February 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 11, 1773).

“His French and English Rudiments, by the help of which a scholar may learn French with very little assistance from a master.”

In February 1773, Mr. Delile, a “Professor of the French Language” Boston, published an advertisement in which he confided to the public, especially the “Encouragers of LITERATURE,” that he had “always been desirous of meriting the esteem of the learned world … by the cultivation of the BELLES LETTRES.”  To that end, he issued a subscription proposal for printing several of his “performances” in the French language.  The two volumes would include the “French and English Rudiments” that he devised, an address that he delivered at “the Academy,” the school he operated, the previous December, and two “French Odes, in the manner of Pindar.”  In addition, he planned to add a “Latin discourse, on the arts and sciences, against several paradoxes of the celebrated Jean Jacques Rousseau.”

To further entice prospective subscribers to reserve copies, Delile elaborated on most of those items.  He declared that “the public favor’d him with the kindest testimony of their benevolence” after hearing his oration at the school, so much so that “many Gentlemen” had “earnestly requested a copy.”  Delile commodified that address, giving those gentlemen and others an opportunity to purchase that address.  For those not yet fluent in French, the “most eloquent fragments … will be translated into English.”  Delile also inserted two stanzas of the French odes, providing a preview for prospective subscribers and allowing them to judge the quality of the work.  In promoting the “French and English Rudiments,” he asserted that “a scholar” could consult that “performance” and “learn French with very little assistance from a master.”  Those “Rudiments” supplemented, but did not completely replace, working with a French tutor.

Delile was prepared to provide the necessary assistance to “those Gentlemen, who study under him” and others who wished to enroll in his classes.  He concluded his subscription proposal with an announcement that he “gives constant Attendance at the Academy” throughout the day and into the evenings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Such an extensive schedule made it possible for pupils to attend lessons “as their business will admit of their leisure to attend.”  Even if Delile did not garner enough subscribers to make publishing his French and Latin “performances” a viable venture, he likely hoped that the enterprising spirit and commitment to belles lettres demonstrated in his subscription proposal would resonate with current and prospective pupils to convince them to make their way to “the Academy” for lessons.

June 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 12, 1772).

“Those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”

Many colonizers sought to demonstrate that they belonged to genteel society through their fashions, possessions, and comportment.  They participated in the consumer revolution, purchasing textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares according to the latest tastes in English cities, especially London.  They also concentrated on their comportment, putting into practice good manners and learning a variety of genteel skills, including dancing, fencing, speaking French, and playing musical instruments.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and tutors aided colonizers in acquiring both the things and the knowledge necessary for displaying their gentility.

This was not solely an urban phenomenon.  Far beyond the major port cities of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, purveyors of goods advertised their wares and consumers acquired them.  Similarly, colonizers in smaller towns had opportunities to take lessons in dancing, fencing, and other genteel pursuits.  As summer arrived in 1772, Monsieur Viart placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the public, especially parents, that he taught “DANCING, FENCING, the FRENCH LANGUAGE, and the VIOLIN … in the most perfect and polite manner.”  He cautioned parents against overlooking the benefits of enrolling their children in his classes, arguing that his curriculum yielded “those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”  Even colonizers in Portsmouth, Viart declared, needed these skills.

Viart listed the tuition for each kind of lesson, both an initial entrance fee and additional payment for each quarter.  He also offered a discount if “a Scholar learns in two Branches,” encouraging pupils and their parents to sign up for more than one subject.  He anticipated the most interest in dancing and French, holding “School” for each at set times on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  He may have also provided private tutoring, but he did not mention those lessons in his advertisement.  He gave fencing and violin lessons “at such times as may be convenient for his Scholars.”

Tutors like Viart attempted to entice colonizers to become even more immersed in the consumer revolution and the culture of gentility and cosmopolitanism often associated with it.  He expected that his pronouncement that learning to dance or speak French was “so necessary” in preparing children to successfully make their way in the world that it would resonate with parents and other readers in Portsmouth and nearby towns.  Such skills, he suggested, were not reserved for the gentry in New York and Philadelphia.

September 5

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 5, 1771).

“The French academy.”

Francis Daymon, “Master of the FRENCH, LATIN,” placed newspaper advertisements to offer his services as a tutor to the “ladies and gentlemen” of Philadelphia.  His notice in the September 5, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journalfocused primarily on teaching French.  Daymon declared that he taught “the useful and polite French language in the newest and most expeditious method.”  Furthermore, he utilized techniques “agreeable to the latest improvements of the French academy.”  He made these claims in order to convince prospective students that he provided effective instruction that incorporated methods approved by authorities in his field.

Daymon offered lessons in two settings.  Students could “choose to be instructed at their respective places of abode” during the day or they could “choose to attend his regular class” in the evenings.  He described that class as the “French academy,” though his students gathered at his house across the street from the London Coffee House on Front Street.  Those lessons had already commenced, but the tutor welcomed newcomers.  He had not yet booked private lessons during the day, but encouraged prospective students who desired individual instruction “speedily to apply” in order to hire his services “at convenient hours.”

In addition to lessons, Daymon also offered to sell books to his pupils.  Most schoolmasters and tutors did not mention that sort of ancillary service in their newspaper advertisements.  Daymon, on the other hand, devoted a nota bene to informing readers that “received by one of the last ships from London, a choice collection of French, &c. books, very suitable for his scholar.”  In addition, he expected another three hundred volumes to arrive soon via another vessel.  Prospective students did not need to visit booksellers seeking out books appropriate for Daymon’s curriculum.  Instead, he acquired and sold them as a convenience, one that made his lessons even more accessible for his scholars.

In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, Daymon promoted his methods of instruction, offered lessons in multiple settings to suit the preferences of his students, and supplied texts (at an additional fee) to aid his pupils in their studies.  He promoted these various resources so prospective students could envision successful language acquisition if they gave the French tutor a chance.

January 22

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

Jan 22 - 1:22:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 22, 1770).

He has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character.”

When John Girault, “A Native of FRANCE,” arrived in New York, he turned to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to introduce himself to the residents of that city. He also sought employment, stating that he “proposes to teach the French Language.” His origins testified to his knowledge of the language, but also raised suspicions. Less than a decade had passed since the Seven Years War concluded. That war began in the Ohio River valley, contested territory claimed by both Britain and France, but spread far beyond North America. Battles took place around the globe in what became a great war for empire that resulted in France ceding its claim to territory in North America. Yet the enmity between Britain, a Protestant nation-state, and France, a Catholic nation-state, extended back centuries. Colonists in New York had long been suspicious of French and Catholic threats to their colony as well as anxious that strangers from nearby New France would attempt to infiltrate the bustling port city for nefarious purposes.

Girault understood that he faced such suspicions when he migrated to New York. As part of his introduction, he announced that he “has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character, from the Consistory of a Protestant Congregation at Poitou in France, of which he was an Elder, and from the Consistory of a French Church in London, where he has resided for several Years.” As a “Stranger” in the colony, he offered reassurances that he was not a threat, but he did not merely ask his new neighbors to take him at his word. He arrived with documents that they could examine for themselves, in addition to offering “Messrs. James Buvelot, and Francis Bosset” as local references. At the same time that he declared himself “A Native of FRANCE” to establish his qualifications “to teach the French Language,” he also distanced himself from his place of origin by noting that he had lived in London for several years. Perhaps most importantly, he proclaimed himself a Protestant, hoping to alleviate suspicion about what might be his true purpose in the city. Even as New Yorkers and other colonists vied with Parliament over the Townshend Acts, they continued to have other concerns as members of the British Empire. Girault did what he could to address them in order to settle peacefully and to encourage students to take lessons from him.

For more on New Yorkers’ anxieties about French infiltrators in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, see Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York.