Historic Newspaper Index
VOL I, No. 1
Hagerstown, Maryland - Tuesday, July 23, 2024
Find Articles Online:
1845 - 1865

Currently Updating: December 1859

Maryland Sources:
Maryland Genealogical Society Journal
Vol. 50, no. 1, 2019
Historic Newspaper Index recently featured an article under Maryland Sources in the Maryland Genealogical Society Journal.
Maryland Sources: The Historic Newspaper Indexing Project for Hagerstown, Maryland, Newspapers (1790–1890) at the Washington County Free Library by Joseph Berger
published by permission
Mary K. Bowman Fund
Community Foundation
The Historic Newspaper Indexing Project is funded in part by the Mary K. Bowman Historical and Fine Arts Endowment Fund and by the Community Foundation of Washington County Maryland, Inc.
New Resources!
Hager's-town Newspapers 1810-1814
Hager's-town Newspapers 1810-1814
Hager's-town Newspapers 1805-1809
Hager'stown Newspapers 1797-1804
The Washington Spy 1790-1797
What's New on Whilbr
Western Maryland's Historical Library(Western Maryland's Historical Library)
The Ransom of Hagerstown,
July 1864
Digital Whilbr Collection
150 Years Ago This Week in the Civil War
Antietam National Cemetery
Antietam National Cemetery
Crossroads of the Civil War
Crossroads of the Civil War
Guide to Civil War Newspapers on Microfilm
Civil War in Hagerstown
Slaves and Free Africans
Slaves and Free Africans
Today's Headline

The Circus is Coming to Washington County!

Popular Entertainment During the Late Antebellum Period, 1855 to 1859



Circus 1855-1859

During the Late Antebellum Period (1855-1859) prior to the Civil War, several prominent circus troupes toured in Washington County during the summer and fall months. As the newspaper advertisements from The Herald of Freedom and Torch Light suggest, the circus shows scheduled in Hagerstown, Boonsboro, Williamsport and Hancock proudly rivaled what audiences could expect from a Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey's "Greatest Show on Earth" big-tent extravaganza.

Joe Pentland (1816-1873), described in the press as "the Great American Clown," managed his own circus from 1852 to 1856. The afternoon and evening shows in Hagerstown on August 24, 1855 touted equestrian, gymnastic and pantomimic entertainment.

Seth Benedict Howes (1815-1901) and James M. Nixon (1820-1899) created a menagerie and circus troupe that toured in New York and Philadelphia before its exhibition opened in Hagerstown on October 8, 1855.

The Great Southern Circus was co-founded and managed by clown and showman Gilbert N. Eldred (1816-1885). "He entered the circus life as a clown as early as 1834 while working for his brother Edward S. Eldred's circus that was active from 1832 to 1836." In 1846, Eldred formed a partnership with John Robinson known as "The Great Southern Circus" that eventually disbanded on June 28, 1856 in Richmond, Virginia. The Great Southern Circus, under Eldred's sole ownership, exhibited in Williamsport and Hagerstown on July 25 & 26, 1856. Afterwards, the circus moved north through Pennsylvania and into Ohio until 1857. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Eldred moved to England and Europe where he exhibited trained horses as late as 1867.

Dan Rice (1823-1900) was an innovative circus impresario and an icon of 19th century popular culture. A talented clown and showman, Rice coined expressions for his shows appropriated by other circus troupes, such as "One Horse Show," "Greatest Show" and "Jumping on the Bandwagon." He would transform the American circus into well-crafted entertainment spectaculars with an array of animals, acrobats and clowns. Dan Rice's Great Show exhibited in Hagerstown and Hancock on October 2 & 3, 1856.


Olympians of the Sawdust Circle: A Biographical Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century Circus.? Columbus, OH : Circus Historical Society Inc., c. 2005. http://www.circushistory.org/Olympians/OlympiansA.htm

The Great Southern Circus by Nick West (Xlibris Corporation, c. 2010): http://www.amazon.com/Great-Southern-Circus-Nick-West/dp/145003859X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Dan Rice. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Rice

Using the Newspaper Index
The Historic Newspaper Indexing Project began in 1980 as an aid to patrons researching Washington County history and genealogy. An Index to Hagerstown Newspapers is a multi-volume subject and personal name index to local and regional news published in weekly and semi-weekly newspapers in Hagerstown, Maryland between 1790 and 1890. The printed volumes covering the period from 1790 to 1854 and 1860 to 1865 are already completed and are on the open shelves at the Washington County Free Library (WCFL) in Hagerstown and in the Reference sections of the county branches. Microfilms of the original newspapers are available for the public's use on the
3rd floor of the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher branch in downtown Hagerstown. The index covers these current geographical areas: Maryland (Washington, Frederick, Allegany and Garrett Counties); Pennsylvania (Cumberland, Adams, Fulton and Franklin Counties); and West Virginia (Berkley, Jefferson and Morgan Counties). The indexing has been done from Hagerstown and Washington County perspective.

Hagerstown Newspapers
During the Civil War

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News Articles
Article from Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 1852
[Article from Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 1852]
Slavery in Washington County, Maryland, Mid- 19th Century (1845–54) by Carol J. Appenzellar
Washington County’s geographical location played a significant part in the slave trade in the region. The county was situated between slave-free Pennsylvania to the north and slave state Virginia (West Virginia in 1863) to the south.  See the full story...
Canal in Washington County
[Canal in Washington County]
The Canal in Washington County, 1845–49 by Dr. Karen Gray

Although improvements and new businesses were appearing in Washington County as the canal began to become an important transportation route to the region, the second half of the 1840s was a time of slow growth for the canal and businesses associated with it due to three floods and continual difficulties in completing the canal to Cumberland.  See the full story...
Hagerstown Bank
[Hagerstown Bank]
Ransom of Hagerstown from Herald and Torch Light

A detailed account of the ransom of Hagerstown and General McCausland's rampage through Washington and Frederick counties. See the full story...
Cornfield at Antietam
[Cornfield at Antietam]
Civil War in Hagerstown and Washington County

A brief look at Hagerstown and Washington County during the Civil War. See the full story...
Maj. Samuel Ringgold
[Maj. Samuel Ringgold]
Mexican War and Washington County by Dr. Thomas Clemens

The novelty of war, unknown in the United States since 1815, and the improved communication of the telegraph and rapid transit of steam boats and trains combined with the cheap and abundant newspapers made the war with Mexico a public sensation.  See the full story...