Theater Playbill Collection 1781-1796, MS. 2415

Maryland Historical Society
Library of Maryland History


Theater Playbill Collection, 1781-1796
Maryland Historical Society


(Text converted and initial EAD tagging provided by Apex Data Services, March 1999.)

Theater Playbill Collection, 1781-1796
Maryland Historical Society

Contact Information:
Manuscripts Department
Maryland Historical Society Library
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
Fax: 410.385.2105

Descriptive Summary


MS. 2415

Maryland Historical Society

Baltimore MD 21201-4674


Donna Burns


Scope and Content Notes

David Douglas, actor and manager of the New American Company, organized the building of a theater at Annapolis in 1771. The brick building, with a seating capacity of 600, was located on property leased from St. Anne's Parish in West Street. Its opening performance was given on September 9, 1771.

This collection contains printed playbills from the 1781 Annapolis season. Most of the performances consisted of monologs, excerpts from plays and occasionally a musical piece. The primary players were Thomas Wall, a veteran of the Old American Company, his wife and young daughter. There is also a 1786 playbill for a performance by the Old American Company.

During this season the Wall family was also appearing in Baltimore. In the early 1780's a group of Baltimore citizens, including Adam Lindsay and George J. L'Argeau, put up the financial backing for a company of actors known as the Maryland Company of Commedians under Thomas Wall's direction. During the summer and fall of 1781 the company performed at various locations including Mr. L'Argeau's Dancing Room, Mr. Lindsay's Coffee-House and Mr. Johnson's Sail Warehouse. These 1781 Baltimore playbills duplicate many of the performances given by the Walls in Annapolis.

The company was given permission to renovate the stables located on the corner of Milk Lane (now East Street) and Great York Street (now East Baltimore Street). This building was called the New Theatre and launched its opening season on January 15, 1782.

The collection contains a complete set of playbills printed for this opening season. Local amateurs often performed with the regular company. They were not named in the playbills, being listed merely as “Gentlemen, for their own amusement”. Handwritten notes on the programs identify these otherwise anonymous players. Other notes on the programs record the plays' gross proceeds and significant events such as the presence of Governor Lee at the February 15, 1782 performance. Thomas Wall retired from the management of the Maryland Company of Comedians in 1783 and by 1786 this company had disbanded.

Playbills from the 1795 Baltimore theater season are contained in a bound volume. This company, which became known as the Philadelphia Company, was managed by Thomas Wignell, formerly an actor in the Old American Company, and Mr. Reinagle, a Philadelphia music professor. The theater building was located on Holliday Street.

The collection also contains a handwritten list of the rules governing the Maryland Company of Comedians. Another list preserves the rules relating to benefits. A benefit was a play chosen by an actor which would best display his talent. The actor or actress was allowed to cast the play and keep the profits from the performance.

Other items in the collection include lists of the plays' proceeds (1782), notices and reviews in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser (1782), and a playbill for the American

Company of Comedians printed in Spanish (1782). There are negative photocopies of all the items in the collection except the bound volume of playbills.


For Further Background on Theater in Maryland See:

Mildred Albert Greenfield. Early History of the Theatre in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University Master's Thesis, 1953) MPN 2237.G8

Mary T. Kroen. The Theatre in Maryland (1752-1800), 1945-46. MPN 2237.K93

Lynn Haims. “First American Theatre Contracts: Wall and Lindsay's Maryland Company of Comedians, and the Annapolis, Fell's Point, and Baltimore Theatres, 1781-1783”. Theatre Survey Vol. XVII, Number 2, November 1976. P. 179-194.


Container List


Rules of the Maryland Company of Comedians, n.d.

Rules To Be Observed in the Baltimore Theatre, Respecting Benefits, n.d.

List of Plays Performed by the Baltimore Company of Comedians, Jan. 15-May 10, 1782

A List of the Plays With Their Gross Proceeds, Jan. 15-July 9, 1782

Gross Proceeds of the Stage Boxes, Mar. 26, 1782

Newspaper Notices and Reviews from The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 1782

Advertisement for M. Roussel's Dancing School, Baltimore, Jun. 12, 1782

Playbill of American Company of Comedians in Spanish, 1782

Playbills from the Theatre, Annapolis, Jun. 14, 1781-Dec. 5, 1786

Playbills from Mr. L'Argeau's Dancing Room, Baltimore, Jun. 22-July 3, 1781

Playbill from Mr. Johnson's Sail Warehouse, Fells Point, July 5, 1781

Playbill from Mr. Lindsay's Coffee-House, Fells Point, Sept. 28-Oct. 11, 1781

Playbills from the New Theatre, Baltimore, Jan. 15-Dec. 12, 1782

Playbills from the New Theatre, Baltimore, July 31-Dec. 3, 1795, July 27, 1796

Negative Photocopies

Description of the Theater Collection from a Sale Catalog, 1907