ADAM ALLYN, COMEDIAN, Trinity Church Cemetery

Trinity Church Cemetery, at Broadway and Wall Street, is one of Manhattan’s oldest cemeteries. (The oldest may be the First Shearith Jewish Cemetery on St. James Place just south of Chatham Square.) The first mention of this space as a burial ground was in 1673, over twenty years before the first Trinity Church was built from 1696-1697 when a small group of Anglicans living in Manhattan petitions Governor Benjamin Fletcher for approval to purchase land for a new church. Approval is granted and the petitioners purchase land for the new church from the Lutheran Congregation in Manhattan.

That first church was burned down during a 1776 fire begun by invading British forces. The second church was built between 1788-1790, surviving another great fire in 1835, but was found to be inadequate for the needs of a growing body of worshippers, and so the third church, the neo-Gothic structure designed by Richard Upjohn, was consecrated in 1846. For many years, it was the tallest building in the city. The adjoining memorial chapel built from 1912-1913.

Until the Revolutionary War there were about 160,000 in the Trinity Cemetery churchyard. However, during the fires many tombstones were destroyed and others rendered unreadable.

One of the more picaresque tombstones in the cemetery is that of Adam Allyn, whose profession,  “Comedian,” is inscribed prominently…

“Sacred to the Memory of Adam Allyn, Comedian. Who Departed this Life February 16, 1768. This Stone Was Erected by the American Company as a Testimony of their unfeignd regard. He Posesed many good Qualitys. But as he was a Man He had the frailties Common to Mans Nature.” 

Adam Allyn arrived in NYC with his wife in 1758. He made his American debut in Philadelphia’s South Street Theatre on July 20, 1759 in The Recruiting Officer. He also played in NYC, making his first appearance at the Beekman Street Theatre in November 1761.

The American Company, organized in 1758 by David Douglass, is considered the first American professional theater company. On February 15th 1768, the day of Mr. Allyn’s death, he was advertised to appear at 6PM as Old Philpott in a farce entitled “The Citizen.”

Incidentally, the spellings on many of these tombstones are not misspellings in all cases; these were educated people, but until dictionaries were published that standardized the spellings, such as Noah Webster’s, variant spellings were the norm.


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3 Responses to ADAM ALLYN, COMEDIAN, Trinity Church Cemetery

  1. Dan S. says:

    The inscription on that stone is remarkably well preserved. Many of the other stones, there and at St. Paul’s a few blocks away, can hardly be read at all. I guess a “comedian” didn’t quite mean then what it does today, but instead meant an actor who played in comedies. Thanks for finding and printing the man’s history; I didn’t see a comma after the name, and would have guessed that “Adam Allyn Comedian” was actually the man’s name.

  2. dave c. says:

    “The word “comedy” is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία kōmōidía, which is a compound either of κῶμος kômos (revel) or κώμη kṓmē (village) and ᾠδή ōidḗ (singing); it is possible that κῶμος itself is derived from κώμη, and originally meant a village revel. The adjective “comic” (Greek κωμικός kōmikós), which strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense of “laughter-provoking”.[4] Of this, the word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia and Italian commedia and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.[5]
    Greeks and Romans confined the word “comedy” to descriptions of stage-plays with happy endings. Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for instance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted without causing pain.[6] In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Commedia. As time progressed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of performance intended to cause laughter.[5] During the Middle Ages, the term “comedy” became synonymous with satire, and later humour in general, after Aristotle’s Poetics was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers, such as Abu Bischr, his pupil Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. Due to cultural differences, they disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic representation and instead identified it with Arabic poetic themes and forms, such as hija (satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the “art of reprehension”, and made no reference to light and cheerful events, or troublous beginnings and happy endings, associated with classical Greek comedy.
    After the Latin translations of the 12th century, the term “comedy” thus gained a more general semantic meaning in medieval literature.[7]
    In the late 20th century, emerged among scholars the tendency to pragmatically prefer the term laughter to comprehensively refer to the whole gamut of the comic, to avoid the classification in ambiguous and problematically defined genres and fields like humour, grotesque, irony, and satire.[8][9]”

    “Comic books” derives from this meaning as well.

    Dave C.

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