Their rehearsals were sufficiently encouraging to satisfy them that they had indeed found a novelty. They styled themselves the Virginia Minstrels, made their debut at the above mentioned place (this was early in February, 1843), and were received with deafening plaudits! During the same week they played one night for the benefit of Mr. John Tryon, then manager of the Bowery Amphitheatre. Their performances here met with astonishing success, so much so that they were secured by Messrs. Welch and Rockwell, than managers of the Park Theatre, at which place they performed two weeks in conjunction with the great dancer, John Diamond. This was about the middle of February, 1843; and after this they proceeded to Boston, where they played six weeks with wonderful success. They then returned to New York and performed three nights for manager Simpson at the Park Theatre. Having now fairly introduced their novelty and expecting every day to meet with opposition here in Yankee land, they determined on a trip to England, where all idea of rivalry was out of the question, for a time at least.
Accordingly, with Mr. George B. Wooldridge at their head, they immediately embarked for Europe. Hence arose the various minstrel companies that are now in existence. On the arrival of the Virginia Minstrels in Europe, they immediately gave two concerts in Liverpool. From thence they proceeded to the Adelphi Theatre, London, at which place they performed six weeks in connection with Professor Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North. After this engagement, owing to some misunderstanding, Mr. Richard Pelham left the company. The balance organized in connection with Joe Sweeney, who had then just arrived in the country; and in this way they traveled through Ireland and Scotland for six months with success. The company then disbanded and Whitlock returned to America. The others soon followed him, with the exception of Pelham, who has remained in England up to the present time.
Another company arrived in Europe from Boston, known as the Ring and Parker Minstrels. They performed in Liverpool and Bolton, while the Virginia Minstrels were playing in London. One of the members of the company personated the character of “Lucy Long,” which, evidently, must have been original with them. This rival party afterwards performed at the Garrick Street Theatre, London. They arrived in Liverpool in three or four weeks after the Virginia Minstrels, having organized in Boston at the time the Virginia Minstrels were playing there.
On the return of the Virginia Minstrels to America, they found, as they had anticipated, minstrel companies in abundance all over the country. Band after band was organized, almost every day, with various titles, and many of them passed away almost as suddenly as an April shower. A vast improvement, however, had been made in minstrel business, notwithstanding its short existence.
We now arrive at a period in our little history which is still free in the memory of all who were connected with this profession seventeen or eighteen years ago. I will now name the prominent companies only, that have been regularly organized and met with success since the commencement of Ethiopian minstrelsy up to the present time. It is necessary to mention, however, that in the year 1842 at Vauxhall Garden, New York, under the proprietorship of Mr. P. T. Barnum, the renowned John Diamond first created a great sensation; shortly after, however, owing to some difficulty, Mr. Barnum dispensed with the original John Diamond and secured another person in the same business by the name of Frank Lynch, who was placarded and styled the “Great Diamond.” He was an extraordinary dancer, and afterwards became a very prominent member of his profession.
The originators and inventors of minstrelsy consisted of Dan Emmett, Frank Brower, Billy Whitlock and Richard Pelham, calling themselves the Virginia Minstrels. The next company presenting themselves to the notice of the public was known as the Kentucky Minstrels, composed of Frank Lynch, T. G. Booth, H. Mestayer and Richardson. Some time after their organization, they disbanded; but reorganized under the same title and performed at Vauxhall Garden, etc., with the following persons: William Whitlock, T, G. Booth, Barney Williams, and C. White. The next company were the Ring and Parker Minstrels; and, next on the list, the Congo Minstrels, now known as Buckley’s New Orleans Serenaders.” They performed at the Chatham Theatre. The Original Christy Minstrels were the next company, consisting of E. P. Christy, George N. Christy, L. Durand, and T. Vaughn. This company organized in Buffalo and traveled principally through the Southern and Western country. They first called themselves the Virginia Minstrels. Soon after their organization, Enam Dickinson and Zeke Bachus were added to the company; and they then assumed the title of Christy’s Minstrels. They first appeared in this city at Palmo’s Opera House (late Burton’s Theatre), 1846. On their second appearance in New York, they performed at the Alhambra, Broadway near Prince Street; and from thence to the Society Library (now Appleton’s Building), and afterwards at Mechanics Hall, 472 Broadway, at which place they permanently remained from March 1847 to July 1854.
During the short time that minstrelsy had been in operation, great improvement had been made in a company known as the Ethiopian Serenaders. They organized in Boston, came to New York, and performed with immense success at the Chatham Theatre. They consisted of Frank Germon, M. Stanwood, Tony Winnemore, Quinn, and others. Soon after they remodeled their band and sailed for Europe with Mr. J. Dumbolton as their agent. They then consisted of F. Germon, G. Harrington, M. Stanwood, G. Pelham, and W. White. This was the company that proved so successful at Palmo’s Opera House. While in London, they performed at the St. James Theatre and so great was the demand to see them that they gave morning performances and were frequently solicited to give their entertainments at the private mansions of the highest nobility.
During the success of the Ethiopian Serenaders in Europe, they were called to Arundel Castle by special command of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. For this they each received a splendid crest ring as a token of her appreciation. Some time after their return to America, Mr. Dumbolton, the manager, made an addition to his band and crossed the Atlantic again, taking with him Mr. J. A. Wells and Jerry Bryant.
The next company of note organized in Philadelphia and styled themselves the Virginia Serenaders, consisting of James Sandford, Cool White, Richard Myers, Robert Edwards, &c., &c. They also performed at the Chatham Theatre in this city; also at Boston and all the principal towns and cities East. They were successful and created a great sensation wherever they appeared. Mr. G. B. Wooldridge at that time was their agent.
Next we have another very clever company known as the Harmoneans, consisting of L. V. Crosby, Frank Lynch, Pike, Powers, &c., &c. They organized in Boston and traveled principally through the Eastern states with very great success for a long time.