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