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Renderings of the Charleston, South Carolina, Theatre of 1793

  • Julia Curtis (a1)

Charleston will be celebrating another bicentennial in 1993, the restoration of its theatre. Several illustrations of the Charleston Theatre of 1793, its scenery, costumes, and performers have recently surfaced, enabling us to celebrate its bicentennial more vividly. An oil painting of the theatre under construction reappeared in a private estate in 1989 and was purchased by the Gibbes Art Gallery, Charleston, the following year. In addition, watercolors and pencil sketches of the interior of the theatre, its scenery, and costumes have recently been deposited at the South Carolina Historical Society.

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1 “Sketches from Nature by A. Fraser and C. Fraser,” from the estate of Maud Winthrop Gibbon, part of the Winthrop-Fraser papers, deposited at the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.

2 See also Newlin Jeanne T., “A Charleston, South Carolina, Playbill of 1794,” Antiques 131 (February 1987): 432–33.

3 Statutes at Large of South Carolina, ed. Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord, 10 vols. (Columbia, S. C.: A. S. Johnston, 1836–1841), Act No. 1531, 5: 195.

4 Curtis Julia, ‘The Architecture and Appearance of the Charleston Theatre, 1793–1833,” Educational Theatre Journal 23 (March, 1971): 112.

5 Dunlap William, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, new ed., 3 vols. (Boston: Frank W. Bayley and Charles E. Goodspeed, 1918), 1: 286–87.

6 Middleton Margaret Simons, “Thomas Coram, Engraver and Painter,” Antiques 29 (June, 1936): 243. See also Batson Whaley, “Thomas Coram: Charleston Artist,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 1 (November 1975): 3547.

7 Times (Charleston), 3 May 1811.

8 Map issued by the Phoenix Fire-Company of London, taken from a survey of 2 August 1788 (South Carolina Historical Society). See also A Charleston Sketchbook, 1796–1806, ed. Alice R. Huger (Charleston, S. C.: Carolina Art Association, 1940), [2].

9 Oty Gazette, 14 August 1792.

10 Mrs Maigault to Gabriel Maingault, 20 November 1792: Maingault papers at South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, South Carolina.

11 Frascr Charles, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston: S. Russell, 1854), 26 and 88.

12 Four years after Coram completed his oil, Fraser made a watercolor of his own, “View of Charleston Taken from Savage's Green,” but at an angle which precluded the theatre. See A Charleston Sketchbook, note 8 above.

13 City Gazette, 13 February 1793.

14 See Curtis Julia, “Redating ‘Sketches from Nature by A. Fraser and C. Fraser,’South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (January 1992): 5162, which includes a discussion of the problems of attribution.

15 Six of the theatrical renderings have been reproduced in Severens Martha R. and Wyrick Charles L. Jr, Charles Fraser of Charleston (Charleston: Carolina Art Association, 1983). See also Severens Martha R., “Charles Fraser of Charleston,” Antiques 123 (March 1983): 606611.

16 The title of this comic song, which premiered at the Haymarket in London on 26 November 1792, was a colloquial expression meaning “in the height of fashion.”

17 See Curtis, “Redating ‘Sketches from Nature by A. Fraser and C. Fraser.’ “Several arguments have been advanced for shifting the date back to 1793: the theatrical calendar of the opening season of 1793, unlike later seasons, includes the close succession of the four plays represented in the sketchbook; the statue of William Pitt was removed from the intersection in the spring of 1794 and would probably not have been painted in a later scenic drop; and there is a receipt in the sketchbook dated 1793.

18 See Stoddard Richard, “The Haymarket Theatre, Boston,” Educational Theatre Journal 27 (March 1975): 6369, and his “A Reconstruction of Charles Bulfinch's First Federal Street Theatre, Boston,” Wintenhur Portfolio 6 (1970): 185–208.

19 Dunlap, 2: 237.

20 Gty Gazette, 1 April 1793.

21 City Gazette, 20 April 1793.

22 According to Shockley Martin Staples, The Richmond Stage, 1784–1812 (Charlottes-ville: University of Virginia Press, 1977), 6768, Bignall had sung the role in Richmond. Therefore, it is assumed he repeated it for the 22 April production in Charleston; yet neither his name nor the role appears in the Charleston cast list.

23 Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston, 20.

24 Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston, 39. See also Kennedy Michael L., “A French Jacobin Club in Charleston, South Carolina, 1792–1795,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 91 (January 1990): 421, and Terry G. D., “A Study of the Impact of the French Revolution and the Insurrections in Saint-Domingue upon South Carolina, 1790–1805” (M.A. thesis, University of South Carolina, 1975).

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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
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