In 1893, twelve negro Bahamian boys were in Chicago, and by 1894, they were in Boston. The boys were exhibited as soldiers, performing on stage, in various places in the northern United States.
Representatives of a Ransomed Race
There was a time in the world, when the negro was presented for exhibition on the stage, or in a cage. They were part of circus acts, museum exhibitions, natural history expositions, and ‘believe it or not’ travelling minstrel shows. Negroes were once considered rare oddities of nature. Audiences were fascinated when they could be trained to do things on command, and even more exciting were group performances or displays where African scenery could be depicted. It gave a glimpse of a faraway natural habitat.
Throughout the 1800s, there were many exhibits of this kind across the western world. Exhibits, slowly evolved over time, into stage performances. Negros played roles in pantomimes and plays. For organisers, it was often a huge moneymaker.
What is rather incredible, all things considered, is seeing Bahamians, and moreover, Bahamian negro children in this sphere. Who were they? We do not know. How they came to be under the supervision of the person called Sergeant Simm, we do not know that either. We can only infer that they were indeed children as one performance was stopped because a Children’s Society intervened.
In 1893 to 1894, and perhaps longer, this is as much as we can speculate, twelve Bahamian negro boys were travelling in the north of the United States, as a group of trained performers. During 1893, they were part of an exhibition to celebrate Christopher Columbus’s 400th anniversary of sighting the New World. Afterward, they were in stage performances and in January 1894, were performing in Boston. The boys, dressed up as soldiers in a production called La Bivouac. Part of the production involved the boys handling a carbine, which is a light automatic rifle and a bayonet, which is a long spiked knife attached to a rifle. These must have decommissioned or prop guns and knives.
From the book “Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music 1889-1895”, we read that in June 1893, the boys were meant to perform at a Chicago theatre. The engagement was stopped because a children’s society intervened.
“In June 1893, William Foote, manager of Haverly’s Cri-Garten Theatre, Chicago, whole in this city /New York/ last week, made an engagement with with Sergeant Sims and his Colombian Cadets to appear at that house. The cadets are twelve negro boys from the Bahamas, who appear in a sketch called ‘La Bivouac,’ in which they present all the exercises of a soldier on the rented field. Each boy is …. armed with a carbine and bayonet. The act is said to be clever but… permission to exhibit in this city was refused because of the intervention of the children’s society” (New York Clipper).”
Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Music 1889-1895 page 151
From the poster, Midway Plaisance is a Chicago public park on the South Side of Chicago Illinois. It became recognised when it hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The name Midway was a term used to describe places that held sideshows and state fairs.
The World’s Columbian Exposition was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arrival in the New World in 1491. The exposition covered more than 600 acres and more than 27 million people attended during the six month run.
World Columbian Exposition 1893 – Wikipedia
DECEMBER 1893 – The Show Goes On
The rebuke from Chicago did not stop Sergeant Simm and his Colombian Cadets because in December 1893, the twelve Bahamian negro boys are being advertised to perform In January 1894 and the opera house in Boston.
Thursday, Jan. 4th,
The Boston Museum’s Greatest Success,
HANDS ACROSS THE SEA
With the Only and Original Company, Scenery and Realistic Effects, especially engages. Direct from Midway Plaisance, World’s Fair.
SERGT. SIMM’S COLUMBIAN CADETS
Twelve little BAHAMIAN negro boys in a wonderful drill.
Price 25, 35, 50, 75 cents and $1.00.
Sale of tickets will open at the box office
Tuesday night at 7 o’clock.