The Tuesday Club 1745-1756:
Communication Through Performance in Colonial Annapolis


Christopher Parker, age 17, grade 11

The Key School
Principal: Stuart Moss


Well, here we are again. The longstanding members of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club enjoying another night of revels. Hamilton, the secretary, takes the minutes, rehearses a silly speech or tunes his harp. The honorable President Samuel Cole entertains this evening's Honorary members from Philadelphia. We sit now, to dine, chat, and have a good many toasts to bless our troubles away. And now Mr. Jonas Green and Dr. Hamilton must try to baffle us with their conundrums. Tonight we will play a few songs, enjoy a speech or two (if we can stay awake through them), and... .
This would be a member's view of a typical meeting of the Tuesday Club, a group of successful Annapolitans that gathered together on Tuesday evenings to discuss current issues, play music, eat, drink, and display their wit. Annapolis of the 18th century was a city growing in size as well as diversity; the city was an important harbor, situated in an agricultural region. By 1733, its population had reached 10,000. Its diversity allowed for a tolerance of personal amusements (Talley, p15), which would include drinking, singing, dancing, and carrying on, and also excursions to the theater, parades, or other local performances. Performances brought people together, and became a means of communication that could reach all classes. What made that possible, and where performance reached its peak was in the Tuesday Club. They poked ceaseless fun at one another, conducted an annual parade through the streets of Annapolis, and supplied much of the talent that went into local music making and essay and verse writing for the Maryland Gazette (Brugger, p79). The Tuesday club meetings, the music they played, and the theatrical events they sponsored communicated many of the values of Colonial America, and specifically Maryland in the 18th century.

The Tuesday Club was started in 1745 by Alexander Hamilton, an Annapolis physician, who served as secretary to the last recorded meeting in 1756. He wished to create a club that resembled one he belonged to in his home town of Edinburgh, Scotland, where gentlemen could gather together to enjoy convivial evenings of conversation, drinking, and music (Risjord, p177). He had also seen clubs like this in his travels in the colonies, and especially enjoyed the one in Philadelphia. The meetings were called "Sederunts," Latin for "They sit," which he borrowed from his former club. Original membership included mostly Scotsmen like himself, but quickly evolved to include merchants and crafismen as well as gentlemen from a variety of backgrounds. Though they weren't all aristocrats, most were members of the Annapolis Masonic Society, and so they definitely represented the successful men of Annapolis. Members included Jonas Green, the main publisher of the Maryland Gazette newspaper from 1738 to 1767, clergymen such as Alexander Malcolm, and also Samuel Middleton, the original owner of Middleton's Tavern, which still stands in Annapolis today.

Every other Tuesday night, at each of the "Sederunts," six to twelve members, along with "Honorary members" and "strangers," or guests, would gather at someone's house around six o'clock. Some of their more notable Honorary members were Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia. They would dine, discuss "official business," and enjoy an evening's entertainment, which would include much punch, wit, humor, and music. The Tuesday club and other social and literary clubs provided an opportunity for reading prose and poetry in addition to enjoying solid and liquid refreshments (Radoff, p184). The movement in this club, as well as others, was to break away from the extreme class stratification of English society, while still maintaining a scholarly atmosphere of high wit and fine music. Members enjoyed conundrums (plays on words), riddles, mock trials, songs, poems and speeches. One comical speech was Alexander Hamilton's speech on "Absurdity," given at Sederunt 247 in 1755 (Breslaw, p578). They also sponsored parades, concerts, and dances: balls and less formal "elegant entertainments." In their records all of the members had comical pseudonyms, which were also used in Club related articles in the Gazette. Though they had created a club for mostly upper-class men, they had a different form of entertainment in which they mocked the pretensions of both Old and New World aristocracies, and by blurring the lines of social class, they reflected the mobility of American society (Risjord, p179).

The music enjoyed at the Tuesday Club meetings also reflected and communicated American values of the time. Though the members were familiar with the great composers of the time, like Vivaldi and Handel, they played more popular songs. These songs were not only found in upper class club meetings, but also in tavems and in lower class and slave homes. The same songs that would be played on a merchant's harpsichord would be played by a slave on his fiddle. The shared repertoire shows the need for Americans to break away from English "frivolities," even in the upper classes, and also the need to make music available and enjoyable to all classes. In 18th century America, music was more recreation than art, which required participation rather than observation (Talley, p19 and 121). This same music was performed by members of the Tuesday Club at their Sederunts, and also at their parades, balls, and theatrical performances. The club encouraged participation of members as vocalists, instrumentalists, and composers, thus providing the first outlet in Maryland for the performing and composing talents of local residents (Breslaw, xvii). Through these performances, the local residents could communicate to the large and diverse audience of Annapolis.

Theatrical performances were an invaluable means of bringing the people of the region together, and several performances were made possible by the Tuesday Club. Apart from their parades, there are records of five musical performances and many other theatrical events for which they provided musical accompaniment. Theater in this period was popular, but scarce, because of the growing tensions between the Colonies and Mother England. Most of the plays were written in England, and the touring companies came from overseas as well. In Williamsburg, Virginia, events of "public merriment" were actually outlawed in October of 1774. The Tuesday Club wished to bring such erudite entertainment to Annapolis, but to broaden it to a more vernacular, American style.

A night at the theater was a full night, about 5 hours, and full of entertainment. It usually began with a prologue where an actor spoke directly to the audience. Typically the prologue had nothing to do with the plot but more with jokes and comical constructions built on popular issues, and stoking the audience for a performance. This would be the same type of wittiness displayed in the Tuesday Club meetings. The bandiage would inform the audience while using clever constructions to poke fun at them as well. The play itself, a comedy (or sometimes tragedy) of the 18th century style, was ofien of five acts. "The Beggar's Opera" was very popular in Maryland, again showing a break from high fashion. This opera was one of the first to be written in English, making it more appreciable to a larger audience. Such entertainment was exactly the type that the Tuesday Club was trying to bring to Annapolis. Between acts, during scene changes, there would be an "entract." Resembling vaudeville skits, these would be short songs or pantomimes to keep the audience entertained. Afier the play, there would be an "afierpiece," a short comedy or farce of perhaps two acts that would send the audience away laughing. Composition, with prologue, entracts, and finale, was key to holding the interest of the audience.

The layout of an 18th century theater was much like that of today, allowing seats for all classes. The gentry usually sat in the boxes, the most expensive seats; the middling classes would sit in the pit, and the lower classes in the gallery. The gallery audience bore final judgement on a show or performer. They would give "huzzahs" if they were pleased, and boo, hiss, or even throw fruit if they were not. It is interesting to note that, in the theater, one could see not only the social hierarchy with respect to wealth and money, but that the lower and more numerous classes had strong authority as well when they were of one mind. Again, reaching this audience was in line with the goals of the Tuesday Club.

The Tuesday Club is truly a unique organization for the student of colonial culture (Talley, p122). The club provided a new kind of outlet for the people of Annapolis and Maryland to perform, and greatly supported public entertainment. Through their wit and humor, as well as their music, poetry and prose, it is apparent that they were a powerful voice in communicating values of colonial Maryland. Music, wit and theater in performance illustrated the growing political and cultural tensions between England and the Colonies in the time leading up to the Revolutionary War. The Tuesday Club consisted of prominent members of society, including the publisher of the regional newspaper, which made their voice in the growing tensions so much the stronger. The Tuesday Club contributed this voice to Maryland history, one that helped unify a diverse and complicated state.

Sources cited:

Breslaw, Elaine G., ed. Records of the Tuesday Club of Annapolis, 1754-56. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Brugger, Robert J. Maryland: A Middle Temperament, 1634-1980. Baltimore, Md: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Radoff, Morris L., Ph.D., ed. The Old State: A History of Maryland. Annapolis, Md: Hall of Records Commission, 1971.

Risjord, Norman K. Builders of Annapolis: Enterprise and Politics in a Colonial Capital. Baltimore, Md: Maryland Historical Society, 1997.

Talley, John Barry. Secular Music in Colonial Annapolis: The Tuesday Club, 1745-56. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

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