February 5

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

New-York Journal (February 2, 1769).

“PETER VIANEY, Fencing and Dancing Master.”

Peter Vianey’s advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for four weeks in late January and early February 1769 was notable for its brevity. The fencing and dancing master announced that he had recovered from an illness that had forced him to decline teaching for three weeks. Now that he was feeling better, he intended to provide lessons once again, both public and private to suit the desires of his clients.

The tone of this notice differed significantly from the one he had placed in the same newspaper just a few months earlier. In September 1768, he composed a lengthier notice to inform readers that he “CONTINUES to teach Music, Fencing and Dancing.” He listed his rates and described his satisfied pupils. Finally, he broached the most important – an uncomfortable – topic that he needed to address in his advertisement, an attack on his reputation. He lamented that he had been “mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago.” He explained that he had not even resided in the colonies that the time the offenses had occurred. Furthermore, he called on “all who know him … to testify that his conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” Dancing masters were often suspect figures in early America, in part because many tended to be itinerant. That prevented them from establishing reputations based on years of interacting with members of the community. In addition, their occupation required them to come into close physical contact with their pupils, an especially problematic situation when teaching pupils of the opposite sex. Finally, dancing masters taught skills that colonists needed to demonstrate their own status and gentility, yet the instructors were not themselves from among the ranks of the genteel. This slippage often raised suspicions about their character. Even if Vianey had always comported himself with utmost decorum, his previous advertisement demonstrated that he was susceptible to rumors and accusations that could disrupt or even terminate his ability to teach in the local market.

Yet his shorter advertisement indicated that he believed he had rehabilitated his reputation. Except for the short break caused by his illness, he had returned to offering lessons. Perhaps the advertisement defending his honor had been effective. Perhaps friends, acquaintances, and students heeded his call to testify to his good character. Within a few months, he no longer felt much need to do much marketing at all. He merely announced that he would soon return to teaching after a brief hiatus due to an illness: no descriptions of the dance he taught and no commentary on his skills or character. Apparently, Vianey believed all of that had been settled satisfactorily among the public.

November 17

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

Nov 17 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“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.

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.

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.