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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 a waiter who also performed one-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 a principal actor 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 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 theatre's closure, 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 performed in Liverpool, although documentary evidence is limited.  

His career seemed to have declined 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 in 1836.   

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