Mapping 19th Century Minstrel Troupe Tours

The prevalence of minstrelsy in nineteenth century musical culture is well known. However, further questions remain surrounding the tours of black minstrel troupes in the late nineteenth century. Where did black minstrel troupes perform in late nineteenth century America? How wide was the geographic scope of their tours and how did their tour routes compare to other touring nineteenth century artists?

In an effort to answer these questions, I searched newspaper archives for information about post-war black minstrel troupes. I first began search for records about four troupes: Baker and Clayton’s Georgia Minstrels, Haverly Colored Minstrels, Lew Johnson’s Plantation Minstrels, and Callender’s Georgia Minstrels. After some initial searching, it became clear that Callender’s Georgia Minstrels was the largest and most prominent black minstrel troupe. Furthermore, I quickly realized the phrase “Georgia Minstrels” was a widely used synonym for black minstrel troupes. Searching with those keywords, I was able to collect a medium sized dataset of roughly one-hundred concerts by black minstrel troupes between 1865-79.

I wanted my dataset to show change over time, therefore, I read data from only two theatrical seasons: 1865-66, and 1878-79. Furthermore, I focused my data collection on three troupes: Booker & Clayton’s Georgia Minstrels during the theatrical season of 1865-66, and Callender’s Georgia Minstrels and Sprague’s Original Georgia Minstrels during the theatrical season of 1878-79. Given the wealth of primary source information available about this topic, I knew I needed to create a representative rather than comprehensive dataset.

During the 1865-66 season, Booker & Clayton’s Georgia Minstrels (shown in blue), toured mostly in the northeastern United States. By the late 1870s, the geographic spread of black minstrel troupes was much broader. Spurred on by the opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Callender’s Georgia Minstrels (shown in red) toured through Kansas and onto California and the Pacific coast in 1878-79. Whereas, during the 1878-79 season, Sprague’s Georgia Minstrels (shown in green) toured through the midwest including Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska.