John Bill Ricketts, One Mystery Unraveled

The Diary, or, Loudon’s Register, September 12, 1793. Library of Congress

Although John Bill Ricketts was not the first equestrian performer to entertain American audiences, his combination of skill and enterprise has earned him deserved credit for establishing the circus as an enduring and popular form of entertainment in the United States. While the late-eighteenth century circus did include clowns and acrobats, it was centered on equestrian feats and riders like Ricketts were the stars of the show. Among the acts he was publicized as doing in New York City during his first tour were dancing a hornpipe on a “horse at full speed”; military exercises “in the character of an American officer,” complete with sword and firearms; “standing erect” on two horses without breaking “two eggs fastened to the bottom of his feet”; and various other skills on horseback, such as leaping through hoops, standing on his head, and performing somersaults while mounting and dismounting. The “Two Flying Mercuries” act advertised at left featured an apprentice who perched on Ricketts’s shoulders as the horse galloped around the ring, with both balancing on one foot for the finale.

After his April 1793 American debut, Ricketts spent the balance of the decade touring up and down the Eastern seaboard, until a disastrous fire at his Philadelphia amphitheatre in December 1799 effectively ended his career in the United States. Ricketts was widely admired in his day as both a performer and a gentleman, which helped ensure that the circus was seen as a respectable form of entertainment. The early chronicler American circus T. Alston Brown observed that:

John B. Ricketts, the proprietor, was a very gentlemanly and neat fellow in society and dressed in rather the English sporting style and was received with favor in the best circles. As a performer he never offended the eye by ungraceful postures or by the nude style of dressing that now prevails at the circus. His costumes were like that of the actors on the stage–pantalets, trunks full disposed, and neat cut jacket–which were sufficient to make ample display of his figure for all purposes of agility and grace.

Indeed, his success was such that he sat for Gilbert Stuart, the foremost portraitist of the period. Although unfinished (supposedly due to his restlessness), the painting captures something of the pluck for which Ricketts was known.

National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art

The doings of Ricketts in the United States have been fairly well-documented, most notably in a dissertation by James Moy, and there are a variety of primary sources, from contemporary newspapers and ephemera to a wonderful memoir by the actor and dancer John Durang that chronicle his American years.

What has always been less clear about John Bill Ricketts is his life before and after his time in the United States. The availability of digitized historical newspapers and a recent find by Australian circus scholar Mark St. Leon has shed some new light on the former. It had generally been supposed that Ricketts was somehow associated with the line of Sir Cornwallis Ricketts of the Elms, Gloucester, owing to a bit of numismatic evidence. This is a token that was made at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia for the circus in 1796, which bears the coat of arms very similar to that used by Sir Cornwallis (the addition of the anchors allude to his naval career).

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society
from Burke's Peerage (1869)
Burke’s Peerage (1869)

What St. Leon has unearthed is a record for the christening of one “John Bill Ricketts” in the Parish registers of the town of Bilston in Staffordshire. The entry was made on October 28, 1769, and no parental names were listed, implying that the child was a foundling or otherwise illegitimate. The year certainly aligns with what we know of Ricketts’s career as that date would mean that he was around seventeen when he began performing at the Jones’ Equestrian Amphitheatre in London (1786) and twenty-four years old when he made his American debut (1793). Moreover, it was also very common for circus performers of that time to have been orphans. Of course this does not necessarily disprove some connection to the Ricketts who were part of the local landed gentry, but had he been a legitimate part of the family, a career as a circus performer would have been a very unusual career choice. I would suggest that his use of the coat of arms on the token was a case of him ‘putting on airs’ in the United States given what seem to be his humble origins. The Ricketts name was rather common, though, and there were prominent families with the surname living both England and the West Indies that seem to have used variations of this coat of arms.

Ricketts has also commonly been described as a Scotsman, and that is one thing that this record would seem to debunk. This mistaken assumption derived from the fact that he spent many of his formative years performing at the Royal Circus in Edinburgh. Presently, the first indication of him in the historical record seem to be digital newspapers that show a “Master Ricketts” or “Rickets” performing as a clown with Jones’ Equestrian Amphitheatre in April 1786. Where and when he received his training remains something of a mystery as seventeen would have been a rather old for a performer to make their debut. Ricketts told John Durang that he was a pupil of the famed equestrian and manager Charles Hughes, but his well-documented association with other circuses suggests that this might have been a bit of braggadocio, though still quite possible. Whatever the case, this finding does clear up something of his previously obscure origins.

The big remaining mystery is of course what happened to Ricketts towards the end of his life. After the fire and some desultory efforts to resurrect his circus in Philadelphia, Ricketts sailed for Barbados (where one George Poyntz Ricketts was coincidentally the colonial governor). The schooner Sally departed in May 1800 with ten horses and a small company of performers, but the ship was seized at sea by the French privateer Brilliante. A prize crew then sailed the ship to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. According to Durang, who did not accompany the party, but saw Francis Ricketts (John Bill’s brother) after he returned, an intervention by a sympathetic merchant allowed the troupe to recover its property and to begin performing. Francis is said to have both married and spent time in prison on Guadeloupe, but the circumstances of these events are murky.

Of John Bill Ricketts, Durang writes only that after performing for a length of time in Guadeloupe, he “sold all his horses to great advantage and had made an immense amount of money; he chartered an old vessel to take him to England; the vessel foundered and he was lost with all his money at sea.” The language of this passage makes it unclear from where Ricketts sailed. The seizure of the Sally created some controversy in Franco-American relations and generated a lawsuit, details of which ultimately ended up in the Congressional Record. These indicate that Ricketts had taken out a policy with the Insurance Co. of the State of Pennsylvania for four thousand dollars before sailing. Factoring in an abatement of two percent, the company eventually paid John Bill Ricketts $3,920, but it is unclear if he had to return to Philadelphia to collect. Although Francis Ricketts later performed in the United States, there is no definitive indication that John Bill Ricketts ever set foot there again. There was a “Mr. Ricketts” who performed with Langley’s circus in Charleston beginning in September 1800, ending with a benefit on January 8, 1801. Historian Stuart Thayer supposes this is Francis Ricketts, and I am inclined to agree, but this makes the timing of the Caribbean adventure and the subsequent activities of the brothers hard to reconcile. There are independent reports (Durang, Decastro) of John Bill Ricketts’s watery end, but I have yet to see anything about exactly where and when this might have occurred. If you have any information, please do let me know.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Historical Society of Pennsylvania

In his memoirs, Jacob Decastro, who had seen Ricketts perform firsthand in London during the late 1870s, remembered him as “the first rider of real eminence that had then appeared.” He went on to observe that the fame of Ricketts “excelled all his predecessors, and it is said he has never been surpassed.” Given his exalted status on both sides of the Atlantic and the pivotal role that this “Equestrian Hero” played in the development of the American circus, the fact that the mystery of how he met his end persists is somewhat surprising.

Sources: The manuscript of John Durang’s memoir is held by the Historical Society of York County, and it was published in 1966 as The Memoir of John Durang, American Actor, 1785-1816; T. Alston Brown wrote a serialized history of the American circus for the New York Clipper that was published as “A Complete History of the Amphitheatre and Circus from Its Earliest Date to 1861.” That text has been usefully edited and republished by William Slout as Amphitheatres and Circuses (Borgo Press, 1994); Kotar and Gesser, The Rise of the American Circus (2011); Stuart Thayer, Annals of the American Circus (2000); The Memoirs of J. Decastro, Comedian (1824).


John Hewson Pruyn, Richard Risley, and the Misemono

In an earlier post about the American statesman John Hewson Pruyn, I wrote about the role that the American circus performer and impresario Richard Risley Carlisle played in the evolving cultural relationship between the United States and Japan. Risley arrived in Yokohama on March 6, 1864 with a small troupe of performers, and Pruyn initially expressed hope that the circus would help thaw tensions between the Japanese and foreign communities. The show opened on March 28 in front of an audience of around four hundred people, about half of whom were foreign residents. Pruyn was seemingly less than impressed with the circus as a letter dated April 1 noted that “the Japanese admire the clown very much,” but that he was “the very poorest I ever saw.” He went on to sarcastically speak of the relatively expensive tickets as being “exceedingly cheap for so intellectual a performance.” Whatever Pruyn’s opinion, the circus proved popular and a number of Japanese artists made wonderful woodblock prints documenting the show, including this one by Utagawa (or Issen) Yoshikazu.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

After its initial success, interest in the circus waned and the performers dispersed, but Risley elected to stay in Japan and pursued a variety of eclectic ventures, including at one point importing dairy cows from California and selling ice cream (for more on Risley’s doings in Japan, see Frederik Schodt’s aforementioned book). But the big idea that he finally hit upon was the realization that the Japanese performers who often entertained the foreign community would be a real novelty abroad. Indeed Pruyn frequently commented on the quality of Japanese entertainment, and he was particularly taken with the characteristic top-spinning performances that he witnessed, which were a novelty to foreigners. Below is a woodblock print that Pruyn saved commemorating a November 14, 1864 performance by a famous top-spinning troupe headed by Matsui Gensui (for a full account of the evening see Francis Hall’s recently published journal).

Matsui Gensui Troop of Top Spinners Woodblock print 1865 Albany Institute of History & Art Robert H. Pruyn Manuscript Collection, CH 532
Matsui Gensui Troop of Top Spinners
Woodblock print
Albany Institute of History & Art
Robert H. Pruyn Manuscript Collection, CH 532

Matsui Gensui and those of his ilk were known as misemono, which Schodt translates literally as “things to show” or “exhibitions,” and included sleight-of-hand, balancing, juggling, acrobatics, amongst a range of other entertainments. The obvious popularity of misemono amongst the foreign community led a number of would-be impresarios to consider organizing a troupe to tour abroad, but the Japanese government’s prohibition on overseas travel and raising the necessary capital made such a venture difficult. With the help of the U. S. consul and local American merchants, Risley cobbled together the needed funding and secured permission for what was dubbed the “Imperial Japanese Troupe” to head abroad. In early 1867, the troupe arrived in San Francisco and embarked on a strikingly successful tour across the United States and eventually around the world. As Schodt notes, Risley’s Imperial Japanese Troupe ultimately played a signature role in introducing the then mysterious world of Japan to those in the West. Risley’s activities are a more or less perfect distillation of one of the major themes of my own work, namely how popular entertainment has served as a medium for cross-cultural exchange.

Though we are straying ever farther from Robert Hewson Pruyn, the man whose papers at the Albany Institute of History & Art originally inspired these posts, I want to highlight one last cultural artifact of interest. It is a short motion picture filmed in Thomas Edison’s New York Studio on April 29, 1904 now at the Library of Congress. It shows two Japanese acrobats performing what was by then known simply as a Risley act. It was this foot-juggling routine that catapulted its namesake to fame and fortune, and its performance by two Japanese entertainers aptly illustrates the ongoing legacy of international exchange via performance and popular culture.

Risley’s Circus to the Rescue?


Robert Hewson Pruyn (1815-1882) was an American lawyer and statesman from New York who is the subject of an ongoing exhibition at the Albany Institute. Presently, the fascinating materials on display focus on the years 1862 to 1865 when he served as the U.S. minister to Japan. As a diplomat, Pruyn played a pivotal role in resolving the Shimonoseki War, which was a series of military engagements waged by recalcitrant daimyos (powerful feudal lords) angry with the Tokugawa shogunate’s accommodation of foreign interests. While holding office, he also negotiated a number of shrewd trade agreements that allowed commerce to flourish. And though his diplomatic and economic accomplishments were undoubtedly significant, I was much more intrigued to see a wide variety of ephemera documenting performances by both Euro-American and Japanese entertainers. In the decade that followed Commodore Perry’s expedition in 1853-54, relations between the United States and Japan remained tense, but popular entertainment provided one avenue for cross-cultural exchange and understanding. Indeed, some of Perry’s sailors famously performed a minstrel show at a banquet held when the Kanagawa Treaty was concluded, and the Japanese reciprocated with exhibitions of sumo wrestling, plate-spinning, and acrobatics. 

MIT Visualizing Cultures

By the early 1860s, Yokohama was a “boomtown,” and performances by both visting Euro-American and Japanese entertainers were patronized by the mixed lot of officials, merchants, and military who congregated around Tokyo Bay. In March 1864, the noted American performer Richard Risley Carlisle (1814-1874), popularly known as “Professor Risley,” arrived in Yokohama with a circus from Shanghai. Risley had ascended to trans-Atlantic fame and fortune in the 1840s with a foot-juggling act that involved spinning and launching limber young assistants high into the air. By the early 1860s, he was touring the Pacific with a small circus comprised of a dozen or so equestrians and acrobats. John R. Black (himself a traveling entertainer that settled in Japan) observed that:

Risley was a man who never did himself justice. He was for some years a resident in Yokohama; but at one time of his life, his name was well known in all the great capitals of Europe and America. I remember him with his sons at the Strand Theatre in London in 1848, when his fame and success seemed carrying everything before him. Apart from his great strength and agility, and the wonderful pluck and cleverness of his boys, which enabled him to present an entertainment as attractive as it was at that time unique, he was peculiarly cut out for the kind of Bohemian life he had chosen. He was a wonderful rifle shot; a good billiard player; up to everything that lithe and active men most rejoice in. He knew thoroughly well the usages of good society, and could hold his own with high or low. His fund of anecdote was marvellous ; and he could keep a roomful of people holding their sides with laughter, without the least appearance of effort, or the faintest shade of coarseness (Young Japan, 1880, 401-402).

Risley’s peripatetic history and his eventual management of a troupe of Japanese acrobats who traveled across the United States and to the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris have been ably chronicled in an excellent study by Frederik L. Schodt so I will not dwell on that here. What is interesting was how Pruyn perceived Risley’s presence in Japan, and the role of popular entertainment in US-Japanese relations more generally. Again, things were particular tense in March 1864, and Pruyn confessed in a letter that he still regarded it as debatable whether “liberality or exclusiveness” would prevail in Japan. In this context, he saw the arrival of the circus as auspicious, continuing: “American diplomacy first opened this Country partially to foreigners & now that this attempt has been made to thrust us out when once in & slam the door in our faces – why should not an American Circus come to the rescue?” While it is of course arguable just how important Risley’s activities were within the evolving relationship between the two nations, it seems significant to see that the American minister regarded the circus as so relevant. In a follow-up post, I’ll develop this point further by looking at how Pruyn’s perceptions of the Japanese were shaped by his experiences with their sundry forms of popular entertainment.

*** The Robert Pruyn Papers are held at the Albany Institute of History and Art library and a special thanks is owed to Erika Sanger there for bringing these materials to my attention.

Engraving John Bill Ricketts

One of the most important and yet mysterious figures in the annals of the American circus is John Bill Ricketts. Although Ricketts was not the first equestrian performer to grace American shores, he has rightfully received the lion’s share of the credit as a founding father of the circus for the scope and duration of his entertainment-related efforts. Much is known about his activities during the eight years he spent in the United States and Canada, from his arrival in Philadelphia in 1792 to his final departure from the country with a small company of performers in the spring of 1800. This is largely due to the diligent research of James Moy, whose dissertation remains the best source on his career. What is less clear was what Ricketts did before and after his time in the United States. Presently the first record of him performing are newspaper advertisements from 1786 for performances at Jones’ Equestrian Amphitheatre in London, but he also spent a significant part of his early career in Edinburgh. The end of his life is even more of a mystery, as his small company was waylaid by pirates near Guadeloupe, but recovered to perform around the Caribbean in 1800-1801. His contemporary and fellow performer John Durang reported that he subsequently “sold all his horses to great advantage and had made an immense amount of money; he chartered an old vessel to take him to England; the vessel foundered and he was lost with all his money at sea.” I have yet to find an independent confirmation of how Ricketts’ met his end.

While much about Ricketts remains unknown, one thing I was able track down was the source of an oft-reproduced but poorly sourced image of the man and his famous horse Cornplanter. As far as I can tell this image was published for the first time in John and Alice Durant’s Pictorial History of the American Circus (1957). Durant-Ricketts, pg.23On page 23 there is a small and poorly reproduced image of a mounted Ricketts jumping over another horse held by a groom under a banner reading “We ne’er shall look upon his like again” (an allusion to Hamlet).The Durants credited it to the New York Public Library, but I did not find anything at either the main library’s Print Room or in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection. Google turned up another version of the image on John Bill Ricketts’ Circopedia page, there credited to the Museum of the City of New York. What I found on a visit there was pretty clearly just a modern copy. Where was the original?

It was clearly a metal plate engraving, which was confirmed by this entry in David McNeely Stauffer’s checklist of American Engravers Upon Copper and Steel (1907):Stauffer, pg. 464

Frustratingly, no source was given. Some further work in Google Books turned up a note about its inclusion in an exhibition at the Boston bibliophile “Club of Odd Volumes” in 1914. It was listed as part of the collection of Robert Gould Shaw and described as an “Extremely Rare Print.” While the disposition of this particular print was not discovered, I was able to find a second allusion to the Scoles engraving. This was from a catalogue of rare books purchased by New York book dealer George D. Smith from the collection of the noted American playwright and stage director Augustin Daly (1838-1899). It details a rare extra-illustrated edition of William Dunlap’s History of the American Theatre (1832), which included among its rarities something described only as “Mr. Ricketts by Scoles.”

Smith-Dunlap Description

Knowing that much of Augustin Daly’s library was in the Harvard Theatre Collection (and indeed this had seemingly been one of the foundational purchases of that collection), I went right to their library catalog, which confirmed that Harvard had Daly’s copy of Dunlap but little else. So it remained for me to take make the trip up there and examine the volumes in person. They are an invaluable treasury of American entertainment history, and a little over 100 pages into volume two, I found the engraving of Ricketts. Although I knew the supposed dimensions, it was something of surprise to see how small the original sepia-toned engraving was. John Scoles was a talented engraver and sometime book seller in New York City from 1793 to 1844 so this was among his earliest works. Ricketts first regularly performed the feat of jumping Cornplanter over another horse “fourteen-hands-high” in 1796 so the engraving likely dates to that year. It is a well-cut and dramatic scene and I was just thrilled to finally find the original. I ordered a scan and it will certainly figure in the upcoming Circus and the City exhibition!

Update: After my request, Harvard put the high-resolution image online here. And it is of course featured in the Circus and the City catalogue, which you can buy here.

Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels (Part II)

*Part II of a serialized history of the influential American minstrels.

By May 1863, the Chicago Tribune described the minstrel troupe that counted Edwin Kelly and Francis Leon among their number as “a fixed fact” and observed that they were doing “the largest business ever done by a troupe of similar character in this city.” Buoyed by this success, the company made plans to construct a new theatre and, following a short summer tour, they opened at a renovated Metropolitan Hall in late September as the Arlington, Kelly, Leon, and Donniker’s Minstrels. After a successful fall season, the company moved into their new “Opera House” in late December.

Kelly-Leon, December 1863

Chicago Tribune (December 1863)

While traveling companies visited Chicago on occasion during the preceding decade, it is perhaps surprising to note that up until this point the city never had a resident minstrel troupe. Kelly and Leon’s timing was auspicious insomuch as Chicago was booming during the 1860s and the ardent fashion in which the public embraced the minstrels indicated that there was a lucrative market for such entertainment in the expanding metropolis. The Tribune opined that it was “refreshing” to have a resident company “composed of gentlemen, capital singers, and fine instrumentals” given the “innumerable bands of bunglers in Ethiopian minstrelsy which have visited us.” Kelly and Leon in particular were celebrated for their talents and the Academy of Music was one the city’s premier attractions in the years that followed.

Although they obviously counted among their number some very skilled performers, there was not much that distinguished the programs of the Arlington, Kelly, Leon, and Donniker’s Minstrels from those of their contemporaries as they relied on the standard mix of singing, dancing, and comedy presented in a tripartite format. The company emphasized that they presented a refined brand of minstrelsy and even offered a Saturday matinee for “ladies and children.” They also did what they could to stay in the public’s good graces by holding frequent benefits for various charitable causes such as the Orphan’s Asylum and the Soldiers’ Families Fund. With the enthusiastic patronage of Chicago audiences and a permanent venue secured, the company worked on expanding their repertoire and mounted increasingly ambitious productions, culminating their first season with an elaborate piece called “The Sons of Malta.”*

By the end of the season, Edwin Kelly was listed as the troupe’s manager and the company was bolstered by turns from an assortment of entertainers. Perhaps the most notable of these temporary performers was Jackson Haines (1840-1875), a man who is now generally acknowledged as the father of modern figure skating. Haines was a trained ballet dancer who appeared in pantomimes during the early 1860s in New York City, but it was his ability to transpose the grace and agility of the art onto skates that made him famous. In late January 1864, he created a sensation in Chicago with his performances at Washington Park. The Tribune observed that the rolls and spins Haines executed were the “very poetry of motion” and his popularity touched off an ice skating craze in Chicago. During his May 1864 stint with the minstrels, Haines was forced to perform on roller skates, but the reviews indicate that he had lost nothing of his appeal.

The Arlington, Kelly, Leon, and Donniker’s Minstrels closed their season at the Academy of Music in late June and, following a short vacation, they toured through the Eastern cities. At some point during this tour, Donniker left the concern, which might have been either the cause or result of Edwin Kelly taking over as manager. While at the Brooklyn Athenæum in September, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that their show was “far above anything else we have seen in this line.” The newspaper described Leon as “the best Ethiopian dancer on the stage” and effusively praised Edwin Kelly’s skill, opining that there was “no signer on the minstrel stage to compare.” Kelly and Leon’s star was clearly on the rise and the company’s reputation for excellence continued to grow throughout their tour through the major Northern cities during the late summer and early fall of 1864.

* It is unclear to me whether this was a parody or adaption of a stage play called “The Sons of Malta” written by Harry Seymour that debuted at the Chatham Theater in 1857 or if it was a burlesque of the boisterous fraternal organization the Sons of Malta, which was then active in Chicago. During their 1861-1862 season, the New York City-based Bryant Minstrels presented a popular piece called “The Rugged Path, or, Sons of Malta,” that might have been the basis for the Arlington, Kelly, Leon, and Donniker troupe.

Sources: Chicago TribuneBrooklyn Daily Eagle; Slout, Burnt Cork and Tambourines; Hines, Figure Skating.

Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels (Part I)

*Part I of a serialized history of the influential American minstrels.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Edwin Kelly and Francis Leon were one of the most celebrated and successful minstrel partnerships in the United States and the lavish operatic burlesques for which their companies were best known made an important contribution to the evolution of popular stage entertainments. Edwin Kelly was born in Dublin in the early 1830s (popular accounts place the date as 1835 but I suspect it was earlier) and after completing his studies as a surgeon at St. George’s Hospital in London, he moved to Boston to establish a practice. Kelly possessed a fine tenor voice and soon after his arrival he met John Ordway, who like Kelly was trained in medicine but drawn to minstrelsy. Ordway was a musician and manager of a long-running minstrel company known as Ordway’s Aeolians, which Kelly soon joined. He made his debut with the company in Boston on August 30, 1858 and quickly became a popular performer as a light comedian, interlocutor, and balladist.

Francis Leon’s introduction to the so-called “Ethiopian business” is rather less clear. Born Patrick Francis Glass in New York City on November 21, 1844, he was popularly supposed to have made his debut with Wood’s Minstrels in 1858. An 1856 advertisement for the American Museum for a “Master Leon, dancer” suggests that he made his way onto the stage earlier, though perhaps not in burnt cork. In addition to his skills as a dancer, he was an able soprano and was renowned as a youth for singing in the choir at St. Stehpen’s church. George Odell notes a September 23, 1858 advertisement, “performances nightly at the Metropolitan Gardens, Thirtieth Street and Second Avenue, of Leon’s Ethiopian Opera Troupe,” which suggests that Leon was performing in the operatic burlesque for which he was renowned at a remarkably young age. During the winter of 1858-59, Leon appeared as a prima donna and danseuse and subsequently appeared with various first-class troupes in and around New York City.

Although the precise date that Edwin Kelly and Francis Leon first performed together is difficult to discern, during the 1860-61 theatrical season both men were with George Christy’s minstrel company. Leon’s star turn was an interpretation of the opera Norma while Kelly was billed as the troupe’s tenor and acted in a variety of sketches and farces. Although both subsequently appeared separately, during the next two years they could most often be found on the same bill with various minstrel outfits in New York City as well as with the Ordway’s Aeolians in Boston. In July 1862, the two shared the stage at Barnum’s American Museum with Kelly billed as a “light tenor and comedian” and Leon as “the Ethiopian Cubas.” With the minstrel field crowded in the East and the Civil War raging, they elected to head out West in the late summer of 1862 on a tour with J. B. Donniker, a successful manager and violinst, and William Arlington, a versatile performer noted for his stump speeches. Billed as “Arlington & Donniker’s Minstrels,” the company traveled first to Cincinnati then toured through Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin for the remainder of the year. After a short and profitable stand in Chicago some months earlier, they returned in January 1863 and settled in at Kingsbury Hall, which was adjacent to “Colonel” Wood’s Museum, as Chicago’s first resident minstrel troupe.

Sources: New York Clipper; Odell, Annals of the New York Stage; Rice, Monarchs of Minstrelsy; Slout, Burnt Cork & Tambourines.