June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 2, 1770).

“The Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.”

In 1770, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent location in Providence.  An advertisement that ran in the June 2 edition of the Providence Gazette advised that “ALL Person who have undertaken to supply any of the Timber for the COLLEGE, are desired to deliver the same as soon as possible, as the Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.”  It further requested that “all those who subscribed Lime are desired to bring it immediately, as it is now much wanted.”  Three members of the committee overseeing fundraising for the construction of a new edifice to house the college signed the notice.  By then, the committee was familiar to readers of the Providence Gazette, having regularly placed advertisements encouraging prospective benefactors to contact them to make their donations to the college.

While it took the form of an advertisement, this notice delivered news about the progress of the construction of the college, providing coverage that did not always appear among the news items.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included a short item about a ceremony for laying the foundation stone in the May 19 edition.  The advertisement placed by Stephen Hopkins, John Jenckes, and John Brown two weeks later gave an update as work continued.  Residents of Providence could make their own observations about the status of the building, but readers in other towns could not.  The committee’s advertisement helped to keep them informed.  It conveniently appeared almost immediately after news from Providence, separated only by a notice calling on those “indebted for this paper above one Year” to settle accounts.  Carter craftily inserted his own notice at the end of the news in order to draw greater attention, but the placement of the committee’s new advertisement suggested a continuation of news from Providence.  The next advertisement, promoting medicines sold by Amos Throop, more effectively signaled the transition to paid notices.  Many of the subsequent advertisements, however, were legal notices that also delivered news to readers.  News and advertising could not be easily delineated in colonial newspapers.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 19, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony, shall be erected in the Town of Providence.”

On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting a building to house Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes regularly inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette throughout the first several months of 1770.  They called on “all who already Subscribers” (or benefactors) and “those who may incline them to become such” to inform the committee of the funds they wished to pledge or “an Account of such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.”  The fundraising effort was ongoing.

When this notice ran in the May 19 edition of the Providence Gazette, it coincided with news about the college.  Colonial newspapers ran little local news.  Since newspapers were generally published once a week, printers assumed that most local news spread by word of mouth before they had a chance to go to press.  The most momentous local news, however, did appear in the public prints.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, considered news about Rhode Island College significant enough to include in his newspaper.  A short article informed readers that “Monday last the first Foundation Stone of the COLLEGE about to be erected here was laid by Mr. JOHN BROWN, of this Place, Merchant, in Presence of a Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution.– About twenty Workmen have since been employed on the Foundation, which Number will be increased, and the Building be completed with all possible Dispatch.”

This brief article and the committee’s advertisement each informed the other, telling a more complete story for readers.  The news article also provided further publicity that aided the committee in their fundraising.  It was not too late to make a contribution and join that “Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution” as a supporter of the college and, by extension, the civic welfare of the town of Providence.  The committee continued to welcome new benefactors.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 25, 1770).

“Sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College.”

In March 1770 Hezekiah Smith prepared to depart Charleston after a successful stay in the city.  He visited to raise funds for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and met many benefactors during his time in South Carolina.  In advance of leaving, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to express his appreciation as well as offer instructions for anyone who still desired to make contributions but had not yet done so.

Smith did not collect the funds and immediately return to Providence, the site of a new building and a new location for the college.  Instead, he headed further south to Savannah to continue seeking contributions.  In an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, he outlined a strategy similar to the one he deployed in South Carolina.  He commenced by offering his “sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College” that he had encountered so far, alerting others who had not yet donated that others in the community considered the college a worthy cause.  He also drew attention to the “subscription paper” that listed all of the benefactors and the amount they pledged.  Smith invited benefactors and others to visit Benjamin Stirk, a local agent and counterpart to David Williams in Charleston, to examine the list and confirm “that his donation goes towards making up the sum to be collected and got subscribed” in Georgia.  In the process, benefactors and prospective benefactors would also observe who else had donated and how much, spurring them on to make sure that their own contribution reflected well on themselves.  Smith implicitly relied on raising funds by placing donors in competition with each other as they participated in this sort of philanthropy as a means of asserting status and enhancing reputations.

Advertisements calling on local residents to contribute to Rhode Island College regularly appeared in the Providence Gazette in 1770, but representatives of the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to Rhode Island.  Advertisements that Smith placed in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina demonstrate that the college sought benefactors near and far.

March 27

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

Mar 27 - 3:27:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 27, 1770).

“I shall leave a List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions.”

In late March 1770 Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes continued their efforts to raise funds and acquire materials to erect a building for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence.  On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work,” they placed a notice in the Providence Gazette that thanked the “many Gentlemen [who] have been so generous to this very useful Institution, as to become Benefactors to it” while simultaneously calling on both current supporters and “those whose beneficient Minds may incline them to become such” to send updates about their intended donations.

Yet advocates for the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to the Providence Gazette alone.  Hezekian Smith inserted a similar notice in the March 27, 1770 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  He visited the colony to promote the college and the building it needed once its sponsors made a determination to move its location from Warren, Rhode Island, to Providence.  Smith extended his “humble and hearty Thanks to the Benefactors of RHODE-ISLAND COLLEGE, whom he has met since his first Arrival in this Province.”  He also announced that he planned to depart soon, prompting him to encourage “those Gentlemen who were so Kind as to promise to send their Benefactions for the College to him” to do so.

In a nota bene, Smith declared that he would leave behind a “List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions” that each supporter could consult in order to confirm “that his Donation goes towards making up the Sum I have collected since my Arrival here.”  Smith likely had an additional motive for drawing up such a list for “Subscribers” to consult.  As they perused the list to find their own names and “Benefactions” they would also see who else had donated and how much.  They could congratulate themselves on their civic responsibility and the company they kept, but also compare their donations to those made by others.  Benefactors could judge for themselves whether they appeared generous or miserly in comparison to others on the list.  Did an unexpectedly large donation enhance their status or an unaccountably small donation diminish it?

Today, colleges and nonprofit organizations regularly publish lists of benefactors, often classifying them according to how much they donated and organizing the lists to give preeminence to the most generous.  This is both an expression of appreciation and a challenge to current and prospective donors to secure their positions on subsequent lists of benefactors.  In his efforts to raise funds for Rhode Island College, Hezekiah Smith similarly extended an acknowledgment and a challenge to benefactors in South Carolina.  In promising to leave behind a list of donors and the sums they donated, he encouraged benefactors to increase their pledges.

January 13

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

Jan 13 1770 - 1:13:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 13, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony.”

Providence, Rhode Island, is now known as the home of Brown University, but that is not where the university has always been located. In 1770, six years after its founding, Providence became the permanent home of what was known as the Rhode Island College in its early years, later Brown University, in 1770. In March 1764, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved the charter for the “College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” The Rhode Island College was only the seventh college founded in the colonies. Founded by Baptists, admission to the college was open to students of other denominations. According to “Brown’s History: A Timeline” on the university’s website, the corporation that would run the new college first met in Newport in September 1764. At that meeting, “Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins (who would be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) was elected Chancellor.” James Manning served as the first president of the college, from 1765 until his death in 1791. He was also the college’s “first (and initially only) professor. He offered classes in the parsonage of the Baptist Church in Warren. The college held its first commencement in Warren in September 1769, not long before moving to Providence.

In preparation, Stephen Hopkins and John Brown, acting “in Behalf of the Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting an edifice for the college in the city placed an advertisement in the January 13, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to request that those who had already pledged funds and others who might be inclined to do so consider donating “such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.” The move to Providence was not a foregone conclusion, but such “Materials fit for the Building” and “Subscriptions” had helped to convince the Corporation. According to the “Brown’s History: A Timeline,” Warren, Newport, and other communities in Rhode Island vied to become the permanent home of the college; the members of the Corporation “heard arguments in favor of the city’s central location, availability of materials and workers, number of libraries, and money pledged to support the effort.” The newspaper notice placed by Hopkins and Brown incorporated two of those factors. A variety of primary sources tell the story of the founding and first years of the Rhode Island College. Among those, newspaper advertisements testify to some of the fundraising efforts undertaken to establish the college in the city that has now been its home for 250 years.