Today in Theatre History–THE FIRST AMERICAN-BORN ACTOR? WHO KNOWS?–March 13, 1790

Philadelphia’s Southwark Playhouse where Mr. Martin may or may not have been the first.

Today in theatre history–March 13, 1790–may or may not be of some note. It depends. According to Dunlap (who is infamously inaccurate), it was on this date that America’s first native-born actor appeared on the stage for the very first time. Up to this point, all known professional actors had been British-born. New Yorker (and former law student) John Martin apparently acted the role of Young Norval in John Home’s blank verse tragedy, Douglas, at the Southwark Playhouse in Philadelphia. The trouble with this peculiar little historical fact is that there are no published accounts of Martin acting in Philadelphia at the time–we have only Dunlap’s word. Furthermore, it’s possible Martin began his acting career in New York earlier that year if Loessing or Bunn are to be believed. On top of this, Hallam may have used two American-born sisters a few years earlier who would clearly qualify as the first. But again, the records aren’t clear. So there you have it. Sometimes theatre history just ain’t neat and pretty. Celebrate if you want. You know I will.

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