a word or two about Circuses

jeff of pa

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Reading Times

Reading, Pennsylvania
16 Mar 1882, Thu

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Red-Coat

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I have an interest in Circus history... and there's a lot of rubbish in those articles.

The first ‘proper’ circus in America was in Philadelphia, in a venue purpose-built by John Bill Ricketts. He had worked for the Hughes Royal Circus in London during the 1780s and went to America in 1792 to set it up. It opened on 3rd April 1793.

The earliest proper ‘travelling circus’ owned by an American in his native country was operated by Victor Adolphus Pépin. It first arrived in America from Spain in 1807, performing its first season in Charlestown, Massachusetts and then touring the country until 1815. Initially it was a performance of horse stunts with clowns, but soon added other traditional circus features. Pépin was in partnership with the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Casmiere Breschard and together they ran a number of circus ventures touring from Montreal in Canada, moving down the east coast of America and on to Havana in Cuba, often building circus theatres in the cities they visited. Here’s a flyer for “Mr. Codet's Benefit”, which was one of Pépin and Breschard's companies, for their performance in Montreal in 1812.

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All of this predates the claim that “the first circus started out from Putnam County NY in 1827 or 1828”, operated by Angevine, Titus & Burgess. It’s also not true that the circus had no tent or seats because it was “before such things were thought of”. Joshuah Purdy Brown of Purdy, Welch & Co was the first circus owner to use a large canvas tent in 1825 for his performances to a seated audience.

Nor did the Angevine, Titus & Burgess company have “the first elephant shown in this country”. Lewis B Titus and Gerald Crane did indeed own an elephant called “Little Bet” in 1826, leasing it to Angevine, Titus & Burgess the following year. However, Joshuah Purdy Brown of Purdy, Welch, & Company had purchased a small elephant some years before that, showcasing it around parts of upstate New York as part of a travelling menagerie and then in circuses. This may have been the elephant known as “Tippoo Sultan” imported in 1821, later called Tippoo Saib”, that featured in Parson's Circus in 1823 and JW Banacker's Circus in 1824.

The first circus elephant was actually “Old Bet”, first referenced as part of a Boston menagerie in 1804 under the ownership of the artist Ed Savage. Hachaliah Lyman Bailey, another of Americas early circus entrepreneurs, purchased her and gave her that name in 1808 when he formed the Bailey Circus with the elephant as its main attraction plus other trained animals. Sadly, she was killed on 24th July 1816 while on tour near Alfred, Maine by two musket shots fired by Daniel Davis Jr hiding in nearby bushes. The reasons are unclear but Davis and his brother had operated a lumber mill in nearby Fort Ridge which was suffering hard times. His brother had died, he was providing for both families while living on his brother’s land which was scheduled to be auctioned, and was about to be dispossessed. He was quoted as saying: “charging money to see an elephant was a poor way to be taking money from people.”

Davis was arrested and charged with trespass (!) about a month later, with bail set at a hefty $500 which he somehow managed to post. After that no further action was taken, the case never came to trial and Davis left the area after being released.
 

Tpmetal

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I have an interest in Circus history... and there's a lot of rubbish in those articles.

The first ‘proper’ circus in America was in Philadelphia, in a venue purpose-built by John Bill Ricketts. He had worked for the Hughes Royal Circus in London during the 1780s and went to America in 1792 to set it up. It opened on 3rd April 1793.

The earliest proper ‘travelling circus’ owned by an American in his native country was operated by Victor Adolphus Pépin. It first arrived in America from Spain in 1807, performing its first season in Charlestown, Massachusetts and then touring the country until 1815. Initially it was a performance of horse stunts with clowns, but soon added other traditional circus features. Pépin was in partnership with the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Casmiere Breschard and together they ran a number of circus ventures touring from Montreal in Canada, moving down the east coast of America and on to Havana in Cuba, often building circus theatres in the cities they visited. Here’s a flyer for “Mr. Codet's Benefit”, which was one of Pépin and Breschard's companies, for their performance in Montreal in 1812.

View attachment 2004652

All of this predates the claim that “the first circus started out from Putnam County NY in 1827 or 1828”, operated by Angevine, Titus & Burgess. It’s also not true that the circus had no tent or seats because it was “before such things were thought of”. Joshuah Purdy Brown of Purdy, Welch & Co was the first circus owner to use a large canvas tent in 1825 for his performances to a seated audience.

Nor did the Angevine, Titus & Burgess company have “the first elephant shown in this country”. Lewis B Titus and Gerald Crane did indeed own an elephant called “Little Bet” in 1826, leasing it to Angevine, Titus & Burgess the following year. However, Joshuah Purdy Brown of Purdy, Welch, & Company had purchased a small elephant some years before that, showcasing it around parts of upstate New York as part of a travelling menagerie and then in circuses. This may have been the elephant known as “Tippoo Sultan” imported in 1821, later called Tippoo Saib”, that featured in Parson's Circus in 1823 and JW Banacker's Circus in 1824.

The first circus elephant was actually “Old Bet”, first referenced as part of a Boston menagerie in 1804 under the ownership of the artist Ed Savage. Hachaliah Lyman Bailey, another of Americas early circus entrepreneurs, purchased her and gave her that name in 1808 when he formed the Bailey Circus with the elephant as its main attraction plus other trained animals. Sadly, she was killed on 24th July 1816 while on tour near Alfred, Maine by two musket shots fired by Daniel Davis Jr hiding in nearby bushes. The reasons are unclear but Davis and his brother had operated a lumber mill in nearby Fort Ridge which was suffering hard times. His brother had died, he was providing for both families while living on his brother’s land which was scheduled to be auctioned, and was about to be dispossessed. He was quoted as saying: “charging money to see an elephant was a poor way to be taking money from people.”

Davis was arrested and charged with trespass (!) about a month later, with bail set at a hefty $500 which he somehow managed to post. After that no further action was taken, the case never came to trial and Davis left the area after being released.
You beat me to it(great little write up by the way), I would like to add though that those early circus events seem to have evolved from the actions from early western explorers such as captain cook. They brought back never before seen "wonders" from newly explored areas. These wonders included things like tattooed natives, objects, and animals never/rarely seen by the western world. These animals, captured natives, and other objects of curiosity were put on display, often down near the docks, for a fee in order to raise money for the next exploration expedition. This was so successful that there is even a long history of people doing things like getting full body tattoos and making up stories about being captured by natives in a far away land. This grift went on right up through the american west, where the story was applies to the natives of Americas rather than the south pacific/mauri islands.
 
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jeff of pa

jeff of pa

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I saw that also, But Since the Title was the History of the Circus in America
then started with this
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I was guessing they meant the first completely American venture, that actually went on tour :dontknow:
from some of my research I seem to Believe Like barnum, some of those early Cicuses were in Buildings.

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of course I'm sure research back in the 19th century required so much travel,
it left allot to word of mouth and rumor . :tongue3:

hanks for the additions :coffee2:
 

Red-Coat

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I saw that also, But Since the Title was the History of the Circus in America
then started with this
View attachment 2004667

I was guessing they meant the first completely American venture, that actually went on tour...

Sure but, as I said: "The earliest proper ‘travelling circus’ owned by an American in his native country was operated by Victor Adolphus Pépin. It first arrived in America from Spain in 1807, performing its first season in Charlestown, Massachusetts and then touring the country until 1815."

Pépin was bon in Albany, NY in 1780, but lived in France from 1793 until his return to America in 1807. He had been involved in the circus business since at least 1805, initially as a performer and then, via his partnership with Breschard and contacts in Europe, he set up his own circus as owner in 1807 using imported acts.

The earliest recognised 'proper' non-touring circus in America (albeit owned by an Englishman) was indeed housed at a static theatre venue created in Philadelphia in 1793.


Aaah.... the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd!
 

Red-Coat

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Just as an aside, I attended a "circus skills" training course some years ago. The "limbering up" exercises at the start nearly killed me!

Nevertheless, I learnt tightrope walking (difficult); slackrope walking (unbelievably difficult); how to ride a unicycle (surprisingly easy once they tell you a few 'secrets'); juggling and diabolo (practice, practice, practice); fire-eating and glass-walking (reliant mainly on confidence in the techniques) and a bunch of other stuff that's completely useless in everyday life. But it was immense fun.
 

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