April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

**********

[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

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.

**********

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.

Welcome, Guest Curator Mary Bohane

Mary Bohane is a senior majoring in History at Assumption College. She is also minoring in Philosophy. She most enjoys studying the Cold War and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union. She previously curated the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the week of March 25-31.  She will be presenting on her work on the Adverts 250 Project at Assumption College’s 24th annual Undergraduate Symposium.

Welcome, Mary Bohane!