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.


[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).


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.



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).


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.



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.

January 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 13, 1767).

“ANNE IMER … has opened SCHOOL.”

Less than two weeks into the new year, Charleston’s schoolmasters encouraged parents to enroll their children in classes. The January 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement included five notices promoting educational opportunities. Advertisements placed by schoolmasters and tutors of various sorts frequently appeared in the city’s newspapers in the 1760s, but not usually so many in a single issue. The start of the year, however, was an opportune time to seek new students as colonists thought about how to make the new year more prosperous than the last. As the advertisements indicate, parents who could afford to educate their children had many choices. Schoolmasters faced stiff competition from their peers, a factor that caused each to market more than just their curriculum.

William Hutchins, who operated a day school where students learned reading, writing, and arithmetic, asserted that he took “the greatest Care” in shaping the “Morals and Behaviour” of his students. For the convenience of scholars who could not attend during the day, he also kept an evening school.

Schoolmistress Anne Imer was the only educator who taught a subject specifically aimed at female students. She listed three subjects in her curriculum: “English, French, and Needle Work.” Most likely her charges learned needlework as a genteel pursuit for refined young ladies, a complement to their instruction in the French language, rather than solely as a practical skill. Imer also offered “to board three or four Children, having a convenient House for that Purpose.”

D’Ellient and Alexander welcomed both “Day boarders” and fulltime boarding students to their school, “where the English, French, Latin and Greek Languages, Writing and Arithmetick are taught as usual.” They offered a more refined education than Hutchins, as well as several amenities suited to the status of their students. The schoolmasters indicated that they had hired “a prudent Housekeeper” in order to provide satisfactory “boarding, lodging and washing of young Gentlemen from the Country.” They also provided lunch for “Day boarders,” students who lived in Charleston but far enough from the school that it was “inconvenient for them to return Home to dine.”

Walter Coningham supplemented the standard curriculum (reading, writing, and arithmetic) at his “Grammar-School” with lessons in Greek and Latin. Unlike others who taught foreign languages, he described his methods for parents of prospective students to review in advance. Like Imer, he accepted a limited number of boarders, though most of his pupils seemed to have been day students.

The enigmatic Pike (who never revealed his first name in any of his advertisements in Charleston or, later, Philadelphia) offered a very different curriculum, dancing and fencing. These genteel pursuits supplemented the knowledge students gained at other schools and academies. He invited male and female students to learn “proper address, the Minuet, Country Dances” or “any Branch of dancing they chuse.” Instruction in “the Use of the SMALL-SWORD,” however, was reserved for men.

The schoolmasters who placed these advertisements offered services and amenities in addition to instruction in the subjects they taught. In describing the ancillary aspects of they education they provided, these advertisers allowed prospective students and their parents to select the school that best fit their budget, status, and aspirations.

January 2

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“He now teaches LATIN in his Grammar School.”

At the turn of the new year, Walter Coningham sought students for his “Grammar School” in Charleston. He deployed several strategies to convince the parents to enroll their children in his academy.

Coningham opened his advertisements with a message of appreciation for fathers of his current and former students, stating that he “gratefully acknowledges the many favours he has received from those gentlemen who entrusted him with their childrens education.” While probably sincere, this public thank you also allowed the schoolmaster to underscore that other colonists previously sent their children to his school and had been satisfied with the results.

He then announced a new element of his curriculum – Latin – and described his teaching methods. He used “a plan entirely new” that immersed students in the language by consulting “books without English translations.” He assured parents that this method was “both easy and beneficial for the scholar,” but he understood that some readers might harbor some doubts on that account. Accordingly, he offered “ocular demonstration” of the “improvements his scholars make” in studying Latin through “the performance of those now under is care.” In other words, Coningham offered demonstrations. He invited those with reservations about his methods to observe his current students and decide for themselves how well they learned Latin. That he made this offer at all suggested his own confidence in the effectiveness of his pedagogy.

Coningham then elaborated on his curriculum – Greek, Latin, English, writing, and arithmetic – before noting that he cared for the mind, body, and spirit of his students, especially any boarders who were under his supervision at all times of the day and night. He promised that his students would be “improved in their morals” as well as undertake “necessary exercises, during their leisure hours.” (Coningham did not indicate the nature of these “necessary exercises.” Elsewhere on the same page Mr. Pike – a dancing and fencing master who never volunteered a first name in his advertisements in Charleston in the 1760s or in Philadelphia in the 1770s – stated that several days throughout the week he “employs in teaching at the principal boarding schools.” Was it possible that Coningham hired Pike and included fencing and dancing in his curriculum?)

Marketing is a major part of modern education. Anyone who works for a college or university is well aware of the institutional obsession with “the brand” in recent years, yet efforts to promote and to sell education through a variety of hooks and promises are not new to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Eighteenth-century educators also developed advertising to entice prospective students and their parents.

October 3

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

New-London Gazette (October 3, 1766).

A Night-School will be opened on Monday Evening.”

Evening schools allowed children and adults who would not have normally attained an education to get the opportunity. In my Education class, Schools and American Society (taught by Prof. Casey Handfield), we discussed educational disparity in colonial America.[1] Children’s formal education in the colonies was limited, often to a select group of middling and elite white males. However, there were many other forms of education that took place in the colonies, such as apprenticeship, indentured servitude, and dame schools. Apprenticeship was a way for many children to learn a skill over time; although their formal education may have been limited, they learned a skill that provided them with a livelihood once they were older and finished the apprenticeship. Some forms of indentured servitude also allowed for learning a skill from the master. At dame schools, children learned basic skills from women (usually childless or older and widowed). However, most of these women had little formal schooling themselves, but would teach based on religious ideals.

Evening schools were another important form of education in colonial times, as I learned from also consulting Robert Francis Seybolt’s Evening School in Colonial America.[2] Some of the colonists sent their apprentices or indentured servants to night school during the winter months. Because the days were shorter, less light meant fewer work hours. This allowed some apprentices and servants to learn a skill during the day and then go to an evening school to learn basic writing, reading, and math skills. Apprentices and servants who got to go to evening schools would have been very lucky to learn both a skill that would provide them with a livelihood and the skills to make their future business successful.

Evening schools in the colonies originated in the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1661. Once that colony became part of the New York in 1674, the evening schools were slowly taken over by English night schools. In Boston, the first mention of an evening school was in 1724 in the Boston Gazette. According to Seybolt, these two port cities, New York and Boston, were the first to establish this sort of schools, with inland towns and villages getting them later.

John Franks advertised his school in the New-London Gazette. He taught it in his home. Starting the classes in October and continuing every Monday for the whole of winter provided Franks’ students ample time for work during the week and then once darkness fell and the work day was done they could go to class.



Elizabeth is a veteran guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, having already taken on these responsibilities for two weeks as part of my introductory Public History course last spring. As a result, she came to the project this time already possessing familiarity with the advantages and disadvantages of working with digitized sources. Rather than using my additional commentary to elaborate on her analysis of the advertisement she selected for today, I’ve decided instead to discuss one of the challenges inherent in using digital surrogates for the New-London Gazette.

First, it’s necessary to understand the material aspects of the original October 3, 1766, issue of this newspaper. Like other colonial newspapers, each issue consisted of four pages created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. While some surviving issues have remained separate, many others have been gathered together, arranged chronologically, and bound into large volumes, either by printers or subscribers in the eighteenth century or by archivists and librarians at some point since. As a result, when historians consult eighteenth-century newspapers, they often work what look like oversized books that must be supported in special wooden cradles in order to preserve the bindings and avoid damage to the individual issues.

As a result of binding so many newspapers together, sometimes it is difficult to read the material in the column printed closest to the fold. Without sufficient space devoted to the margin that could later be used by the bookbinder, the binding draws the pages too close together to read (or photograph or digitize) all of the printing on the page. On the other hand, the distinctive appearance of a newspaper in a tightly bound volume makes it easy to determine at a glance which were even- and odd-numbered pages when reading the newspaper on microfilm or a computer screen. Both media eliminate other aspects of the material text that readers would otherwise use when working with an original issue. Have a look at the third and fourth pages of the issue that included today’s advertisement.

Oct 3 - Page 3 New-London Gazette.jpg
Third Page of New-London Gazette (October 3, 1766).


Fourth Page of New-London Gazette (October 3, 1766).

It is easy to tell which side of the page was adjacent to the binding, which also makes it easy to determine which was an even-numbered page and which was an odd-numbered page. Note that the advertisement Elizabeth chose appeared far away from the original fold of the newspaper and, thus, far away from the binding of the bound volume. This helped to make it legible when it was photographed and digitized. On the other hand, news items and advertisements that appeared close to the binding have been partially obscured. It is difficult to read them. Keyword searches using current technologies do not effectively “read” those items either. Readers working with the original bound volume of newspapers can shift position to view the page from a slightly different angle or carefully open the volume just a little wider, but these options are not available to researchers using microfilm or digital surrogates. The image of the page as it appears is the only possible image available to them.

As I have argued many times, digitization is wonderful, but it is not perfect. Sometimes it introduces new problems or eliminates possible solutions that working with original documents would allow. As an Education and History major, Elizabeth is especially interested in advertisements about colonial education. That John Franks’ advertisement for “A Night-School” was is legible for Elizabeth and other historians to consult is a wonderful circumstance that was in no way guaranteed by the historical and technological processes that have contributed to the production, preservation, and dissemination of the original documents.


[1] See also Joel Spring, American Education, 16th ed. (McGraw Hill, 2013)

[2] Robert Francis Seybolt, The Evening School in Colonial America (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1925).