Benjamin F. Brown and the Circus in America

This exhibit is running until January 6th, 2003 in the main room of the William L. Clements Library, Monday through Friday, 1:00 pm to 4:45 pm.


 

Brown's circuses in the Caribbean and South America included equestrian performances, a lion, a Brazilian tiger (possibly a puma), monkeys, and balloon ascensions. In Demerary and Essequebo, Brown's circus advertised lower admission prices for enslaved people than for free people, as the announcement in the Royal Gazette indicates. Similar practices were followed by circuses in the United States.


Playbill for Brown's circus, from the Benjamin F. Brown Collection.

Balloon undertakings attracted interest far and wide in the 1830s. This illustration of the Vauxhall Balloon, a balloon that rose over London in 1836, is from A System of Aeronautics, Comprehending its Earliest Investigation, and Modern Practice and Art by John Wise, Aeronaut, published in Philadelphia in 1850.

The posters are from the Benjamin F. Brown Collection.

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In the 1840s, after his exploits in Egypt, Brown moved to London where he married Mary Sophia Cops, daughter of Alfred Cops. Cops was the keeper of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London and trained a Mr. Roberts who then trained I.A. Van Amburgh, considered by many to be the greatest animal trainer of his day, though Brown thought him "too big a fool." Brown led circuses around England for the several years he was there. He returned to Somers in the 1840s and after one more year in the circus business spent the rest of his life farming.

This drawing of the rhinoceros, c. 1830, is from the Marmaduke Burrough Collection. The invoice for the shipment of a rhinoceros and receipt for advertising the rhinoceros are from the Marmaduke Burrough Collection.

June, Titus and Angevine introduced Benjamin Brown as its "confidential agent" to procure giraffes in this letter from the Benjamin F. Brown Collection.

Hackaliah Bailey's home, known as the Elephant Hotel, was built in the early 1820s. This photograph of the Elephant Hotel is from a 1962 Somers Historical Society pamphlet about the building.

From the Museum of foreign animals, or, History of beasts, published in 1840.

Brown's marriage license. From the Benjamin F. Brown Collection.

After his stint touring in the Caribbean and South America, Brown worked for June, Titus and Angevine, a menagerie firm. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, English firms had been the main source of the animals imported into the United States for menageries, but English firms' high prices eventually drove Americans into the animal importing business. Marmaduke Burrough, American consul in Calcutta in the late 1820s, bought two rhinoceroses there, which he brought back to the United States in 1830 and exhibited for at least a few years. The menagerie business, however, soon became harder to enter. June, Titus and Angevine and several other menagerie firms, almost all of whose principals hailed from northern Westchester, met at the Elephant Hotel in Somers in 1835 and formed a monopolistic association, the Zoological Association, to import and show animals. Although the Panic of 1837 spelled the end of the Institute, which had dominated the menagerie business for a few years, many of the firms involved continued to import and exhibit animals. In 1838-39 Brown went to Egypt as a "confidential agent" of June, Titus and Angevine "to import into the United States on this occasion as many giraffes as can be procured" at a reasonable price.

 

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