Cotton Letters

In the middle of the 19th century American minstrels raised funds for individual players by holding benefits. The practice was widespread, with informal features that typified these special, dedicated performances: they were public, usually advertised in the newspapers; they appeared to arise spontaneously, and were not the contrivance of the player, him or herself; and they were often accompanied by a public exchange of correspondence that was then included in an advertisement for the benefit.   

The written record of the benefit puffery is a fragment of the public face of minstrelsy.  But occasionally there were other opportunities to direct a public missive to a reading audience.  


Eric Metcalf