Our American Cousin

John T. Ford’s theatre on 10th Street was in its second season when the English actress and producer Laura Keene (1826-1873) opened a two-week engagement with Ford’s stock company that would conclude with a production of the British hit comedy Our American Cousin. Keene would appear in the role of Florence Trenchard, supported by two other guest stars from her own New York company, the English-born John Dyott (1812-1876) and Harry Hawk (1837-1916). The performance, scheduled for April 14th, would also be a “benefit” for Keene (meaning that the house proceeds were reserved for her). By persuading President Lincoln to attend, Ford could use both the “benefit” and Lincoln’s presence as lures to pack the theatre with playgoers. The tickets, costing 75 cents each and handed to ticket-taker John Buckingham in the lobby, would entitle the bearers to a seat in the first tier of the theatre, on the same level with the box the president would occupy that night.

Allen C. Guelzo is a two-time recipient of the Lincoln Prize.