March 26, 2021

Early days of Ricketts' Circus - Blog Post and Bibliography for Episode 3

Early days of Ricketts' Circus - Blog Post and Bibliography for Episode 3

Above and below we see two posters for Ricketts' Circus, during periods when he was resident in New York City in the 1790s (from the collection of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). Note the depictions of the Flying Mercury trick, as well as the stunts involving Ricketts leaping over ribbons and through barrels while riding. 


John Bill Ricketts

Here is a newspaper advertisement for Ricketts Circus (a clipping found in the scrapbook compiled by Thomas Westcott of Charles Durang's History of the Philadelphia Stage. It has no date or attribution, but explicitly is an advertisement for the first amphitheater Ricketts built at the corner of 12th and Market Streets:

Ad found in Charles Durang's scrapbook (online)

Below is a painting of George and Martha Washington during the time of he lived in Philadelphia as President. In the painting are two of the step-grandchildren, Eleanor and "Wash" Custis who accompanied Washington to the circus in April of 1793. To the far right is William Lee, the President's enslaved manservant, who as far as we know, did not. (However, it does seem that other enslaved persons in Washington's household did in fact attend both the circus and the theater while living in Philadelphia. We plan to discuss this issue in a later episode.)

Washington and family


Select Bibliography for the Episode:

Benes, Peter, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. University of Massachusetts Press, 2016.

Brooks, Lynn Mattuck, John Durang: Man of the American Stage. Cambria Press, 2011, Chapter 7: “On Chestnut Street”.

Durang, Charles, History of the Philadelphia Stage, Between the Years 1749 and 1855.  Volume 1: 1749 to 1818. Arranged and illustrated by Thompson Westcott, 1868. (Available online courtesy Penn Library, Colenda Digital Repository.)

“From George Washington to Samuel and Elizabeth Willing Powel, 24 April 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019.

Greenwood, Isaac J., The Circus: Its Origins and Growth prior to 1835, with a sketch of Negro Minstrelsy. William Abbat, New York, Second Edition, 1909.

Jando, Dominique, Philip Astley and the Horsemen Who Invented the Circus. Circopedia, 2018.