Cayetano Mariotini, a Cuban immigrant, brought his circus to New Orleans in the early 1800s. He set up his tents on South Rampart Street in the spot known variously as Place des Nègres, Place Publique, later Circus Square–and finally by its current name, Congo Square. Cayetano and his wife entertained the residents of New Orleans with equestrian acts. In 1816, Cayetano built the Olympia Theater, adjoining his circus. The new theater was not a successful, and he soon found himself in significant debt, so much so that he had to sign over his ten horses, a “jackass”, and an enslaved man named William to his creditors as security. When he died in October 1818, his debts still unpaid, the creditors brought suit against his estate, asking that the property he had signed over to them be sold. Thus, Cayetano’s horses went on the block. Below are the court documents in which Cayetano’s estate was sued to pay the $10,000 worth of debt left after his death and an excerpt from a book regarding a song that Africans in the square sang about him (which I found to be rather interesting).
According to Herbert Asbury, “The ire of the Governor had been thoroughly aroused by one of the most flagrant of all the rowdy exploits of the flatboat crews–an attack upon Cayetano’s Circus, which had been showing in New Orleans so long–apparently it first appeared in the city soon after the American occupation–that it had become almost an institution. Its many wonders were celebrated in a song, of innumerable verses, which the Negroes sang on the streets and in the market-places. It began”:
‘Tis Monsieur Cayetano
Who comes out from Havana
With his horses and his monkeys!
He has a man who dances in a sack;
He has one who dances on his hands;
He has another who drinks wine on horseback;
He has also a pretty young lady
Who rides a horse without bridle or saddle.
To tell you all about it I am not able–
But I remember one who swallowed a sword.
. . . .
Herbert Asbury. The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underground. New York: Capricorn Books, 1936, p. 97
A record of the property sold at a court-ordered sheriff’s sale to settle a debt of more than $10,000 left by the late Cayetano Mariotini, 1818.