John Bill Ricketts was a skilled equestrian performer from England who established the first circus in the United States of America. He was good at trick riding and juggling. His circus lasted only7 years - from 1793 to 1800.
We don't know when Ricketts was born, but it was in England in the late 1760s. He learned to ride at Hughes Royal Circus, a property of Charles Hughes - Philip Astley's rival. In partnership with John Parker, he opened his circus (Circus Royal) in 1791 in Edinburgh. They toured Scotland and Ireland. In 1792, Ricketts moved to Philadelphia and opened a riding school like owners of circuses in England. In 1793 a small group of performers from his former circus company joined him in Philadelphia. Some of them are his brother Francis, an equestrian and tumbler; Mr. and Mrs. Spinacuta, the rope-dancer and her equestrienne who rode two horses at full gallop; and Mr. McDonald, a tumbler and a clown. They started training and had their first performance on April 3, 1793: their first and the first in the United States. The Circus was an arena without a roof that could accommodate around 800 patrons. Its central part, the ring, was about 13 meters in diameter and filled in with a mixture of soil and sawdust. The show on that day consisted of a performance of horsemanship, rope-dancing, tumbling, and a clown show.
After a successful season (they even had George Washington as a guest on April 22), the circus traveled to New York City in July to a new circus Ricketts had erected on Broadway. This arena was also roofless, and they stayed there performing until the 4th of November when they went south to Charleston, South Carolina. For the next seven years, the circus traveled from South Carolina to the province of Québec in Canada. In November 1794, Ricketts opened a new circus again on Broadway, but this time roofed one with illumination and heating. In October of the same year, he built a new circus in Philadelphia - “Ricketts' Art Pantheon and Amphitheatre.” It was a more enormous circus than first – it could accommodate 1,300 patrons and had a diameter of 30 meters. He also opened the similar one in 1797 in New York. In the same year, second Ricketts' company was sent to Montréal to build another circus. The second Canadian circus was built in Québec in May 1798.
Ricketts's Pantheon in Philadelphia burned to the ground when Mr. Miller, a circus carpenter, left a candle in the scenery storage room on December 17, 1799—this financially ruined Ricketts. Patronage also dwindled, and he resolved to leave the country and set sail to the West Indies. After a series of bizarre happenings, he managed to recoup his losses. He sold all his horses and got a reasonable price for them. With that money, he decided to sail back to England. Unfortunately, his vessel sank, and he was lost with all his money at sea.