Ben Cotton and Sam Sharpley’s Minstrels

Event Information

Theatre Comique [1867- : 514 Broadway]

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
29 December 2016

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

09 Dec 1867, Evening
10 Dec 1867, Evening

Program Details

Supposed to run for the entire week, with a Saturday matinee, but cancelled after Tuesday night, due to the shooting death of Sam Sharpley’s brother at the hands of Edwin Kelly, see below.

Performers and/or Works Performed

Text Author: White
aka Terrific trapeze; Swinging trapeze


Advertisement: New York Herald, 09 December 1867.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 10 December 1867.

Lengthy Ad.

Advertisement: New York Herald, 12 December 1867.

Ad gives timings as follows:

                        “DOORS OPEN AT ……………………………...7      o’clock P.M.

                         COTTON AND SHARPLEY’S MINSTRELS…. 8      o’clock P.M.

                        CARNIVAL OF NOVELTY……………………...8 ½  o’clock P.M.

                        LITTLE MAC……………………………………..8:50 o’clock P.M.

                        MLLE HELENE…………………………………..9      o’clock P.M.

                        THE BLACK CHEMIST…………………………9:10  o’clock P.M.

                        SWINGING TRAPEZE…………………………..9:20  o’clock P.M.

                        THE DUTCH ACTOR……………………………9:30 o’clock P.M.

                        CONCLUSION…………………………………...10:10 o’clock P.M.”

Article: New-York Times, 13 December 1867, 2.

Rredundant information.

Announcement: New York Post, 14 December 1867.

“Samuel Sharp, who shot Edwin Kelly in the affray in front of the Fifth Avenue Opera House on Wednesday afternoon, and Francis Leon, who also participated in the affair, were taken before Justice Dodge last evening and both of them were discharged.  The quarrel was begun by Samuel Sharp.”

Article: New-York Times, 14 December 1867, 1.

Rredundant information.

Article: New-York Times, 15 December 1867, 8.

Rredundant information.

Article: New York Clipper, 21 December 1867, 289.

“Samuel Sharpley, whose right name is Sharpe, was born in Philadelphia, June 13th, 1831, and entered the burnt cork profession when only sixteen years old. He made rapid progress in his profession, and in a brief period he was acknowledged to be one of the best general performers in the business. Our first recollection of him was at Samuel S. Sanford’s Opera House, in Philadelphia, several years ago, where he established himself as a general favorite with his audiences. While at Sanford’s he appeared on the ‘end’ as a tambo, also in the olio with one of his irresistible comic banjo solos. On the 18th of November, 1860, in company with Billy Birch, he leased Jayne’s Hall, on Chestnut Street above Sixth, Philadelphia, and opened it with a first-class minstrel band. Frank Bowers and several other popular artists were in the organization. They remained there until January 2d, 1861, where they closed up and started on a short traveling tour. We next find Mr. Sharpley an established favorite at the Melodeon in this city, where his performances on the banjo, together with his songs and bits at the times (being of a local character), were some of the great features of that establishment. At the expiration of his contract he determined to organize a band and start out on his own hook; he accordingly got together a very good working company, and visited the towns and cities in the New England States. The success he met with was very flattering, and after a brief tour he returned to New York, reorganized his company, made many very valuable additions, and started for the West with one of the best bands on the road, and called them ‘Sharpley’s Iron Clads.’ Being a thorough-going business man, he was successful almost everyhwhere.  He continued on through the Western country until the Spring of 1868, where he returned East, and after visiting a few of the Eastern cities, returned to New York and took a short rest.  Having remained inactive as long as he wished, he again re-organized and started on another extended and brilliant campaign.  As a performer he is one of the merriest ever seen in the burnt cork business.  His fun is provoking, while his caricatures of the contrabands are the richest and most laughable personations [sic] ever given.  His banjo solos are immense, and always bring down the house.  He is the wit of the company, who either is very ready and humorous with his replies, or has the great merit of firing off prepared retorts as naturally as if he had originated them at the moment. At present he is in partnership with Charles White and Ben Cotton in the management of the Theatre Comique, on Broadway, and is also the lessee of the Fifth Avenue Opera House. He is of medium height, of stout build and muscular proportions, has dark hair and eyes and resides at No. 325 West Twenty-seventh Street.”

Article: New York Clipper, 21 December 1867, 289.

Fatal Shooting at the Fifth Avenue Theatre following the Wednesday matinee, 12/11/67.  “Serious Shooting Affray between Well-Known Minstrel Managers at the Fifth Avenue Opera House.  One Man Killed and Two Men Wounded.”  Includes lengthy depositions of witnesses and parties involved.

Synopsis: A fist fight broke out between minstrel manager Sam Sharpley (born Sharp) and his brother, Thomas Sharp, and manager/performers Kelly and Leon directly following the matinee.  Sam Sharp started the fight with Leon, then Kelly came to his aid, and Sam Sharp’s brother (who was present at the matinee unbeknownst to him) came to Sam’s aid.  They foursome quickly separated, Sam Sharpley chasing after Leon, and Thomas Sharp chasing after Kelly.  Thomas Sharp and Kelly fought in a large crowd, at some time Kelly was down and Sharp kicked him in the eye.  The crowd pulled Sharp away from Kelly, he was no longer attacking Kelly, but nevertheless, Kelly pulled out a pistol and shot Sharp in the head, killing him.  Sam Sharp, seeing this, then drew a pistol and shot at Kelly (hitting him in the head but seemingly not penetrating his skull) and tried to shoot again, but shot his own finger because a police officer intervened (probably grabbing at the gun).  Kelly was convicted and released on $5,000 Bail.

Article includes testimony of witnesses: J.H. Delatour, actor at Niblo’s Garden; George Jordan, actor at Barney Williams’s Broadway Theatre; a physician; Sam Sharpley; and Edwin Kelly.