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November 2001


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George Thompson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 19 Nov 2001 15:47:25 -0500
text/plain (58 lines)
A few years ago I published a book about "The African Theatre", often
called "the African Grove", an all-black theater company active in NYC
in the early 1820s, and on the later performing career career of its
star actor and singer, James Hewlett.  I am still interested in the
topic, and would appreciate information on any of the following:

In mid October of 1822, the Theatre closed its playhouse on Mercer
St. and went on tour, reportedly to Albany.  This was in response to
the yellow fever epidemic, though the company did not leave the city
until the fever was beginning to abate, and indeed some other
businesses were already returning.

The theatre was struggling in the early months of 1823, and Hewlett
quit in late March to tour on his own.  His first intention was to
travel to the "southward", which probably means Philadelphia, but he
may have worked in towns up the Hudson, too.

There is a mysterious reference, about 50 years after the fact, that
William Brown, the theatre manager, opened a theater in "a house
opposite the Columbian hotel" in Albany in December 1823.

The theatre failed altogether in 1824, and Hewlett went to London,
returned, and signed on a tramp cargo ship for what turned out to be a
9 month voyage.  When he returned, towards the end of 1825, he began a
fairly active acreer as a performer, in NYC and in the nearby states.
I have information that he performed in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and
York, Pa.  He seems sometimes to have travelled with a few supporting
players, and to have been able to give scenes from Shakespearean and
other plays.  He billed himself as "The New-York and London Colored
Comedian" and as "Shakespeare's Proud Representative".  (Actually, it
seems that even then an association with New York had negative force in
the hinterland, and when he was on the road he sometimes billed himself
as merely "The Colored Comedian".)

In 1834 Hewlett was arrested and convicted of a low-profit theft, and
was arrested and convicted again in 1837.

So.  Ideally, I would like specific references to information about
these topics.

Supposing that that isn't going to happen, I will settle for:
  The names of libraries, archives and local history societies where
there are useful files on local theatrical activity.
  The names of towns and villages along the Hudson or otherwise more or
less accessible to a performer working out of NYC during the 1820s and
early 1830s.
  If anyone knows anything of the world beyond NYS borders, the names
of towns and villages in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey &
Massachusetts that were active theatrical centers at that time.  My own
knowledge generally stops at the Manhattan waterline, and I was
surprised to be told that York, Pa. had an active theatrical life.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.