« PrécédentContinuer »
which usually lasted for three days, were held but once a year in the autumn but in others twice a year, in May and in September or October. On these occasions horses, oxen, cows, sheep, hogs, and sundry sorts of goods were exposed for sale. The people indulged in such varieties of sport as a slow horse race with a silver watch to the hindmost, a foot race at Williamsburg from the college to the capitol, a race for women, on Long Island, with a Holland smock and a chintz gown for prizes, a race by men in bags, and an obstacle race for boys. There were cudgeling bouts, bear baiting, gouging, a notoriously cruel sport, and catching a goose at full speed or a pig with a greased tail. There were also such other amusing entertainments as grinning contests by half a dozen men or women for a roll of tobacco or a plum pudding, and whistling contests for a guinea, in which the participants were to whistle selected tunes as clearly as possible without laughing. The people enjoyed puppet shows, ropewalking, and fortune telling; and the ubiquitous medicine hawker sold his wares from a stage “and by his harangues, the odd tricks of his Merry Andrew, and the surprising feats of his little boy" always attracted a crowd. The fairs were also utilized in Virginia as an occasion for paying
debts, trading horses, buying land, and obtaining bills of exchange.
Prominent among more aristocratic colonial diversions were the balls and assemblies given in private and public houses, where dancing was the order of the evening. Dancing, though not strictly forbidden in New England, was not encouraged, particularly if it were promiscuous or mixed. Yet so frequent were the occasions for dancing that ·many dancing schools were conducted in the larger towns. One of the most noted was that of Charles Pelham in Boston, where in 1754 lessons were given three afternoons a week. State balls, governor's assemblies, and private gatherings were marked by lavish display, formal etiquette, and prolonged dancing, drinking, and card playing. The quality, who arrived in coaches, wore their most resplendent costumes, went through the steps of the stately minuet, and also joined in the jigs, reels, marches, country dances, and hornpipes which were all in vogue at that time.
Music, which was a popular colonial accomplishment, was taught as an important subject in a number of schools, and many a daughter was kept
at her scales until she cried from sheer exhaustion. į In the South the colonists were familiar with such
É musical instruments as the spinnet, harpsichord,
pianoforte, viol, violin, violoncello, guitar, German flute, French horn, and jew's-harp. Thomas Jefferson was “vastly pleased” with Jenny Taliaferro's playing on the spinnet and singing. Benjamin Carter, son of Councilman Carter of Nomini Hall, had a guitar, a harpsichord, a pianoforte, a harmonica, a violin, a German flute, and an organ. He also had a good ear for music and, as Fithian
tells us, was indefatigable in practice. Captain - Goelet went to a “consort” in Boston, where the
performers, playing on four small violins, one bass violin, a German flute, and an “indifrent small organ," did “as well as could be expected.” Josiah Quincy attended a meeting of the St. Cecilia Society in Charleston in a “large inelegant building,” where the performers were all at one end of the hall, and the music, he thought, “was good,” the playing on the bass viols and French horns being "grand," but that on the harpsichord "badly done,” though the performance of a recently arrived French violinist was "incomparable.” “The capital defect of this concert,” he said, "was want of an organ.”
Interest in the drama in these early days was much less general than the love of music, owing to
the rare opportunities which the people had for seeing plays. While there may have been private performances given by amateurs in the seventeenth century, the earliest of which we have any record were those given before Governor Spotswood in Williamsburg, probably in the theater erected in 1716, that in the “playhouse” in New York before 1733, and that in the court room in Charleston in 1735. Taverns, court rooms, and warehouses were used for much of the early acting, and the first theaters in Williamsburg, New York, Charleston, Philadelphia, and Annapolis, were crude affairs, rough unadorned buildings very much like warehouses or tobacco barns in appearance. There were no professional companies until 1750, when Murray, Kean, Lewis Hallam, and David Douglas began the history of the theater in America and aroused a great deal of interest in plays and playgoing from New York to Savannah. Nearly all
the plays, both tragedies and comedies, of these days I were of English origin. Some of these early dramas were The Recruiting Officer, The Orphan, The Spanish Friar or the Double Discovery, The Jealous Wife, Theodosius or the Mourning Bride, The Dis
d Mother, Love in a Village, The Provoked Husband, The School for Lovers, and a few of Shakespeare's plays, such as The Tempest, King Lear, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. Though earlier plays had been written in America but not acted, there was performed at Philadelphia in 1767 the first American tragedy, The Prince of Parthia, by Thomas Godfrey, son of the William Godfrey, with whom Franklin boarded for a time, and who shares with Hadley the honor of inventing the quadrant. Though there was no theater in New England until later, in 1732, the New England Weekly Journal of Boston, in defiance of Puritan prejudice, printed in its columns a play, The London Merchant. Though the Quaker opposition was not overcome until 1754 in Philadelphia, when Hallam went there with his company, the first permanent theater in America, the Southwark, was built in that city in 1766, and it was there a year later that Godfrey's tragedy was performed.
During the twenty years preceding the Revolution, theatergoing was a constant diversion among the better class in the Middle and Southern Colonies, and Mrs. Manigault of Charleston tells us in her diary that she went five times in one week. Colonel Jones wrote from Williamsburg in 1736: “You may tell Betty Pratt [his stepdaughter) there has been but two plays acted since she went, which