What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JULIET BONTAMPS, French Millener … MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master.”
Juliet Bontamps, “French Millener,” placed an advertisement for her services in the November 17, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. In it, she declared that she did “all kinds of millenery work, after the best and newest fashion,” making an appeal to prospective customers who would have been anxious not to appear that they had fallen behind when it came to current styles. At a glance, the milliner was the center of attention in this advertisement. On closer examination, however, Michelle Bontamps may have upstaged her in a theatrical nota bene at the conclusion of the notice. Take notice, it proclaimed, “MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master, teaches the use of the small sword, at home or abroad, in the most expeditious, approved and easy method, and in order that his abilities may be known, offers himself to fence with any gentleman, or fencing master, either in a public or private place.”
Most likely Juliet’s husband, but perhaps a male relation of another sort, Michelle quite likely created the more lasting impression in an advertisement that promoted the services offered by both. Often when men and women placed joint advertisements for goods or services, the man received top billing and any discussion of the woman’s activities in the marketplace received secondary consideration. The Bontampses upended that convention, making her name and occupation the headline for the advertisement. It may have been a calculated strategy to place Juliet’s “millenery work” first in the notice, a decision intended to make it less likely that Michelle’s sweeping challenge to duel “any gentleman, or fencing master” would eclipse her services. The Bontampses did not present Juliet’s contributions to supporting their household as subordinate; instead, they positioned her as a full partner whose work, distinct from Michelle’s, was not merely ancillary to the family business. The daring of the fencing master may have been flashy compared to the standard appeals made by milliners, but the format and order in which they listed their services made it less likely that Michelle would completely overshadow Juliet.