John Bill Ricketts introduced the modern circus to the United States in 1793. His first North American shows were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, among others, he entertained George Washington. Everyone’s best guess is that Ricketts was either an Englishman or a Scot. There is some debate regarding his nation of origin. John Bill Ricketts never settled in America and was last reported sailing away to either Europe or the Caribbean in 1799.
In 1807, embarking from Madrid, Victor Pepin and Jean Baptiste Breschard brought their circus to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (sometimes recognized as being part of the United States). Breschard was a Frenchman and Pepin was born in the Empire State, New York.
This November PBS will dedicate six hours of national broadcasting to their documentary, CIRCUS. Undoubtedly, some questions regarding the origins of the circus in the United States will be raised.
(Disclaimer: similarities in name between this article’s author and any mentioned subject are duly noted.)
Over the years, John Bill Ricketts has been described by many writers, many times, as operating and headlining the first American circus.
"The first American circus?" What do they mean by that?
Is there an "American" style circus which was created by Ricketts?
No, they’re not talking about an American style of circus. The modern circus, of which John Bill’s company was a fine example, is as European as it gets.
Was John Bill an American who ran a circus?
Nope. (See above.)
What circus historians (say what?) have been trying to say for years isn’t that John Bill Ricketts ran the first American circus. What they’ve been trying to say is that JBR operated the first circus in America (specifically within the U.S.A.).
When Enrico Caruso performed in the United States, he didn’t become an American tenor. Ricketts’ Circus remained a British circus performing in America just like Enrico remained an Italian tenor even though he might have been belting it out within the continental U.S. at the time.
Now who exactly is responsible for the first American circus? (Have I already tipped my hand?)
Since it has been established that there is no particular American style of circus (rodeo?), the first circus operated by (owned and starring) an American (U.S.A.) would probably be "the first American circus".
Hello, Victor Pepin.
What’s led to a bit of confusion among circus historians is that the Circus of Pepin and Breschard is documented as having played in Madrid, Spain, immediately before its arrival in the Bay State. Circus historians have referred to P & B’s troupe as being a French circus, a Spanish circus, and a European company. My guess is that it has been perhaps too hard for all-American writers to realize that a guy with a French surname (Pepin) could have been a creator of the first American circus.
The Circus of Pepin and Breschard - The First American Circus
Anybody want some Freedom Fries?