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Wed, 08.26.1778

James Hewlett, Stage Actor and Singer born

James Hewlett

*The birth of James Hewlett is celebrated on this date in 1778. He was a Black actor, a tailor and waiter who also performed on-man shows. 

From the British West Indies, he was a servant boy for actor George Frederick Cooke and learned to imitate his actions and attitude.  He was principal actor in and co-founder of William Alexander Brown's African Grove theatre in New York City. 

Hewlett started performing as a vocalist and as an actor described as "Shakespeare's proud Representative" in African Grove when it was just an exhibition held in Brown's tea garden.  He is most known for starring in African Grove's performance of Richard III.   A December 22, 1825 article in The Star said, “Hewlett…must have had a natural talent for theatrical performances and an excellent voice, or he could never have surmounted his early difficulties".  

After the closure of the theatre, he began to tour performing excerpts from plays; historian Shane White suggests that he may have been "the best-known black New Yorker" around 1831.  He also visited the United Kingdom and apparently performed in Liverpool, although documentary evidence of this is limited.  His career seems to have entered into a decline by and after 1834, when he was imprisoned for larceny.  George Thompson, who has researched the history of the theatre, concluded that James Hewlett died in1836.   

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