John Bill Ricketts Biography and Facts

Picture Of John Bill Ricketts

John Bill Ricketts was a skilled equestrian performer from England who established the first circus in 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 for sure when Ricketts was born but we know that it was in John in the late 1760’s in England. He learned to ride at Hughes Royal Circus, a property of Charles Hughes - Philip Astley's rival. He opened his own circus (Circus Royal) by 1791 in Edinburgh, in partnership with John Parker. 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 is former circus company joined him in Philadelphia. Some of them are: his brother Francis, which was an equestrian and tumbler; Mr. and Mrs. Spinacuta, him the rope-dancer and her equestrienne who rode two horses at full gallop; and Mr. McDonald, tumbler and a clown. They started training and on April 3, 1793 they had the first performance. Their first and the first in the whole United States. The Circus was an arena without a roof that could accommodate around 800 patrons. Its central part – ring, had around 13 meters in diameter and was filled in with a mixture of soil and sawdust. Show on that day consisted of 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 in July to New York City 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 south to Charleston, South Carolina. Next seven years 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 the same year he built a new circus in Philadelphia - “Ricketts' Art Pantheon and Amphitheatre”. It was larger circus than first – it could accommodate 1,300 patrons and had diameter of 30 meters. He also opened the similar one in 1797 in New York. On the same year, second Ricketts' company was sent to Montréal to build another circus. Second Canadian circus was built in the city of 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 series of bizarre happenings, he managed to recoup his losses. He sold all hos horses and managed to get a good price for them. With that money he decided to sail back to England. Unfortunately, vessel he was in sank and he was lost with all his money at sea.