This document was written by Arthur Hornblow and originally published in A History of the Theatre in America, Vol. 1. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1919. pp. 88-113.

LEWIS HALLAM arrived in New York with his company in June, 1753, bearing a certificate from Governor Dinwiddie recommending the comedians as actors and testifying to the correctness of their conduct as men. Armed with this testimonial, he at once applied to the authorities for permission to act, but the local magistrates, for some reason not easily understood, seeing that Kean had been allowed to act only twelve months before, withheld a license and Hallam was forced to remain idle until September. Meantime, to enlist public sympathy, he issued the following petition explaining his position:

As our expedition to New York seems likely to be attended with a very fatal Consequence, and ourselves haply censured for undertaking it without assurance of success, We beg leave humbly to lay a true state of our case before the worthy inhabitants of this city; if possible, endeavour to remove those great obstacles which at present lie before us, and give very sufficient reasons for our appearance in this part of the world, where we all had the most sanguine hopes of meeting a very different reception; little imagining that in a City--to all appearance so polite as this--the Muses would be banished, the works of the immortal Shakespeare and others, the greatest geniuses England ever produced, denied admittance among them, and the instructive and elegant entertainment of the Stage utterly protested against; when, without boasting, we may venture to affirm that we are capable of supporting its dignity with proper decorum and regularity.

In the infancy of this scheme it was proposed to Mr. William Hallam, now of London, to collect a Company of Comedians and send them to New York and other colonies of America. Accordingly he assented, and was at vast expense to procure Scenes, Cloaths, People, etc., and in October, 1750, sent out to this place Mr. Robert Upton, in order to obtain permission to perform, erect a building, and settle everything against our arrival; for which service Mr. Hallam advanced no inconsiderable sum. But Mr. Upton, on his arrival, found here that sett of pretenders with whom he joined, and, unhappily for us, quite neglected the business he was sent about from England, for we never heard from him after.

Being thus deceived by him, the company was at a stand till April, 1752, when, by the persuasion of several gentlemen in London, and Virginia Captains, we set sail on board of Mr. William Lee (Master of the ship "Charming Sally"), and arrived, after a very expensive and tedious voyage, at York River, on the 28th of June following, where we obtained leave of His Excellency the Governor, and performed with universal applause, and met with the greatest encouragement; for which we are bound by the strongest obligations to acknowledge the many and repeated instances of their spirit and generosity.

We were there Eleven Months before we thought of moving, and then asking advice, we were again persuaded to come to New York by several gentlemen who told us we should not fail of a genteel and favorable reception; that the inhabitants were generous and polite, naturally fond of Diversions rational, particularly those of the Theatre: nay, they even told us that there was a very fine Play House building, and that we were really expected. This was encouragement sufficient for us, as we thought, and we came firmly assured of success; but how far our expectations are answered we shall leave to the Candid to determine, and only beg leave to add, That, as we are People of no Estates, it cannot be supposed we have a Fund sufficient to bear up against such unexpected Repulses. A journey by Sea and Land, Five Hundred Miles, is not undertaken without money. Therefore, if the worthy Magistrates would consider this in our Favor--that it would rather turn out a Public Advantage and Pleasure than a Private Injury, they would, we make no doubt, grant us permission and give us an opportunity to convince them that we are not cast in the same mould with our Theatrical Predecessors; or that in Private Life or Public Occupation we have the least affinity to them.

This tactful appeal had the desired effect. Permission was finally accorded and Hallam made his preparations to open. Finding Kean's old theatre on Nassau Street (between Maiden Lane and John Street) too small for his purpose, he pulled the building down and built upon the same spot what the New York Gazette of 1753 described as "a very fine, large and commodious new theatre," which he opened on September 17, 1753, with Steele's [1] comedy "The Conscious Lovers." The cast was as follows:

 Young Bevil ............ Mr. Rigby  Tom ................. Mr. Singleton
 Mr. Scaland ......... Mr. Malone  Phillis ............. Mrs. Becceley
 Sir John .................... Mr. Bell  Mrs. Sealand ... Mrs. Clarkson
 Myrtle ............... Mr. Clarkson  Lucinda .............. Miss Hallam
 Cimberton ............... Mr. Miller  Isabella ................ Mrs. Rigby
 Humphrey ............ Mr. Adcock  Indiana ............... Mrs. Hallam
 Daniel ......... Master L. Hallam  

The comedy was followed by Cibber's ballad farce "Damon and Phillida."

The company gave performances only three times a week--Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The prices charged f or admission were: Boxes 8/-, Pit 6/-, Gallery 3/-. The season lasted from September 17, 1753, to March 18, 1754.

During these six months Hallam produced no fewer than twenty-one plays, of which three were Shakespearean tragedies, and twelve comedies and farces. It would have been a remarkable achievement for a well equipped stock company long established in their home city with every facility at hand. Considering the handicap under which that little band of strolling players labored, acting in unfamiliar surroundings, with a large portion of the population indifferent or openly hostile to the things of the theatre, it was indeed a marvellous record. The repertoire comprised the cream of English dramatic literature at that time--Shakespeare's mighty tragedies, Congreve's and Steele's brilliant comedies, the masterpieces of Cibber, Lillo, Farquhar, Addison, Rowe, Fielding. New Yorkers were given an opportunity to see them all and, according to tradition, each play was adequately cast and acted. What manager of to-day could come anywhere near such a record as this, even with all the resources of the modern theatre at his command? [2]

In the Shakespeare plays Mr. Rigby alternated with Mr. Malone in playing the principal rôles. When Rigby played Richard III, Malone was content with the rôle of Buckingham. When Malone played Lear, Mr. Rigby was willing to play the Usher, and so on. InWilliamsburg, Malone played Othello and Mrs. Hallam was the Desdemona, a part which she had acted with success in England. Malone was probably the first actor to play Othello, Shylock and Lear on the American stage, as Thomas Kean was probably the first Richard. Mr. Hallam, a comedian, had no great ambition as an actor. He sometimes remained out of the cast altogether, and was often willing to surrender a good low comedy rôle to some other member of the company. These little details are interesting as showing the friendliness and good will that marked the personal and professional relations of this little band of players from England-something not always encountered in theatrical organizations.
New names appeared in the cast when the company opened in New York. Mr. Bell, Mr. Miller and Mrs. Becceley were not members of the company when it first reached Virginia. Mrs. Becceley, a singing soubrette, was seen later as Polly in "The Beggar's Opera." In addition to these newcomers, Mr. and Mrs. Love and Mr. Hulett were engaged as dancers. " Mr. Hulett," says Dunlap, "was for many years the only dancing master in New York. Some of us old fellows remember the steps taught by this worthy man whose sons were the teachers of succeeding generations."

The New York season closed March 18, 1754, with "The Beggar's Opera" and "The Devil to Pay," on which occasion the bill of the play contained this announcement:

Lewis Hallam, comedian, intending for Philadelphia, begs the favour of those having any demands upon him to bring in their accounts and receive their money.

This notice is interesting as showing that the comedians had at least made enough money during the New York season to enable them to pay their debts. In those days, when the player was regarded as no better than a vagabond, the announcement that he was ready to discharge his obligations like other honorable men, must have been disconcerting to his defamers and done much to increase the community's respect for the dramatic profession.

Soon after his arrival in New York, Hallam turned his attention to Philadelphia as the company's next stand. The city of Penn held out many allurements. It was only a short distance to go. The population was large. The people, prosperous and cultured, had the taste and means to support a first class theatrical organization. Yet there were almost unsurmountable difficulties in the way. Although he had many sympathizers in the Quaker City, citizens who saw no offence to either religion or morality in dramatic performances conducted in a first class manner, the majority of the inhabitants were bitterly opposed to play-acting of any kind. Yet the more liberal minded minority resented being deprived of pleasures New York was enjoying, and a number of lovers of the drama communicated with Hallam, urging him to go to Philadelphia.

While the New York season was still young, therefore, Hallam decided to send Malone to Philadelphia to open the way, promising him that, if successful, he should have for his reward the parts of Falstaff in "Henry IV" and " The Merry Wives," and Don Lewis in "Love Makes a Man." [3] Malone undertook the mission and went to Philadelphia, but met with so much opposition that he could accomplish nothing. In this dilemma, he sent word to Hallam to come to his assistance. The manager, on his arrival, found the town divided into two camps--those who favored permission being granted the players to open a theatre, and those uncompromisingly hostile to the proposed theatricals. A petition signed by a large number of citizens urged Governor Hamilton to prohibit the acting of profane stage plays. This move was met by a counter petition urging the Governor to do the exact opposite. The controversy raged furiously for a time, but finally the forces of reason prevailed, and manager Hallam was accorded permission to give twenty-four performances, provided that nothing "indecent or immoral" were presented. The manager also bound himself to give one performance for the benefit of the poor and security for all debts contracted on behalf of the company.

The Hallam players left New York immediately after the closing of their season March 18, and, proceeding directly to Philadelphia, took possession of the same theatre used by the Murray-Kean company in 1749, situated in the warehouse owned by William Plumstead in King or Water Street, between Pine and Lombard Streets, and here they opened April 15, 1754, with Rowe's tragedy "The Fair Penitent" and "Miss in Her Teens" as the after-piece.

Having been so well advertised, there was naturally great curiosity to see the "players from London," and the house was crowded to the doors, many persons being unable to obtain admission. During the performance a spectator was recognized as one of the signers of the unfriendly petition, and being regarded as a spy, he was quickly hustled out. "The company," [4] says Dunlap, "gained money and reputation notwithstanding continued and vigorous opposition. Pamphlets were published and distributed gratis during the theatrical campaign and every effort made to show the evils attendant upon plays and players and playhouses, but Shakespeare and his followers prevailed. The tree was planted and could not be rooted out."

Two months was the length of the Hallams' stay in the Quaker City. Among the plays presented, in addition to the opening bill, were " The Gamester," by Moore; "Tamerlane," by Rowe; "The Provoked Husband," by Vanbrugh; " The Careless Husband," by Cibber, and probably several of the plays already seen in New York.

While the company was playing its Philadelphia engagement, William Hallam, the projector of the enterprise, arrived from England. He did not stay longer than the time necessary to settle accounts with his brother, after which he returned to London.

What profits the Hallams had to divide is not known. The Thespian Dictionary, published about 1808, declared that Lewis Hallam made $50,000 by his venture, but lost it all in the American war, a ridiculous assertion on its face, seeing that Hallam died in 1755. "It is not likely," says Seilhamer, "that Hallam did much more than make both ends meet between 1752 and 1754 . . . America in the middle of the Eighteenth Century was not a land of gold like California in 1849. As a rule, the people were poor, and even those who were richest [5] were not rich according to modern standards. America in the Hallam period was a rough land of earth and stone and tree, and even the theatrical towns--Williamsburg, Annapolis, New York and Philadelphia--were mere villages in comparison to what is called 'a good show town' in the theatrical slang of this age."

On the close of the season, the entire company went to Jamaica, West Indies, where Lewis Hallam, who had been ailing for some time, died. On his decease, the company disbanded and none of its members, with the exception of Mrs. Hallam, and her two sons Lewis and Adam Hallam, were seen again on the American stage.

Nothing more was heard of the Hallams until 1758 when David Douglass married Mrs. Hallam and reorganized the company.

David Douglass was one of the troupe of players that John Moody recruited in London and took out to the West Indies in 1751. He was not very conspicuous as an actor, but he showed himself a man of character and ability, and, according to Dunlap, "appeared to have been by descent and education a gentleman." As a manager he played a most important rôle in American theatricals. For thirty years he was virtually theatrical king of the western hemisphere. When, at the outbreak of the Revolution, he was compelled to cease his activities here, he returned to Jamaica, where he subsequently became one of his Majesty's printers, a master in chancery and a magistrate. He died at Spanish Town in 1786, having accumulated a fortune of £25,000.

In the new company as reorganized by Douglass, Mrs. Hallam was made the star. Mrs. Hallam was a woman of great beauty and elegance, still in the prime of life, and able to play effectively youthful heroines in both tragedy and comedy. "Far superior," says Ireland, "to any actress who had preceded her, she retained for many years all the kind feelings of the public, who regarded her with an admiration reaching almost to idolatry. She was the original actress in New York, as far as any printed records show, of Juliet, Cordelia, Portia, Jane Shore, Calista, Mrs. Beverly, Lady Betty Modish, Mrs. Sullen, Bisarre and many other leading parts. In after life, she declined to such rôles as the Duchess of York, Mrs. Heidleberg and Deborah Woodcock." She died
in Philadelphia in 1773.

Lewis Hallam, now eighteen years of age, was leading man, except in such heavy roles as Richard III, Lear and Tamerlane. This was the same youth who, only a few years previously, had burst into tears and run off the stage in confusion when the company made its first appearance in Virginia. As he grew older, young Hallam acquired more confidence and gradually developed into a leading actor of great versatility and talent. During the fifty years he was on the stage, he was a great favorite both in tragedy and comedy, and he played almost every rôle of importance in the repertoire of the period. "In the prime of life," says Ireland, "he was slightly above the middle height, erect and thin, but strong, vigorous and graceful--being an accomplished fencer and dancer. A slight cast in one eye, resulting from an injury in his youth, although scarcely perceptible in characters of tragedy and high comedy, materially heightened the expression and effect of his features in humorous parts." He was twice married, once in early life to a lady in the West Indies and afterwards to Miss Tuke, a young and beautiful girl, who afterwards became well known on the American stage as Mrs. Hallam. He died in Philadelphia in 1808.

Adam, his younger brother, was also a member of the company, but seemingly he had no great talent, for his name soon disappeared f rom the bills. Helen Hallam had not yet joined the company, but Nancy Hallam was seen occasionally in children's parts.

Apart from the Hallams, Mrs. Love was the only member of the old company who had been retained. Mrs. Adcock's place had been taken by Mrs. Harman, a granddaughter of Colley Cibber and an excellent actress, who died in New York in 1773. Her husband, Mr. Harman, played leading heavies. Others in the company included Owen Morris, who made his first appearance as Polonius and, later, gained fame in "comic old men" parts, Mr. and Mrs. Allyn, Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson, and Mr. Reed, who was Singleton's successor. To Mr. Hallam, of course, fell the roles formerly played by Mr. Rigby.

Douglass had planned to open in New York in the fall of 1758 and, to that end, had made early preparations to secure a theatre. As Hallam's old theatre in Nassau Street had been torn down and a church erected on the site, he built a new playhouse on what was then known as Cruger's Wharf, near what is now called Old Slip. The theatre was soon ready and he arrived in New York with all his company for the intended opening. Unfortunately, in his calculations, he had quite overlooked one important detail, the conciliation of the City Fathers to the extent of obtaining their consent to his giving dramatic performances. At the elevent hour, he sought to repair the omission, but too late. The magistrates, offended at his temerity in proceeding with his plans without their sanction, curtly refused his application. Thereupon, the manager came out with the following card in Gaine's Mercury:

Mr. Douglass, who came here with a Company of Comedians, having applied to the Gentlemen in Power for permission to play, has (to his great mortification) met with a positive and absolute denial. He has in vain represented that such are his circumstances and those of the other members of his company that it is impossible for them to move to another place; and tho', in the humblest manner, he begged the Magistrates would indulge him in acting as many Plays as would barely defray the expenses he and the Company have been at in coming to this city, and enable them to proceed to another, he has been unfortunate enough to be peremptorily refused it. As he has given over all thoughts of acting, he begs leave to inform the Public that in a few days he will open a Histrionic Academy, of which proper notice will be given in this paper.

But this appeal, instead of helping matters, had just the opposite effect. The magistrates thought they saw in the proposed "Histrionic Academy" [6] an attempt to get round their prohibition, and no doubt it was an attempt at subterfuge, just as to-day the Sunday laws are often evaded by advertising performances as "sacred concerts," for later, when the actor manager went to Rhode Island, where attempts to act plays of any kind met with the most determined opposition, he presented "Othello" in the guise of a "Moral Dialogue." In a further communication, Douglass denied any desire to resist authority and, finally, the city officials relented and he was allowed to open.

His season began December 28, 1758, with Rowe's tragedy "Jane Shore." The season lasted until February 7, 1759, during which time eighteen plays were presented. Among these were "The Inconstant," "The Recruiting Officer" and "The Stage Coach," by Farquhar; "The Orphan" and "Venice Preserved," by Otway; "Douglas," by Home; "The Drummer," by Addison; "The Spanish Friar," by Dryden, and "Richard III" and "Othello," by Shakespeare.

More than ordinary interest is attached to the performance of "Douglas," which took place on January 24, in view of the fact that it was the first production in America of the most famous tragedy of the Eighteenth Century, and one which for a hundred years retained a prominent place in the affections of American theatregoers. Originally rejected by Garrick, but produced later at Edinburgh with great success, it represented five years' work of the Rev. John Home, a Scotch Presbyterian minister who lost his pulpit for having written "a profane stage play." A human and powerful drama, based on the pathetic Scotch ballad Gil Morrice, the leading part of young Norval has always appealed strongly to handsome young actors of the romantic type. Incidentally, it may be recalled that it was in this part that Edwin Forrest made his first appearance on the stage.

On the opening night of the new theatre, Mrs. Douglass delivered the Epilogue written by Adam Thomson, [7] a revised and improved version of that originally delivered in Philadelphia by Mrs. Hallam in 1754. As a spirited protest by the players at the intolerance of the time towards their calling, it made considerable impression and was often repeated later in other cities. It deserves preservation as an historical document:

Much has been said at this unlucky time,
To prove the treading of the stage a crime.
Mistaken zeal, in terms oft not so civil,
Consigns both plays and players to the devil.
Yet wise men own, a play well chose may teach
Such useful moral truths as the parsons preach;
May teach the heart another's grief to know,
And melt the soul in tears of generous woe.
So when the unhappy virtuous fair complains
In Shakespere's, Lee's or Otway's moving strains,
The narrowest hearts expanded wide appear,
And soft compassion drops the pitying tear.
Or would you warn the thoughtless youth to shun
Such dangerous arts which numbers have undone,
A Barnwell's fate can never fail to move,
And strike with shame and terror lawless love.
See, plunged in ruin, with a virtuous wife,
The Gamester weeps, despairs and ends his life.
When Cato bleeds he spends his latest breath,
To teach the love of country strong in death.
With such examples and a thousand more,
Of godlike men who lived in times before,
The tragic Muse renewing every age,
Makes the dead heroes tread the living stage.
But when to social gayety inclined
Our comic Muse shall feast the cheerful mind,
Fools of all sorts and fops a brainless crew,
To raise your mirth we'll summon to your view;
Make each pert coxcomb merry with his brother,
Whilst knaves conceal'd shall grin at one another.
'Tis magic ground we tread, and at our call
Those knights appear that represent you all.
Yet, hold! methinks I hear some snarler cry,
"Pray, madam, why so partial--rat me--why
Don't you do justice to your own sweet sex?
Are there no prudes, coquettes or jilts to vex?"
'Tis granted; vice and folly's not confined
To man alone, but spreads to womankind.
We frankly own--we may indeed, as well--
For every fluttering beau we've an affected belle,
Nor has dramatic Satire's candid page
Failed to chastise them justly on the stage.
Thus human life's our theme--a spacious field
Which the soul's noblest entertainments yield.
By men of worth admired from time,
Who nature's picture never judged a crime;
And if the soul in nature's cause we move,
The friends of nature cannot disapprove.
We trust they do not by the splendid sight
Of sparkling eyes that grace our scenes to-night;
Then bravely dare to assert the taste you've shown,
Nor be ashamed so just a cause to own;
And tell our foes what Shakspere said of old--
Our former motto spoke it, I am told--
That here the world in miniature you see,
And all mankind are players as well as we.

The opposition and difficulties which Douglass had met with from the outset of his New York season might well have discouraged him from further attempts in such inhospitable territory. In Philadelphia the prospects were no brighter. Feeling against the stage ran high and continued to be bitterly hostile. But, undeterred, the energetic manager resolved, notwithstanding, to proceed there as planned. He decided to build a new theatre in the Quaker City, and, as this took time, five months at least elapsed before the new house was ready. In the meantime, it is believed that he and his company played a short engagement at Perth Ambo, then a garrison town and the capital of the Province of New Jersey.

It was late in the spring of 1759 when Douglass and his players reached Philadelphia. The new theatre was situated at the southwest corner of Vernon and South Streets, on what was known as "Society Hill." It is believed that the manager preferred to put up a building in this locality instead of using the old theatre in Plumstead's warehouse, where Hallam had played, because Society Hill, being beyond the city limits, was out of the jurisdiction of the town authorities. This time he had taken the precaution to secure Governor Denny's sanction to perform. Permission was granted on condition that the company gave one performance for the benefit of the Pennsylvania Hospital. But in spite of this official support the hostility continued, the Quakers going so far as to apply to Judge Allen for an injunction against the players. The story goes that the judge not only dismissed the application, but retorted with a quiet chuckle that he had always got m moral virtue from plays than from sermons. Shortly after this, the judge's wife died and the "antis " were prompt to pronounce this domestic misfortune Heaven's judgment for having given encouragement to profane stage-plays.

Balked in one direction, the Quakers tried to stop the performances in another. On May 22, 1759, they presented an address to the House setting forth that "they have with real concern, heard that a company of stage players are preparing to erect a theatre and exhibit plays to the inhabitants of this city which they conceive, if permitted, will be subversive of the good order and morals which they desire may be preserved in this government." The elders of the Lutheran German Congregation of Philadelphia and the Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia presented similar petitions. The House could not ignore these representations and a bill against play-acting was presented May 28 and passed May 31. This put Governor Denny in a dilemma. He had given Douglass his permission and he wanted to keep faith with him. So he withheld the bill [8] until June 15 when he returned it with some amendments. The measure was finally passed but was set aside in the King's Council September 2, 1760.

Meantime, Douglass had not been slow to take advantage of the respite thus afforded. He began his season at the new theatre on Society Hill on June 25 and remained open until December 27. Among the plays presented during that time were Rowe's "Tamerlane" and "Fair Penitent," Fielding's "The Virgin Unmasked," Vanbrugh's "Provoked Husband," Farquhar's "Recruiting Officer," Lillo's "George Barnwell," Gay's "Beggar's Opera," etc. The engagement was notable for the five Shakespearean plays presented, "Richard III," "Hamlet" (believed to be the first time in America), "Lear," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet." In "Richard III," Mr. Harmon played the humpbacked king, Mr. Hallam was the Richmond, and Mr. Douglass the King Henry. In "Hamlet" Mr. Hallam was the melancholy Dane, Mr. Harmon, Polonius, Mr. Douglass the Ghost, and Mrs. Harmon the Ophelia. Mr. Harmon played the title rôle in "Lear," Mr. Hallam was seen as Macbeth, the first tragedian to act the part on this continent. Later, [9] Hallam played Romeo to his mother's Juliet--probably the first and last time that a son has played the lover to his own mother. The season closed with two benefits--"George Barnwell," for a fund to purchase an organ for the College, and "Hamlet" for the benefit of the Pennsylvania Hospital in accordance with the agreement made with Governor Denny. [10]

After leaving Philadelphia, Douglass went to Maryland where he visited several of the small towns before proceeding to Annapolis. Here he also built a theatre, beginning his season March 3 and continuing until May 12. The opening bill was Otway's tragedy "The Orphan," followed by Garrick's farce "Lethe."

The season was again remarkable both for the number and quality of the plays produced. It was not the custom of the pre-Revolutionary newspapers to make any comment on theatrical performances. Possibly they were afraid, in view of the general animosity against the stage, of losing some of their subscribers. But on March 6, three days following the opening, this review of the Douglass players appeared in the Maryland Gazette:

On Monday last the Theatre in this city was opened, when the tragedy of "Orphan" and "Lethe" (a dramatic satire) was performed in the presence of his Excellency the Governor to a polite and numerous audience, who all expressed their satisfaction. The principal characters both in the play and entertainment were performed with great justice, and the applause which attended the whole representation did no less honour to the abilities of the actors than to the taste of their auditors. For the amusement and emolument of such of our readers as were not present we here insert the Prologue and Epilogue, both written by a gentleman of this Province, whose poetical works have rendered him justly admired by all encouragers of the liberal arts.

This was the first time that laudatory mention had been made of their performances in any American newspaper, and it is not unlikely that Douglass paid for the insertion of the paragraph. On the other hand, it must not be overlooked that the players were now in more friendly territory. Indeed, an entirely different kind of welcome awaited them throughout Maryland.

The Annapolis casts are noteworthy for the changes that occurred in the organization. The names of several newcomers appear. Mr. Harman had retired, his place being taken by Mr. Palmer, who before then had played only at benefits. Mrs. Morris, wife of the comedian, we find taking Mrs. Harman's rôles, while Allyn and Tomlinson and their wives were substituted by Mr. Murray, Mr. and Mrs. Dowthwaite and Miss Crane. Seilhamer is inclined to think that Mr. Murray may have been the same Murray who was Thomas Kean's partner in 1750. He says: "How came Mr. Douglass to secure these recruits and why were the members of his company, who were with him before and afterwards, absent from Annapolis? These questions are not easily answered, but the Annapolis season shows that even at that early period it was possible to reorganize a theatrical company in America at short notice."

On the other hand, Henry, Wignell, Hodgkinson and other managers of later date were compelled to make frequent trips to England in search of new players for their companies. Even fifty years later this dearth of actors continued, showing that the native supply was not as abundant as Seilhamer imagined. Joe Cowell, the English comedian, complains of the scarcity of actors. He writes: [11]

Performers and others employed in a theatre could not be obtained nor were there a sufficient number of American actors on the whole Continent to form a company. Fortunately for the young population of that day, they had something better to do. Out of the members of the Park Theatre all were English with the exception of Reed, Woodhull, Phillip, Barker and Nixon. All the females worth speaking of were English with the exception of Mrs. Wheatley, a native of New York, and a much better actress in my opinion than all of them put together.

From Annapolis the Douglass company went to Upper Marlborough, VA., where they acted during the winter of 1760-61. The following year (1761) they went to Rhode Island and acted at Newport that summer.

Newport was then one of the chief seaports of New England, the capital of Rhode Island, and a well populated, prosperous community. There is no record of any theatricals in the colony before the coming of the Douglass troupe. In fact, their visit was notable as marking the first appearance of actors in New England.

Although Douglass had taken the precaution to arm himself with a certificate from the Governor of Virginia testifying to the conduct and capacity of his players, he found himself facing a difficult situation. Throughout New England the attitude toward the stage was one of uncompromising hostility. There was no general statute in Rhode Island prohibiting stage plays, but the playhouse was everywhere denounced as the House of Satan, and play-actors as familiars of Beelzebub himself.

It must not be overlooked that there was some justification for the bitterness of the time toward the theatre. The settlers of the New England states were almost all descendants of those Puritans on whom the Seventeenth Century dramatist had heaped their coarsest taunts and ridicule. On the other hand, the moral defects, looseness of tone, mockery of the marital ties which the conduct of some players had made appear indispensable parts of theatrical life; also the libertinism of many of the plays of the period, nearly all of which were sensual and licentious in tone and treatment--all this gave offence. The plays of Mrs. Centlivre, Vanbrugh, Farquhar and other playwrights revelled in such indecencies as would not be tolerated even in our easy going day. Another ground of complaint was that when the actors came to town the community became demoralized. One petition begging that play acting be forbidden reads:

It is well known that on the nights of performance the theatre is surrounded by a large concourse of people, who resort there not to see the performance within, but to take part in the performance without. Riots, drunkenness, and obscenity are among the least of the evils nightly practised. While the audience within are strengthening their morals, and adding to the stock of their religious principles by listening to the precepts of the stage, the rabble without are drenching themselves in rum, and wallowing in open and public prostitution.

All this had intensified and fed the opposition to stage and player.

Anxious to avoid as much as possible giving offense to the powerful anti-theatrical element, and probably with a view to first feeling the pulse of the public in general before proceeding further with his plans for a long stay in the town, Douglass disguised his first bill "Othello" under the cloak of "A Series of Moral Dialogues." Instead of immediately building a theatre and openly labelling it such, as he had done in other places, he engaged a room at the King's Arms Tavern where, on June 10, he presented Shakespeare's tragedy in this novel form:


Depicting the Evil Effects of Jealousy and other Bad Passions, and Proving that Happiness can only Spring from the Pursuit of Virtue.

Mr. DOUGLASS will represent a noble and magnanimous Moor named Othello, who loves a young lady named Desdemona, and after he has married her, harbors (as in too many cases) the dreadful passion of jealousy.

Of jealousy, or being's bane,
Mark the small cause and the most dreadful pain.

Mr. ALLYN will depict the character of a specious villain, in the regiment of Othello, who is so base as to hate his commander on mere suspicion, and to impose on his best friend. Of such characters, it is to be feared, there are thousands in the world, and the one question may present to us a salutary warning.

The man that wrongs his master and his friend,
What can he come to but a shameful end?

Mr. HALLAM will delineate a young and thoughtless officer, who is traduced by Mr. ALLYN, and, getting drunk, loses his situation, and his general's esteem. All young men, whatsoever, take example from Cassio.

The ill effects of drinking would you see,
Be warned and keep from evil company.

Mr. MORRIS will represent an old gentleman, the father of Desdemona, who is not cruel or covetous, but is foolish enough to dislike the noble Moor, his son-in-law, because his face is not white, forgetting that we all spring from one root. Such prejudices are very numerous and very wrong.

Fathers beware what sense and love ye lack,
'Tis crime, not color, makes the being black.

Mr. QUELCH will depict the fool, who wishes to become a knave, and trusting one gets killed by him. Such is the friendship of rogues--take heed.

When fools would knaves become, how often you'll
Perceive the knave not wiser than the fool.

Mrs. MORRIS will represent a young and virtuous wife, who, being wrongfully suspected, gets smothered (in an adjoining room) by her husband.

Reader, attend; and ere thou goest hence
Let fall a tear to hapless innocence.

Mrs. DOUGLASS will be her faithful attendant, who will hold out a good example to all servants, male and female, and to all people in subjection.

Obedience and gratitude
Are things as rare as they are good.

The Dialogues were so well received that Douglass was encouraged to stay on. Disregarding an adverse vote of the town he erected a theatre [12] at Easton's point, in the north part of town, and here, on September 7, 1761, gave a performance of Vanbrugh's comedy "The Provoked Husband" for the benefit of the poor. "This," says Blake, "was the first dramatic performance given in New England by a regular company of professional actors." [13]

The 1761 season closed with the performance of the tragedy of "Douglas," the occasion being commented upon by the Newport correspondent of Gaine's Mercury in these terms:

Newport, Nov. 3.--On Friday evening last the company of comedians finished their performances in this town by enacting the tragedy of "Douglas" for the benefit of the poor. This second charity is undoubtedly meant as an expression of gratitude for the countenance and favor the town has shown them; and it cannot without an uncommon degree of malevolence be ascribed to an interested or selfish view, because it is given at a time when the company are just leaving the place, and consequently can have neither fear nor hope from the public. In return for this generosity, it ought in justice to be told that the behavior of the company here has been irreproachable: and with regard to their skill as players the universal satisfaction they have given is their best and most honorable testimony. The character they brought from the Governor and gentlemen of Virginia has been fully verified, and therefore we shall run no risk in pronouncing that they are capable of entertaining a sensible and polite audience. [14]

Encouraged by his success at Newport, Douglass took his company next year (1762) to Providence, RI, where the opposition to the stage was even more pronounced. Building a theatre was out of the question in view of the public sentiment, so, as one way out of the difficulty, he built a "school house" in Meeting Street and here, as announced in an advertisement in the Newport Mercury of August 10, he gave performances for several weeks in defiance of the clamor against profane stage plays. "This," remarks Seilhamer, "is probably the only time in the history of drama when a theatre was called a school house, but what seems humorous now must have been exceedingly serious in 1762. These two seasons at Newport and Providence were the first and last times that a company of comedians was able to gain a hearing in any part of New England before the Revolution."

In August, 1762, the Rhode Island Assembly passed an act forbidding the further building of theatres or any more acting under the severest penalties and the act was ordered to be proclaimed throughout the streets of Providence by beat of drum.

Purchase Books about American Theatre


1 Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), one of England's most famous men of letters during the reign of Queen Anne. He wrote several plays, of which "The Conscious Lovers" is the best and most successful.

2 Compared with the famous American stock companies of a century later, this record was not, of course, extraordinary. At the Boston Museum as many as fourteen long plays were presented in two weeks and a season of six months would average eight or ten plays a month. The other Boston theatres of 40 years ago, Selwyn's, Howard Athenæum, the Boston and the old National, did as well if not better. The Philadelphia theatres, Mrs. John Drew's, the Walnut Street, and the Chestnut Street, did equally well. Our more recent stock companies (within 20 years) changed the bill every week and in a season of 30 or more weeks would give 30 or more plays. The legitimate stars of thirty years ago, Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, E. L. Davenport, John McCullough, Joseph Jefferson, John E. Owens, Edwin Adams et al., would give six plays a week in the various stock theatres throughout the country.

3 The established line of parts dates back to Shakespeare's time and continued until about twenty years ago. The lines of "business" for which actors were specifically engaged and which covered the several parts in the well known tragedies and comedies that were to be played throughout the season were, for example: Leading Man: Charles Surface, Richelieu, Orlando or Jaques, Brutus or Cassius. First Heavy Man: Joseph Surface. First Old Man: Sir Peter Teazle,etc. In those early days the "character" part (as now so termed) would fall to either the comedian, heavy man or first old man. The lines of "business" were punctiliously respected, but there have been cases where comradeship and courtesy have prompted the leading man to give up his leading rôle for a night to another actor, for his benefit. The custom had its drawbacks as well as its advantages, for while it encouraged the actor to do his best, it also resulted in him retaining the rôle long after he was able to do it justice. For instance, an actor would continue to impersonate youthful lovers long after he had lost all virility and his face was criss-crossed with wrinkles. Within the last two decades the lines of "business" have passed away. It is now "catch on as catch can." Our actors today (1919) are all specialists.

4 History of the American Theatre. By William Dunlap.

5 Some idea of a typical rich man's house in the American Colonies about the middle of the eighteenth century may be had from this description of the belongings of the Hon. Rip Van Dam, who held the office of President of the Council and acting governor of New York in 1712. "The house he lived in," says Esther Singleton in "Social New York under the Georges," "Was worth about £500. It was of brick and was two stories high. The worth of his household furniture and negro slaves was estimated at from £250 to £300. Among his goods and chattels, he had a japanned chest of drawers valued at £3, a black Walnut table, a looking glass, a desk and bookcase, ten chairs, and elbow chair (£4) a clock £9, a large table, a chest of drawers, twelve leather chairs, twelve black chairs, a mahogany table, a writing desk, a screen, two sconces and a backgammon table. He 'also owned a silver hilted sword and 12 gold rings. His negroes came to £50 and his silver to £90.

6 In England, the "Histrionic Academy" was a very common expedient to which players were driven to evade the law. Even the great Siddons on one occasion was forced to adopt such subterfuge. She and John Philip Kemble once gave a comic opera in Wolverhampton under that high sounding title. The bill stated that the performance would be given without "fee, gain, hire or reward" and "absolutely no tickets sold." On the other hand, no one would be admitted without a ticket, which could be had for the asking by applying to a certain person whose address was given and which person, the advertisement went on to say, had FOR SALE some excellent tooth powder just received from London neatly done up in packages at 2/-;I/-; and 6d each!

7 Adam Thomson, a Scotchman of Philadelphia, whose lively newspaper tilt with "Buckram" for his Parody on the Epilogue, furnished one of the literary controversies of the day. Dunlap erroneously attributes the Thomson Epilogue to the player-poet Singleton, an obvious blunder, as Seilhamer points out, seeing that Singleton had been absent from the country five years at the time of its delivery. The Dunlap Society, assuming the historian to be correct, unfortunately perpetuated the error by including the Epilogue among its publications as Singleton's.

8 Bill Against Players Passed by the House of Representatives of the Colony of Pennsylvania May 31, 1759. And whereas several companies of idle persons and strollers have come into this Province from foreign parts in the characters of players, erected stages and theatres and thereon acted divers plays by which the weak, poor and necessitous have been prevailed on to neglect their labour and industry and to give extravagant prices for their tickets and great numbers of disorderly persons have been drawn together in the night to the great distress of many poor families, manifest injury of this young colony and grievous scandal of religion and the laws of this Government.

Be it therefore Enacted, that every person and persons whatsoever that from and after the First day of January which will be A.D. 1760, shall erect, build any playhouse, theatre, stage or scaffold for acting, showing or exhibiting any tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, farce, interlude or other play or part of a play whatsoever or shall act, shew or exhibit them or any of them or be in any ways concerned therein or in selling any of the tickets aforesaid in any city, town or place within this Province and be thereof legally convicted in manner aforesaid shall forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred pounds lawful money aforesaid.

9 In New York, January 11, 1762.

10 Later, the hospital refused the money raised at this benefit on the curious plea that "it was not in the power of the Treasurer to commit this act of folly, notwithstanding it was raised by exhibiting a stage play near this city which was done without the consent of the said managers in consequence of the injunction of the late Governor Denny."

11 "Thirty Years Among the Players," by Joe Cowell.

12 The theatre must have been of the flimsiest construction for the following year it is said to have been blown down by a gale, the company barely escaping with their lives.

13 History of the Providence Stage, by Charles Blake.

14 This and another comment in the pre-Revolutionary newspapers smack somewhat of the perfunctory "reading notice" of our own time. Praise for the poor players was so scarce in those early days that no doubt Douglass was very willing on occasion to grease the accomodating palm of an impecunious printer.

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