The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 16. The Yankee Plays
In our first comedy, The Contrast, Tyler developed the stage Yankee in Jonathan, and though J. Robinson’s Yorker’s Stratagem (1792) and Barker’s Tears and Smiles (1807) contain Yankee characters, it was not till The Forest Rose, by Samuel Woodworth, was placed on the stage in 1825 that a Yankee character was developed which permanently held the boards. The part of Jonathan Plowboy was played afterward by Henry Placide, G.H. Hill, Joshua Silsbee, and others. In the preface to the play it is stated that Silsbee played Jonathan for over one hundred consecutive nights in London. The comedy, which was accompanied by songs, is an interesting one, the action is quick and the conversation clever. In 1829 J. H. Hackett transformed the character of Solomon Gundy in Colman’s Who Wants a Guinea? into Solomon Swop and, rechristening the play Jonathan in England, made a great success in it. Other well-known Yankee parts were Lot Sap Sago in Yankee Land (1834) and Deuteronomy Dutiful in The Vermont Wool Dealer (1839), both written by C. A. Logan, Jedediah Homebred in The Green Mountain Boy (1833) and Solon Shingle in The People’s Lawyer (1839), both by Joseph S. Jones, and Sy Saco in John A. Stone’s prize play of The Knight of the Golden Fleece (1834). These plays are usually of the same type, a comedy or melodrama into which a Yankee comic character has been inserted. He bears little relation to the play, but it is this very detachment that makes him important, for he is the one spot of reality among a number of stage conventions, and it is no doubt this flavour of earth that secured the warm reception which these plays received. Read now, they seem hardly to justify it, but they point forward at least to a time when in the hands of an artist like James A. Herne this same material received a more significant treatment.