonial America’s larger cities, some instructors advertised independently of any affiliation with schoolmasters and schoolmistresses whose curriculum focused on general education. For instance, French language tutors frequently advertised their services, often offering one-on-one instruction with their pupils. Dancing masters also advertised regularly in newspapers printed in larger cities. In addition to one-on-one instruction, many also ran their own academies where they tended to teach female students during one portion of the day and male students at alternate times. Some dancing masters doubled as fencing instructors, further enhancing the genteel arts their charges developed. Although some French tutors and dancing and fencing masters were itinerants, many tended to remain in the larger colonial cities for several years, presumably because they cultivated a clientele that kept them employed.

Surveying advertisements for education in newspapers printed throughout the colonies in the decade before the Revolution reveals certain disparities. From New Hampshire to Georgia, colonists used consumer culture to assert their status and identity, anxious lest their counterparts in England think they lived in provincial backwaters. While advertisements for goods demonstrate standardization of products available to purchase during this period, advertisements for services – especially education – suggest uneven opportunities. Schoolmasters and schoolmistresses everywhere taught the basics, but, not surprisingly, instructors with specialized skills most often promoted their services to potential pupils in larger cities. They relied not only on larger populations but also elites conscious of demonstrating their status and middling sorts with aspirations for social mobility. Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette regularly encountered advertisements for education that looked much different than today’s advertisement from the Georgia Gazette.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 15, 1767).

“THAT he intends OPENING A SCHOOL.”

Southern Education. James Whitefield’s advertisement announced that he planned to open a school. Regarding the content of the education provided, Whitefield “designs TEACHING LATIN, READING, WRITING, and ARITHMETICK.” I would like to discuss schools in this period, especially in the Lower South.

Note that this advertisement mentions it was a boarding school. Plantations in Georgia and other southern colonies were spaced out so daily travel for school was virtually impossible for some. Boarding schools provided an option for those who lived outside Savannah, Charleston, and other large towns.

It is also important to add that these services of education had to be purchased, as, according to Robert A. Peterson, “government had, for all practical purchases, no hand at all in education,” especially in the southern colonies. Education was something individuals had to acquire for themselves and their children. It came at a price. Free public education was not yet available for all. Children were taught at home, but those with money had other chances for education, including attending – or even being “lodged and boarded” – at a school like the one James Whitefield opened.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James Whitefield placed one of two advertisements about “OPENING A SCHOOL” in Savannah the April 15, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. John Francklin inserted the other. Both planned for their lessons to commence the following Monday.

At a glance, the advertisements from these competing schoolmasters might give the impression of extensive educational opportunities in Savannah, yet the services they offered and their methods for promoting them to prospective students and their parents paled in comparison to advertisements for day and boarding schools in larger port cities, especially Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston.

Whitefield and Francklin each taught the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Whitefield angled for a more elite clientele, listing Latin first among the subjects he taught, but he did not supplement that subject with other languages or additional subjects that many of his counterparts in larger cities promoted. Studying Latin was usually reserved for the better sorts, so some students (or their parents) may have chosen Whitefield’s school over Francklin’s for the perceived prestige of the slightly more extensive curriculum, even if they did not take Latin lessons after enrolling. Whitefield indicated that he had the capacity to take on boarders, “A few Masters or Misses,” but it was unlikely that female students would have been exposed to studying Latin.

Neither schoolmaster described their curriculum beyond listing the subjects they taught. Neither explained the care they took in the moral development of their charges. Neither described the amenities associated with the homes where they taught. Both limited their advertisements to seven lines, making them brief announcements compared to the marketing undertaken by schoolmasters in the major urban ports in the 1760s and 1770s.

Whitefield and Francklin offered valuable services to the residents of Savannah, but their efforts to provide educational opportunities appear embryonic compared to those available in larger cities. Part of this was most certainly a function of Georgia being such a young colony, founded only thirty-five years earlier. Even when colonists had more choices, they had to purchase them, as Shannon points out, which did not necessarily make education more accessible to most colonists even if they lived in close proximity to multiple schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who offered the most extensive lessons, moral guidance, and amenities. In the late colonial era, just as today, Americans had uneven access to educational opportunities, determined in part by both geography and status.