September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:8:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 8, 1768).

He has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence.”

Peter Vianey needed to do some damage control. Rumors had reached the itinerant dancing master that he had been confused for another dancing master, one known for having previously committed some sort of transgressions toward his students. Realizing that hearsay could scare away prospective clients, Vianey opted to address this case of mistaken identity in the public prints. He published an advertisement that did not look much different from those of his counterparts, except for the final paragraph. “Having been informed,” Vianey fretted, “that he has been mistaken for a Dacing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes the Liberty to inform those who are not acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.” Exercising discretion, Vianey did not offer any further details about the unsavory behavior of the other dancing master, a decision further calculated not to have another’s infractions attached to his name. After all, his ability to attract clients depended on his ability to establish and maintain a good reputation. To that end, he requested that “all who know him, will do him the Justice to testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” The only specific detail that mattered was that Vianey had only recently arrived, not only in New York but also in the colonies. His arrival was too recent for him to have been the culprit of whatever scandalous deeds had taken place several years earlier.

In Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York, Serena Zabin notes that “[a]t any time a dancing master might become an object of suspicion” because of the ambiguous status they held in colonial society. Dancing masters taught genteel conduct to their clients – in Vianey’s case, music and fencing in addition to dancing – but they were not themselves members of the genteel ranks. As Zabin explains, dancing masters “had to tread a social tightrope,” exhibiting sufficient gentility to avoid being considered a disreputable fraud but not so much as to confuse the distinctions in status that separated the instructors who provided a service and the students that paid their fees.[1] Vianey, like any other dancing master, was already in a difficult position when it came to marketing his lessons, an enterprise that made his identity, character, and status just as much the center of attention as the skills “discoverable in his Scholars” that emerged via his tutelage. Resurrecting old gossip and attributing misconduct to him only compounded his difficulties. Rather than pretend that he had not heard the malicious tales, Vianey vigorously defended his reputation in newspaper advertisements, requesting that others confirm that he was not the scoundrel that some mistakenly imagined.

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[1] Serena Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 103, 105.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 7, 1768).

“THE subscriber WILL OPEN A SCHOOL FOR DANCING.”

Compared to bustling cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the more recent settlement at Savannah was a relatively small port with significantly fewer residents in 1768. Yet it was not so small that dancing masters thought it futile to attempt to cultivate a market for their services among the local elite and those who aspired to join their ranks. John Revear, for instance, placed an advertisement in the September 7, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette to announce that he would “OPEN A SCHOOL FOR DANCING” on the following day.

Revear welcomed various types of pupils. The majority of his advertisement focused on his lessons for children, but a brief nota bene indicated that he took “grown persons” as pupils as well. The dancing master offered daytime classes for children on Thursdays and Fridays “from the hours of ten to twelve, and from three to five.” This allowed him time to provide private lessons throughout the rest of the week. Such lessons could take place at the school, but Revear advised that “Any gentleman or lady may be taught at their own house” if they preferred. In addition, he kept “an evening school … from six to nine” for adults who did not have leisure time during the day for private lessons.

In crafting his advertisement, Revear played on the anxieties of parents who might send their children to his dancing school. He noted that he taught “all the celebrated dances that are used in polite academies,” signaling that young people needed his instruction or they risked public embarrassment when they displayed their lack of familiarity with this genteel pastime. Yet Revear likely intended that this warning resonate with others besides parents attending to the best interests of their children. Adults who had concerns about whether they had mastered the latest steps could ease their minds by signing up for lessons themselves. The option for private instruction in the home further reduced the possibility of awkward comportment in public spaces. Once students had mastered the steps they could gracefully display their skills.

Revear encouraged a sense of uneasiness even as he provided a means for relieving it. He prompted prospective pupils to imagine “polite assemblies” and the many sorts of “celebrated dances” that were part of their gatherings. He leveraged existing worries, realizing that some residents of Savannah did not wish to think of themselves as any less sophisticated than those who participated in the “polite assemblies” in Charleston or Philadelphia or other cosmopolitan American ports (just as residents of those cities constantly strove to demonstrate that they were as fashionable and genteel as if they lived in London).

September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:4:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 4, 1767).

“PIKE’s DANCING SCHOOL.”

Mr. Pike, a dancing and fencing instructor, was well known to the residents of Charleston, especially readers of the South-Carolina and American Gazette and other local newspapers who regularly encountered advertisements for his “DANCING SCHOOL.” The dancing master cultivated an aura of mystery by never using his first name in his newspaper notices, neither in Charleston in the 1760s nor in Philadelphia in the 1770s. Pike considered himself enough of a celebrity that he did not find it necessary to offer much information about the lessons he taught during daytime hours except to note that he did so “upon the same terms as usual.” He expected that the public, at least those most likely to partake of his services, was already familiar with the “terms” for youth who wished to attend his dancing school.

Many dancing masters targeted young people in their advertisements, but colonists of any age benefited from lessons. Adults could further refine their skills or learn new and unfamiliar steps as they became popular. To that end, Pike offered lessons for “GROWN GENTLEMEN … every evening from six to nine.” He realized that most men had other responsibilities during the day so scheduled his lessons for when they were more likely available to visit his school. Similarly, he offered instruction in the “use of the SMALL-SWORD” in the early morning.

For genteel colonists – and those who aspired to gentility – Pike’s lessons supplemented the education they received from schoolmasters and tutors that placed their own advertisements that described other sorts of lessons and curricula. The better sort believed that true gentility manifested itself not only in intellectual pursuits, such as reading and discussing classical texts, speaking French, and participating in conversations with others who appreciated belles lettres, but also in physical activities that demanded physical discipline and proper comportment of the body, especially dancing and, for men, fencing.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 19, 1767).

“He proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL.”

Peter Curtis wished to open a dancing school in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and inserted an advertisement to that effect in the local newspaper. In the decade before the Revolution, dancing masters frequently advertised their services in newspapers published in the largest port cities, especially Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Fewer of them, however, placed notices proposing to open schools or teach private lessons in smaller towns. Curtis’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette was rather out of the ordinary.

Still, Curtis must have suspected that he could cultivate a market for his skills in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. After all, the “Gentlemen” and “Ladies” he addressed in his advertisement participated in the same consumer culture as their counterparts in major port cities. Many colonists adopted various consumption practices – outfitting themselves in the latest styles and displaying fashionable furnishings and housewares – to demonstrate they belonged among the ranks of the genteel. Yet possessions alone did not guarantee that others would acknowledge the gentility of those who acquired them. Personal comportment became a measure for distinguishing the truly genteel from crass pretenders who merely made purchases. Manners, conversation, and dancing, among other pursuits, all played a role. Dancing well, completing the latest steps with grace while interacting easily with others in attendance at social gatherings, testified to an individual’s inner refinement that could not be counterfeited by wearing the right sorts of apparel and adornments. To that end, Curtis pledged to teach his pupils “in the most polite and genteel Manner.”

The colonial gentry in the major port cities availed themselves of lessons from dancing masters because they wished to assert that they were as cosmopolitan as their cousins in London. Other residents sought social mobility; they identified dancing as a means of demonstrating their own refinement matched their elite neighnors. For both, anxiety provided motivation. Curtis’s advertisement suggests that interest in dancing as a means of exhibiting refinement was not limited to urban ports in early America. Instead, with the help of advertisements to incite demand, it filtered out to smaller cities, like Portsmouth, and beyond. Curtis solicited customers “within Twenty Miles,” pledging to visit their homes for private lessons. He believed that some residents in the countryside, especially the “Gentlemen” and “Ladies” considered the local elite and who wanted to safeguard that position, could be convinced that they desired to become as cosmopolitan and refined as the better sorts in colonial cities.

January 13

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

jan-13-1131767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal-page-2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 13, 1767).

“ANNE IMER … has opened SCHOOL.”

Less than two weeks into the new year, Charleston’s schoolmasters encouraged parents to enroll their children in classes. The January 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement included five notices promoting educational opportunities. Advertisements placed by schoolmasters and tutors of various sorts frequently appeared in the city’s newspapers in the 1760s, but not usually so many in a single issue. The start of the year, however, was an opportune time to seek new students as colonists thought about how to make the new year more prosperous than the last. As the advertisements indicate, parents who could afford to educate their children had many choices. Schoolmasters faced stiff competition from their peers, a factor that caused each to market more than just their curriculum.

William Hutchins, who operated a day school where students learned reading, writing, and arithmetic, asserted that he took “the greatest Care” in shaping the “Morals and Behaviour” of his students. For the convenience of scholars who could not attend during the day, he also kept an evening school.

Schoolmistress Anne Imer was the only educator who taught a subject specifically aimed at female students. She listed three subjects in her curriculum: “English, French, and Needle Work.” Most likely her charges learned needlework as a genteel pursuit for refined young ladies, a complement to their instruction in the French language, rather than solely as a practical skill. Imer also offered “to board three or four Children, having a convenient House for that Purpose.”

D’Ellient and Alexander welcomed both “Day boarders” and fulltime boarding students to their school, “where the English, French, Latin and Greek Languages, Writing and Arithmetick are taught as usual.” They offered a more refined education than Hutchins, as well as several amenities suited to the status of their students. The schoolmasters indicated that they had hired “a prudent Housekeeper” in order to provide satisfactory “boarding, lodging and washing of young Gentlemen from the Country.” They also provided lunch for “Day boarders,” students who lived in Charleston but far enough from the school that it was “inconvenient for them to return Home to dine.”

Walter Coningham supplemented the standard curriculum (reading, writing, and arithmetic) at his “Grammar-School” with lessons in Greek and Latin. Unlike others who taught foreign languages, he described his methods for parents of prospective students to review in advance. Like Imer, he accepted a limited number of boarders, though most of his pupils seemed to have been day students.

The enigmatic Pike (who never revealed his first name in any of his advertisements in Charleston or, later, Philadelphia) offered a very different curriculum, dancing and fencing. These genteel pursuits supplemented the knowledge students gained at other schools and academies. He invited male and female students to learn “proper address, the Minuet, Country Dances” or “any Branch of dancing they chuse.” Instruction in “the Use of the SMALL-SWORD,” however, was reserved for men.

The schoolmasters who placed these advertisements offered services and amenities in addition to instruction in the subjects they taught. In describing the ancillary aspects of they education they provided, these advertisers allowed prospective students and their parents to select the school that best fit their budget, status, and aspirations.

September 2

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

Sep 2 - 9:2:1766 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 2, 1766).

“DANCING and FENCING.”

Elite and middling colonists consider personal comportment an important aspect of demonstrating their gentility to anyone who happened to observe them, most especially their peers. Comportment consisted of practicing proper manners, dressing appropriately and according to current fashions, and engaging in social rituals (such as drinking tea or dancing) with ease. Much of this could be learned through informal instruction within the household or carefully watching and then putting into practice the comportment of others, especially those generally acknowledged for combining good character and grace. Other aspects could be learned through reading newspapers and magazines and, increasingly throughout the eighteenth century, various sorts of instructional manuals or guides to good etiquette.

A few aspects of genteel comportment, however, required (or at least greatly benefited from) formal instruction by experts. Such was the case with dancing and fencing, two endeavors taught by Mr. Pike in Charleston, South Carolina, for nearly a decade in the late 1760s and early 1770s before he took up residence in Philadelphia and advertised his services there. (In advertisements that appeared in both cities, he was known only as “Mr. Pike,” the absence of a first name perhaps lending authority and cachet to the dancing master.)

Pike announced that his dancing school would open “for the ensuing Season” within the next couple of days. He encouraged all sorts of “scholars” (many of them presumably women and youth of both sexes) to attend his daytime lessons, but he also offered evening lessons for “grown Gentlemen” who needed to brush up on their skills or learn the steps that had most recently come into fashion. At a separate time, early mornings, he also taught “the Use of the SMALL-SWORD.” Fencing certainly would have been a pastime adopted by the select few with sufficient leisure times to pursue it.

Pike concluded his advertisement by announcing that the “BALL for his young Ladies and Gentlemen, will be the second Week in December.” In so doing, he encouraged potential students to envision their dancing abilities – and their ability to make an impression on others – after taking his lessons. Hosting a ball also had the potential to be good for business, putting Pike’s students on display and demonstrating the quality of his instruction. Like any other sort of recital, it also implicitly incorporated elements of competition that might prompt clients to continue to engage his services.