September 18

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

Maryland Journal (September 18, 1773).

“A lecture on the necessity, advantage, beauty, and propriety of a just vocal expression.”

When Mr. Rathell, “formerly of Annapolis, Teacher of the English Language, Writing-master and Accomptant,” opened a school and offered private lessons in Baltimore he introduced himself to prospective students and their families with an advertisement in the Maryland Journal.  Much of the lengthy advertisement focused on establishing his experience and credentials.  Rathell noted that he “for some time superintended the Academy of the late eminent Mr. Dove, professor of oratory in Philadelphia.”  That led to Dove recommended him as a private tutor who earned “the approbation of many respectable families” in the largest city in the colonies.  Rathell claimed that he “can produce indubitable proofs” of Dove’s approval of his endeavors as a private tutor.  He also promised to strive to continue “to do justice to the recommendation of the celebrated teacher … whose memory is justly revered by the first literary character in America.”  If prospective students and their families were not familiar with “the late eminent Mr. Dove,” Rathell implicitly suggested that reflected on them and gave all the more reason that those who wished to rank among the genteel needed to engage his services.

Furthermore, the tutor gained additional experience in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  “To give still greater weight to his credit as a private tutor,” Rathell exclaimed, “he cannot avoid mentioning, with very great respect, that at Lancaster he has been favoured with an attendance on several Ladies eminent for literary accomplishments.”  He lauded his former pupils, recognizing “their own happy genius,” while also insisting that their accomplishments “would give consequence to, and establish the reputation of, the most capital teacher at the first court in Europe.”  Despite the distance that separated Baltimore from London, Paris, and other centers of cultural and fashion, Rathell asserted that his students received instruction that rivaled that available to monarchs and nobles.

Rathell also used his advertisement to preview a program that he envisioned, one that had the potential to enhance his reputation in Baltimore and attract more students to his school.  He proposed “to read, in public, a few pieces from the most eminent English authors.”  The elocution of the “Teacher of the English Language” would be on full display for his audience.  In addition, he planned “to deliver a lecture on the necessity, advantage, beauty, and propriety of a just vocal expression, wherein the use and elegance of accent, quantity, emphasis, and cadence will be illustrated.”  Again, Rathell made an implicit argument to prospective students and their families.  It did not matter how expansive their knowledge of literature or how fashionably they dressed if their manner of speaking betrayed them as not truly genteel.  Learning to express themselves with “elegance” was an aspect of personal comportment vital to demonstrating status and sophistication.  Those who did not master their speech risked being considered imposters when they gathered with the better sort.  Like many other tutors, whether they taught elocution or dancing or French, Rathell played on the anxieties and insecurities of prospective students and their families while also trumpeting his experience successfully teaching others skills associated with gentility and social standing.

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.


[1] Keith Thomas, “Numeracy in Early Modern England: The Prothero Lecture,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 37 (1987): 114-115.