Cayetano Mariotini: Short time, Big Impact (Part 1)

Cayetano’s time in the United States was relatively short.  From what I have gathered thus far, he arrived in the US via Cuba in 1809.  Upon arrival, Cayetano promptly joined a circus troupe with Victor Adolphus Pépin and Jean Baptiste Casmiere Breschard.  Their’s was an equestrian circus company of known as The Circus of Pépin and Breschard The Circus of Pepin and Breschard is considered the first American circus, and is mentioned in the United States Congresional Record of 1810.  Cayetano was made an apprentice and began touring with the company.  In the following years Pépin and Breschard’s company built circus theatres in cities across the United States, including New York City, New Orleans, Charlestown (Mass.), Baltimore, Richmond, Alexandria, Charleston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  In addition to the US theaters, they also built a theatre in Montreal, Canada. The oldest continuously operating theatre in the English-speaking world and the oldest theatre in the United States, the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, was built by Pépin and Breschard in 1809.  Eventually, Pepin and Breschard made Cayetano a partner and the company became know as The Circus of  Pépin, Breschard and Mariotini.  Circus troupes associated with The Circus of  Pépin, Breschard and Mariotini  were the first to bring a circus west of the Appalachian Mountains to such frontier cities as Pittsburgh, PA, where Benjamin Latrobe, a designer of the United States Capitol, was the architect for a circus he built for them in 1814.  In 1815, Cayetano branched out on his own with New Orleans in his sights.  

File:Breschard the circus rider full.jpg

Portrait of John Bill Ricketts or Breschard, the Circus Rider, circa 1808

National Portrait Gallery, Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)

Cayetano Mariotini: Estate Suit

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.