July 11

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

Providence Gazette (July 11, 1772).

“Attention will be paid to their Learning and Morals.”

James Manning took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to promote his “Latin School” in the summer of 1772.  He pursued that venture, he claimed, upon the request of “several Gentlemen … to take and educate their Sons.”  His advertisement served as a mechanism to inform those gentlemen “and others disposed to put their Children under my Care” that he offered lessons “in the College Edifice,” the building constructed for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) two years earlier.

Presumably the “several Gentlemen” who encouraged Manning to establish a Latin school already had some familiarity with his qualifications and methods.  For others, he offered assurances that he was “a Master duly qualified” and familiar with “the most effectual Methods to obtain a competent Knowledge of Grammar.”  He supplemented the Latin curriculum with “spelling, reading, and speaking English with Propriety,” attending to the comportment of his pupils.

Such concerns extended to their morals as well.  Manning trumpeted, “I flatter myself, that such Attention will be paid to their Learning and Morals, as will entirely satisfy all who may send their Children.”  Throughout the colonies, schoolmasters and -mistresses, especially those who boarded students, posted newspaper advertisements that inextricably linked “Learning and Morals.”  In this case, reading Latin and “speaking English with Propriety” accounted for only a portion of the education that Manning’s students received.  As markers of gentility, they mattered little if the words and deeds of his charges belied upright morals.

Manning concluded his notice with a brief note that he sold “All Books for the School” in addition to providing instruction and lodging for his scholars.  He also had copies of “the classical Authors read in College” for sale “at the Lowest Rate.”  In so doing, he likely sought to leverage his location and affiliation with Rhode Island College as an additional reason for gentlemen to send their sons to his Latin school.

December 19

GUEST CURATOR:  Colin Wren

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 19, 1771).

“CHEEVER’S Latin ACCIDENCE, carefully revised.”

Ezekiel Cheever, the author of A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue, was a Puritan who migrated to New England in 1637. He originally settled in Connecticut before moving to Massachusetts to teach Latin and grammar in the public schools. In 1670 he took the position of Master of the Boston Latin Grammar School which he held until his death in 1708. During his life he was widely loved by his students despite his strict reputation. Under his leadership the school became regarded as one of the best in the colonies and his students included men such as the poet Michael Wigglesworth, Governor Johnathan Belcher, and Judge Samuel Sewall. One year after his death, one of Cheever’s students compiled his teaching notes into a book and published Cheever’s Accidence in 1709. The book was exceedingly popular and became the unofficial standard textbook for teaching Latin grammar in America. In all, twenty-three editions of the book were published, the last of which was published in 1838. While “Latin ACCIDENCE,” as the book was called in this advertisement, was written to teach students Latin, it also taught them the basics of English grammar and helped to formalize definitions that are still taught in schools today.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Colin selected an advertisement for the fifteenth edition of Ezekiel Cheever’s Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue. Two variants of that edition hit the market in 1771.  In one, the imprint stated, “Printed and sold by Isaiah Thomas, in Union-Street.”  In the other, the imprint declared, “Printed by Isaiah Thomas, for John Perkins, on Union-Street.”  According to the catalogers at the American Antiquarian Society, only the imprints differed between the two volumes.  Perkins most likely placed the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy since it advised prospective customers that he sold the textbook, as well as a “few sets of ACCOUNT BOOKS,” but did not mention Thomas.

What prompted Thomas to produce variant imprints for the fifteenth edition?  Did Perkins pay to publish only a certain number to carry at his shop, assuming the risk for those copies but not for any others?  If so, did he and Thomas agree in advance that the printer would produce additional copies that omitted Perkins’s name from the imprint?  Or did production take place in the opposite order?  Perhaps Thomas initiated the project, but Perkins recognized an opportunity to profit from a new edition, one with significant improvements.  The advertisement did underscore that the volume had been “carefully revised, and the numerous errors of the former editions corrected by one of the Masters of the South Grammer School in Boston.”

Whatever the order of publication of the variants, Perkins turned to Thomas when he set about marketing the book, inserting an advertisement in the newspaper that Thomas published.  Did Perkins have to pay for that advertisement?  Or was advertising part of a more extensive agreement?  Given that Perkins also promoted “BINDING work performed in the neatest manner, with fidelity and dispatch,” the two entrepreneurs, fellow members of the book trades who possessed different skills, may have negotiated several in-kind exchanges that went beyond publishing Cheever’s “Latin ACCIDENCE.”

September 30

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

“Being much importuned by sundry young men of the carpenter’s business …”

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 27, 1770).

Thomas Nevell was “one of colonial Philadelphia’s most prominent master builders, according to curator Erin Kuykendall Thomas of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.  Nevell “designed and constructed significant public and private buildings, from the classically inspired Georgian mansion Mount Pleasant to the utilitarian cabinetmaking shop of Benjamin Randolph” (an artisan famous among early American advertising enthusiasts for his ornate trade card).  Yet in the eyes of architectural historians, Nevell deserves acclaim for another accomplishment.  His “unique contribution to his profession,” in the words of Carl G. Karsh, “was the city’s – and probably the nation’s – first architecture school.”

Karsh locates the origins of Nevell’s instruction in “a lengthy advertisement which doubles as syllabus for Nevell’s new venture,” published in the October 31, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He originally taught lessons in his, but the school was so successful that Nevell built a two-story classroom behind the house in 1772.  By that time, Nevell had opened his academy for at least two seasons.  An advertisement in the September 27, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette announced that he “sundry young men of the carpenter’s business” convinced him to offer lessons.  Classes were scheduled to begin on October 1 and continue through the end of March.  Just as he would do the following fall, he provided an overview of the material covered, including “the most useful problems in geometry,” “the most easy and ready method of describing brackets for plaistered cornices and coverings,” and “a new and concise method to form the diminution of columns, dividing and gauging the flutes and fillets of either columns or pilasters.”  Pupils could expect that many of these lessons would require hands-on work rather than attending lectures.  They “will be reduced to practice in miniature,” Nevell stated.

Nevell charged ten shillings as an initial entrance fee and then twenty shilling per month for as long as students continued to attend the school.  He offered lessons “from 6 to 9 o’clock at night” three evenings each week.  The following year, he extended the numbers of nights he offered instruction to four each week, but tuition remained the same.

Operating the school likely further enhanced Nevell’s reputation as a master builder.  He claimed that he offered lessons “with some reluctance” after “being much importuned” by younger men who wanted to learn the trade and who recognized and respected his work.  Although Nevell did not make appeals directly to prospective clients in his advertisement for his new school, he may have expected that notifying the public of this new enterprise would further enhance his standing as one of the most skilled artisans in Philadelphia.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:20:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 23, 1769).

“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.[1] 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.

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[1] 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.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 5, 1768).

“Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.”

Although several schoolmasters and –mistresses offered their services in Savannah in the late 1760s, James Cosgreve published one of the most extensive advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. The length was due in part to the schoolmaster’s description of his curriculum. Like his counterparts, he taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, he also delivered lessons in several other subjects not as widely taught by other schoolmasters in Georgia at the time. For instance, Cosgreve indicated that he provided instruction in “Mathematicks, such as the first six books of Euclid, with their application in the theory and practice of Trigonometry, Navigation, Surveying, Gnomicks, Astronomy, Geography, Algebra, and the Use of the Globes.” He also offered two tracks of language instruction to match the abilities and resources of his students. Advanced students learned Latin and Greek, but those who “cannot spend so much time at school as to acquire” those languages “to any degree of perfection” could instead study “the English and French tongues grammatically.” Cosgreve was well qualified to teach all of these subjects, “having acquired a competent skill and communicative faculty … by the laborious study and experience of a long course of years, in the most noted Seminaries, Academies, and Schools in Ireland, England, and America.”

In a short nota bene Cosgreve first noted where he resided and then added that “Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.” Mrs. Cosgreve was not nearly as accomplished as her husband, yet she also contributed to their household economy by offering her services as a teacher. She too participated in the marketplace, yet the representation of her activities that appeared in the public prints was dramatically overshadowed by her husband’s lengthy narration of his credentials and subjects he taught. Such was often the case for wives of schoolmasters and others who provided goods and services. If their contributions to family businesses and household finances were acknowledged at all, they tended to be mentioned only briefly in the conclusions to advertisements, almost as an afterthought. Admittedly, James Cosgreve did require a greater amount of space to detail the many and varied subjects he proposed teaching to “young Gentlemen and Ladies,” but that did not mean that Mrs. Cosgreve’s parallel instruction in sewing and reading had to be consigned to a nota bene. The husband could have instead chosen to depict his wife as an assistant or junior partner while still maintaining his status as the head of a well-ordered household. Such an approach was not unknown in eighteenth-century advertisements placed by schoolmasters whose wives made contributions to the enterprise. In this case, however, Cosgreve may have believed that placing any more emphasis on his wife would have distracted from the image of himself, the atmosphere of genteel learning at his school, and the extensive curriculum that he sought to market to prospective students and their parents.

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.