George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 2 May 1768]

2. Went to Williamsburg with Colo. Bassett, Colo. Lewis & Mr. Dick. Dind with Mrs. Dawson & went to the Play.

Mrs. Dawson was born Elizabeth Churchill (c.1709–1779), daughter of Col. William and Elizabeth Churchill of Middlesex County. In 1729 she married Col. William Bassett (1709–c.1743) of Eltham, by whom she had at least five children, one of whom was Col. Burwell Bassett. After the death of her first husband, Elizabeth Churchill Bassett moved to the Bassett family town house in Williamsburg, two blocks south of the market square. In 1752 she married Rev. William Dawson, then commissary of the Church of England in Virginia, who died within a fortnight after the wedding. Although Mrs. Dawson continued to live in the Bassett town house, where GW dined on this date, she died at the Bassett country seat of Eltham.

The play was given in Williamsburg’s second theater, built by local subscription in 1751 behind the Capitol on Waller Street. In 1768 a group of players—male and female—was formed by David Verling, their actor-manager, into the Virginia Company. After opening in Norfolk they moved to Williamsburg, where they opened their run on 31 March, coinciding with the meeting of the Burgesses. Which play GW saw is not known; the Virginia Company had a broad repertory, including Restoration comedy, eighteenth-century satire such as the popular Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, and many of the plays of William Shakespeare, who was being “rediscovered” by the eighteenth-century English theater (see rankin description begins Hugh F. Rankin. The Theater in Colonial America. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1960. description ends ).

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