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.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 16, 1768).

“JOHN & SARAH CRANE, TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON.”

Given their participation in the colonial marketplace as the providers of goods and services, women were underrepresented among the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Some female entrepreneurs did place their own advertisements to promote businesses they operated, but others followed a different strategy when they jointly advertised with men. Such advertisements had several variations. In most, a woman advertised alongside a male relation, most often as wife and husband but sometimes as siblings or as mother and son. On occasion, women advertised with male partners who were not related to them, but such instances were much less common.

Joint advertisements also varied in terms of how prominently they featured women’s activities in the marketplace. Some focused almost exclusively on the activities of a male head of household and only mentioned in passing that a woman also worked in the shop or otherwise provided goods or services on her own. Such advertisements frequently used the man’s name as the headline and did not mention the woman until the final sentence or in a nota bene that almost seemed an afterthought. Others, such as an advertisement by John Holliday and Mrs. Holliday, devoted equal amounts of space to the separate endeavors of both parties, yet still focused primary attention on the husband by using his name as the headline and promoting his business before turning to his wife.

Sometimes, however, men and women placed advertisements that portrayed them as equal partners in their enterprises, especially when they pursued related occupations. That was the case with John and Sarah Crane, “TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON,” in an advertisement in the January 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The headline featured both of their names in capital letters. The body of the advertisement addressed the qualities they both contributed to the garments they made. A nota bene even promoted certain items made by “Mrs. Crane” beyond those customers might have expected from a mantuamaker, suggesting her skill and versatility. The Cranes apparently continued this egalitarianism into other aspects of their marketing. Their advertisement indicated their shop was marked “With their names in gold letters over the door.” The space there they conducted their business, just like their advertisement, was a shared domain where the Cranes acted as partners. Their story demonstrates what was possible for married women as providers of goods and services in the colonial marketplace, even if it was not the most probable arrangement.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 24, 1767).

“REBECCA WOODIN … CONTINUES to teach young ladies.”

Although women placed newspaper notices advertising goods and services in eighteenth-century America they were disproportionately underrepresented in the public prints compared to how actively they participated in the marketplace as retailers, suppliers, and producers rather than merely as consumers. Sometimes women’s enterprises made their way into the advertising section because male relations mentioned them in passing in notices that much more extensively promoted their own endeavors. Such was the case in writing master William Adams’s advertisement repeatedly published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the summer of 1767. He described his curriculum in detail before briefly noting that “Mrs. ADAMS, makes children’s gowns, slips, and teaches them to sew, mark, &c. She clear-starches, and washes silk stockings in the best manner.” Mrs. Adams’ participation in the marketplace was practically hidden in plain sight, appended to an advertisement that featured her husband’s name in all capitals and a larger font as its headline.

This was not always the case, however, when male and female relations shared advertising space. Rebecca and Thomas Woodin (presumably husband and wife, but perhaps siblings or parent and child) informed potential patrons of the services they offered in an advertisement that gave primacy to Rebecca’s school. Her description of “the different branches of Polite Education” and promise “to give satisfaction to all who place their children under her care” comprised approximately two-thirds of the advertisement. Rebecca’s enterprise came first, with Thomas, a carver and cabinetmaker, adding that he taught drawing and sold a variety of furniture. Not exactly an afterthought, Thomas did not appear first in the advertisement, usually the privileged place reserved for men when they shared advertising space with women. The structure of the advertisement recognized Rebecca Woodin’s labors as those of a partner who contributed to the household economy, especially compared to the cursory treatment Mrs. Adams received in her husband’s notice.

Each portion of the advertisement could have stood alone, yet the compositor did not insert a line across the entire column to indicate that one advertisement had ended and another began. Instead, a much shorter line allowed the two portions to flow together visually. This may have been the result of the Woodins pooling their resources to purchase a single advertisement rather than pay for two separate notices for enterprises pursued within the same household. The layout of the advertisement also suggested that the schoolmistress was subject to at least some level of masculine oversight. The depiction of Rebecca’s occupation was mediated by her connection to Thomas, yet he did not overshadow her.