What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“FENCING, WITH BROAD AND SMALL SWORDS.”
When fencing master P. Wallace arrived in Charleston, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette to inform prospective pupils that he offered lessons with “BROAD and SMALL SWORDS.” Having just arrived from Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the colony, but he hoped that would not dissuade potential students from availing themselves of his services. To that end, he asserted that “his Knowledge … will be sufficient to recommend him, and that he shall be able to give Satisfaction to those who may please to employ him.” Whatever reputation he had earned in Philadelphia did not transfer to Charleston, so he relied on “Merit” to “find Encouragement” among prospective pupils.
In addition to addressing students, Wallace’s advertisement also served as an introduction to the entire community, especially those already proficient in fencing. To demonstrate his “Knowledge in that noble Science.” Wallace issued a challenge to “any Gentleman who professes being skilled in the Art of Defence,” proclaiming that “would be glad to have an Opportunity to be proved” by them. The newcomer sought to orchestrate a spectacle that would not only entertain his new neighbors but also establish his reputation and create word-of-mouth endorsements of his skill, provided that he performed well when others accepted his challenge.
This strategy also had the advantage of securing introductions to men of status who had already cultivated their own skills in “that noble Science” of fencing and would likely know others who wished to learn. To accept his challenge, “Gentlem[e]n who profess being skilled in the Art of Defence” had to seek out Wallace. The fencing master likely anticipated that they would bring friends and acquaintances, some of them prospective pupils, to any demonstrations. Following those demonstrations, both challengers and observers could sign up for lessons as well as recommend Wallace to others in the market for instruction with the sword.
Wallace exuded confidence in his advertisement. To some, he might even have appeared overconfident or arrogant, but that very well could have been calculated to convince others to accept his challenge. Creating a spectacle had the potential to generate additional opportunities for the newcomer.