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.

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 1, 1768).

“His method of teaching children being well known in the town of Savannah.”

In anticipation of opening a school on the following Monday, Peter Gandy inserted an advertisement in the Wednesday, June 1, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Compared to many other advertisements placed by schoolmasters and –mistresses in the 1760s, Gandy’s notice was fairly sparse. He provided little information about the subjects he intended to teach, his methods of instruction, or the accommodations for students. Instead, he invoked his prior experience and the reputation he had already established in the community. He called on “those gentlemen and ladies who formerly favoured him with the tuition of their children” to enroll them once again. Addressing all parents of prospective students, whether they previously attended his school or not, he confidently stated that because “his method of teaching children being well known in the town of Savannah” it “therefore needs no farther explanation.”

Gandy did not commence promoting his school in the public prints much in advance of the first day of classes. His advertisement first ran in the May 25 edition of the Georgia Gazette, less than two weeks before he planned to “OPEN SCHOOL.” It appeared again the following week in the June 1 edition, allowing Gandy only two opportunities to attract students via the only newspaper published in the colony. On June 8, Gandy published a slightly revised version of the advertisement, announcing that he had indeed “OPENED SCHOOL” earlier in the week. Beyond notices in the Georgia Gazette, he almost certainly relied on other means, including word of mouth and speaking directly to the parents of former pupils, to inform prospective students and their families that he offered lessons at “Mrs. Cuningham’s house.”

Though Gandy did not offer many particulars in his advertisement, expecting that readers were already aware of many of the details, he did extend some general promises to those who entrusted their children to his tutelage. He declared that parents could “depend upon sobriety, due care, diligence, and constant attendance” toward their children at his school. Parents who previously enrolled their children in Gandy’s school would have been aware of these aspects of his instruction, but the schoolmaster sought to reassure others who may not have been as familiar with his methods as he suggested earlier in his advertisement. He realized that he needed to do more than merely rely on his reputation to attract a sufficient number of students to “OPEN SCHOOL” in Savannah.

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.

March 29

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

Mar 29 - 3:29:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 29, 1768).

“He intends to open School … she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.”

In preparation for opening a school in Charleston, Daniel Stevens placed an advertisement in the March 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He advised “the Public, and his Friends in particular” that he would teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, establishing a curriculum that set his school apart from the “British Academy on the Green” that Osborne Straton promoted in another advertisement in the same issue. Osborne taught English, Latin, and French as well as drawing, “Poetry, Rhetoric, [and] Logic.” Instead of “Writing” and “Arithmetic,” he taught “Writing in the Mercantile and Law Hands” and “The various useful and practical Branches of the Mathematicks.” Straton implied that he welcomed only boys as “Day Scholars,” but he tutored “Gentlemen or Ladies” in their homes on selected afternoons.

Stevens, on the other hand, invited readers to send both boys and girls to his school, where he provided a more modest and practical education. To that end, his advertisement included a short section in which Katharine Stevens announced “that she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.” As Straton cornered the market when it came to a genteel education, Daniel Stevens offered a different sort of enhancement to his curriculum, an enhancement that readers who could not translate the Latin quotations sprinkled throughout Straton’s advertisement may have considered much more useful and important.

That enhancement depended on the contributions of Katharine Stevens, presumably Daniel’s wife (but possibly a sister, daughter, or other female relation). The wording of the advertisement presents the school primarily as Daniel’s venture, but Katharine likely acted as more than a mere assistant in the endeavor. Even if she did not teach the academic subjects, she did participate in the instruction of the female students. In the process, she also supervised the children at the school, contributing to good order within the classroom. Some parents of prospective students may have been reassured simply by Katharine’s presence, assuming that it signaled more care and attention than Daniel could deliver by himself.

Both the copy and the format of this advertisement position Katharine as subordinate to Daniel. He sought pupils for his school; she taught a gendered skill, sewing, to only some of his students, the girls. Yet that description likely belied a more equal partnership that guided this joint venture in both planning and execution. At the very least, Daniel Stevens relied on the contributions made by Katharine Stevens when marketing his (their?) new school. She provided instruction in an area that he did not possess skill or expertise, an addition to the curriculum intended to make the school more attractive to prospective students and their parents.

September 16

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

Sep 16 - 9:16:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 16, 1767).

“TWO POOR BOYS … will be taught to read, write, and cast accounts … by the bounty of Gentleman.”

As fall arrived in 1767, schoolmaster John Francklin incorporated philanthropy into his advertising campaign in the Georgia Gazette. Thanks in part to his previous newspaper notices, residents of Savannah and its hinterland may have already been aware that he taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, though in the newest iteration of his advertisement he further elaborated on his methods. That he utilized “a new and most concise method,” however, was not the most significant new information he provided for prospective pupils and their parents.

Francklin offered a scholarship, funded “by the bounty of a Gentleman,” to “TWO POOR BOYS … within the Town of Savannah.” Over the course of a year, these two students would learn “to read, write, and cast accounts.” In addition to tuition, the anonymous benefactor also provided “books, &c.” Presumably “&c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc.”) included other school supplies purchased from local booksellers or other shopkeepers, but not room or board. Francklin’s advertisements all suggested that he ran a day school, which may help explain why the recipients of this beneficence had to reside “within the Town of Savannah.”

Although Francklin may not have induced the anonymous gentleman to make this donation, he certainly attempted to extract as much benefit from it as possible. His association with this philanthropic effort would have made his services look even more attractive to the parents of prospective students. In evaluating the schoolmaster, parents would have been as interested in Francklin’s character and the morals imparted in the classroom as in the quality of his instruction. Lest anyone express concern about the influence “POOR BOYS” might have on other students at the school, Francklin specified that they would come from “industrious honest parents,” minimizing the possibility of introducing corrupting factors into interactions among students. The schoolmaster walked a fine line, welcoming recognition of his public spiritedness while simultaneously reassuring current and prospective students and their families that the scholarship students would not cause disruptions. Philanthropy made for a powerful marketing appeal, but Francklin also had to manage it carefully.

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 28

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

Aug 28 - 8:28:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 28, 1767).

“Has lately opened an Evening School, for young Masters and Apprentices.

Schoolmaster Ebenezer Bradford emphasized efficiency and convenience in the advertisement he inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette late in the summer of 1767. He reminded the residents of Portsmouth that he “continues his Day School for young Ladies and Misses,” but he also announced a new service for other students. He had “lately opened” an “Evening School, for young Masters and Apprentices.”

Bradford not only segregated his classroom by sex but also by when his pupils were likely to be available for lessons. Knowing that “young Masters and Apprentices” had responsibilities that kept them occupied throughout the day, he taught alternate evening classes to fit their schedules. Night courses for working professionals offered by modern colleges and universities have precursors extending back to the colonial period. Then, as now, educators sought to attract students and generate revenues by recognizing that not all prospective students could enroll during daytime hours.

In addition to that convenience, Bradford also acknowledged that potential pupils, especially those attending evening classes, wished to complete their course of study as quickly as possible. He did not give any indication on how long it might take for him “to Teach Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,” but he did pledge that every student would receive his “utmost Care” for “quick Instruction.” Again, modern methods for marketing certain educational programs have antecedents in the eighteenth century. Many colleges and universities promote some of their accelerated programs by emphasizing how quickly they can be completed, allowing students to disrupt other aspects of their lives as little as possible.

Bradford provided a practical education that covered the basics, unlike some schoolmasters that advertised a “polite” education, listed a variety of genteel subjects, and elaborately described various amenities in their classrooms. While other schoolmasters marketed an overall experience to prospective pupils and their parents, Bradford instead communicated his understanding that some students were primarily concerned with learning or enhancing basic skills quickly and efficiently. He catered to students who desired few frills but instead wished to resume their regular lives and schedules in as short a time as possible.