This article explores the U.S. career of the Dutch immigrant violinist Jacques Oliveira. Following successful performances in Britain, Oliveira sailed for the United States in the fall of 1859. Under P.T. Barnum's management, the twenty-three-year-old became a fixture on New York's theatrical scene, as an instrumental soloist with Tom Thumb's company, with the Drayton Parlor Opera troupe, and with Hooley and Campbell's Minstrels. After a year, he traveled south, settling in occupied New Orleans, where he had family connections. Despite the economic difficulties of the time, he soon became an important figure in the city's cultural life, only to die during an outbreak of cholera and yellow fever in the summer of 1867.
In the absence of letters or diaries, the article relies heavily on close examination of period newspapers, city directories and census data to reconstruct Oliveira's world. Oliveira's activities, his successes and struggles, offer insights into the place of the working musician, newly arrived in the Unites States in the late 1850s. Examining the events of his life enables us to contrast cultural life in New York and New Orleans at the time of the Civil War. The article illuminates the place of the instrumentalist in the theater, reveals how attitudes toward music were influenced by a cultural hierarchy, provides insights into the place of the violin in the musical life of the United States, and examines the impact of the Civil War on musical life in New Orleans.