Did you happen to record Monty Python’s Flying Circus
when it was shown on PBS back in the 1970s?
Do you still have the tapes?
Is there a TIME LIFE logo at the end?
If so, please write to me. Thank you!


Click here to learn the story.

This is JOSH SILSBEE.
If you’re a huge fan of his, let’s talk.
If you’re related to him, by blood or by marriage,
especially if you’re also a TROWBRIDGE or a CHAPMAN,
PLEASE CONTACT ME IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!

I’ve been getting a lot of help with this page from a distant, indirect relation. But I need a lot more help. So come one, come all!

What follows is not a proper essay; it’s just a bunch of citations tossed together onto a single web page, and I continually add to the mess. So please don’t gripe about the absence of a linear narrative. That will come later. In the meantime, here are some clues for genealogists:

Born: probably Wayne NY, probably 1 December 1813, though other sources say Litchfield CT, 4 January 1815. He was the grandson of Enos Silsbee II, a pioneer who in 1794 cleared land in what is now the Town of Wayne, bringing along his wife Margaret Hall and their three children, John, James, and Deborah. John Silsbee (b ca 1790) and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown) had nine(?) children, of whom Joshua S Silsbee was the second. The family were Presbyterian — and, yes, that just might matter for this investigation. Since the surname has variants, we should not be surprised that most of the extended family used Silsby with a y rather than an ee, nor should we be surprised that it was the y spelling that was used on Josh’s marriage record. (See the Hafner Genealogy for an incomplete family tree. Enos II’s father, Enos I, lived in what is now South Salem in Westchester County, New York, back in the 1760s, and that’s where he married Deborah Bennet on Thursday, 16 April 1761, at a Presbyterian church called the Church of Christ — no connection with the later Church of Christ denomination. It stood on the site of the current South Salem Presbyterian Church, 111 Spring Street, South Salem NY 10590. It’s really hard to imagine that there was much of anything there at all in 1761, apart from maybe a few log cabins, small farms, and impassable roads. The three Salems are in thick, dense, almost impenetrable woods in the middle of nowhere. The Silsbees and Bennets soon after vanished from the Salems.)


Wayne, New York

How Josh Silsbee Began His Career. Let’s take a look at William Glasgow Bruce Carson’s book, Managers in Distress: The St Louis Stage, 1840–1844 (St Louis: St Louis Documents Foundation, 1949), p 238:

Married: Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, 10 August 1840, to Martha M Trowbridge. Contemporary accounts said she was from England, but the census records and death record say she and her parents were all born in New York State. Her year of birth is also a matter of dispute. Some records state 1810, and others state 1812.

His Wife’s Background: Martha M Trowbridge was the widow of actor-manager Mr Trowbridge, the “tall, brawny” partner of Mr & Mrs Gilbert. The Gilbert & Trowbridge company originally used Rochester and Buffalo as the home base for their itinerant company. Though Mr Trowbridge’s first recorded appearance in Buffalo was on Tuesday evening, 24 August 1824, Mrs Trowbridge was never mentioned in the newspaper advertisements until eight years later, on Tuesday, 10 July 1832. Half a century later writer Samuel Manning Welch reminisced that “she acted a leading part here in Buffalo on a Saturday evening and again in Batavia, on the Monday evening following; in the meantime, between the two dramatic presentations, she rode in the stage coach (no railways then) forty miles, and also presented her lord with an heir” (The Theatre, April 1886, p 7; reprinted in Samuel Manning Welch, Home History: Recollections of Buffalo During the Decade from 1830 to 1840, or, Fifty Years Since: Descriptive and Illustrative, with Incidents and Anecdotes [Peter Paul & Bro, 1891], p 363). Unfortunately, he did not supply even an approximate date of this event, though we do know that a child was born to the couple in early 1835. In their regular travels throughout New York State, Ontario, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, and elsewhere, Gilbert & Trowbridge frequently performed in the Finger Lakes Region, certainly at Penn Yan and probably at Bath, and Josh Silsbee could not have avoided being in their audience. By the mid-1830s the theatre business had changed, Mr & Mrs Trowbridge (and Mr & Mrs Gilbert???) settled in Columbus to perform at Eagle’s Coffee House, though they spent at least as much time performing in Cincinnati, the city where Josh Silsbee had made his first big hit. Of Mrs Martha M Trowbridge, Jonathan Falconbridge Kelly in Dan Marble; a Biographical Sketch wrote: “she was vastly and justly popular; and we say it with a degree of satisfaction, that few ladies we ever met, in the theatrical profession, could surpass her as a model wife, a lady-like, kind, and pleasing woman, and a fine mental actress. Her benefit was a crowded house, at the close of which she was loudly called for, and being led upon the stage by her husband, was greeted by immense cheering and a beautiful chaplet with ten, twenty, and fifty dollar bank bills tied to it with neat ribbon bows!” When Dean & McKinney opened the Columbus Theatre on 21 December 1835, Mrs Trowbridge recited the prize address. The Trowbridges (and at least at the beginning the Gilberts too) were regulars on its stage. Audiences in Columbus subscribed $100 to commission an unnamed New York artist to paint Martha Trowbridge’s portrait as Mariana from James Sheridan Knowles’s The Wife (1832), “hung with appropriate ceremony at the front of the [Columbus] theater.” Not knowing how to locate such a painting, I ran this information by Cynthia Van Ness, who immediately and effortlessly found the following items on the web:



This is Joseph T Harris’s “Portrait of Mrs Trowbridge” (1833). Is this our Mrs Trowbridge?
If this is our Mrs Trowbridge, we should note that, at age 21 or 23, her jowls are beginning to sag. But then, of course, this was 1833, after all, when life was physically harder, and it was to be expected that many 21- and 23-year-olds’ jowls were beginning to sag. Besides, if this is our Mrs Trowbridge, then I strongly doubt that 1833 is the correct date. I suspect it’s really 1838 or thereabouts, making her closer to age 26.

And this is Joseph T Harris’s “Portrait of Mr E Trowbridge” (1833). Again, is this our Mr Trowbridge or some other Mr Trowbridge?

Since there is no background scale, we cannot tell from the husband’s portrait if he is tall and brawny or small and scrawny. Again, I suspect this painting is really from circa 1838.

Oh! Look at this! In color! I searched for this before, and searched and searched and searched, for several years, to no avail. But on 5 January 2011 I searched again and there it was:

Donna-Belle Garvin and James L Garvin On the Road North of Boston: New Hampshire Taverns and Turnpikes, 1700–1900 (Lebanon NH: University Press of New England, 1988), p 14:

James O Lyford, ed, History of Concord, New Hampshire: from the Original Grant in Seventeen Hundred and Twenty-Five to the Opening of the Twentieth Century, vol 1 (Concord: The Rumford Press, 1903), p 366:


(FYI: James Thomas Gooderham Rodwell, The Young Widow; or, A Lesson for Lovers (1800) :
Philadelphia: C Neal, 1833; and New York: Samuel French, 1856[?])

From the entry dated Saturday, 20 June 1835, in “Journal of Cyrus P Bradley,”
Ohio History, vol 15, pp 268–269:

Before we go further, let’s look at a map to get our bearings:

And don’t be fooled: A web site called “Nineteenth Century Notables at Gettysburg College” publishes a circa-1865 carte-de-visite that is unidentified, but listed as possibly being an image of our Mrs Trowbridge. It is not. Definitely not. The lady in that photograph is far too young to be Martha. Since most of the folks in this photo album are theatrical, we can guess that this particular Mrs Trowbridge may be a distant in-law, maybe Mrs J C Trowbridge, wife of the Boston theatre manager, or she might be Mrs Joseph T Trowbridge, wife of the black-faced minstrel of Boston and Albany. To make things even more complicated, a few of the folks in this photo album are musical or legal or literary, which raises the possibility that this person is actually Cornelia Warren, the wife of John Townsend Trowbridge, who I just discovered was also a playwright! Cornelia died after a brief illness at the age of 29 in 1864, which would put her in the right era and would make her the right age for this photograph. Actually, that’s my best guess as to her identity. And since all the Warrens of the world are related, that would make her some sort of relation to Carro Frances Warren Clark, tying together several more of my interests, but that’s a whole other story....

Martha’s first husband, Mr Trowbridge, was certainly related to Henry Trowbridge of the Albany Museum (“museum” meant something completely different back then: displays of curiosities along with some occasional theatrics), as well as to Henry Trowbridge Meech who also at one time operated the Albany Museum, and who with his brother Wellington Meech and his sons John H Meech and Henry L Meech also operated the Metropolitan Theatre in Rochester, as well as the Metropolitan Theatre in Buffalo, which was later known as the Academy of Music. Mr Trowbridge died on 9 July 1839 in Cincinnati. The cemetery was moved, his grave is unidentifiable, and all official records were lost in a courthouse fire in 1884.

Francis Courtney Wemyss [pronounced Weemz], Chronology of the American Stage from 1752 to 1852 (New York: Wm Taylor & Co, 1852), p 139:

Half a year after Mr Trowbridge’s demise, a Mr Kent briefly took over the management of the Columbus Theatre, with Mrs Martha M Trowbridge as leading lady. Mr & Mrs Kent at some time found themselves adding Josh Silsbee to their company, and though I don’t have the chronology, I suspect that’s what led to the marriage between Yankee Silsbee and the Widow Trowbridge.


Josh Silsbee in younger years,
in the title rôle of Sam Slick, the Clockmaker,
a play now considered lost, authorship unknown,
freely adapted from the book by right-wing Nova Scotian judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton.

Josh Silsbee Studies the Yankees. According to Constance Rourke’s American Humor: A Study of the National Character (Harcourt, Brace and Co, New York, 1931, pp 15–36), Josh Silsbee and Dan Marble set about doing primary research, as George Handel Hill and had done before them. Take a look:

Other players followed Hill in strengthening the local style and in maintaining the nationalistic outline. Silsbee and Marble, also Yankee born, disguised themselves as sailors or country lads and went to the villages and water fronts of New England to pick up new talk and new situations. They too centered upon the single character and drifted into monologues; they also kept the red-white-and-blue costume, and continued to act in the fables of the contrast. The Yankee had leapt into national stature, then had turned back, so to speak, to his native soil, but he again slipped outside the local character and became a national myth.

Rourke has footnotes as well:

• The Yankee voice had slow running rhythms and a high pitch, seeming to be an inner voice speaking below the audible one. Yankee speech, according to Lowell, was not so much a dialect as a lingo.
• George Hill’s Yankee was the generic American who wore ‘the flaxen wig, the red-white-and-blue costume, the high bootstraps and tall white hat of the nationalistic Yankee... he appeared in the fables of The Contrast with their stress upon the nationalistic character.’
• And so, too, did Silsbee and Marble

Now I guess I’ve got to purchase and read the book to understand precisely what those footnotes refer to.

Martha at the National Theatre, Cincinnati, October 1841. The Dramatic Mirror, and Literary Companion, Saturday, 6 November 1841, p 103 col 3:

Josh Silsbee Cannot Donate to the Sisters of Charity, January 1842. Need more info! Mary Ellen Doyle, Pioneer Spirit: Catherine Spalding, Sister of Charity of Nazareth (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 10 June 2008), p 126:

Now, how do we read this? Like I said, we don’t have enough information. But it appears that Silsbee’s daughter was attending the Sisters’ school. It would appear that, as with most of us who would like to donate to charity, desire was not sufficient to cover funds. In Josh’s case, he was operating “his theatre” at a deficit. Which theatre was this? The next item probably answers this question, partially. Maybe? Why was a Presbyterian’s daughter attending a Catholic school? And why in Kentucky? If we can get the details behind this, if we could just SEE THE LETTER, we would have answers to many of our (my) questions.

Josh Silsbee’s Rochester Adventure of circa 1842/3. So far I have only a single indirect reference to this: “Noted Performers of Our Times. Sketches of Leading Professionals. — Series No. 1: CHARLES HENRY WILSON,” The New York Clipper, Saturday, 23 February 1884, p 833:

Now isn’t that strange? Which theatre was it? How long did Josh run it? And is, as I suspect, “Cal” Smith actually Sol Smith?

Introducing Chicago to the Dramatic Arts, August–September 1842. This is an excerpt from the souvenir program of the ill-fated Iroquois Theatre:

See also James Hubert McVicker, “The Theatre; Its Early Days in Chicago”:

August 30th, 1842, Dan. Marble appeared, accompanied by Mrs. Silsbee, and supported by the company just mentioned. “Black-eyed Susan” and the “ Forest Rose,” were the plays selected, and the “Democrat” stated that the patronage afforded Mr. Marble was discouragingly light, and added: “We are aware that a considerable portion of our community will not countenance a theatre, no matter how talented its members.” The editor could see no cause for lack of patronage but the old one, dislike of the theatre; a string always ready to be harped upon.

Josh Silsbee in Albany in May 1843. The Albany Evening Journal, Tuesday, 30 May 1843, p 2 col 3:


(FYI: Cornelius Ambrosius Logan Sr [1806–1853],
Yankee Land; or, The Foundling of the Apple Orchard —
A Comedy in Two Acts
 [1834])

Sol Smith and His New Partner. After his appearance in Albany, Josh must have appeared on stage in Boston, Philadelphia, Manhattan, and then Buffalo, for we see the following letter, which he addressed to the proprietors of the theatre in St Louis. Did he realize who the two proprietors were? One was Noah Ludlow, but the other was his old friend Sol Smith! Sol Smith was a name that everyone knew, and, if my guess is right, he had briefly been Josh Silsbee’s partner in Rochester, New York. Josh Silsbee’s wife had briefly worked with him back in her early teen years, before her marriage to her first husband, Mr Trowbridge. Here’s the opening of his letter:

Ludlow being out of town, Sol Smith responded in a strictly business manner, without any of the personal touches that one would have expected among colleagues:

Those two intriguing letters are quoted in William Glasgow Bruce Carson’s book, Managers in Distress: The St Louis Stage, 1840–1844 (St Louis: St Louis Documents Foundation, 1949), pp 236–237. Carson does not reproduce Josh’s reply, though he does summarize it:

What I want to know is where on earth Mr Carson found those letters. Does anybody know? If you know, would you care to tell me? Oh. Never mind. Here they are. They’re housed at the Missouri History Museum. What a treasure chest!

“He concludes with the surprising news that he is playing Yankee pieces with his wife...”. So Josh and Martha were performing on stage together. This is the first and, so far, the only indication that I have found that they ever performed together after their marriage. Josh and Dan were buddies, which should not be surprising considering that Josh’s wife Martha had performed with Dan in Chicago a year earlier and probably before that as well, and probably frequently. Josh played pieces to which Dan had exclusive license, and Dan didn’t mind. That in itself is a strong indication that Dan actually invited his friend to do so. All in all, this is a wonderful lead-in to the next newspaper reminiscence, which in all likelihood concerned the last leg of Josh’s trip from Buffalo to St Louis. Here it is, from The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, 26 July 1851, p 266 col 3:

The author of the above piece was not, of course, Thomas the Rhymer. I found a capsule biography of him in John Q Anderson’s With the Bark On: Popular Humor of the Old South (Kansas City, Missouri: Vanderbilt Press, 1967), p 265: “Thomas Dunn English (1819–1902), physician and lawyer, wrote novels, plays, and poems but is mainly remembered as the author of the song ‘Ben Bolt.’ He contributed many sketches to the Spirit under the pen name ‘Thomas the Rhymer.’ ”


Ben Bolt was originally a poem written by Thomas Dunn English and published in 1843. Composer and musician Nelson Kneass added music to the somewhat changed words in 1848 and one of the most popular airs of the 19th century was created. Neither man received much compensation for their work. Kneass died in 1868 while on tour with a theatrical troupe in Chillicothe, Missouri, and was buried in Edgewood cemetery, where I filmed this at his gravesite. The gravesite was popular with relic hunters over the years who chipped his headstone into oblivion. A replacement was procured by the townspeople in the 1920’s.

Josh Silsbee in St Louis, September 1843. Sol Smith’s partner, Noah Miller Ludlow, slightly garbled the story by the time it came to write his memoirs, Dramatic Life as I Found It: A Record of Personal Experience: with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Drama in the West and South, with Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of the Principal Actors and Actresses Who Have at Times Appeared upon the Stage in the Mississippi Valley (St Louis: G I Jones & Co, 1880), p 579:

Carson told some more of the story, on pages 238 through 240:

...“originally and expressly for him”... “How can Marble have stomached it?”... “I must say I do not know under what legal right Silsbee could thus take Marble’s plays to his own use”... “the purloining, if purloining it was, was done right under Dan’s nose”.... The answer is contained in the questions. Dan granted Josh permission to use his properties and to run false advertisements.

More interesting than the sanctioned plagiarisms is the promised “new piece,” Redwood; or, Connecticut Curiosities. Ludlow said this was based upon a novel, whereas theatre historian Arthur Hobson Quinn, in American Drama from the Beginning to the Civil War (NY & London: Harper & Brothers, 1923, p 451) claimed that the author of the play was actor/playwright John P Addams (1815–1885), sometimes known as Yankee Addams.


Thomas Allston Brown, History of the American Stage
(NY: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1870), p 6
(Addams should have two d’s, not one).

Ludlow surmised that Redwood was based upon Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s novel Redwood, Tale of New England in the Early Days from 1824. Yet that could not possibly be. We have the names of the characters in the play: Josh Doolittle, Colonel Morse, Mr Redwood, Clarkson, Ellen Morse, Caroline Redwood, Mahitable Dodge, and Mrs Doolittle. There are no such characters in Mrs Sedgwick’s novel. So the play was in all likelihood completely original. Note also that Josh Silsbee portrayed Josh Doolittle. The carry-over of the name suggests that this play was written expressly for our Josh. We shall see more evidence of that below. Let’s Google-search “Josh Doolittle” and see what we find:

William Stanley Hoole, The Ante-Bellum Charleston Theatre (University of Alabama Press, 1946):


George Clinton Densmore Odell, Annals of the New York Stage: 1843–1850 (NY: AMS Press, 1970):


Josh Silsbee in Utica, October 1843. Utica Daily Gazette, Saturday, 28 October 1843, p 3 col 2:


(FYI: Solomon Swop [not Swoop, as far as I know] — Richard B Peake [and an uncredited Charles Matthews], Jonathan in England [1824])
Abel Hartshorn — Bumps; or, The Magnetized Yankee aka Yankee Magnetism [184_?];
Deuteronomy Dutiful — Cornelius Ambrosius Logan Sr, The Vermont Wool Dealer [1838];
Seth Stokes — “Management — A Yankee Story,” a reprint of a story from circa 1840, perhaps earlier, that had also appeared in The American Miscellany” and The Ladies’ Annual Register;
Jonathan Ploughboy is from The Forest Rose, of course, and
Welcome Osgood is self-explanatory, though I could never find a copy of the story in question.)


Now, let’s ponder something: “Blackberry Picking; or, Welcome Osgood” By Silsbee and “Uncle Ben” By Silsbee. Does that mean “Told by Silsbee,” or does it mean “Written and Told by Silsbee”?


Josh Silsbee Flops in Mobile, January 1844. Oh well. It happens. Noah Miller Ludlow, Dramatic Life as I Found It: A Record of Personal Experience: with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Drama in the West and South, with Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of the Principal Actors and Actresses Who Have at Times Appeared upon the Stage in the Mississippi Valley (St Louis: G I Jones & Co, 1880), pp 587–588:

Mr & Mrs Silsbee at the Chatham Theatre in Manhattan, though never on stage together, March 1845. The Rover: A Weekly Magazine of Tales, Poetry, and Engravings, also Sketches of Travel, History and Biography 5 no 1, Saturday, 22 March 1845, p 32:

“Theatres — March 31,” The Rover: A Dollar Weekly Magazine, 5 April 1845, p 48:

Philadelphia, March 1846. At WorldCat we see a listing for a broadside, OCLC # 84694325. But what library or archive holds it? With help from friends, I found that this is held at The Library Company of Philadelphia:


Note who plays “Ubra, her daughter.”
Image reproduced through the courtesy of
The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust St
Philadelphia PA 19107-5679
Tel 215 546 8229
Fax 215 546 5167

(Please do not copy or re-post this image.)

While Mrs was performing at the Circus, Mr was performing at the Arch Street Theatre, as we can see from The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 28 March 1846, p 54 col 3:

Josh Silsbee in New Orleans, 1846–1847. John Q Anderson’s With the Bark On: Popular Humor of the Old South (Kansas City, Missouri: Vanderbilt Press, 1967), p 265, notes that “During the 1846–1847 theatrical season in New Orleans, [Josh Silsbee] appeared as ‘Solon Shingle,’ the simplehearted old New Englander....”

Josh Silsbee at the first Metairie Race in March 1847. Long-Islander 12 no 7, Friday, 19 September 1851, p 1 cols 2–3:

Josh Silsbee’s Baltimore Adventure of 1847, from John Thomas Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men (Philadelphia: Louis H Everts, 1881), p 693:

Josh Silsbee Is of His Time. I guess back then this was a joke. I guess a lot of people would still think of this as a joke. Similar jokes are told now on TV and get cued laughs. (A famous Warner Bros Looney Tune uses the same idea. Well, what can I say? No one seems to find it in the least offensive. People reserve their heated indignation instead for other cartoons that I find completely innocuous.) I bet there aren’t too many American Indians or Méxicans who would find Josh’s joke all that funny. But it’s all in the context of the time, you know. What did people really know about current events back then? If we are to use as a baseline the current knowledge of our own current events, we can safely guess the answer: Nothing. On the other hand, since this quote is pulled so violently from its context, we don’t know how Josh meant it. Was he boasting of the inevitability of Manifest Destiny? Or was he making fun of it? Or was he in character, making himself out to be a boor? Impossible to tell. The [Auburn NY] Northern Christian Advocate, Wednesday, 5 May 1847, p 19 col 5:

A Promo for Josh Silsbee in Meriden CT, December 1847: The Silver Standard:

Josh Silsbee Performs at the Adelphi Theatre in Washington DC, February 1848. Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, vol 6 (Washington DC: Columbia Historical Society, 1903), p 258:

Josh Silsbee’s Philadelphia Adventure of 1848/1849: Take a look at the New-York Daily Tribune, 8 no 217 (whole no 2397), Tuesday, 19 December 1848, p 1 col 7:

Here are some more references to it, all of which seem somewhat garbled, but in the end they supply us with the surname of Silsbee’s business partner, the two names of the institution, and the approximate date of its sale along with the reason.

Here is John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott’s History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, vol 2 of 3 (Philadelphia: L H Everts & Co, 1884), p 979:

Of course, we can check around even more, because, as people who fritter away their entire lives on gossip and beer would say of us, we have too much time on our hands. Here are two excerpts from Thomas Allston Brown’s History of the American Stage (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1870) and one more excerpt from Wemyss [pronounced Weemz]:

A libararian at the Free Library of Philadelphia sent me an excerpt from a book by Arthur Herman Wilson, A History of the Philadelphia Theatre 1835 to 1855 (New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968), p 34:

Two Lithographs Inscribed to Thomas McKean by Josh Silsbee. The Washington State University Libraries Digital Collections includes two intriguing lithographs. Both were engraved by the famous deaf-mute Philadelphian artist Albert Newsam, basing his work on photographs, both were printed by P S Duval Lithograph of Philadelphia, and both were inscribed by Josh Silsbee to Thomas McKean. I wonder, though, if McKean is really Philadelphia actor-turned-lawyer McKeon.

Josh Silsbee in Buffalo, October 1849. Josh frequently played in Buffalo where he made countless friends. Announced here in The Buffalo Daily Courier, Saturday, 13 October 1849 (p 2 cols 6–7) is one of his performances, and this one is most interesting.

Zo, Josh Silsbee portrayed Job Doolittle in The Doolittle Family; or, Connecticut Characteristics. Does that sound familiar? It should. That was a retitling of John P Addams’s play, Redwood; or, Connecticut Characteristics. But we see here that something else had changed as well. Though the press release gives the lead character’s name as Josh Doolittle, the advertisement proper gives the character a new name: Job Doolittle. We can search on “Job Doolittle,” and when we do that, we get a hit. It is a story published in The Knickerbocker, volume 11, number 3, March 1838, pages 228–231. It is deeply moving. Witness:





There are hints there. The by-line is “BY THE AUTHOR OF ‘YANKEE NOTIONS.” There is more than one work under that title. But our author’s initials are “ T. T. ” We discover that a book under the title Yankee Notions (Boston: Otis, Broaders and Company, 1838) was indeed written by a certain “ Timo. Titterwell ” — and with a name like that, you know you’re looking at a pseudonym. The real name was Samuel Kettell.

Now, the ad in The Buffalo Daily Courier said that this was a “Prize Drama,” which probably indicates that Josh had opened a contest for scripts, a contest he likely judged himself. The winning entry then became his exclusive property, which he could refashion as he pleased. Is that what happened? Does anybody know? Of course, considering what we learned above, about Josh claiming that Yankee Land had been expressly written for him, when in fact Dan Marble had been performing in it from before the time that Josh Silsbee first stepped onto a stage, how seriously can we take the claim in the Daily Courier’s advertisement? Yet I must say that I have not run across any performances for this play other than the ones that Josh starred in. So, until better evidence comes along, I would feel fairly confident that the advertisement’s claim is accurate, and that this “Prize Drama” was Josh’s exclusive property. And if this was Josh Silsbee’s “Prize Drama,” then the subtitle should be of interest to us as well, for it mentions Connecticut. If someone were to write a play expressly for Josh Silsbee, the Connecticut reference may be significant, for there were contemporary claims that Josh was a Connecticut native. Where did those claims come from? Did he have a Connecticut connection somewhere?

Predictably, I cannot locate a copy of this script anywhere. Does it still exist?

Josh Silsbee Gets a Rave Review, 1849. The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, 17 November 1849, p 468 col 2:

Josh Silsbee in Albany, January 1850. The Albany Evening Journal 20 no 6991, Monday, 7 January 1850, p 3 col 5:

Josh Silsbee in Syracuse, January 1850. More fun. This is from The Syracuse Daily Standard, Wednesday, 23 January 1850, p 2 col 4:

The Syracuse Daily Standard, Wednesday, 30 January 1850, p 2 cols 5 & 8:

Tuesday, 29 April 1850, Pittsburgh. Here is a surprising broadside, which announces that Josh Silsbee will play the rôle of Doctor Lott Whittle in “the New Drama” by “the late Henry J. Finn, Esq.” (1787–1840) entitled Casper Hauser, or the Wild Boy of Bavaria! Not quite what one would expect, is it? But he also did his usual Yankee bits as well. Note that Martha is not on the bill. No idea why.


Click here for a larger but less-complete scan.
Image posted by permission
of the Darlington Digital Library
at the University of Pittsburgh.
Reproductions are available from
the Archives Service Center.

A nice but illegible write-up in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Saturday, 26 October 1850, p 2:

A Prank in Philadelphia, 1851. The present is a bizarre, incomprehensible place. The past, on the other hand, despite its many faults, at least made sense. Except sometimes. The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 29 March 1851, p 62 cols 2–3:

Now what on earth can we make of that? What a strange anecdote! And people thought that was humorous? No one in the world is now or ever has been as stupid as that supposed hayseed. Yet the students in the classroom assumed that the stranger in their midst really was that looney. And therein lies the clue to the success of the Yankee plays and Yankee stories, which would never go over today. Americans of the time really honestly truly believed that the proud ignorant small-town folk really were grotesquely subhuman. In the modern world — at least in the Northern American part, where I can speak from direct experience — many people who should know better still think of the strangers in their midst — Arabs, Koreans, Muslims, Japanese, American Indians, Palestinians, Méxicans, Jews, those of African descent, and various others of darker complexions — as subhuman as the monster that Silsbee portrayed that one day in an unidentified Philadelphia medical college. And I’ve met (and worked for) more than my share of such refined, sophisticated, highly educated folk who hold such opinions. And I’ve met (and worked for) more than my share of those who think as poorly of the poor, the homeless, the janitors, the underpaid common laborers. Josh Silsbee’s prank seems absolutely insane and pathetically feeble-minded to us now because we’ve been deprived of that context. But nowadays we might fabricate a similarly idiotic story of a thickly accented Méxican “illegal immigrant” and it would be widely believed, especially among the wealthy and highly educated. How I wish I knew what Josh’s own views were of the folks around him. He was a country hick himself, as we have seen; nonetheless, from what I know, it is impossible to determine if he loathed or loved the rest of the country hicks, or if, perhaps, as is most likely, he thought so little of the matter that he didn’t even realize that he didn’t think about it.

Louisville, Kentucky, April 1851. The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 12 April 1851, p 103 col 3:

Josh Silsbee Remembered Fondly in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Daily Free Democrat, Thursday, 17 April 1851, p 3 col 1:

Cincinnati, April 1851. The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 3 May 1851, p 132 col 1:

Chicago, Spring 1851. It’s slender evidence, but it’s evidence. The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 22 November 1851, p 470 col 3:

Josh Silsbee back in Buffalo, June 1851. The Buffalo Courier, Saturday, 31 May 1851, p 2 col 5:

The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Saturday, 14 June 1851, p 204 col 1:

Josh Silsbee’s brief career as an attaché, July 1851. ’Twould be wonderful to learn how this came about, and to discover what documents he was transporting, and to whom, and why. Here’s a little something from the Oneida Evening Herald from Utica NY, Tuesday, 15 July 1851, p 2 col 1:

And Josh Silsbee’s New Career Takes Him on a Tour of the British Isles, July 1851 – May(?) 1853. This is from a published catalogue, Catalogue of the Library of the Late Thomas Jefferson McKee, Part V: Literary and Dramatic Illustrations — Manuscripts of Major André, Robert Burns, John Keats, and Others; Original Drawings; Autograph Letters; Rare Portraits and Playbills; “Alexander Anderson Memorial,” Illustrations to Old New York, etc., to Be Sold at Auction Monday and Tuesday, February 17th and 18th, 1902, by John Anderson, Jr., Auctioneer of Literary Property, 20 West 30th Street, New York. Sales to Begin Each Day at 3 and 7.30 o’Clock (New York: Douglas Taylor & Co). It’s enough to make you weep:

Here are two little somethings from the New-York Tribune, Monday, 21 July 1851, p 7 col 2:

And page 8 cols 3–4:

“Our Special London Correspondence,” The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage 21 no 27, Saturday, 23 August 1851, p 1 col 2:

Josh Silsbee Visits the Great Exhibition, September 1851. The Buffalo Courier, Saturday, 27 September 1851, p 2 cols 3–4:

News item written circa mid-September 1851 but not published until a few weeks later. “Our Special London Correspondence,” The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage 21 no 33, Saturday, 4 October 1851, p 1 col 2:

Engraving published by J Moore, London, from a daguerreotype by John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), printed in Tallis’s Drawing Room Table Book of Theatrical Portraits (London: John Tallis & Co, 1851):


MR. JOSH. SILSBEE AS JONATHAN PLOUGHBOY
IN SAMUEL WOODWORTH’S
COMIC DRAMA OF THE FOREST ROSE.
BLANFORD: “Are you a shop-keeper ?
JONATHAN: “Wal, yees, I guess maybe I
would come under that head; for I sells
everything in created nater, and a
darn’d sight more tue.”
                     Act 1. Sc. 3.
Engraved by J Moore, from a Daguerreotype by Mayall.
For Tallis’s Drawing Room Table Book of Theatrical Portraits Memoirs and Anecdotes.

Click here to order your own copy of the above image.

You want more to ponder, don’t you? Okay. The Forest Rose was published several times, and probably no two editions were alike. The edition posted at Google Books is dated 1855, thirty years after the première. It is not the original. The original was a musical, or as it was called in those days, a “lyric drama.” The edition on Google is the later stripped-to-the-bare-bones dramatic rendering, minus most of the songs. Sadly, though many of the lyrics survive, it seems that most of the music has vanished. (Click here for a book of Woodworth’s poetry. This might contain some clues. And there’s more. Click here for more of his poems and songs.) The dialogue, presumably Woodworth’s, is quite different in the 1855 script:

Charles Blandford:  So you are a shop-keeper, then?
Jonathan Ploughboy:  A little in the merchant way, and a piece of a farmer besides.
Charles Blandford:  What do you sell ?
Jonathan Ploughboy:  Everything ;  whiskey, molasses, calicoes, spelling-books and patent gridirons.

Now, I recommend that you spend some time reading The Forest Rose. (If you prefer a modern transcription that’s more legible, click here. I just found an earlier version — provenance unknown, though certainly not the original — which includes many of the lyrics, though not, unfortunately, the music. I’ll post this soon.) It’s most peculiar, and it will make you painfully uncomfortable. Simply put, it’s a rotten play. You don’t understand what I mean by that, do you? To understand, you have to read it. It’s horrible, dreadful, offensive, embarrassing. Reading it, though, will really give you the feeling of being transported back in time — back to a strange, incomprehensible, absolutely unfamiliar time in an unrecognizable land that you won’t be able to believe was once the United States. As unfamiliar as everything will seem to you, underneath it all you’ll have this irritating feeling that you’ve lived it before in a previous life. No matter what you’re expecting, you’ll have surprises awaiting. What a strange, strange, strange experience this little play is. Could it really be humans that wrote and performed it, and paid to watch it, and even applauded this thing? Read it, though, because it’s important, for it shows the attitudes that were displayed in the US from the 1820s through the 1860s. Once you see these attitudes so openly stated, stated without any shame, you can finally realize that all the class/race problems we have suffered since, which you never completely understood before, were simply inevitable. We’ll never get well. But in its time, as you will see from a slow, careful reading, The Forest Rose was considered wholesome family entertainment, entirely innocuous. It’s certainly not hateful, that’s true; there’s not an ounce of hatred anywhere in it. Nonetheless, oh my gawd.... After you get over the shock, you can see it through the eyes of audiences and players of the time. You can even see it through the author’s eyes. There’s more to the story, though. Although everyone involved considered the play wholesome, it is now clear that everyone involved realized full well that the play left a lot to be desired. The story is simply as dumb as dumb can be. And that’s where Josh Silsbee came in. The revised dialogue that he spoke on stage was surely his own invention, and there is every reason to believe he rewrote every line of his dialogue, to refashion Woodworth’s Jonathan character into the patented Silsbee character that audiences expected and wanted to see. Woodworth’s play was used simply as a flimsy frame upon which to drape a Josh Silsbee vehicle. As the performances evolved, the play became merely a lame excuse to have Josh muck about on stage for an hour or two. Was Josh’s version ever written down? Or did the actors, who were all “up” on the play from hundreds of previous performances with other Jonathans, simply do their lines more or less the usual way and allow Josh to insert all his ad-libs? Oh please, please, please, let us hope that Josh’s version is scribbled down somewhere, and that it still survives! Please! That would be a priceless treasure, and it would, at last, give us some idea of what his performances were really like. (Someday — someday soon — many of the entertainments which we regard as immortal “classics,” deep, relevant, perceptive, insightful, funny, affecting, artistic, and universal, will be regarded as repugnant rubbish, as horrid as The Forest Rose, and they will all be quickly forgotten. And, you know, I can hardly wait.)

Enough of that. Back to Tallis. Of course, I’m not going to be satisfied without actually seeing the Tallis’s Drawing Room Table Book. A check on WorldCat reveals that not too many libraries carry this book, and the travel cost is nearly prohibitive. Fortunately, a bookseller was advertising one on Abe Books, and I purchased it right away. This Tallis book has a little more than merely the above plate. Look:


An enthusiastic British review. “The Drama,” Weekly News and Chronicle (Middlesex UK), Saturday, 27 September 1851, p 539 col 1:

An unenthusiastic British review. The Atlas, Saturday, 27 September 1851, p 619:

Littell’s Living Age, vol 31, (Boston: E Littell & Co, October, November, December 1851), p 288:

Another unenthusiastic British review. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper no 462, Sunday, 28 September 1851, p 10:

The American Magazine (London) 1 no 1, October 1851, pp 53–43:

Eye-catching advertisements. The Atlas, Saturday, 11 October 1851, p 655:

The Atlas, Saturday, 18 October 1851, p 671 col 1:

Foreign Items by Steamer Humboldt. The Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio), Tuesday, 20 October 1851, p 3 col 1:

Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage,
Saturday, 25 October 1851, p 1:


Zo, we must find this Illustrated News, yes?

The New-York Evening Post, Monday, 27 October 1851, p ? col 3:

Lyons Gazette, Wednesday, 5 November 1851, p 1 cols 5–6:

The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage 21 no 38, Saturday, 8 November 1851, p 1 col 2:

The American Magazine (London) 1 no 2, November 1851, p 112:

More eye-catching advertisements. The Atlas, 15 November 1851, p 734:

The Atlas, Saturday, 29 November 1851, p 766:

The American Magazine (London) 1 no 3, December 1851, pp 225–226:

The Cape Cod Reel. Mention was made above to Silsbee’s peculiar rendition of the “Cape Cod Reel.” Predictably, the published script from 1855 says nothing at all about any “Cape Cod Reel.” So that was Josh’s addition, along with the extra interpolations concerning coaxing the unwary out of small sums and his droll stories and Jonathanisms. Back to the dance: This reel must have been a popular dance, though I have no clue how this was played or how it was danced, and I certainly don’t know how Josh induced merriment by dancing it in his own strange similar-to-Hackett’s style. But some Internet searches revealed a little bit. Very little.

The ever-hostile Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, 7 December 1851, p 11 col 1

A clue? A clue? Is this a clue? The piece on the Lord Chamberlain is, of course, a satire. Nonetheless, it contains a statement that might serve as a clue. If the anonymous author stated the truth about the necessity of all script changes being submitted to the censor’s office, then we know where to look for Josh’s acting scripts! Punch, Vol XXI, 1851, pp 164_272:


Josh Silsbee Sees the Queen, Sort of, January 1852. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 11 no 18, Thursday, 22 January 1852, p 1 cols 1–2:

Strangely enough, the above story was reprinted TWENTY years later, in The Long-Islander 17 no 10 (whole no 1725), Friday, 4 October 1872, p 1 cols 5–6. But twenty years later, the story at last had its original conclusion:

Transmuting Hollowness into a Sterling Fund of Amusement. The Weekly News and Chronicle, Saturday, 17 January 1852, p 44 col 1:

The Yankee Peddler is superior to The Forest Rose. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Sunday, 18 January 1852, p 2 col 5:

The American Magazine (London) 1 no 5, February 1852, p 281:

The American Magazine (London) 1 no 5, February 1852, p 282:

Oh, isn’t this what life’s all about? The critic was in a sour mood and he happened to review an off-performance. The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney NSW Australia) 32 no 4611, Tuesday, 24 February 1852, p 2:

Josh Silsbee is at the Amphitheatre, and will soon appear at the Princes Royal. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, 7 March 1852, p 7 col 2:

Josh Silsbee at the Princes Theatre, Glasgow. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, 21 March 1852, p 11 col 2:

Josh Silsbee in Scotland, March 1852. The Buffalo Daily Courier, Wednesday, 31 March 1852 p 2 col 5:

A serial publication: “Silsbee’s Yankee Stories.” Bent’s Monthly Literary Advertiser, Monday, 12 April 1852, p 75:


This was later published as a book.

Josh Silsbee Earns a Profit, April 1852. The Green Bay Spectator 2 no 39, Saturday, 24 April 1852, p 4 col 4:

Josh Silsbee Goes on a Hike in Switzerland, 5 June 1852. The Syracuse Daily Journal, Saturday, 26 June 1852, p 2 col 3:

The name of one of his hiking companions: The Batavia Spirit of the Times, Tuesday, 29 June 1852, p ? col 7:

Return to England. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday, 9 August 1852, p 3 col 3:

Josh Silsbee returns to the Adelphi, November 1852. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Sunday, 14 November 1852, p 7:

Josh Silsbee in Edinburgh, November–December 1852. The Weekly Review, and Drama Critic, no 2, Friday, 3 December 1852, pp 19–20:

Josh Silsbee’s Benefit Performance in Wolverhampton, January 1853. As one can see from the Wolverhampton Archives there is on file a broadside for Josh’s benefit performance of Friday evening, 7 January 1853, at the Theatre Royal, Wolverhampton. As usual, several items were on the bill, chief among them Josh Silsbee’s starring rôle as Jedediah Homebred in Green Mountain Boy. What makes this interesting is the description: “an entirely new Comedy, in two acts, (written expressly for Mr. Josh Silsbee, by J. S. Jones, Esq.).” Now, that’s a most curious claim, for George Handel Hill had first played Jedediah Homebred in Joseph Stevens Jones’s Green Mountain Boy in 1833. Oh well. There are several possibilities here. First, perhaps those who were producing the play in Wolverhampton lied, and simply hoped that audiences would prefer to enjoy the show rather than stay at home fact checking on the Internet. Second, perhaps this was a mistake. The third possibility is slim, to say the least, though we should not discount it until more evidence can be found. George Hill had passed away, and Josh Silsbee quickly purchased the rights to the plays that he owned. Joseph S Jones was still alive and active, and Josh would have had to deal with him. It is possible that Joseph worked with Silsbee to adjust Jedediah’s dialogue better to fit Josh’s stage persona. But really, who knows? It would be wonderful to compare George’s acting script with Josh’s, but it is difficult to know which version of the script was published and how it differed from other versions.


Image courtesy of Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies.
(Please do not copy or re-post this image.)

Well, can’t please everybody. As Buster Keaton once said, “This critic likes you, and that one don’t.” Lloyd’s London Newspaper, 8 May 1853, p 8 col 4

A Visit to Paris in May 1853. Stephen C Massett, “Drifting About,” or What “Jeems Pipes of Pipesville” Saw and Did. An Autobiography (New York: Carleton, Publisher, 1863), p 197:

A Book Is Dedicated to Josh Silsbee in 1853. [Henry] Howard Paul (editor of The American Magazine), Dashes of American Humor (New York: Garrett & Co, 1853):

Back in the US, and straight back to Broadway for the Fall season. The Daily Alta California, Thursday, 22 September 1853, p 2 col 2:

You should click on this link to see the entire page so that you can read column 1. It is overflowing with sentiments about what to do with the Californian natives. These plans seemed reasonable in the 1850s, at least to some people, but now many of us recognize such ideas as ethnocidal at best: “...the Indians will be transformed from a state of semi-barbarism, indolence, mental imbecility and moral debasement, to a condition of civilization, Christianity, industry, virtue, frugality, social and domestic happiness and public usefulness....” Uh, yeah. Well, that’s sure what a lot of (white) folks in Buffalo still think....

Here’s a letter that Josh Silsbee wrote to “Mac.” Who was Mac? Above we saw that he autographed two portraits to a “McKean,” whom I suspect was really “McKeon,” whom you will meet later, below. Mac/McKean/McKeon — all the same person? I don’t know. (Original on file in the The Simon Gratz Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania):


From The Simon Gratz Collection [2050B], DAMS 6593, Box 254, Folder 39
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Rights and Reproductions
1300 Locust St
Philadelphia PA  19107-5661
Tel 215 732 6200 ext 333
Fax 215 732 2680
rnr@hsp.org
Reproduced by permission.
Please do not copy further.
[License expires 22 September 2021]

If you had trouble reading that, here is my transcription:

Baltimore Sept 14th 1853

My dear friend Mac,

                            Your welcome note is Just Recd (foura) a, 1000, thanks for the enclosed, And more than a 1000, for Your Kind rememberances of me. I played a fine night in Phila ending with a splendid Benefit, and have commenced a rouser here, turning away hundreds from the doors the first night. 2d night more than full &, to night every seat taken, aint that good. I leave here last of next week for Boston where I open at the National on the 29th – &, either going or returning I hope to be able to call on You. — I’ve sent You the “Sun” the best paper in the State,– all the papers here, &, all in Phila are strong friends of mine – that is all that are worth haveing. —

     – The picture I intended to send You is mislaid, but as soon as I can put hands on it,– it shall come,– it is in a “Tallis Magazine”.

In ∫t Haste —

God bless You old boy

Faithfully Yours

Josh Silsbee

Josh Silsbee in Boston, October 1853. Note the name Fleming. That was Mr William M Fleming (1817 – 6 or 7 May 1866). He pops up elsewhere, as we shall see. Bell’s New Weekly Messenger (Middlesex, London, England), Sunday, 23 October 1853, p 5 col 6:

Josh Silsbee at Connor’s Theatre, November 1853. I’m not sure, but I think this was the Connor’s Theatre in Albany. Bell’s New Weekly Messenger (Middlesex, London, England), Sunday, 20 November 1853, p 5 col 6:

Josh Silsbee Heads West, July 1854. The Buffalo Daily Courier, Monday, 10 July 1854, p 2 col 6:

Josh Silsbee’s Bay Area Adventure of 1855. He arrived in San Francisco on Thursday, 12 April 1855, but headed straight out for the Stockton Theatre in Stockton, California. “Items,” The New-York Times, 25 May 1855, p 1:

In the meantime, San Francisco was still awaiting the pleasure of his company. “Eight Days Later,” The New-York Times, 25 May 1855, p 1:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 96, Friday, 13 April 1855, p 2 col 4:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 98, Monday, 16 April 1855, p 2 col 4:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 99, Tuesday, 17 April 1855, p 2 col 3, p 3 col 2 (Mrs F M Kent?!?!?!?!?):


Because almost all of us are generally suspicious and cynical (except when we listen to Oprah or miracle-workers or fortune-tellers or law-enforcement officers or get-rich-quick gurus) we all just know that the above is shameless publicity hype. But because, speaking for myself, I’m not generally suspicious and cynical (except when I listen to Oprah or miracle-workers or fortune-tellers or law-enforcement officers or get-rich-quick gurus) I have a different take on this. The management here effectively admit that previous shows were flops, but that Josh Silsbee filled the house. As we shall see below, management would again freely admit to flops and empty houses. This would never happen nowadays, but in San Francisco at the time, where almost all recorded deaths were of people in their 20s and 30s, where earthquakes regularly made people homeless and moneyless, where banks had a frequent and nasty habit of going bust without warning, there was no real reason to pretend that all was well.

And note the San Francisco prices! Sheesh! In the rest of the country the usual prices were 25¢ and 50¢. Not in San Francisco! Goodness gracious! What on earth was going on there? My heavens! Well, on the other hand, that’s still the case there, isn’t it? The ticket prices are probably what lured thespians to the Bay Area. But the unhealthful conditions, as demonstrated by the death records, which generally showed that all deceased were youths, should have been enough to warn people away. It should have warned Josh away.

The Daily Alta California 6 no 100, Wednesday, 18 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 101, Thursday, 19 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 102, Friday, 20 April 1855, p 2 col 6, p 3 col 2:


The Daily Alta California 6 no 103, Saturday, 21 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The San Francisco Daily Herald, 5 no 324, Sunday, 22 April 1855, p 2 col 8:


The Daily Alta California 6 no 104, Monday, 23 April 1855:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 105, Tuesday, 24 April 1855, p 2 col 6:


Oh phooey! That’s hard to read. Here’s what it says:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 106, Wednesday, 25 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 107, Thursday, 26 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 108, Friday, 27 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 109, Saturday, 28 April 1855, p 3 col 2:

The San Francisco Daily Herald 5 no 331, Sunday, 29 April 1855, p 2 col 1:

After the Saturday-night performance, Josh hit the road again, and played, I think, Sacramento and various other locales in that general area. Then he came back for a special occasion:

The Daily Alta California 6 no 144, Friday, 8 June 1855, p 2 col 5; repeated in The Daily Alta California 6 no 145, Saturday, 9 June 1855, p 2 col 6:

I presume he went on the road again after that gig.

Next is a press release entirely unrelated to Josh Silsbee, but I post it here merely to prove my point about the surprisingly honest advertising in San Francisco in the mid-1850s. The Metropolitan Theatre openly admits that its recent shows were all boxoffice failures. The Daily Alta California 6 no 153, Tuesday, 19 June 1855, p 2 col 4:

A Critic Prefers Fayette Lodawick Robinson. Maquoketa [Iowa] Sentinel, Thursday, 5 July 1855, p 3col 1:

Yup. I was right. He was on tour — in the Town of Nevada, California (now the City of Nevada City), a prominent gold-mining town. The Nevada Democrat is a paper I would love to locate. It was originally the Young America until Tallman H. Rolfe and his brother Ianthus purchased it in 1854 and changed its name. If the Meriam Library’s index is complete, then the only known surviving copies are 20 August 1856 through 27 September 1862. Too recent. Too recent. Far too recent. The Sacramento Daily Union, Thursday, 26 July 1855, p 2 col 2:

The Unexpectedly Sudden. The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin Saturday, 22 December 1855, p 3 col 1:

The official registry listed the cause of death as chronic dysentery, 22 December 1855. The registry gave the date of the entry on the 23rd, rather than the date of death on the 22nd. Josh bequeathed his entire estate to Martha.

Probate. The San Francisco Daily Herald, Monday, 31 December 1855:

State of California, County of San Francisco, ss in Probate Court..........notice is hereby given that James E. Wainwright and James Stark, residents of the City and County of San Francisco, have this day presented and filed in said court an instrument in writing and their petition, asking that the said instrument be admitted to probate as the last will and testament of Joshua S. Silsbee , deceased..........San Francisco, Dec 24, 1855, attest: Thomas Hayes, county clerk. Alexander Campbell, attorney. dec 25 2 aw td

Obituaries: The Sacramento Daily Union, Tuesday morning, 25 December 1855, col 4:

The New York Herald, 26 January 1856, col C. (Much modern scholarship, such as that by Francis Hodge and the various capsule biographers, seems to have used the judgments in this obituary as definitive. Oops.):

JOSH SILSBEE, COMEDIAN.

We hear by telegraph from New Orleans that the well known comedian whose name heads this notice died at San Francisco, about the 20th of last month. Mr. Silsbee was a native of the town of Wayne, in the county of Steuben, in this state, and made his first appearance in a Yankee comedy at the Albany theatre, about ten years since, and afterwards played at the Chatham. In 1850 [wrong! 1851] he went to London and made his debut at the Adelphi as Jonathan Ploughboy, in “The Forest Rose.” Mr. Silsbee was much liked in London, and played at the Adelphi through nearly two seasons. Returning to America, he played his first engagement at the Broadway theatre, commencing the season of 1853. He did not please his own countrymen so well as the Londoners [contrast this with his letter to “Mac” above] — his portraitures being very broad caricatures, and making the Yankee character too gross and monstrous. He had a round, jolly face and much mobility of countenance. He was often excessively funny, and evidently possessed the elements of his art. He needed taste and a good school. He was, however, quite equal to Hill, whom he imitated, but inferior to Marble or Burke. He travelled through the country during the season of ’53 and ’54, and went to California about a year since. He was only moderately successful in the Golden State [wrong! check this claim against the press cuttings above], and we heard some time since that his health was impaired. Mr. Silsbee was about thirty-five years of age [wrong! he was forty-two]. His personal character was above reproach; he was a worthy, quiet, conservative, temperate, prudent man, and had, we learn, secured a handsome competence. He leaves a widow and children. There seems to be a mortality among the “Yankee comedians,” so called. Messrs. Marble, Hill and Burke all died young. The only representative of this style of part that we know of now is Mr. McVicker, who recently arrived here from a European tour.

Capsule Biographies and Various Reminiscences (the newer they are, the worse they are):

Answers.com:

Virtual American Biographies:

Picture History Print Shop:

Franklin T Graham, Histrionic Montréal (1902):

Francis Courtney Wemyss [pronounced Weemz], Chronology of the American Stage from 1752 to 1852 (New York: Wm Taylor & Co), p 134:

The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol 270 no 1921, January 1891, p 94:

Joseph Norton Ireland, Records of the New York Stage, from 1750 to 1860 (NY: T H Morrell, 1867), pp 397–398:

Noah Miller Ludlow, Dramatic Life as I Found It: A Record of Personal Experience: with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Drama in the West and South, with Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of the Principal Actors and Actresses Who Have at Times Appeared upon the Stage in the Mississippi Valley (St Louis: G I Jones & Co, 1880), p 588:

Thomas Allston Brown, A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901, Volume 2 (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1903)

By the way, since Josh Silsbee was famous as a Yankee comic, and since he was a master of the “Yankee” accent, here’s a project that I rather suspect no one has done yet, though I hope I’m wrong — I would be most delighted to discover that there are reams of research on this topic. Those who travel through the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York will be surprised to hear some of the locals sound almost as though they’re from the Carolinas. The accent is quite distinctive and definitely akin to the accents Down South. This is a remnant of the original Upstate New York accent(s?), and sadly, thanks to television, highways, rock music, and far too many outsiders moving in to create abominations known as ‘suburbs,’ the accent is near to extinction. The accent needs to be recorded and studied, for it holds a clue to our linguistic history, and it also holds clues to our theatrical history. If no one has done that yet, well, college students, there’s your PhD thesis. Go for it. I am almost certain that the outrageous accent Josh Silsbee capitalized on in his shows and in his endless series of pranks was merely a grotesque exaggeration of his own accent as well as of the rival city accents.

Children: As we saw above, the obituary in The New York Herald of 26 January 1856 mentioned that Josh Silsbee “leaves a widow and children.” Yet the 1850 census indicated that Josh and Martha, who were residing at a boarding house in Philadelphia, did not have any children with them, except for a Frances Silsbee, age 15, too old to have been child of their own wedlock. She was certainly a relative, though. There were no Trowbridges listed as living with Josh and Martha as of 1850. Of course, there is a chance that Frances Silsbee had originally been Frances Trowbridge. Her age certainly matches that of the child that Mr & Mrs Trowbridge brought into the world in early 1835. So that might be one child, but not children. The “children” referred to in the Herald were probably stepchildren inherited from Mr Trowbridge, names and whereabouts unknown. By 1855 they had grown and were probably living on their own.

News of His Widow: Martha continued to work. In May 1858 she found herself working for Laura Keene at the appropriately named Laura Keene Varieties theatre in Manhattan. Here is Thomas Allston Brown’s A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901, vol 2 pp 130–131:


Enter William Adams Chapman. John L Saphoré reminisced about his career on the stage for The New York Dramatic Mirror, 17 August 1901, p 3, and he mentioned numerous names in passing, two of which concern us:

Remember we mentioned Thomas McKeon above? Take a look at Thomas Allston Brown, History of the American Stage (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1870), p 230:

Below is a letter that William Adams Chapman wrote on 3 April 1855, almost surely addressed to Thomas McKeon.

There’s something written on the back. Let’s take a look:


From The Simon Gratz Collection [2050B], DAMS 6590, Box 53, Folder 19
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Rights and Reproductions
1300 Locust St
Philadelphia PA  19107-5661
Tel 215 732 6200 ext 333
Fax 215 732 2680
rnr@hsp.org
Reproduced by permission.
Please do not copy further.
[License expires 22 September 2021]

If you had trouble reading that, here is my transcription:

Tuesday Morning
N. E. Corner 9th & Sound

Dear McKeon

          I delayed answering yours ’till I could ascertain from Sefton, when the proposed Complimentary might be likely to come off. It now appears that May (and probably the latter end) will be the earliest opportunity. I shall therefore give up the idea for the present. In the mean time accept my thanks for your suggestions and kindness

Truly Yours,

W.A. Chapman

   P.S. I am sorry you have had so much trouble in searching for the magazines but am glad to know that you have been successful. Please leave them out and I will call for them.

W.A.C.

April 3/




W A Chapman
April 3/55
Low Comedy..
original of
Teetotal Society
& “Willikins &
his Dinah
.”

Here’s a broadside that mentions William Adams Chapman and his Tea-To-Tal Song,” as it was spelled this time, as well as his starring piece, Wandering Minstrel, a one-act by Henry Mayhew which included the correctly spelled “Villikins and His Dinah”:


From the Simon Gratz Collection [2050B], DAMS 6591, Box 52, Folder 19
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Rights and Reproductions
1300 Locust St
Philadelphia PA  19107-5661
Tel 215 732 6200 ext 333
Fax 215 732 2680
rnr@hsp.org
Reproduced by permission.
Please do not copy further.
[License expires 22 September 2021]

Martha married her next husband, William Adams Chapman, in September 1858. She may have first encountered another branch of the Chapman family (George, Mary, William B “Uncle Billy,” and Caroline) during Josh’s San Francisco gig, for they were all on tour there at the same time. The Chapmans at that time were all associated with Philadelphia, especially with the Walnut-Street Theatre. William Adams Chapman was born in Ripley, England, in 1805. There was a proliferation of family members with similar names — William, William A, William B, William H — which is why it gets confusing now to sort things out. In any case, William Adams Chapman seems to have been somehow related to William Chapman (1764–1839), the creator of the first purpose-built showboat. (It seems that Henry Trowbridge may have moved his Albany Museum shows to a showboat in 1855, but the record is quite vague.) William A Chapman was the leading low-comic at the Walnut-Street Theatre in Philadelphia until his retirement in 1871.

Josh Silsbee Becomes Newsworthy Again, for the Wrong Reason. As we saw from some of the above items, Tom Taylor wrote Our American Cousin specifically for Josh, but for reasons I don’t know (the published reasons make no sense), he never performed in it, and the script remained unused for years. Laura Keene purchased the New York rights, and her leading comic, Joseph Jefferson III, played Asa Trenchard, the part originally written for Josh. He worked on his part and tweaked the dialogue. E A Sothern refused to take the part of Lord Dundreary because it was too small. When Keene and Jefferson encouraged him to expand it, he grew enthusiastic, and the part became his signature piece for the remainder of his life. Two theatre owners in Philadelphia, John S Clarke and William Wheatley, purchased the Philadelphia rights from Benjamin Webster, owner of the Adelphi Theatre in London. So far all was probably legal. But Clarke and Wheatley did not produce the original play. Instead they pirated the Jefferson/Sothern rewrite. That led to a protracted lawsuit, which you can read about in John Cadwalader, Cadwalader’s Cases: Being Decisions of The Hon. John Cadwalader, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, between the Years 1858 and 1879, Comprising Some Ruling Opinions on Questions of Prize and Belligerency Arising During the Civil War, Together with Decisions in Admiralty, in Equity and at Common Law, vol 1 (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co, 1907), “Circuit Court, November 2, 1860,” pp 343–419; as well as at The New-York Times, Sunday, 8 October 1865, p 3. Martha submitted an unexpected statement. The New-York Times, Sunday, 22 October 1865, p 3 cols 4–5:

Josh Silsbee Becomes Newsworthy Yet Again, for Yet Another Wrong Reason. The Yerba Buena Cemetery, which was to have been Josh Silsbee’s final resting place, was abolished in 1869 to make way for the new City Hall. The tedious process of relocating the bodies to the Golden Gate Cemetery was begun at that time, and that led to some ghoulish news. For instance, The Auburn [New York] Bulletin, Monday, 18 April 1870, col 2, toward the bottom of the page:

The same report also appeared in The Buffalo Evening Courier & Republic, Monday, 18 April 1870, col 3, mid-way down

The Sacramento Daily Union, Tuesday, 19 April 1870, col 4, also reported on this event:

One belated detail appeared in The Buffalo Evening Courier & Republic, Tuesday, 10 May 1870, col 6, mid-way down:

The Bloomville [NY] Mirror, Tuesday, 17 May 1870, 10 no 52, p 1 col 3:

By 1871 the transfer of the bodies to the Golden Gate Cemetery was abandoned about a quarter of the way into the process. The remaining bodies stayed behind, unidentified, and there is speculation that some San Franciscans reverted to the old practice of making soap out of the cadavers.

Josh Silsbee Becomes Newsworthy Still Once Again, for a Strange Reason. For reasons unknown to me, Bret Harte named a horse thief after after Josh Silsbee. “The Great Deadwood Mystery,” Scribner’s Monthly 17 no 2 (December 1878), pp 177–188:

Gary Scharnhorst, Bret Harte: Opening the American Literary West (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), pp 146–147:

Back now to Martha and William. The 1870 census gave Martha’s age as 58 rather than 60, and it, too, gave her birth place as New York State. When her mental powers began to fail and she could no longer remember her lines, she retired from the Walnut-Street Theatre. She spent her remaining days at the farm she and her husband owned at Snow Hill, six miles from Haddonfield NJ, and died in East Canaan CT while visiting her (unnamed) son-in-law on 23 August 1879 (or maybe the 20th). Her death record stated that she and both her parents had been born in New York State, and it gave her birth year as 1810. The cause of death was given as “Epilepsy.”

The Iron Era (Dover NJ), vol 9 no 39, Saturday, 6 September 1879, p 1 col 9:


The [Alexandria] Louisiana Democrat of Wednesday, 10 September 1879, p 4, reprinted from the Philadelphia Times a hauntingly sad and endearing tribute to Martha:

William Chapman died on the farm on 11 March 1891. The New-York Times, Thursday, 12 March 1891, p 5 col 5:

Just to confuse future researchers, the syndicated articles, cribbed from The New-York Times, were printed late. For example, here is The Critic from Washington DC, Thursday, 19 March 1891:

To confuse us even more, the official death record wrongly gives his birth as 1804 and his death as 11 March 1890.



The End of the Memory. Thanks to Donald T Blume’s important work, Ambrose Bierce's Civilians and Soldiers in Context: a Critical Study (Kent State University Press, 2004), I learned that Ambrose Bierce made reference to the memory of Josh Silsbee. Blume, though, did not realize that Josh was an actual personage originally buried at Yerba Buena, nor did he understand what the state of that cemetery was at that time. That’s forgiveable. This called for more research. That’s why I took it as a mandate when my friend Serge Bromberg did his 3D-rarities show at the Castro. It was time to drop everything and take a vacation. I had missed his show when he did it in Brooklyn and I had missed it also in Los Ángeles. I was not about to miss it in San Francisco. Donald T Blume’s book convinced me not to make this a mere one-day vacation, but a two-day vacation. The first day of my vacation began on the library’s fifth floor, where I pulled out the microfilm for The Daily Examiner, Sunday, 26 June 1887, to look for Bierce’s column. And there it was, on page 4. Bierce’s “Prattle” column was long, and it consisted of many stories and satirical pieces, some of which I completely fail to understand — for multiple reasons. I’m certain, though, that the locals at the time understood them full well. In the midst of his other barbs were two interrelated stories about Yerba Buena, and now that you know something of the cemetery and of Josh’s unfortunate rôle in it, you will understand the report/fable below perfectly.


Unlike our dear friend Ambrose (and unlike most people in the arts, and unlike almost everyone I’ve ever met, for that matter), I do not at all believe in the supernatural, but that doesn’t mean that I fail to appreciate the lure of ghost stories. Not only do I enjoy them, but I wish they could be true, especially ones as precious as this. Alas.... (Yes, I know, most of you have encountered ghosts and have had uncanny premonitions. So have I. But there are other explanations, believe me.) Enough of that, though. Donald T Blume misunderstood Bierce’s multilayered story, and I mention this not to criticize his scholarship, but to make a point about the disappearance of collective memory. Note:

And thus our Josh Silsbee, renowned comedian, has become nought more than “a ghostly manifestation of Harte’s fictional character.”

The City Hall of the 1870s is no more. In its place is the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, whose grounds rest atop an unknown but large number of graves. As a final insult, the city demolished all the Golden Gate Cemetery monuments to make way for the Lincoln Park Golf Course in 1909, with about 11,000 bodies in now-unmarked graves still underneath. (My arguments in favor of preservation and in opposition to real-estate development continue to fall upon deaf ears.)

Apart from an airline stop-over in 1986, I have visited San Francisco only twice. The splendid and well-kept Victorian architecture that makes up the bulk of the city is known only to those who have been there. Many of the business blocks, though built in 1906 and after, look as though they had been built half a century earlier than that. Movies that are filmed in the city, for some reason, concentrate only on the two small spots of downtown that are filled with hideous glass skyscrapers. Those are the only parts of the city that you should avoid. Walk around all the rest. The place is breathtaking. Along with Detroit and Buffalo, San Francisco is one of the few US cities that can truly be termed an architectural museum. Unfortunately, real-estate developers are busy making billions by destroying those museums, piece by piece. Detroit and Buffalo are total wrecks. Soon, I’m sure, nothing will be left of either of those cities. San Francisco, though, is still viable. My first visit there was to attend a friend’s lecture at the Italian Cultural Institute, but, of course, I had to sneak away and spend time learning more about Josh Silsbee and Martha Trowbridge. Little did I realize that the library where I was doing my research was resting atop Josh’s original grave, and that countless bodies were beneath the grounds. Another friend, a local, gave us a tour. Knowing of my interests, he drove us to the park surrounding the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and said, “This is where your Silsbee is buried.” My heavens, it was! The Lincoln Park Golf Course had been replaced by this new park. I looked about me at the trees and picnic grounds and rolling scenery, and realized that we shall never know exactly where he now lies. Soon we shall know even less, for sooner rather than later San Francisco will be struck by another devastating earthquake, and I wonder how much of the city will survive, and how much of its history will survive.

Further Erosion. I just discovered an interesting clip in a New Zealand newspaper entitled the Nelson Evening Mail. It celebrates the death of the Yankee stereotype. Sorry, but since my Maori is a bit rough, I am not sure I understand the volume, issue, or date: Rōrahi XXII, Putanga 12, 16 Kohitātea 1888, page 4. My guess is that it means Volume 12 Number 12, 16 January 1888, page 4:

I suppose that, apart from my Trowbridge colleague, Mrs Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller, nobody has read this far. But if you have, you’ll probably admit that this is a highly unusual story. At first you saw lots of names, pictures, places, dates, events that you never knew about before, that you didn’t care about, that held no interest whatsoever for you. You probably thought to yourself, “I can’t relate!” But didn’t it develop? You see, when I tell stories, or, rather, when I relay stories, they’re always stories that are worth getting lost in.


POSTSCRIPT — We Have a Lead! Ancestry.com reveals that there was a family with strikingly similar names and dates. I had run across this family before but found too many dissimilarities to consider them as possible candidates. Now, though, Ancestry.com has filled in some more data and changed my mind completely. Follow the paper trail and you’ll be surprised. Using Ancestry.com as a jumping-off point, we can create the following table:

Husband: Edward Russell Trowbridge
Born 18 June 1800 in Skaneateles, died 9 July or 7 September 1839 in Cincinnati.
He was the son of Joseph Ebenezer Trowbridge (1772–1812) and Abigail Russell (1770–1839).
Wife: Martha Matilda Allen
Born in May 1812 in Auburn, married in Auburn, 17 June 1826, at age 14.
Her parents and siblings are nowhere named.
(Ancestry.com and other genealogies leave her death, under this name, a complete blank. Some genealogies identify her with a Mrs Chapman but don’t pursue the matter, other records list Mrs Chapman as a completely different person, and some just leave Mrs Trowbridge/Silsbee as a gap in the record.)
Children: • Jane Russell Trowbridge, b 8 June 1828 in Woodstock VT; m Charles Wood Palmer, 7 January 1852.
• Frederick Trowbridge, b 28 February 1833 in Skaneateles; d in infancy, 5 November 1833.
• Frances Isabel Trowbridge, b 12 January 1835 in Batavia; m Pierre Augustus Parsells, 12 January 1858.

Of course, there are problems, each possibly resolvable, and there are also a few other issues to ponder:

• The first problem is Richmond Hill, a Buffalo author, who recorded, second-hand, a Mr J Trowbridge, not a Mr E R Trowbridge. But how seriously can we take his report? He never did his research, and clearly was under the impression that it was Mayor Josiah Trowbridge who established a theatre in 1832!!! Witness:

Yikes. We can discount that horrendous scholarship.

• If Mr Trowbridge’s first initial was E, that would correlate with the portrait painted by Joseph T Harris, in which he is in theatrical costume, as is Mrs Trowbridge. Were those the costumes that were used in Sheridan Knowles’s The Wife?

• If Miss Martha Matilda Allen became Mrs Martha M Trowbridge, the dates would explain why her name was not mentioned on the bills during the first six years of her marriage. I’m doubtful, but I wonder: Could it be that this might explain why 1810 was listed as her official birth year, rather than 1812? Would the later date make her appear perhaps a trifle too young to satisfy the Trowbridge reputation? I don’t think so, but I’m not an expert in this matter, and so for the moment I‘m leaving the possibility open. We need remember also that in the census reports of 1850 and 1860 Martha was not averse to stating her true age.

In sifting through my research files, something caught Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller’s eye. It was a passage from Richard Plant’s “Chronology: Theatre in Ontario to 1914,” which appeared in Ann Saddlemyer, ed, Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800–1914 (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1990), pp 288–246:

30 September – 22 October 1824, York: Mr Archbold and troupe (including Mrs Archbold, Mrs Talbot, Messrs Talbot, Gilbert, Trowbridge, Davis, and Miss Allan) from Albany performed at Mr Phair’s Assembly Room. Allan MacNab, later Sir Allan MacNab, also performed with this company....

Is there a chance that “Miss Allan” was actually our Martha, age 12? Or could she have been a relation? Or is this all coincidence, as it so often is? We need to do some more digging, don’t we?

Cheryl just did some more digging, and her results are most promising indeed! She just discovered a book that, surprise surprise, I already have in my collection: Anton Wagner’s Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism (University of Toronto Press, 1999), p 66. But she noticed something, the significance of which I had been blind to. During the 1825–1826 winter season at York (nowadays known as Toronto), the Gilbert-Davis-Trowbridge company received a review from William Lyon Mackenzie, who noted of their performance of The Miller and His Men that: “As to the ladies... if the manager would choose his loving maidens from among the females beyond eight years of age....” He continued: “the strength of a company is shewn to great disadvantage when young women won’t grow old, and babies play the parts usually allotted to their mothers.” Was Mackenzie referring to Miss Martha Matilda Allen? At the time Martha was 13, not eight, but he could have been exaggerating to make a point, or he could have misjudged her age. Cheryl also found a fragmentary snippet view from the Canadian Speech Communication Journal 4 no 8 (1972): “ ‘Gilbert, Davis, and Trowbridge, managers of the theatre, Rochester’ set up a temporary theatre, ... particularly of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, ... the former Miss Allen of the Archbold troupe. With this group came Sol Smith and his wife....” To top that off, she also found a snippet view from Nineteenth Century Theatre Research 3 no 2 (1975): “Nature and Philosophy: Brother Philip, Mr. Archbold; Renaldo, Mr. Gilbert; Colin, a Youth of 16 years of age, who has never seen a woman, Mrs. Talbot; Eliza, Miss Allen; Gertrude, Mrs. Archbold. 8 October 1824 Inchbald’s Animal....”

I’m really beginning to think that this is our Martha. Yet here are three advertisements that one would think would include her name, but from which she is absent:

[Auburn] Free Press 1 no 46,
Wednesday, 13 April 1825, p 3 col 1:

Hmmmm. See something interesting above?
“Miss Archbold” as the Duke of York.
She would have been about eight years of age!
Do these things begin to fit together?
[Auburn] Free Press 1 no 47,
Wednesday, 20 April 1825, p 3 col 1:
[Auburn] Free Press 2 no 40,
Wednesday, 1 March 1826, p 2 col 5:

You can read the amusing story of this particular tour stop by clicking here.

The name “Miss Allen” never again appears in the Gilbert & Trowbridge advertisements and announcements, as far as I know, and the name “Mrs Trowbridge” does not appear until 10 July 1832, as far as I have been able to determine. Despite that, Samuel Manning Welch stated that both Mr and Mrs Trowbridge performed “in an unassuming structure located on the east side of the main avenue, below Lafayette square, where stands the monument to our dead warriors, on the ground now occupied by Brisbane’s Arcade Buildings” (Welch, Home History: Recollections of Buffalo, p 363). The building to which he referred was known as the Buffalo Theatre, which was no longer in use by 1832!!!!! (The last performance in that theatre was on Friday, 12 August 1831. After that performance, there was no further mention of the building in Buffalo’s newspapers. Had it been abandoned? Converted? Demolished? We are left to wonder.) So it would seem that, for reasons unknown to us, though Martha was performing, she was kept out of the ads and write-ups.

• Why was the first child, Jane, born in Vermont rather than in New York? Was that because her family were on tour there?

• The last child, Frances, was born in 1835, which perfectly matches Frances Silsbee’s age in the 1850 census. And it perfectly matches more than that! On Monday, 5 January 1835, the managers of the Buffalo Theatre announced a temporary closure “in consequence of the necessity of Mrs. Trowbridge’s present retirement. Mrs. Trowbridge has, however, has kindly consented to remain during the six nights the Theatre will continue open.” She played repertory (including Juliet!) through Saturday, 10 January. Frances Isabel Trowbridge was born on Monday, 12 January 1835, in Batavia, and her birth record lists her parents as Edward Russell Trowbridge and Martha Matilda Allen. This exactly matches the recollection provided by Samuel M Welch, quoted above, and which bears repeating here, that Mrs Trowbridge “acted a leading part here in Buffalo on a Saturday evening and again in Batavia, on the Monday evening following; in the meantime, between the two dramatic presentations, she rode in the stage coach (no railways then) forty miles, and also presented her lord with an heir.” As far as I’m concerned, this clinches the matter. This is too much for coincidence. This takes my breath away. Welch’s unreferenced and casual recollection was not something I thought I could confirm, at least not easily. But acting only on a hunch based on the 1850 census from Philadelphia, I put the newspaper article, which no one but me has read since 1835, together with Welch’s reminiscence, and I put both together with a birth record, and it all falls together seamlessly because it always belonged together. Amazing. A hit like that doesn’t happen too many times over the course of one’s life. We may wonder, though, about one possible problem: the ability or willingness of an itinerant troupe in 1835 to brave the Western New York lake-effect elements in January to travel 40 miles by stagecoach. This is not a problem. As we can see from the records of the time, that was quite common. Unlike us, people back then did not complain and make excuses. If there was a job to do, they did it, and the weather was not an issue. Anyway, now what we need to do is dig up the Batavia newspapers from 12–13 January 1835 to see if the show really went on as scheduled. Wouldn’t that be an interesting project? Yes?

Also, the short life of infant Frederick corresponds to a period of Buffalo’s history that had an unexpected dearth of theatrical entertainments, even though theatricals were freely permitted by law at that time. I never understood the reason for that until now.

• There is a problem with Mr Trowbridge’s death date. The Cleveland Daily Herald and Gazette in its 24 July 1839 issue reported that our Mr Trowbridge had passed away in Cincinnati on 9 July 1939. Ancestry.com, on the other hand, notes, without documentation, that Edward Russell Trowbridge passed away in Cincinnati on 7 September 1839. That is beyond doubt a misreading of the July date. You see, while most Americans would abbreviate July ninth 1839 as 7/9/1839, there is a large minority of Americans (myself included) who follow the convention used everywhere else in the world, by which 7/9/1839 would mean the seventh of September 1839.

• There’s even more. Dorothy’s Maltby Manuscript lists this same family, and gives Edward’s death date as 9 July 1839 in Cincinnati. She goes on to say that Martha later married a Chapman, and “removed to the South, taking her youngest daughter by her first husband.” That threw me off track for years. Martha did not move to the South. But she did move south — to Philadelphia. See how the tiniest mistake makes such a big difference?

Let’s take a look at something interesting:






“The Indians were numerous and troublesome.” Well, who can blame them?





Robert Bear? Who on earth was Robert Bear? Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller (not a direct descendant) assures me that there were Bear/Beer/Bears/Beers in her line as well, suggesting that something, once again, got garbled in the published accounts. She referred me also to the Genealogy’s predecessor, The Trowbridge Family (1872) by the Reverend F W Chapman (yes):




And now let us turn back to the successor volume from 1908:




See? I told you that would be interesting. Let’s go through some of this, one step at a time. In the official Trowbridge Genealogy, Edward was listed as “thought to have been a clerk in the mercantile business, first in his native place and later in Cincinnati, Ohio.” Of course, neither his trade (clerk in the mercantile business) nor his residence in his native place (Skaneateles) matches the itinerant theatrical actor-manager Mr Trowbridge whom we now know so well, whom the capsule biographies claimed had been born in New Haven. Nonetheless, the official genealogy is filled with the inevitable mistakes and omissions, as are the books devoted to capsule biographies. We are left to wonder: Did Gilbert & Trowbridge ever perform in Skaneateles? I’m willing to wager that they avoided that tour stop, for fear that the shameful truth would be discovered about Edward and Martha’s disgraceful profession. I’m willing to wager that, after splitting off from Smith & Davis, they never even performed again in nearby Auburn. That would explain the cover story about the mercantile business as well as the cover stories about New Haven and England. I must congratulate the couple on their cleverness. Edward was on stage at least as early as August 1824, and Martha probably at the same time, but I couldn’t put the pieces together until January 2011. So the secret remained a secret for 186 years. Considering that most people can’t keep a secret for 186 minutes, this is quite some accomplishment. Little could they have guessed that nearly two centuries later a hobbyist would be so obsessed by the mystery they created to devote thousands of hours and thousands of dollars for a decade and a half to unravel their web of deceit. What will their parents think when they stumble upon this web essay?

It’s good to have the info about Henry Trowbridge, and this finally explains the connection with the Meech family, here spelled Meach. Unfortunately, that is the only connection it provides.

We’re not done yet. Take a look at one of the sources used by the Trowbridge genealogy: Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong of Northampton, Mass. (Albany NY: Joel Munsell, 1871), vol 2, pages 1427–1428. Clearly something got garbled:

Note also the page headers:

When I first ran across that, I thought it was just one of those crazy coincidences that we find in genealogies all the time: remarkable similarities in names and dates and places, especially among families that have similar backgrounds and ancestries. But no, this is not a coincidence. This is a mistake founded upon guesses and false assumptions. In any case, this might make sense of the (mistaken?) biographical entries that give Josh’s birth place as Litchfield. Which of Martha’s sons-in-law was residing in East Canaan in August 1879? Pierre Augustus Parsells or Charles Wood Palmer? According to the 1880 census, Pierre Augustus Parsells and his wife Frances were living in New Canaan. According to a librarian at the Connecticut Historical Society, the “Hale Headstone Index” lists a “Chapman, Martha, wife of W.A., died Aug. 20, 1879, age 69 yrs.” at the Riverside Cemetery in Norwalk, which is quite some distance away from any of the Canaans. Making this more interesting is the 1887 directory which lists Pierre A Parsells as living at 33 North Avenue in Norwalk. Ownership of a plot of land might be the reason for the discordance between place of death and final resting place. Make of all this what you will. I had previously run across similar references to the mercantile clerk of Skaneateles named Edward Russell Trowbridge, and to his wife Martha Matilda Allen, as well as to the surprisingly named “Joshua Silsbee Trowbridge,” but I dismissed them because of the discrepancies. Now, though, we have at last solved the mystery. That took me, what, fifteen years?

So now, after several years of scratching my head, I’m almost certain that Harris’s dual portraits are indeed our Mr & Mrs Trowbridge. Now it’s time to trace the descendants. Won’t that be fun? There are still a few remaining mysteries: Who were Martha’s parents and siblings? And who were Mr & Mrs Gilbert? I’ve been trying since 1994 to trace them, without success. While all Trowbridges are related, that certainly does not hold true for the infinitely more populous Gilberts. LeRoy Wilson Kingman, in his ultra-rare book on Owego; Some Account of the Early Settlement of the Village in Tioga County, N.Y., Called Ah-wa-ga by the Indians, Which Name Was Corrupted by Gradual Evolution into Owago, Owego, Owegy and Finally Owego (Owego: Owego Gazette Office, 1907), related some stories, and in those stories are two clues:




That’s a little help. Not much, but better than nothing. Before we proceed with the story, let’s add some glosses to the text. “The company was composed of Gilbert, Trowbridge, Powell, and Archibald and their wives, with one or two others.” John H Powell had been a mystery. All I knew about him was that he had been given a benefit at the Buffalo Theatre on Tuesday, 2 August 1831. Thank you, LeRoy Wilson Kingman, for filling us in a little bit! Kingman misprints Archbold’s name as Archibald, which is to be expected, as the pronounciation is similar or identical. He seems not to have been an Englishman, but an Irishman, though he specialized in English drama both in Ireland and in the States, which would lead to the misperception or misrecollection. Really not so bad for a 74-year-old memory. Mrs Trowbridge-Silsbee-Chapman, as we know, did not die in San Francisco in 1880. Her husband died in San Francisco, and she died close to 1880. Kingman jumbled the data, as he was surely writing from imperfect memory. The slap-dash staging and effects are on par with what many troupes utilize nowadays. Why were so many townsfolk opposed to the theatre? The reason was more than dissipation. When you get some leisure time, look up the term “third tier.” That will begin to explain the problem. Clearly there was no “third tier” in Owego, but the very concept tarnished theatre’s reputation for centuries, and I argue that it has yet to recover. I have no other information about Henry Vaughn. Sam Lathrop appeared six years later at the Columbus Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, under Mr Kent’s management. Kore? That was Jacob C Kore, but that’s the limit of my knowledge.

The problem, of course, is that Gilbert is such a common name. Thanks to Kingman, we can be reasonably certain that his initials were “R T,” and I really thought that having those initials would help, but they surprisingly get me nowhere. Worse, I have yet to find any possible candidate who died in or around 1849. (And just so that you don’t fall into the same trap that others have fallen into, our Mr Gilbert was NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT the famous John Gibbs Gilbert, no matter what was written in the History of Concord. Our Mr Gilbert had already been a married actor-manager at the time that the yet-to-be-famous John Gibbs Gilbert was still a teenage apprentice in his uncle’s dry-goods shop.)

Just for the heck of it, we can explore some Gilberts. Almost immediately we discover a Mr Gilbert who appeared as a dancer at the theatre in Milwaukee in April 1839, and who appeared there with his wife in 1850. And they performed elsewhere, too, including Buffalo. But those were different Gilberts. Here’s what Thomas Allston Brown had to say, though he misprinted “1839” as “1849,” which was enough to throw me off course for a month or so.

Well, back to the old drawing board. The Gilberts are the one major gap remaining in my research. Once I identify them, I’ll have a book ready for publication.

Of course, Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller once again pointed out the obvious. I have a depressing propensity for missing the obvious. She referred me to a different section of the Kingman’s Owego:


All right. That takes our Mr R T Gilbert right up to late August 1847. No mention of the Mrs, for whatever reason. Remember Mr William M Fleming, who performed with Josh Silsbee in October 1853? Well, here he is, six years earlier, performing with Mr Gilbert in Potter’s troupe. There’s a lead in there somewhere, but I’m not sure where. When did Gilbert hook up with John Sinclair Potter? Could that have been in 1836? Was he a full partner? When and why did the partnership end? We can turn again to Allston Brown’s History, but I’m still stuck, though I cannot help but notice that Potter was at one time working with Edwin Dean:

Edwin Dean, of course, was the father of Julia Dean (22 July 1830 – 6 March 1868). (See also the Mountain West Digital Library.)


Image from Constance Rourke’s Troupers of the Gold Coast; or, The Rise of Lotta Crabtree
(NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1928).
Now you see why everyone fell in love with her?
Including me. Why is it that all the gals I fall in love with
died a century before I was born?
(I’m entirely out of place in this
cynical, apathetic, beer-obsessed, caffeine-intoxicated,
tattooed, pierced, self-absorbed, “spiritual,”
never-walk-only-drive, what’s-your-sign?-oh-that-explains-everything,
oh-I’m-so-stressed-out, anti-depressant-pill-popping,
don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-listening-to-my-iPod, I-need-to-see-my-therapist,
why-do-you-care-about-that?-that’s-so-old,
I-don’t-want-to-get-involved, why-don’t-all-those-homeless-people-just-get-a-job,
oh-come-on-just-get-over-it, pull-yourself-together, we-all-create-our-own-reality,
electronically-amplified-“music,” not-in-my-job-description,
put-it-on-my-credit-card, rent-to-own-your-very-own-HDTV-at-7000%-suggested-retail-price,
celebrity-idol-culture age
dominated by bulldozers-and-Bilderberg-and-Trilateral-
and-environmental-devastation-all-in-the-name-of-corporate-tax-free-profits-
so-long-as-we-can-get-people-arguing-over-
I’m-a-liberal-and-you’re-a-conservative-or-vice-versa-
refusing-to-acknowledge-that-both-sides-are-war-mongering-
death-penalty-for-the-innocent-poison-the-rivers-and-blast-the-mountains-
and-kill-the-oceans-and-lakes-psychos.)

Julia was related, by marriage, to the Chapman family, which just goes to show you.... Julia’s niece was also her namesake, Julia Dean (13 May 1878 – 17 October 1952), another prominent stage and movie performer whom you probably saw in The Curse of the Cat People if nothing else. Did anyone in the Dean family keep the records of those days? If so, please write to me!!! Thanks!

For what it’s worth, this what I’m currently doing with my hunches, which are probably all wrong, though they might make good starting points.

• 1822: R T Gilbert is a teenage youth living in Albany, frequenting Henry Trowbridge’s Albany Museum where he falls in love with the stage.
• September 1822: Alec Archbold and the Talbots flee New York City to escape the yellow fever, and land in Albany.
• September 1822: Gilbert asks to go on the road to apprentice with them, and is accepted. See also the Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra NY) 1 no 32, p 3 col 2.
• Early 1824: Edward Russell Trowbridge visits his distant cousin Henry in Albany, sees the Museum, and also falls in love with the stage.
• Early 1824: Henry introduces Edward to itinerant actor-manager William Davis, who takes Edward on as an apprentice. Henry and William invent the story about Edward’s New Haven origin, for that is where many or most Trowbridges were living. With such a cover story, others in the trade would never connect Edward with Skaneateles.
• After May 1824 but before August 1824: Davis & Trowbridge join Archbold & Talbot, who have also by this time added a Mr Harrington and a Mr & Mrs Clarendon. (See also this ad.)
• Summer or Autumn 1824: Joining the touring company is 12-year-old Martha Matilda Allen. Even in 1824 it was unheard-of for someone so young to travel without being accompanied by family, and so, unless we are confusing one person with another, there is no doubt but that her family, or appointed guardians, were with her. Of course, this leaves open the probability that her appointed guardians were among the Archbold & Talbot cast. Clarendon? Harrington? Probably not. What do we know, and what do we not know? We know that in Auburn in the 1830 census there was a John H Allen (age 30–39), with a wife (age 30–39) and a daughter (under the age of five). We know that NEXT DOOR to the John H Allen family was Aaron Trowbridge (age 30–39), with a wife (age 30–39), a son (age 5–9), and a daughter (under the age of five). About six houses away was Reverend Parley Allen (age 60–69 — click here for military record) and his wife. We discover that his wife, Catherine “Katie” Ter Bush, was born on 3 January 1773, which would have made her 57 years of age by the time of the 1830 census. Living at home with Parley and Katie in 1830 were six daughters (one age 36, one age 20–29, two age 15–19, two age 10–14, and one age 5–9), and a son (age 15–19). Genealogy.com names their children: Sally (b 1794), Kathryn, Jane, Anne, William, Ruth Honore/Honour (1812–1894), Lavina, Samantha, Diantha (1819–1893), and at least three other daughters, names unknown. Is one of the Unknowns actually Martha? Or are we grasping for straws? I think we can discount old Parley, unless, of course, Martha is Parley’s grandchild. But let’s look a bit further at young John. Thanks to Cheryl Trowbridge, we now know that in the 1820 census for the Town of Aurelius (the Village of Auburn didn’t incorporate until 1815; prior to that it was just a part of the Town of Aurelius) there was a John Allen who had TWO daughters! Was this the same person? We probably know that John H Allen’s wife was named Jane, because in the 1850 census for Auburn there is a Jane Allen listed, age 55. Remember that Edward and Martha’s first child was named Jane as well, and it was tradition that the first daughter be named for the mother’s mother. So it is reasonable to assume that the 55-year-old Jane was John’s widow. It is reasonable, also, to assume that Martha was John and Jane’s first child. Since John lived next door to an Aaron Trowbridge, it is reasonable to assume that the two families were close. Before we go further, let’s see if we can figure out who Martha’s touring guardian was. So let’s review the known Archbold & Talbot cast members in New York City on Tuesday, 3 September 1822:
     • Mr Stone
     • Mr Lamb
     • Mr Talbot
     • Mr Roberts
     • Mr Simpson
     • Mrs Legg
     • Mrs Talbot
     • Mr Williams
     • Mr Ritter
     • Mr Saunders
     • Mr Garner
     • Mr Archbold
There had been some changes by the time they opened in Albany, just days later:
     • Mr Talbot
     • Mrs Talbot
     • Mr Simpson
     • Mr Williamson
     • Mr Richards
     • Mr Lamb
     • Mr Saunders
     • Mr Cook
     • Mr Archbold
     • Mr Gilbert
     • Miss Odell
     • Mrs Dorion
By the time they reached Palmyra in May 1824, the cast appear to have been reduced drastically:
     • Mr Archbold
     • Mr Clarendon
     • Mr Talbot
     • Mr Harrington
     • Mr Gilbert
     • Mrs Talbot
By August 1824 in Buffalo one further cast member was being announced, though, considering that Mr Archbold had a daughter who had been born in about 1817, I strongly suspect this next performer had been there all along:
     • Mrs Archbold
At the end of September 1824, performing in York (modern-day Toronto), the cast had been altered once again, but we have only a partial listing:
     • Mr Archbold
     • Mrs Archbold
     • Mrs Talbot
     • Mr Gilbert
     • Mr Trowbridge
     • Mr Davis
     • Miss Allen
     • Allan McNab
The coincidence of the penultimate surname and the ultimate given name is probably just a coincidence. What do we make of this? I don’t know. Could Martha’s appointed guardian have been Edward? How likely was that? Auburn and Skaneateles were neighbors. The Allens and the Trowbridges seem to have been close. Nonetheless, what parent would possibly consider appointing a 24-year-old single male to be the guardian of a 12-year-old girl, regardless of how close or justifiably trusted that 24-year-old single male may be? Strange, isn’t it? We can probably rule Edward out. There is also the possibility, of course, that Martha’s parents were not included in the 1830 Auburn census. None of this makes much sense, and I really don’t know how to proceed. That’s why I let my cyber-friend Cheryl proceed for me. She’s so much better at this than I am! She found two interesting listings in the 1820 Aurelius census:
     • Betsey Allen (presumably widowed) with a daughter between the ages of 10 and 15, and a second daughter under the age of 10.
     • Three houses away was a George Gilbert, in whose household there were two males between 26 and 44, three between 16 and 25, and one under 10; one female (presumably his wife) between 26 and 44, and one between 16 and 25. One of the above Gilberts (George?) was engaged in agriculture, and four of the above (his sons?) were engaged in commerce.

Coincidences? If I were a mystery-mongering TV producer, I’d say “You decide.” Whenever anyone presents you with carefully pre-selected data designed to befuddle and says “You decide,” you should know that you’ve just been tricked. I, on the other hand, try never to trick people, which is why I refuse to go into sales, which is why I’m poor. So I’ll simply say: “Heck if I know.” Well, Cheryl just found more. Reverend Parley’s first daughter Sarah/Sally married a fellow named Booth/Boothe, and Sarah/Sally’s first son was consequently named Parley Boothe. NEXT DOOR to Sarah/Sally Boothe (56) in 1850 were Horace Gilbert (26), his wife Jane (23), their daughter Sarah (5), and Jane’s mother Sarah Allen (43), all living in the home of Betsey Goodrich (71). So there was DEFINITELY a connection between the Allen family and the Gilbert family, and so now I’m ALMOST certain that little 12-year-old Miss Martha went on tour only because her relative Master Gilbert told her “come along and we’ll all have fun!” That might also explain her early marriage — not only did she and Edward like each other, but a wedding ring displayed on a finger could work wonders at keeping the mashers at bay.
• Autumn 1824: Though Archbold and the Talbots are still the leads, the troupe is known, informally, as Gilbert, Davis & Trowbridge, with a home base, for the time being, in Rochester. This suggests that Gilbert, Davis & Trowbridge did not perform exclusively with Archbold & Talbot, but also did shows on their own.
• Between September 1824 and March 1825: R T Gilbert gets married. This should be the lead we’re looking for. All we’d need to do is find that marriage record, and we’d know precisely who Mr & Mrs Gilbert were. Why can’t we find that marriage record ANYWHERE?????
• Early 1826: They hit the big time! Now that Archbold & Talbot have wandered off, leaving Gilbert, Davis & Trowbridge behind, Davis manœuvers to attach the company to the estimable Sol Smith, forming the Smith & Davis company. The fortunes do not last more than a few weeks or months, as Smith quickly tires of Davis’s antics.
• May 1826: Alec Archbold opens the Washington Museum Theatre at 48 Market Street in Philadelphia.
• Between May 1826 and June 1827: Davis leaves the troupe and eventually ends up in Missouri and Louisiana.
• 17 June 1826: Edward and Martha marry, at a frightfully young age. Despite all you learned in school, it was highly unusual for a 14-year-old to marry. The common marriage age, then as now, was early to mid-20s. How on earth did this strange marriage come about? Well, might this marriage have been arranged? Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller dug up two different online scans of Henry Hall’s History of Auburn from 1869. Apparently the Allen family were quite prominent, and there was even a Captain Trowbridge Allen!!!!! This use of Trowbridge as a first name rather than a surname might be unique. This suggests that the two families were close, which further suggests that the marriage between Edward and Martha was indeed arranged. It crossed my mind that theirs may have been a shot-gun wedding, but I don’t think so. Their first known child was born in 1828, not 1826 — though, of course, that does not discount the possibility of an earlier child who may have been stillborn. Whatever the truth of the matter, Mr & Mrs Trowbridge worked together so well that I doubt they had been brought together by any such unpleasant pressure. Let’s think this through. If Martha had been on tour from age 12 or younger, then her parents (guardians?) certainly knew. Yet the larger Trowbridge family seem never to have known. The true nature of the itinerant career was kept secret not from the Allen family, but only from the Trowbridge family. My guess is that Martha had been around enough Brits to do a convincing English accent. (Were her grandparents British?) My guess is that it was William and Edward who together fabricated the cover story about Martha’s English birth so that fellow thespians would never connect her with Auburn or any other place in New York, and possibly (assuming the marriage had not been arranged after all) so that Edward’s family would never enquire of their in-law from travelers who came into town from neighboring Auburn. My guess is that Martha found the story useful enough never to retract it. We should also keep something else in mind. In no report, published or unpublished, official or unofficial, that I can locate, are Martha’s parents named. Should we take that as a hint that she was not overly happy about her family? If her dad was so anxious to dump her off on the first guy who came along, that might explain her silence on the issue. Yes? There are so many possibilities here, and I don’t know what to do with them.
• Late 1820s: Alec Archbold falls upon hard times.
• 1829: Alec Archbold dies of consumption in Poughkeepsie.
• Late 1835: Gilbert & Trowbridge disband, and both couples join the Dean & McKinney company, which opens the Eagle Street Theatre in Buffalo and the Columbus Theatre in Columbus. The Gilberts and the Trowbridges settle in Columbus, or at least they seem to. Cheryl just discovered why we can never find their abodes: The thespians lodged with Edwin Dean in Buffalo! Perhaps Gilbert and Trowbridge had no homes from 1822/1824 on, and simply lodged wherever they went. The one thespian couple that seems not to have lodged with Edwin Dean in Buffalo was the Gilbert couple. They were not at the Eagle Street Theatre’s opening in June 1835, though they were at the Columbus Theatre’s opening in December 1835.
• 29 May 1837: Cheryl just discovered this (27 Feb 2011). Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Volume 1 (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R R Donnelley & Sons, 1884), p 473:

Wow! Thank you Cheryl!
• After December 1835, but before December 1836: The Gilberts vanish from the record, without explanation. You will see in this link reference to a Mr M J Gilbert. That was somebody else. Yes, somebody in theatre, somebody who built the City Hall Theatre, but it was somebody else, definitely. Mr M J had a completely different biography, and this is his only overlap with our Gilberts and Trowbridges.
• 1840: Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller discovered that in the 1840 Cleveland census there was a Mrs R Gilbert, over 40 but under 50, living alone. Could that be our Mrs Gilbert? She would have been a bit older than Mr Gilbert, which is quite common, but not in this context. What mature woman would risk abandoning any hope of stability in order to run off with a young apprentice? Well, some would, I’m sure. So that may be what happened. No children are listed. Did they not have children? Or did the children not survive? Or did other family members take custody?
August 1847: Mr R T Gilbert is back in Owego, performing as part of John Sinclair Potter’s company, alongside Mrs Potter, William M Fleming (b Danbury CT 1817, d NYC 7 May 1866), a Mr & Mrs Mehan, a Mr & Mrs Donovan, and a Mr Pemberton.

Can someone from Owego dig through the microfilms and get some details? No one has yet done a full-scale study of Potter, and it’s high time that somebody did. Go for it. If you’re in school, start on the project. When you get to college, you can get a PhD for it. Then go on book-signing tours and make yourself a lot of money. Just do it, please.

Now let’s look at a basic reference.




Note the wording of the “TROWBRIDGE, MR.” listing. It is written as though there is also an entry for “GILBERT, MR.,” but there isn’t. He lists all sorts of other Gilberts, but not our Mr & Mrs R T Gilbert. Thomas Allston Brown knew Josh Silsbee and Martha personally and got the stories of their careers from them directly. He never knew the Gilberts, and clearly the book was rushed to press before he could gather the needed information.


Wanna see something delicious? Take a look at The New York Daily Times, Saturday, 27 December 1851, p 2 col 6:

Two in one! I had not known about either of those humorous pieces before. Zo, vee must to find this newspaper. I thought that would be easy. But there’s a problem. This newspaper began life on Saturday, 1 September 1849, as the Albany Dutchman (published by Griffin & Farnsworth), “A weekly newspaper — devoted to fun, literature, good advice, women and other luxuries.” The known holdings are:

Library of Congress(?):
vol 1 no 2: 8 September 1849
The New York Historical Society:
vol 1 no 2: 8 September 1849
The Olin-Uris Library at Cornell University:
vol 1 no 17: 22 December 1849
The New York State Historical Association:
vol 1 no 19: 5 January 1850
The New York State Library:
vol 2 no 25: 15 February 1851
vol 2 no 29: 22 March 1851
vol 2 no 35: 3 May 1851
vol 2 no 39: 31 May 1851
vol 3 no   6: 11 October 1851
vol 3 no 11: 15 November 1851
vol 3 no 13: 29 November 1851
vol 3 no 14: 6 December 1851

Then something happened, something that confused cataloguers over a hundred years later:

“Books Received,” The Opal (a publication of the State Lunatic Asylum in Utica), vol 2 no 1 (1851), p 32:

Rockland County Journal: Devoted to Popular Literature, Science, Arts, Agriculture, Political Economy, Education, Morals vol 3 no 17, Saturday, 29 November 1851, p 2 col 3 (bottom):

Okay, zo, what can we learn about the New-York Dutchman? One thing we learn is that the subtitle was changed to “Devoted to the ladies, literature, the fine arts, news, poetry, fun and other luxuries.” The story is sad, you see. Filed under that title, we find only these few listings:

The New York Historical Society:
vol 3 no 31: 3 April 1852
vol 5 no 19(?): 30 December 1854
The New York State Library:
vol 4 no 12: 20 November 1852
The New York Public Library:
vol 4 no 51(?)(45?): 9 July 1853

And that are it.

Any other hopes? Well, there’s a vanishingly small chance that some remnants are rotting in trunks stored in descendants’ attics. Descendants of whom? Here are a few candidates. The House of Representatives noted that the Honorable Mr Nabers had been furnished a subscription from December 1851 through December 1852. Are his old newspapers still on file somewhere? According to the Adams Family Genealogy Forum, “William Edward Blakeney, born Peekskill, Dec. 28, 1820, d. June 3, 1903.... There was much in the mental ability of Dr. W. E. Blakeney, D. D. S., to be appreciated. His vein of humor was inexhaustible and he was never at a loss for something amusing, not only to himself but to those around him.... I think it was in the fifties that he edited a paper in New York called the New York Dutchman.” Then we have a passing reference in The Humors of Falconbridge that Jonathan Falconbridge Kelly (the aforementioned biographer of Yankee comic Dan Marble) edited the New-York Dutchman for about four months in 1854. And here’s another clue, from The New-York Daily Times, Saturday, 7 July 1855, p 4 col 6. The editor of the New-York Dutchman endorsed a snake-oil cure-all. Because of that, we have his name:

Finally, John Homer French, in Gazetteer of the State of New York (1860), noted on page 446 that the New-York Dutchman was a publication of E Weston & Co, but that it was defunct. Then in October 1860 (or 23 October 1865?) Richard M Griffin and a relative, E Griffin, became publishers and editors of another Albany newspaper, the Evening Post. The Evening Post continued publication through 1895, and then I have no idea what happened. Maybe the successor to the successor to the successor to the successor of the Evening Post might have the back issues of the Dutchman in storage somewhere? As with all cities, Albany has had more newspapers than anyone has been able to tally. Where did they all go? “Journalists and Journalism in Albany County,” George Rogers Howell & Jonathan Tenney, eds, Bi-Centennial History of Albany: History of the County of Albany, N. Y., from 1609 to 1886. With Portraits, Biographies and Illustrations (NY: W W Munsell & Co Publishers, 1886), p 377:

If you can locate the Saturday, 27 December 1851, issue of the New-York Dutchman, let me know. You’ll be my friend for life.

P.P.S.   On the off-chance that doing research like this fascinates you, you’ll flunk all your history courses because you won’t be able to memorize miserably written and overpriced vigenary textbooks, and because your profs couldn’t care less about fun stuff like the above. Also, if you enjoy devoting your time to research and writing activities such as this, you should look forward to a life of minimum-wage jobs as janitor or clerk, working for a series of sadistic maniacs, because as far as any employer is concerned, you have no other job qualifications — unless, of course, you just happen to luck out only because of connections. Also, your microcephalic TV-addicted imagination-impaired neighbors will be endlessly suspicious of you because you never hang out with them to drink beer and watch stretched-image football games on the big-screen HDTV at the foul noisy stale smelly local bar. Instead you spend your time at the libraries and historical societies and at night you keep to yourself in your little apartment to piece together your notes, which convinces all your neighbors that you’re a social misfit and up to some nefarious activities, probably terrorism or drug-running or arms-smuggling or child molestation or S&M or other various deviant sexual activities (the only possibilities they can think of — do you wonder why?), and they’ll call the cops who will smarten you up and run you out of town. Then they boast that they’re “keeping the neighborhood safe” by being “tough on crime.” And nowadays school children who exhibit intense interests in such scholarly endeavors are diagnosed as having ADD and are pumped full of Ritalin. Back in the old days ADD had a different name: “gifted.” And that’s just the way it’s got to be, because we’ve become a society of lunatics.

P.P.P.S.   When you do research like this, you’ll also get people fired from their jobs. My cat’s name is Mrs Trowbridge. That led to the following conversation at a check-out stand:

CASHIER: How are you tonight?
ME: I’m happy, because I finally learned my cat’s middle name.
CASHIER: Oh, he told you?
ME: It’s a she. And no, I kept asking but she would never tell me.
CASHIER: They do like to keep things to themselves.
ME: But I found out! I found out!
CASHIER: And what, might I ask, is your cat’s middle name?
ME: Matilda!
CASHIER: Of course! My cat has a first name and a last name, but I don’t know if he has a middle name.
ME: And what’s your cat’s name?
CASHIER: Elwood Blues.

That was the last I ever saw of that cashier. I suppose some sputtering short-fused manager witnessed that exchange on the video monitor and decided to show her who was boss.


Original research and commentary copyright © 2011 by Ranjit Sandhu.


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