September 19

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

Newport Mercury (September 17, 1770).

“The ACADEMY in LEEDS … in England.”

Readers of the Newport Mercury likely recognized many or even most of the names that appeared among the advertisements for goods and services in the early 1770s.  Such advertising tended to be local in nature, though local could be broadly defined since colonial newspapers tended to serve regions rather than just the towns where they were printed.  One of two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, for instance, the Newport Mercury served all of the southern portions of the colony.  The Providence Gazette provided news and advertising throughout the north.  Thomas Green, Paul Mumford, Gideon Sisson, and Nicholas Tillinghast all ran businesses in Newport and placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.  John Borden operated a ferry between nearby Portsmouth and Bristol.  He also placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.

Most advertisements did not come from places outside of the region that the Newport Mercury served, though occasional exceptions did find their way into the pages of that newspaper.  A. Grinshaw’s notice in the September 17, 1770, edition was one such exception.  Grinshaw, a schoolmaster, promoted his “ACADEMY in LEEDS, Which is pleasantly situated in the County of York, in England.”  He made arrangements from the other side of the Atlantic to place his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract pupils for his boarding school from among the merchant elite who resided in the busy port.  The appearance of Grinshaw’s advertisement raises questions about printing and bookkeeping practices.  Colonial printers frequently ran notices calling on their customers, including advertisers, to settle their accounts or face legal consequences.  Did Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, extend credit to an advertiser so far away?  Or did he insist that Grinshaw pay in full before printing his advertisement?  Did Grinshaw deal directly with Southwick?  Or did he work through an associate who traveled between England and the colonies?  Did Grinshaw ever see his advertisement in print?  Did that even matter to him?  Did the schoolmaster find a receptive audience in Newport?  Did he gain any new students as a result of placing it?  Other sources may reveal the answers to some of these questions, but the advertisement itself does not.

November 10

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

Nov 10 - 11:10:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 10, 1769).

“He will also tend School in the Evenings … if reasonable Encouragement be allowed for keeping a Fire.”

In November 1769, Samuel Noldred placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and the surrounding area that he “Continues to keep school” at a house on Queen Street. Unlike many other schoolmasters who advertised during the era of the American Revolution, Noldred did not emphasize that he offered an extensive curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects. Instead, he focused specifically on teaching “the several Branches of Navigation” to “young Gentlemen and others.” He aimed for his pupils to become “capable of conducting a Ship to any part of the known World.” Noldred emphasized practical knowledge for “young Gentlemen” who lived in a port city. To that end, he also taught “ARITHMETIC, as far as is useful in Navigation, if required.” Clearly, Noldred anticipated that many prospective students had already acquired some proficiency in arithmetic. He did not intend to teach the subject in depth, only what was necessary to master the navigation lessons.

Like other schoolmasters, he listed the hours he taught: “from Eight o’Clock in the Morning till Noon, then from Two o’Clock Afternoon till Sun set.” These were hours, however, that many “young Gentlemen and others” may not have been available for navigation lessons. Their families or employers may have relied on their labor and attention during the day. For those prospective students, Noldred proposed evening classes “from 6 o’Clock till 9,” but he also stated that he would teach during those hours only “if reasonable Encouragement be allowed for keeping a Fire.” Noldred did not specify how much he charged for tuition for day classes, but he did make clear that students who attended night school should expect to pay additional fees to cover the cost of heating and lighting the schoolroom. The convenience of evening classes came at a price. Newspaper advertisements placed by schoolmasters reveal some of the contingencies involved in providing instruction in colonial and revolutionary America.

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.

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.